30 November 2017


Where to start, at the national beer festival of an unfamiliar country of which you know little? "Randomly" was my answer when I arrived at the Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival and began exploring the bars.

Pax was an early pick, because they have a nice logo. They make a US and New Zealand-hopped pale ale called Origo, an opaque orange colour and leaning heavily on the southern hemisphere grassiness. This gives it a powerful bitterness which I found a little overpowering, especially in combination with a strong caraway savoury quality. It's a beer of edges. There is a little hint of soft stonefruit in the middle but it gets drowned by everything else. One mouthful is refreshing, the rest are hard work.

Pax's IPA is called Regina. It's 7.5% ABV yet very light-bodied. The aroma offers funky orange pith and mandarin skin, and the oranges theme continues into the flavour. A flash of resin opens it, before settling out into orange oil. It's tasty and fun, though with a definite traditional English vibe, reminding me of lovely Young's Bitter in particular. One-dimensional perhaps, but that's not important when it comes with quality.

The next pair is from Adelsö, beginning with Wild Child, a saison at a stonking 12% ABV. There's a rich banana aroma and there's not much to say beyond that: the flavour is extremely hot and harsh, like a liqueur or even a spirit, and not a nice one. My sample was tiny but even that was hard work to get through.

To go with that there was Rocket, an IPA at a more manageable 6%. It's still not great, though, whichever hop combination they've used. The aroma is funky and plasticky; the flavour all herbal urinal cakes while the texture is thick and cloying. This is downright unpleasant from end to end. We weren't tempted back to Adelsö at any point.

We did keep passing the Nacka brewery stand and ordering something while there. It was conveniently positioned on a busy corner. From the name I'm guessing it was also the closest brewery to the event, it being held in the Nacka suburb of Stockholm.

I began with Boo, the pils. It's a murky golden colour and offered a worrying aroma of banana and melon. There are esters in the flavour too, though it tastes cleaner than it smells, with a decent sharp bitterness. It was OK to drink but far from being a classic or well-made pils.

Nacka Julöl was much better, and absolutely to style. It's a deep chestnut red colour with a perfect winter aroma of seasonal spices and seasoned wood. The flavour profile is low overall, the spices merely hinted at, but there's an overarching comforting warmth given out which makes it a joy to drink. This beer seems to have been lovingly formulated by someone who really enjoys a good Julöl.

There was another Nacka mis-step with Baggens IPA. This pale orange-pink number is 6.1% ABV and goes all-out for perfume flavours. It ends up tasting like granny's bathroom: soapy and chemical with an eye-watering concentrated floral quality. Yuck. It is aptly named, perhaps.

They got back in my good books with Mild Aromas From Havanna, a simple smoked mild of 4.2% ABV. It's a clear dark amber colour and very clean, almost (suspiciously) lager-like. The smoke is certainly present, in a pleasing hammy way, and the finish is quick with no unpleasant residual flavours. I'd love to see more lightweight dark and smoky beers like this around.

Finally from Nacka, Daniela's Rakija, an imperial stout. 9.6% ABV is low considering some of the imperial stouts I've been drinking lately, but it packs a lot into that, aided by an especially thick and gooey texture. The hop levels are pleasingly high, giving a herbal bitterness to balance the stouty caramel and chocolate. I got a hint of smoke in the background too, providing seasoning. Overall a very grown-up beer, being stolidly decent and not trying to pull silly tricks. Proper.

I mentioned a couple of Nynäshamns beers in Monday's post. I had three others at the festival. Bötet is a barley wine and this version of it was aged in Bourbon casks. It's a deep ruby red colour and takes its style designation very seriously, tasting quite like a port, with that warm vinous quality, and including real grapes and real tannins. A dusting of woody sawdust does spoil it slightly, but overall it's a very decent rich sipping beer.

Tjockhult Tjinook I had on cask, for the novelty. It's a lager with a strange mix of flavours. I got coconut and bubblegum as well as a lime bitterness and a crisp minerality. I've no idea if any of that is meant to be in there but it does make for a fun, if somewhat silly, experience.

Last of this lot is the portentously named Valsviken Vinterporter: a serious dark beer at a serious 9.1% ABV. There's a major fig and plum aroma, hinting at big alcohol, but it's actually quite accessible. The flavour offers juicy raisins with tannic skins while the finish is dry and swift. My sample was a little flat as the bottle had probably been open a while though this didn't spoil it. In fact I think fizz is the enemy for beers like this.

Two from Poppels concludes this post. Poppels Double IPA is an amber-gold colour and remarkably easy drinking for 8% ABV. It's quite dry, for one thing, showing more tannins than is normal, and there's no big heavy alcohol density or heat. It brings the hops though: an invigorating smack of lime and grapefruit. It's really good, classy, balanced stuff.

We step out of the festival for the second one, Poppels Imperial Stout, picked up at Systembolaget and consumed in the hotel room. It's quite similar to the Nacka one above, in that it emphasises the bitterness, hitting liquorice, dark chocolate and dry roasted grain. It's perhaps not particularly distinctive but makes up in quality what it lacks in originality.

One last spin around the festival floor tomorrow.

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