After visiting a series of new wave craft breweries in the hot and often steamy American South I knew I needed something frostier and closer to home for my next visit. Gotlands Bryggeri is a much talked about, big corporation owned, craft brewery which I want to shed some new light on.
Before heading off I had a few questions bouncing around my head that needed answers. Is Gotlands Bryggeri to be considered a micro operation when they’re actually owned by big old corporate Spendrups? What are the pros and cons of licensing some of their brews to Spendrups macro brewery in Vårby?
Then one crisp and beautiful November morning I jump aboard MS Visby, crossing the Baltic Sea to the hanseatic city of Visby on the island of Gotland. Once in the ferry’s cafeteria I see signs of the brewery’s domination come this way of the country. Mariestads (Spendrups), Gotlands own brew, Heineken (brewed-under-licence by Spendrups) and so on…
Visby, the best-preserved medieval town in Scandinavia, boasts an enchanting limestone wall and several massive church ruins. We walk down cobbled streets lined by JRR Tolkien inspired houses before getting to our destination. In almost every restaurant and pub we peek into, Gotlands Bryggeri seems to have a permanent tap takeover.
Housed in a former pentecostal church, Gotlands sits next door to the impressive and looming limestone ruins of Saint Drotten and Saint Lars. Tonnes of history here, literally. Fittingly the company’s logo and label format have lent their shapes from the many characteristic archways of these old buildings.
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, prior to the church, the building was home to neighborhood brewery, Wedins Bryggeri. Fast forward to 1995 and marco brewery Spendrups got the idea of setting up a small experimental brewery. Although built rather recently the place exudes a traditional and rustic atmosphere and very much purposely so. Part of the business idea is to offer guided tours showcasing the basics of brewing process in an “authentic”, German-styled environment.
At the door I’m greeted by mail armor clad brewery guide Truls “Bönhasen” Nanneson. He moved to the island about 10 years ago and now works as a factotum, doing everything from building houses to maneuvering boats. He’s also a beer enthusiast (but despises wild ales) and has been closely connected to Gotlands for many years. Together with Erik Broström, they make up the duo that offer tours of the place.
A part of the rich history of brewing on the island. Hansa Guld was a popular lager beer made by Visby Bryggeri, a brewery that existed from 1868 to 1977.
We move into the production area and right I away I get the feeling that we’re perhaps in a museum. Except for the fermentation tanks and bottling line everything is a bit dented and ancient looking. Take the two copper boilers for example, each with a 1000 liter capacity. They started their existence as Hefeweizen cookers down in Munich at the dawn of the 19th century. Today the copper mantles of the Kaspar Schulz boilers only serve for show since the National Food Agency prohibits copper made equipment in beverage production. Therefore stainless steel boilers are hidden underneath the auburn hood. From the boiler the beer (or rather the wort) is cooled down to an appropriate fermentation temperature, then pumped into open tiled vats in an environmentally controlled room. I’m pretty psyched about these open vats and I surely thought that this would be the one thing that the NFA wouldn’t allow.
Once clear of the production area we seek refuge in the tasting room down stairs. Entering the tasting room I’m suddenly reminded of Cigar City’s orange and slighty vapid looking room. From the fridge Truls pulls out two bottles of their latest releases, Wisby Julbrygd and Sleepy Bulldog Winter Ale. To get further insight on these brews check Joao’s full load down on them at Systembolaget’s Xmas Tasting.
I ask about the label design and Truls tell me that board member Jens Frithiofsson, yeah he’s the son of the iconic wine critic, has been involved in many of today’s labels. I like them in their own simple little way.
For their 5th anniversary (as an independent company within the Spendrups Group) they made a special hybrid brew which was critically acclaimed by many, surprisingly even among beer geeks. This beer and other special one-offs are bottled in Vetreria Etrusca‘s thick gleaming black Italian made bottles, making them a nice contrast to the regular Gotland beers that all go into plain brown bottles.
