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Friday, June 29, 2012

Iceland Beer Saga: Borg Brugghús interview part 2

Part 1

Part 2

How has the reception been for Borg?

Valli: Being part of a big company there is a tension between sales people and brewers. So basically we haven't really been able to keep up with demand. It's a good thing, but it does hold back our creative abilities. 

Stulli: This is to make the owners happy. When I was starting I had to make a compromise. I got to brew an IPA if I made something they would like. So what I was going for was a lager with a twist. What I was thinking at the time was a sort of blend of a Munich Helles beer and something Belgian. It is a full time production beer. 
They get bolder as you move from left to right. 

Stulli: Our first beer was Brio, it was a 4.5 ABV German style pilsner, our second beer was a 4.5% brown ale [ed. note Austur] that I made for a bar downtown, the third was Úlfur which was the odd man out because I got to make it but it was a compromise because I would have wanted to make a 9% IPA. Then Bjartur a 5% lager like beer, a 4.5% amber lager, then when things changed you see Stekkjarstaur a 6% brown ale, Surtur, our imperial stout which is 12%, Benedikt, a belgian which is 7%, and so forth. 

Stulli: On Surtur, our imperial stout we ended up changing our final pretty drastically. 
Valli: It became a totally different beer. 

Stulli:  I had this goal, this dream for many years to produce the first IPA in Iceland. 

Valli: I was head brewer at Ölvisholt when it started, but because I live here in Reykjavik I basically couldn't afford to work there anymore. [ed. note Olvisholt is about an hour drive from Reykjavik and gas is very expensive on the island] So that is why I came over here. When we started at Ölvisholt I had promised to myself that I would never make a lager because that was all there was available in Iceland so I wanted to bring some change in. The only demand the owners had was to make a pale lager, but I made a steam beer so technically a lager. That was Skalftji. I didn't know I was making a steam beer, I had a lager but I wanted to brew it at a higher temperature to get more flavors to it and stuff. It wasn't when we started to export to Sweden that someone pointed out that this is steam beer then. It wasn't intentional, after that I tried to create beers that hadn't been produced in Iceland before which wasn't really hard though. All the things I made in Ölvisholt had never been produced here before. 

That is a cool opportunity to break new ground.

Valli: Well the brewers have actually been ahead of of the public. We are pushing out the new stuff, it is not because of the demand but because we want to do it. 

Stulli: Of course there is a small group of beer fanatic nerds, Haukur being one of them. The majority of people here just sort of tag along, they either love what we are doing, not necessarily every beer we make, but the creative things and new things at a small scale, or they hate it and just keep on drinking their regular beer. 
Valli: Well both groups keep on drinking their regular beer and that actually has been a problem. When Ölvisholt actually started we had a lot of good feedback to just bring something new and something different and we will pay whatever for it. We had huge amounts of people telling us that and we had great hopes and we were planning to expand the brewery before we even began brewing but when it came down to it people who had promised to buy nothing else didn't buy a single bottle of it. There is a lot of conservatism, people pick their brand, 'this is what I drink, this is my favorite.' People are starting to try different flavors and try different beers. 

Does that work in your favor when Icelanders go abroad? 

Valli: The thing is when Icelanders go abroad they go to a bar and ask for a cold beer. They get a Tuborg or a Heineken, and that is great for them because they are abroad, drinking, and that is enough. Although beer culture is better in most countries you still have to look for the quality and craft beers. 

Are you planning on exporting?

Stulli: Quality-wise, being Russian River alum, I'm not going to export anything I am worried about like my IPA. Don Feinberg has put in an order for our imperial stout which we are hoping to ship out to him, but we have to try and find time to produce it. 

What is the status of home brewing in Iceland?

Stulli: It is illegal in here, technically…

Valli: …you can't produce anything about 2.5%, that's the limit. 

How much of anything you brew is import? 

Valli: The raw materials? 

Stulli: Everything is imported.

Valli: Actually we are bringing out another beer, Snorri,  which we will bottle next week, [ed. note: this is now available at the duty free in Keflavik International Airport] made with Icelandic barley which is unmalted but with added enzyme. 

