27 November 2017

Up and away

Over the summer BrewDog ran its first ever Beer Geek Awards, setting out seven types of geeky behaviour for each of which a package of prizes were up for grabs. I was delighted to be the recipient of the Beer Review Geek for my musings here, and at the end of September BrewDog arranged for me and the wife to go to Stockholm for four days and attend the Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival. I had never been to the Swedish capital, and had been given several recommendations for the festival over the years, so it was brilliant to have this opportunity handed to me.

I was extra pleased when the plane tickets were from SAS. A couple of years ago Mikkeller began producing beers especially for the airline and only available on their flights. You can watch (incredulously or otherwise) a video on their creation and the sensory challenges around getting beer to taste right under aeronautical conditions.

Northern Trails was what they had on my flight, a bright yellow hazy IPA brewed with Citra, Amarillo, Polaris, Simcoe and Mosaic. The aroma, even 12,000 metres up, is freshly peachy with a light dankness and a touch of pepper too. It's quite savoury at first, throwing out lots of caraway in the foretaste. The fruit comes later: bitter green kiwifruit and softer white plum, finishing on a greenly acidic bite. It certainly tasted like a proper, uncompromised, IPA to me, if a little too bitter. Maybe that's just the altitude.

Stockholm airport, or at least the wing of it we departed from a few days later, doesn't have the best of beer offers but there were a couple of likely looking bottles at one of the concourse cafés. I picked The Avenyn Ale from well-reputed Swedish brewery Dugges. It's an American-style pale ale, 5% ABV and a mucky yellow colour. It smells zesty but tastes rather plainer, with mild jaffa and mandarin. The texture is light, to the point of watery, and while it's decently refreshing there's not much to it. I wonder if freshness was an issue: the place wasn't exactly pushing it.

For herself, Coppersmith's Queen's Pale Ale. Nice label but a very amateurish beer. It fizzed massively, taking ages to pour, and therefore not suited to airport drinking. The body is a murky orange colour, the suspended yeast adding a spice to the aroma. The flavour is rough, with hot esters and a hard metallic hop bitterness, set on a thick texture with surprising dark roasted elements. This recipe is just confusing, and the whole package far from pleasant.

Most of the trip was spent at the festival though we did manage to squeeze in a couple of pub visits. High on the agenda was Akkurat, possibly the most famous beer bar in the city. The prize package was supposed to include dinner here but for whatever reason that was changed. We popped in on the first evening to find quite a large and rangey pub fitted out in dark wood in a vaguely American style.

I took the sour option with Monstrosity by Tempel Brygghus. I don't get the name: it's only 4.9% ABV and quite a simple beer. The sourness level is no higher than tangy candy while the billed hoppiness is mildly lemony, along the lines of a witbier. And that's pretty much it. It's fine, but I expected more.

Herself went smoky with Rököl by Helsinge, which is Swedish, not Finnish. This is a handsome clear dark garnet colour, like a proper Bavarian rauchbier. The aroma exudes a subtle yet alluring smokiness and the texture is smooth, just begging for big gulps. It almost achieves Franconian perfection in the flavour, which is deliciously bacony but there's a very slight TCP twang at the very end which wrongfoots it a little. It's still very nice, though, balancing its sweet malt side with the rasp of smoke. I could have settled into this beer, except it wasn't mine.

My favourite of the handful of bars we visited was Zum Franziskaner, a longtime fixture on the southern end of Gamla Stan, the small island that forms the historic core of the city. As the name suggests, it's going for a German tavern vibe, and the beer list reflects this, with luminaries from Spezial, Schlenkerla, König Ludwig and the like. And Gänstaller! I had my first try of Gänstaller Pils. It's heavy and resinous, packed to the gunwhales with noble hops. A super sweet candyfloss malt backbone tries to provide balance, and pretty much succeeds too. Though only 4.9% ABV, this is a beast of a lager, brimming with flavour and absolutely in keeping with Gänstaller's well-established prowess.

On a subsequent visit I went with a Swedish pils for comparison: Pickla by Nynäshamns. They've gone all out for herbal here and I got elements of grass, marjoram, rosemary and peppery rocket from this, plus a certain pleasant citrus incorporating a sweet lemon meringue base. It's maybe a bit too fancy to pass as German but it is a very well-made pils.

Across the table there was Brännskär brown ale from the same brewery. This is a handsome cola-red colour and again with the herbs, though this time it's an apothecary shop or old-fashioned candy rather than the country kitchen. There's a fun spice to it too, gunpowder and incense. The texture is pleasingly light and on the whole it's clean and pleasant drinking with just enough bitterness in the finish to give it an edge. Two quality beers here, and unsurprisingly there's more to come from Nynäshamns in a later post.