Gotlands has never won any real respect among beer aficionados. At the same time it’s a widely appreciated brand among many beer enthusiasts. How does a brewery like Gotlands keep a foot in both camps? Do they even want to? After sampling the beer we start talking on the approach on beer. Truls says “Gotlands bryggeri doesn’t strive to brew the most extravagant beers and don’t follow the trends too much. We don’t compete with the most extreme craft American beers but rather focus on the traditional”. The exception to this of course being the American inspired Bulldog series which sprung to life about three years back.
There are a couple of new beers on the horizon. First of all Wisby Mörk, a black lager, to be released at Systembolaget in February next year. If things go as planned there’s also a new autumnal dropping next fall. Salmbic (not to be confused with a Lambic) introduced at this year’s SBWF is the regular hefeweizen, Wisby Weisse, seasoned with wild European dewberries. With a harvest amounting to a total of mere four tons, this vouches for a very limited release…
Whatever you might think of the Gotlands Bryggeri and their beer, they’re doing it right. Since 2008 sales have gone up a big 30-40% a year. Today the annual production averages 4000 hectoliters / 3350 liquid barrels. In 2012 sales amounted to 16000 hl meaning that licensed products make up 3/4 of the total production. Therefore after 18 years in the same place you could easily say the brewery has finally outgrown its own four walls. Yes, a new and bigger location is on its way.
For starters the move will nearly twenty-fold the production. Magnus Tedenmyr, lead brewer, tells me with the capacity increase, the brewery will bring back production to Gotland again, as well as take on some specials and one-offs for mother company Spendrups. I’m personally looking forward to seeing how bringing home the production might reflect on the quality and character of the beer.
Another aspect is finding the right place for the new brewery, Truls points out. In the bigger scheme of things they’re aiming to create a scene for showcasing local Gotland produce and cuisine together with their beer. Done in the right fashion, this could really help beer to be perceived as the complex and food pairing drink it is. A heavy impact on the craft beer scene no doubt.
So the festival’s on! Numerous exhibitors and beers have made it to town. A lot of one-offs, festivals specials and other beers and breweries never seen before, line up in the interior of the fair out in Nacka Strand.
This is probably my 7th time at SBWF. Because of the serious over-dose of beer available I try each year to narrow my scope by abiding to a set of rules that I set up for myself. Previously that has meant constricting my focus on either Swedish, American, Scandinavian or European swill. This year I’ve had a different focus. Tastings.
I realized that I love them. Tastings are just the greatest thing. You get to take a seat and then in the tranquility of a secluded room, listen the brewer talk about the company and its beers, while you leisurely sample away. Awesome!
BrewDog/Boulevard Brewing Company
So last Thursday I found myself at a tasting lead by founders James Watt from BrewDog and John McDonald of Boulevard Brewing Company. Big thanks to Manker Beer and Patrik Strandberg at Cask Sweden for inviting and arranging this event. James and John took turns introducing one beer at a time of the following:
- BrewDog – Punk IPA
- BrewDog – Hardcore IPA
- BrewDog – Paradox Jura
- BrewDog/Ballast Point – San Diego Scotch Ale
- Boulevard – Pale Ale
- Boulevard – Single-Wide IPA
- Boulevard – Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (Smokestack Series)
- Boulevard – Double-Wide IPA (Smokestack Series)
- Boulevard – The Sixth Glass (Smokestack Series)
It being my first acquaintance with Boulevard’s beer I naturally did look forward these a little more than very much available BrewDog beers. Out of the beautifully designed and labeled Smokestack Series their Double-Wide IPA stood out the most, displaying a depth and character seldom seen in a DIPA. There was tonnes of dark fruit and raisins in there. Fabulous! Their farmhouse ale “Tank 7″ and quadrupel “Sixth Glass” were more than worthy representatives of their respective style but the Double Wide came out on top. With the memory of these beer left on my palate the Boulevard Pale Ale and IPA unfortunately didn’t make the same impression. Nothing wrong with them, not just as impressive.