Stulli: It is no secret that the only way to make the raw barley usable is with added enzymes. It is just to get through the same process that is done in malting but in the kettle or mash tun. It is something we inherited from upstairs. 

Will there come a day when you can actually get malt? 

Stulli: In Iceland? 

Valli: I doubt it, just putting up a malting facility would be so expensive. 

Stulli: To make it profitable you would have to make so much malt and I doubt that enough malt is grown in Iceland. 

Valli: To make this beer a little more interesting we decided because it is so light to get some kick out of it we used english al and it's spiced with an Icelandic herb called arctic thyme. You can make it sound great, but then of course I think it is commercially acceptable. We run what we call beer school here and we had a trial version of it on tap and apparently the reception of the beer was very good. 

Stulli: We are going to bottle it unfiltered and try to make a new type of style, Icelandic barley beer. (laughs)

Valli: We boosted the spices in the next batch. 

Stulli: It is an exclusive beer for the duty free. 

It feels like you are doing research and development for Egils. Will something come out with their brand name on it that was your creation?

Valli: That is one of the many parts of Borg, we are the research brewery for the big brewery.  In the long run the goal is to produce beers that can move over to the big brewery for mass production. What we produce is on such small scale that in sales for the company it really doesn't matter on the books. The value for them is more marketing than anything else. Of course we produce beers that I know will move over to the big brewery. 

What was your inspiration to come back to Iceland and brew beer?

Stulli:  Having an Icelandic wife, kids on the way. It is great to live here other than beer, but I came to try and change that. 
Come back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion where Stulli and Valli discuss what's next for Borg, maintaining their creativity in the shadow of a giant, and what's been their best success to date. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Iceland Beer Saga: Borg Brugghús interview part 1

One of the coolest things I was able to do while in Iceland was sit down with the brewers of Borg Brugghús , Sturlaugur Jón Björnsson and Valgeiri Valgeirssyni. They had a lot to say about Icelandic beer culture, the challenges and opportunities, and how they are brewing a craft beer revolution on the island. 
The interview doesn't follow the standard pattern, we started at the bottom, worked to the middle, went from the top and ended up off script. So while I could organize it a bit I chose not to and went with the conversation as it occurred over tastings of Borg's excellent brews.  
Part 1
Valgeiri Valgeirssyni (Valli)
and Sturlaugur Jón Björnsson (Stulli) are
brewing up an Icelandic beer revolution.

So let's talk about your beer, what is your current line up, what is the current production you have going?

Current production is Brio Beer #1, though it has been moved over to the big brewery to keep up with demand. It is a pilsner, what we are drinking now. 

You didn't go with a pale ale?

Stulli: I'm sure that you realize that the beer culture in Iceland is so young, so it is pretty understandable that people just don't know any better. What Valli started with Ölvisholt Brugghús and when I came home what we had on our agendas was to introduce what beer is about, more than what most people think it is.

Has the community been receptive to the new beers?

Stulli: Yes, I would say it has really been going well, a lot of young people of our generation are getting into smaller scale production things and actually wanting to know what they are drinking and thinking about what they are consuming. They are looking for more interesting flavors and stuff like that. 

Has the jump for beer and food really taken off here yet?

Stulli: It is something that we are working on. Valli was sort of the trailblazer for beer and food when he was working with a restaurant downtown where they offered a menu paired with beers. 

Valli: There has been a big rise in Scandinavia food culture, but the drinks have been a little bit slower taking off, but because there is a high demand for Icelandic food, specialized Icelandic food spiced with Icelandic herbs, naturally they wanted to have Icelandic beverages available with them. 

Was there an Icelandic beer before prohibition? 

Valli: People say there was a special type before what we call Jólabland. That is an Icelandic Christmas drink mixed with orange soda.

Stulli: I would say if there was it was the maltextrakt, similar to what they have in Germany. Other than that, farther back in the past there wasn't really much of a beer culture anyways. Being such an isolated country with trade routes that weren't very active, only the bare necessities made it here. There really wasn't much demand for the raw ingredients for beer making or for importing beer either. 

