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Don’t Ask For Blask: Svensk Öl

banner.mar2013  By Harley Zipori.   In modern culture, beer is associated with quantity. The more the better. The perennial question in my student days was ”Do you want good beer or a LOT of beer?”. What was considered ”good” beer back then wouldn’t even appear on my list of drinkable beers today.

 

 

 

In the US, serious beer drinkers, as opposed to serious beer people, see the basic beer purchase unit as the ”case”. That is a box with 24 cans of beer. Multiples of ”case” are considered for an average weekend. The mind boggles.

The countries that are considered world leaders in all that concerns beer at those with the largest beer consumption per capita. The list includes the ones you would think of, Germany, Czech Republic, England and Ireland.

But people who truly love quality beers don’t think in terms of quantity. We think about quality. There is no question about good beer or a lot of beer. There is ONLY good beer.

At the risk of being overly philosophical, can one of these beer quantity superpowers mentioned above also become a center for high quality crafted beers? Conversely, can a country that is not known for beer produce a culture of craft beer.

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Certainly for the latter, the answer is why not? Israel is a good example. A better one is Sweden. I have never thought of beer and Sweden in the same sentence. The term “Swedish Beer”, Svensk Öl in Swedish, has no associations for me. None. Nada.

In my travels recently I spent most of a week in Sweden. Gothenburg (Göteborg) Sweden to be exact, made famous by the New York Times in their article ”36 Hours in Gothenburg, Sweden” from October of 2012. Well, for Gothenburg that article, and the fact that Volvo corporate headquarters is right outside the city, is fame.

What I learned from NY Times article is that there are pubs specializing in quality beers in Gothenburg and there are even microbreweries in the city. The article didn’t even scratch the surface.

I am not familiar with Sweden’s brewing history or traditions. Whatever they were or are, a new group of brewers have started opening breweries throughout Sweden. There are a number of them and they are making a large variety of very good beer. Some are quite daring and different.

Now to be honest, I actually only managed to taste 6 different craft beers brewed in Sweden. Some brewed in Gothenburg itself. They ran the range from very English Pale Ales to porters and stouts. I also tasted a beer that was totally different than anything I have ever tasted and brought me to an “And Now For Something Completely Different” moment.

Here are the highlights:

Ocean 444A very British style pale ale with great balance and nice hops aromas and flavors.
Närke McPeat TribbleA pale ale made with peat smoked malt used in brewing whiskies, which they apparently also do in Sweden.
Nynäshamns Sotholmen StoutA rich and nicely balanced stout with lots of depth and mild roasted barley bitterness.
Dugges Avenyn AleAn American style pale ale with all the fruitiness of American bred hops.

As you can see we have a great range here and they were all good. All the beers I tasted were good.

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The McPeat Tribble was the defining moment. It was vastly different than anything I’ve tasted, including those beers aged in Jack Daniels barrels. Here, the flavor was not of finished whiskey but a distinct taste of one of the base components of whiskey. It was overwhelming at first. Served in a 300 ml goblet typical in Sweden for richer beers, the glass allows you to really inhale the aromas. This beer took me over. I wondered how I could even finish the one glass. It was overpowering but I kept on sipping and inhaling and resting between sips. The flavor and experience engulfed me and demanded every bit of my focus. For 20 minutes or more, it was just me and the beer.

Gothenburg is a typical European mix of the modern and the traditional. The center of the city has lots of older buildings is clean, kept up and nice to walk around. Even at night. There are areas filled with pubs, cafes and restaurants. There isn’t a big difference between a pub and cafe there. Many of them have large windows onto the street and you can see that people eat and drink and socialize.

There were three pubs I found that specialized in beer. Two of these were mentioned in the NY Times article. The Olrepubliken (translated as “Beer Republic”) has around 30 beer taps and with a knowledgeable and friendly staff, this is a beer lovers paradise. It is spacious and rather unadorned. People came in and seemed to know what beers they wanted. It was here I tried the Ocean 444 and McPeat Tribble. They had a good selection of Swedish craft beers and had just finished a special mini-festival of the Närke Kulturbryggeri (culture or craft  brewery). They still had around 10 Närke beers on tap.

The people behind the bar at Olrepubliken recommended a sister pub not far away called The Rover. I went the next night with my colleagues from work and this pub also had a good selection of around 30 beers on tap. In contrast with Olrepubliken, The Rover was smaller and nicely decorated. It was also crowded. Despite the hectic surrounding, the barman was more than willing to tell a bit about the beers and help us choose an excellent Swedish ale.

The pub highlighted in the NY Times article is 3 Små Rum (3 Small Rooms) which is a very intimate pub created in, not surprisingly, 3 small rooms on an quaint street. Here the motto is “Don’t Ask For Blask”. Blask is the Swedish word for dishwater and the slang for a bland tasteless mass-produced beer. The sign above the bar says “Carlsberg and Heineken Free Zone”. Behind the bar is the founder and owner, Reza Ganon. If that doesn’t sound terribly Swedish thats because Reza is from Iran. He was quite happy to host a beer loving Israeli and he told me how the Jews in the city of Shiraz were excellent winemakers. You can buy wines in Israel from Shiraz grapes. I didn’t even know about the connection to Persian Jews.

Reza is an enthusiast of good beer, jazz and chocolate. I had the pleasure of enjoying all 3 during my visit to the pub. While the bar is small and I only counted 18 taps, I can assure anyone that each beer is hand picked by the owner. There is no “Blask” or anything even approaching it.

It was there I tried an American style pale ale, called  Avenyn after the local main shopping street, from the local Gothenburg brewery Dugges. I also had a lovely Dugges Porter with all the richness of chocolate and coffee and the mellowness that one expects from a good porter. Reza also gave (that’s right GAVE) a bottle of oak aged porter from Dugges. I am waiting for a special occasion to open that up.

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The pub also had a large selection of bottled beers, many of which are displayed in a cabinet in the main room.

With his “Don’t ask for Blask” t-shirt and passion for beer, Reza creates an atmosphere for anyone who cares the slightest about beer to come and enjoy and let the appreciation grow.

If any of you were daring enough to click on the link to the pubs and breweries you will see that they are only in Swedish. English is not even an option. I can understand the Gothenburg is not on anyone’s top list of tourist towns so why bother to translate the sites. But the breweries? This means that they aren’t yet targeting any international market (beyond maybe Norway). This is a shame but is is still early in the game for them. Most of the breweries seem to have been founded in the last 10 years or so, so it’s a young industry. Give it time. Hopefully they will break out of their local markets and start to be known in the wider world. Of course you can find many of the beers and breweries written up in Wikipedia and the Ratebeer site so others have discovered these beers too.

It’s good to remember that the total population of Sweden is just over 9 million. That is only about 20% more than Israel’s 7 plus million. Something to think about.

Another point about the cost of beer. Scandinavia has always been known for being expensive. I found it lives up to its reputation. Even pubs are expensive. Of course I have no idea what Swedish salaries are and we all know from Jon Stewart’s Daily show from his investigative report on the evils of socialism in Sweden (available on the Daily show site for parts 1 and 2) that they have a lot of services covered by the government. But it is a shock to the traveler, even a jaded Israeli one. A hamburger and chips in a pub was the equivalent of 80 NIS. The really good beers for 300 ml glasses STARTED at 47 NIS and even the standard beers were 36 NIS for a half liter.

I will never complain about pub prices again! Well not for a few months at least.

If anyone has comments,  additions or corrections, please mail me at maof.beer@gmail.com.

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