What really surprised me though at this tasting was the comeback BrewDog provided when their Ballast Point collab beer San Diego Scotch Ale hit the glass. Oh my, what a beer. A rich and complex malt bomb with a smooth booze and fig/date/raisin profile. Their Paradox Jura was also a great beer, rich, deep and extremely dark. Note to self: Put your money on the expensive stuff from BD!
The second tasing of the evening was held by Swedish beer importers/brewers Brekeriet from Malmoe. Arrangement and invitations were only for SÖF (Skandinaviska Ölskribenters Förening/Swedish Beer Writers’ Guild) but I somehow talked my way in there with the help of beer buddy Manne of Mannes Brygglogg. In the past year, the three brothers Ek, have not only managed to keep up their business as importers of fine French and Belgian beer bit also built their own brewery and are now brewing their own product so to speak.
Christian Ek, the brew master at Brekeriet brought us the story and beer line-up of the brewery. In geek speak their philosophy is using microorganisms to induce flavor in all their beer. In plain speak that means that they use a yeast, in their case brettanomyces, imparting the beer with a distinct flavor. You who have had “brett beers” know what I mean.
Four beers were put on the table. Three black label beers available year-round and a limited release white label.
- Brekeriet – Saison
- Brekeriet/Pickener – Farmhouse Ale
- Brekeriet – Cassis
- Brekeriet – Roken
First off was Saison, the flagship brew. A farmer’s Saison laced with straw and a pinch of green fruits. I liked it, I liked it a whole lot.
Brekeriet Cassis, a majestic symphony of brett and black current that pours a dark maroon to grape brew. Frozen berries are used in the process producing a complex yet on point taste experience. Cassis has by many, including myself, been rated as the best Swedish beer at the festival, heck it might turn out to be the best Swedish beer in all of 2012 as a matter of fact. Do try if you the chance!
For their Farmhouse Ale, Brekeriet teamed up with Bavarian contract brewer Pickener. Mostly they let they yeast do the flavoring of their beers but on this one they added hops. Not the best in their line-up but still a decent beer.
Last and by no ways least was Roken, a rauchbier brewed with smoked whiskey malt. With a minty fresh and strong smokiness it crashed-landed on my palate. I’m not sure what I really think of it, but I urge you to give it a try if you want to go extreme. A week has gone by and I still recall the intensity of that particular beer.
Right after the tasting had ended I headed over to Brekeriets booth to sample their fifth beer, Brekeriet Brilliant, also a limited white label release. A beer that has the same base in malt as their Saison but with a different yeast strain imparting a somewhat dryer and deeper taste in my opinion.
I also got to speak to André, the youngest brother and the social media genius of the company. We sidetracked for a while, discussing social media as a way to market your products and company. He emphasized the importance on keeping up with new technologies as the perfect means when reaching out to their customers. Yep, these guys know and are the future.
So to sum it up, tastings are a creative and good way to experience beer festivals period. The last weekend of SBWF is starting tonight. Let’s reload and make the best out of it. Make sure to at least participate in one tasting, they’re worth it!
Brewed by Hantverksbryggeriet · Västerås · Sweden
Read more www.hantverksbryggeriet.se
Micorbrewery Hanterverkbryggeriet from the small city of Västerås has been around quite a while now and are actually celebrating 10 years of beer in 2013. Their products are available in pubs and restaurants and have lately become easier to come by through Systembolaget’s change in distribution and can now be ordered from anywhere in the country. The beer at hand though is a special release and available during a limited time. It’s an English Barleywine at 10% ABV that’s been aged for two years.
I’m at comrade Marcus’ place, seated at the table on his patio overlooking a particularly calm and quiet Lake Mälaren this summer evening. Well not exactly dead quiet, listening to the recording of this review I hear a constant roar as airplanes take off and land at Bromma Airport. Must’ve blocked it out somehow…
We pick up the bottle, taking turns trying to figure the esthetics of the beer label. All Hantverkarbryggeriet’s beers have a reference to medieval titles and roles like Bödeln (the Executioner), Narren (the Jester) and Baronen (the Baron). All labels feature a naïve illustration corresponding to the beer’s name. I’m only thinking that there should be a label on this bottle that serves the beer inside justice. Let’s see what gives.