You can't grow hops here either can you?

Valli: No, and we are barely growing barley as well and that is just a recent thing as well. 

Stulli: So the drinking culture here for centuries has been mainly strong liquor when available. Thinking about economics it is much cheaper per alcoholic unit to ship in a barrel of gin or akvavit than a barrel of beer. It would be a waste of space in the ship for cargo. 

Prohibition is repealed in 1989, though restrictions on liquor and wine had been lifted much earlier. Why?

Stulli: That's a good question.

Valli: They forgot about it basically.

Stulli: No, I think it was stubbornness, like in politics. It is a serious problem here in Icelandic politics, always has been. Prohibition started in 1915 and a couple of years later because we were refusing to take wine in trade of salt cod the Spaniards and Portuguese said they won't trade with us anymore if you aren't going to be buying our wine. So they allowed the sale and consumption of wine, shortly thereafter because of all sorts of corruption issues with doctor and such they allowed spirits. Spirits were technically legal but you had to get a prescription. So they allowed strong liquor, but probably as a compromise within the Alþingi, the minority would allow that if they did not allow beer. Which is hard to imagine but very likely with how politics are here in Iceland. So it was a very hard stubborn issue of minority that the ban would not allow beer. There were brief discussions in the 80s and finally they allowed it. All of the beer knowledge that Icelanders knew back then was just from going abroad. That was a lot of students going to Denmark and sailors going to Germany. That was mainly what they knew of beer. Of course at the time light lagers where the norm everywhere. It was the high point of light lagers. 

So what is the state of beer in Iceland now?

Stulli: I would say, compared to how short of time it has been since beer has been allowed we have come a fairly decent way. 

Valli: Compared to that there was absolutely nothing.

It is fascinating that you are located in one of the major producers of beer on the island and they do all the soda.

Stulli: Actually this company was started as a brewery.

Valli: When they started they thought prohibition would go away sooner rather than later. They had two years to produce beer

Stulli: Yes, they then produced non-alcoholic or 'light' beer which is 2.5%ABV, and maltextrakt, and soda. Through various deals this company expanded around the year 2000 and got into wholesale and importing. 

It is fascinating that they have taken the chance with Borg to be creative and mad scientists.

Valli: It is a very big step when they decided to do that, personally I don't think they had any idea what they were really going into. 

Stulli: No, not at all. When I came here they didn't even know about the things I was talking about, that beer is available in different shades of color and there are different flavors of beer. I don't think that anybody here actually knew how diverse beer could be. 

You should have sent them on a field trip to Belgium.

Valli: They would have just drank Stella and found it amazing. 

What are your favorite styles? 

Valli: Well that varies of course. For me it is the more the merrier. At the moment imperial stouts and double IPAs. The beer geeks favorites.

Stulli: Yes, I really like pretty much everything if it is well done and conditioned. The right atmosphere and right people. If I sit down to enjoy a beer definitely reach for a nice sour Belgian. Back in the day Orval is what got me into loving beer and still is my favorite. 

Look for Part 2 tomorrow where Stulli and Valli talk about Borg's reception, if they will be exporting, and other challenges they face. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Beer Links for the first official week of Summer

Let's get right to it! 

In the News!

One day I will end up in Bulgaria and I will
 drink one of these. I'm not sure
if that is a good thing
A well crafted session beer is a wonderful thing. 

Slowly but surely craft brewers are stealing guild powers from the SCA. 

This growler pouring system sounds bad ass!

Anything to keep your name in the papers...but I'll try it. 

Because in the winter we all drink liquor!

Growler mania continues to boom.

I need an LA writer to go try this out and report back. Any takers?

The one common denominator? We love our alcohol. 

6th largest beer market...I did not know that. A lasting influence by the Hapsburgs

I'm sure Rudy would be thrilled if this was our next combined write up.

It would work on me. 