We dropped in to Oliver Twist as it was fairly close to the bus stop we used for the festival. It's a vaguely English pub with a good selection of beers, including lots of locals. Oppigårds is one of the longer established Swedes, around since the mid-1990s. Here I opted for their Everyday IPA, expecting it to channel the spirit of Founders. It didn't. The flavour is low, and almost insipid, with a floral character that's also slightly soapy. A pleasant rising dankness saves it eventually though the end result is merely acceptably refreshing which probably flew in the '90s but Sweden doubtless expects better now.

Beside it is RyeOT from Fjäderholmarnas Bryggeri. This one gets straight to work with the funky grassy rye aromas and is packed with thick oily resins. For all that, the bitterness is surprisingly mild though there is a slightly harsh metallic twang, softened by a jaffa juiciness. I'd say this is a good one for introducing people to the effect of rye on beer: everything it does to flavour is very present here, and it's decent drinking to boot.

It would have been strange to visit Stockholm and not call by Omnipollos Hatt, even though I'm not a huge fan of their work. It's a tiny phonebox of a place which most people seem to go to for the pizza primarily. There's a blackboard with ten draught offerings and prices going up to around the €14 mark for a 20cl measure of beer. We didn't go that way.

In fact I went for the second-cheapest item: Arzachel session IPA, only 3.5% ABV and a steal at €8 for the 30cl measure. Session's on! I was immediately charmed by its resemblance to Little Fawn: the same hazy yellow colour. Proper IPA resins are present, as is the requisite bouquet of tropical fruit. The finish is long and refreshingly bitter, with the grassy quality of good pilsner, while the texture is light but without being watery, which is very impressive at that strength. I really enjoyed this: it's not the sort of thing I'd associate with Omnipollo. That price though...

My wife chose something much more Omnipollish: Blueberry Slab Cake, from the signature soft-serve machine which I think may have been first used for beer here. The beer is an attractive purple colour capped by a swirl of stiff pink froth. It smells of raspberry ripple ice cream from the 1980s and the taste... eww! It's sickly sweet and powdery, reminding me of chicory coffee or off-brand drinking chocolate. It's advertised as sour but it most definitely is not, with just a vague berry tartness floating in the background. The 20cl glass cost almost €11, a lot to pay for a seriously substandard novelty.

Better value for Omnipollo was to be had beyond their pub. For example I picked up a bottle of Nebuchadnezzar double IPA on a visit to Systembolaget, where the prices were remarkably reasonable and the selection superb. This is a beautifully dry beer with clean green celery-like hops, sparks of citrus and a champagne toastiness. There's a thirst-quenching peach tea finish belying the 8.5% ABV. It's rare to encounter such controlled elegance in a double IPA and I loved it.

My last three Omnopolloi came when we got to the festival, in the vast exhibition rooms at Nacka Strand. First was Brush, an imperial stout created in collaboration with J. Wakefield in Florida. It smells deliciously like an Irish coffee, all cream, brown sugar and hard liquor. The flavour is over the top, however, with too much sweet toffee coupled with powerfully bitter espresso resulting in a hot, harsh and tarry mess. Even at 12% ABV it's possible to make a subtle imperial stout, but this wasn't one.

Two more IPAs next, both a sickly yellow colour. On the left is Fata Morgana, which smells of aniseed plus a touch of onion. There's a thick New England texture and the aniseed continues in the flavour, running from the candy foretaste right through to the herbal finish. This is laced with garlic around the edges as well as a wisp of white wine or diesel. It's a savoury combination which shouldn't work but is actually quite delicious.

I wasn't as much of a fan of Aurora next to it. It's even more herbal and savoury, with an aroma of urinal cakes and a dull cardamom flavour. It's fine, and perfectly drinkable, just not very interesting. Omnipollo's beers usually prompt more of a reaction than this one.

Here we are at the festival, then. It offered an odd combination of exhibitors, the halls dominated by the flashy stands of large corporate whisky brands and the long bars of big international beer distributors, then interspersed with the more modest presence of the local brewers. Our patron BrewDog was here too, though surprisingly had quite a small bar near the back entrance. I dropped by to say thanks and to try Blitz Gin.

This is a Berliner weisse with gin botanicals including angelica root and juniper. It's a hazy yellow colour and the flavour comes straight out of the traps with a puckering sour hit. The sweet botanicals come in after it, though offering nothing more complex than lemon and lime. I had been expecting something more complex, but this 7-Up-does-kettle-sour was perfectly palateable and easy-going.

The festival meanderings continue tomorrow.


  1. Nebuchadnezzar! I had forgotten that Omnipollo appeared on the Irish scene a couple of years ago with three real life beers in the form of this, Zodiac and Leon. I loved this at the time but I don't think it has been imported again since - the ice cream stuff and Mikkelleresque €6 session sour beers have taken precedence.

    1. Ye need to get them back in!
      Remember being impressed by them first time round.

  2. Nebuchadnezzar is definitely back. ProAddition's taciturn Twitter account has been pimping it recently. See also.