Pouring into an over-sized wine glass is a translucent brown drink with rusty-red streaks. The compact and creamy off-white head is just short of a finger. A syrupy liquid clings to the glass leaving stretch marks of alcohol.
Whiffing the mouth of the bottle its distinctly smokey. In the glass its first off malty, more precisely caramelly. Coming through is also lots of pleasant and warm alcohol, high-lighted by rum raisin, dried dark fruits, butter, peat and maple syrup.
Wow! For starters, surprisingly smooth. Great maltiness up front, mid-way dried apricots and raisins, light hops bitterness in the back and end. The finale of tastes is a mix of alcohol and marzipan, somewhat in the way of Anthon Berg‘s Congac soaked Mazipan bar.
Super solid medium body, very filling. Yet the liquid’s not able to let flavors lingering the way I wish it would. “Make ‘em dance around a bit longer” Marcus exclaims and I can only agree. The heavy presence of booze leaves my mouth dry afterwards.
Overall impression 8/10
The aroma of the beer set rather high expectations, making us want to take a sip already. Rewardingly enough we got a very complete and balanced flavor tasting it. This is a very well-crafted barleywine no doubt with the exception of a mostly comfortable booziness that only occasionally hits me too hard in flavor and mouthfeel. Not dominantly but noticeably so.
So does the label serve the beer justice? From my perspective as graphic designer I’d say No. From my perspective as a beer geek I’d say Yes.
It’s surely worth the price so get a bottle of the 2010 version at Systembolaget and give it a sip!
Total Score 39/50
Excellent – Exemplifies style well, requires minor fine-tuning.
Brewed by Mohawk Brewing Company · Täby · Sweden
Read more www.mohawkbrewing.se
To be honest I wasn’t sure I was going to try many of the summer offerings at Systembolaget. The reason being I have enough beers in the cabinet to last me through the season as it is. Then one after another I read all these positive reviews saying how great Mr. Mohawk’s latest beer was. Well, I just had to see for myself didn’t I…
Mohawk Unfiltered Lager is part of a new breed of hybrid beers rapidly spreading across the globe. Simply put it’s a lager beer hopped just like an American Pale Ale. The twist on this one though is leaving the finished beer unfiltered, hopefully giving a richer and more vivid taste. Earlier this year Mohawk gave us Unfiltered Lager and with the summer here they’ve put out a lighter version of that beer with less bitterness and alcohol. Being a contract brewer, Stefan Gustavsson’s back at Slottskällans Bryggeri in Uppsala, him doing the thinking and they supplying him with the right tools to perform his magic. Open Sesame!
The long-neck bottle produces a cloudy slightly darker shade of gold. Just short of a three finger tall head that’s off-white in color. Partial and random dry foam stuck to the glass wall.
A rich and multi-faceted nose with the sweetness of honey and bee wax. Following is a hefty measure of exotic fruits intertwined with black currant leaves. Hovering is an intense floral aroma with a light tart twist. Happily enough I find non of the usual lager characteristics coming through from the barley.
Up front floral hops, tonnes of tropical fruits, a great mix of mango, passion fruit, black currant and pineapple. In the back a mellow grapefruit bitterness slowly builds up. Very gulp-able yet the taste is so intense.
A light and at the same time rich and robust body. Carbonation’s all I can ask for really, giving a soft fizz just so you notice it.
Overall impression 8/10
It’s been done before, the lager-pale ale hybrid is nowadays a popular new addition to many breweries line-up. Yet not many manage to strike the kind of balance between the light lager body and hoppiness as well as Mohawk does it.
The greatest thing about this beer is duality of it. While being a great session beer for a beer geeks and others it can also serve as a gateway beer for the “uninitiated”, perhaps opening up the mind of the average lager lover to ales, stouts and what not.