In Site News

I finally got the Borg Brugghus interview transcribed and will be posting all three parts later this week. The NoVa Summer brewfest was this past weekend, look for a write up of that tomorrow. As always you can find us on a variety of social media sites, just click on the widgets in the top right corner. I hope you are all staying refreshed in the summer sun and thanks for stopping in!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Email Forwards & Beer

In general, I despise email forwards. If you forward me a mass of information which tells me I will have a lucky day, win one million dollars, or cure cancer if I only forward this to 10 more people, I will block you from my email (no special treatment if you family members).

For as much as I hate forwards - they exist. Emails exist, popular culture exists, and both exist together. If beer exists, so do beer jokes, beer commentary, beer quotes, and beer forwards.

So, for this "welcome to your weekend" post, I present you with a forward about beer - a series of beer quotes sent to me by my parents, who are not blocked from my email inbox...sorry mom and dad!

Fw: Beer Theories

Sometimes when I reflect on all the beer I drink, I feel ashamed. Then I  look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn't drink this beer, they might be out of  work and their dreams would be shattered. I think, "It is better to drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver."

> Babe Ruth

"I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day."

> Lyndon B. Johnson

"When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading."

> Paul Horning

"When we drink, we get drunk. When we get drunk, we fall asleep. When we  fall asleep, we commit no sin When we commit no sin, we go to heaven. So, let's all get drunk and go to heaven!"

> George Bernard Shaw

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

> Benjamin Franklin

"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer.
Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza."

> Dave Barry

One night at Cheers, Cliff Clavin explained the" Buffalo Theory" to his  buddy Norm:

"Well, ya see, Norm, it's like this.. A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members! 

In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine! That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer beckons; a closer look at two summer seasonals

Welcome to the official start of summer. It is already hot and it's going to get hotter. Last time Sarah looked a bit at a few year round beers that work well in the summer. Now I'm going to look more at what is on the shelves that was specifically brewed for summertime enjoyment.

Like pilsners, summer brews are meant to be thirst quenching and refeshing. We've moved out of the leftovers from winter or last year's brewing. Traditionally this would have been some of the first real fresh brew of the year and it was meant to be enjoyed that way. What you find is a beer that is a bit lighter, more crisp, a bit reserved on the hops and a touch of fruitiness, though sometimes fruit is added in to amplify the tastes. literally. We aren't dealing with the richness of stouts or barleywines here but that doesn't mean flavor has taken a back seat. It's just more refined and subtle. If there was a style for a summer seasonal in the American craft beer scene then it is a pale wheat beer, but that doesn't tell the whole story, you can find saison, kölsch, pilsner, and others style being offered too. The Summer seasonal then is another misnomer like the festive beers of Christmas or the spring seasonals that we just left. We are just going to use it as an excuse for trying these beers out and considering how they would taste on a hot summer day. 

Bell's Brewery Oberon

The beer poured a nice hazy golden color with a fair share of sediment that swirled around then settled at the bottom of the glass. A small white head that slowly dissipated but never disappeared and moderate carbonation. You can taste the wheat but it isn't as forward as you would find in a Witbier or here-weiss though both of those really aren't apt comparisons. This is meant to be more subdued than those styles, a welterweight fighter compared to those middleweights. There is a whiff of spice in the nose, but on the drink it blends in with the subtle fruitiness in the beer. It finishes pretty smooth with a minimal bitterness in the aftertaste that clears off very quickly. Lighter than you expect but adequately charged at 5.8% ABV. I would say this would be a good 80 to 85 degree beer. It is a beer that requires just a bit of time to warm a bit to reveal itself, but it would not be as enjoyable in the big heat and humidity. There is a reason this beer has become the classic it is and it is safe to say it is a suitable benchmark for comparison as we dive into other summer seasonals. Go enjoy one of these. Here is the 'party line' on Oberon
Bell's Oberon is a wheat ale fermented with Bell's signature house ale yeast, mixing a spicy hop character with mildly fruity aromas. The addition of wheat malt lends a smooth mouthfeel, making it a classic summer beer.
Goose Island Summertime 

Back when I lived in the Midwest Goose Island's Hex Nut Brown, (now discontinued sadly) was a quality session beer. A few months ago I had a Goose Island IPA at the Kennedy Center and I was surprised that I found it there. After a little research I found out why, Goose Island had been purchased by Anheuser-Busch which meant its distribution had been expanded. I'll admit that it dampened my enthusiasm a little but it is time to move on and see if the Goose still has it. 