Tomorrow’s Midsummer Eve and if you’re not helping out raising the maypole there’s no excuse not having an Unfiltered Lager in your hand. Do some last minute shopping and check availability. I’m sure this beer will prove as important to the success of the Swedish summer as ripe domestically grown strawberries!
Total Score 41/50
Excellent – Exemplifies style well, requires minor fine-tuning.
It’s midday Sunday and we’re to meet up with fellow beer geek and blogger Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting at Mariatorget in central Stockholm. We hadn’t really decided on a specific spot to meet, so we scramble around the park looking for Michael long and hard. From out of nowhere, we find him about half and hour later sitting on a park bench in the middle of the park.
Michael and his wife Hillary are spending their summer vacation in Sweden. Hillary, an avid Swedophile ever since her first visit to the country ten years back, convinced Michael to take the leap over the pond to visit the land of blondes and polar bears.
It all started when we stumbled upon Michael’s blog when doing research for a review on Michigan’s Dark Horse Tres Blueberry Stout. One thing lead to another, so last Sunday we met up in Södermalm to eat some sandwiches and share some beers.
Beers shared in the park. Michael brought along two classic American Imperial Stouts, Deschutes The Abyss. A vintage imperial stout limited to only 600 barrels. Founders KBS, Kentucky Breakfast Stout, brewed with coffee/vanilla and aged in oak bourbon barrels for a year. We brought a lighter offering to the picnic table, including Omnipollo / Evil Twin Russian Roulette (Black IPA), Oppigårds Summer Pale Ale, Nils Oscar India Pale Ale, Nils Oscar Jubileum 15 as well as another Swedish classic, the Carnegie Porter.
Meeting up at Mariatorget we took a short walk up the hill to Ivar Lo’s Park, a beautifully situated park with a spectacular panoramic view of Stockholm.
Michael had been to Systembolaget to pick up some local varieties. The Swedish Fem Komma Tvåan had a really hard time competing with the more sophisticated American KBS. In the end for obvious reasons, we chose to go with the Kentucky Bourbon Stout and boy was that a treat. Bourbon mixed with rich coffee and chocolatey notes.
Examining and talking about the Swedish selection of beers. Not expecting much from a government runned bottle shop Michael was pleasantly surpised in finding a great deal of both domestic and foreign craft beer at Systemolaget.
Time flew, as we sat throughout the whole afternoon discussing all about beer, design, photography, culture and everything in between.
The Abyss, a real golden nugget, from Portland’s very own Deschutes Brewery. Poured like thick black oil and tasted like nectar from the Gods.
Michael caressing his baby beer, minutes before we carved off the wax sealing and pried it open.
What better way of ending our sunny beer sharing get-together with a bottle of Omnipollo / Evil Twin Russian Roulette Black IPA. Check out the review we did on its twin brother, Russian Roulette IPA.
The slightly chaotic, yet beautiful artwork of the Russian Roulette label made by Karl Grandin and Martin Justesen.
Before heading back home, we popped into The Bishop Arms situated close by. There we were greeted by the ever so friendly bartender Roland, who gave us some solid recommendations.
Michael ended up having the Oppigårds Stout, which seems to be a seasonal, maybe temporary selection available at The Bishops Arms. A nice session-stout, with distinct roasted, some what sour, chocolatey and coffee like aroma and flavor.
Joao went for the Victory HopDevil India Pale Ale. A pleasant and well balanced American IPA, with a rich amber color and fruity aroma.
Hillary had the Oppigård Smithy Ale on-tap. An English Pale Ale at the sessionable alcohol level of 4.6%.
Tobias, enjoying a glass of Jontes Atgeir from Närke Kulturbryggeri. Jontes’ an American Pale Ale with a cookie dough tasting malt base and loaded with fresh citrus flavors.
You can’t spend a better afternoon than this. Talking about and sharing great beers with like-minded people. We had a great time meeting Michael and Hillary, and we look forward to see them again soon. Until then, Cheers!