This is a kölsch-style beer which means its comparison is more in line with a pilsner except this isn't a lager, it's an ale. It was a response to the success of pilsner, a local style that changed enough to be competitive, hold on, and actually stop pilsner in its tracks.

It poured a clear golden straw color with high carbonation and a fluffy white head. Like pilsner this is better when fresh and chilled. Unlike a pilsner with it's earthy bitterness, kölsch goes more for a fruity bitterness though in the case of the Summertime it is rather mild and leaves little impression. It has a decent crispness on the drink but the rest is rather uneventful. I hoped for more out of this beer and I am not finding it.

Some of this may be chalked up to the fact that kölsch as a style is one where I don't have as much experience as I would like but if you compare this to the three I have had over the last few months this is rather lackluster. There is another commonality kolsch and pilsner have and that is there is nowhere for the brewer to hide. Because of the simplicity and purity of the ingredients both demand diligence and skill to to get the most out of them, the Summertime is not delivering on that front. It has 5% ABV.

The Summertime falls into the category of a gateway beer. It's an easy beer for folks used to industrial lagers to drink and enjoy. It also would do well on those really hot summer days. But like the really hot and humid day you are going to want a change of pace sooner rather than later. Here is the 'party line' on Summertime:
The color of sunshine, with a light fruity aroma and a hint of fruity acidity, Goose Island Summertime is the perfect summer session ale. A kölsch beer brewed in the traditional German fashion, you'll find yourself enjoying and savoring each sip of summertime as much as you do those hot summer days and cool summer nights.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Beer links for the last days of Spring

Spring sprang. Summer shows up this week which means summer ales and lagers, just in time for thirst quenching refreshment from the heat and humidity.

In the News

Single Beer Ban: D.C. Officials Want To Broaden Controversial Policy (Huffington Post)
I'm pretty sure this policy will not work to the expectation of the council.

Original here

10 Best Vacation Cities for Beer Lovers (The Street)
Surprises: Portland, Maine 
The one that shouldn’t have been a surprise but was: Burlington, VT
The one that was missing that will be on their next time: Washington DC.

Pennsylvania debates new beer flow (
Distributors will eventually have to give way and come up with a better model.

Rising African tide floats global brewers’ boats (Reuters)
This is a good thing for the craft beer movement in the United States. It provides opportunity to continue to entrench in the minds of America of what beer should be while the big breweries are treasure hunting for profits overseas.

Northwest beer drinkers more likely than most to prefer local brew (Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal)
Who would have thought that an area with a boatload of craft brewers would have a population that enjoyed their products.

New craft beer company brewing in Jackson County (WDAM – Channel 7)
Expect more of this type of story coming out of Mississippi.

Craft beer finds growing US fan base (GMA News)
An interesting article but the lede frankly sucks as bad as the ones I normally write.

NY finds way to cheer beer brewers by restoring special tax break, keeping costs lower (Washington Post)
Which is a good thing right now for the one of the economy's shining stars. 

I wonder if I can check into this brew on Untappd...
If you are hanging around the province this week then check out some of their craft brews, you could unlock the badge on Untappd!

In Site News

Now that SAVOR DC is out of the way, we will turn our attention back to Iceland. Look for the interview with the fine brewers of Borg Brugghus. In addition we will take a closer look at a few summer seasonals.

Remember you can always find us on Twitter, Facebook, Untappd, and Google+. Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, June 15, 2012

SAVOR DC 2012 - Photo Catalog

Our host
Before the Madness
It begins!
The simpleness of greatness
A special guest?
The Lineup
Oyster madness!
The shuck
Pin mania
Laid out
The exchange
The set up
The show off
In the middle
Coming soon to a store near us
Ready for prime time