Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nice place, but no draughted beer

There are many places in Bergen where it is worth sitting down enjoying a beer. One of them can be found not far from the wharf. On the hillside above the Maria church and Bergenhus castle you can find Bar Barista. This is a combination of a neighbourhood pub and an ordinary taproom in a cosy environment.

Unfotunately Bar Barista does not sell beer from draught. Every beer inside is available only in bottles and cans. The reason for this is that the bar is somewhat new, and that the owners so far have not made draught beers available. By the way, the beers are accompanied by a good selection in wines and spirits.

Once upon a time the Øvregaten street was the mainstreet of Bergen. Just below you could find the harbour where salesmen traded with fishermen and hanseatic travellers. These days this is the outskirts of the city centre, but for tourists Øvregaten is easy to find as it is in a short distance from the cruise liners' harbour.

Bar Barista can be found in the street above Øvregaten. After a short walk the bar is easily located in the Stølegaten street. It is like a hole in the wall in its street. The local 7-Eleven takes up a lot of room around the bar and can unfortunately outshine it in its neighbourhood.

Inside, Bar Barista is a cosy place. Coffee lovers will find a lot of coffee variations, and cake lovers can have a good time eating themselves through the sweet offers. But I am here to drink beer, and an old favourite is available in bottles. Good, old Newcastle Brown Ale is sold here, and it is the same half-sweet ale. Not the best British ale, but still a good offering. The local Hansa version of Brown Ale is also to be found, but compared to the Newcastle Brown Ale this is a half good variation with less taste.

Hansa Bayer is a nice offering at Bar Barista, and the Baviarian style beer is both tasty and very drinkable. So is also the Hansa draught beer (fatøl) from cans, but its sugary tones makes it a number 2 beer compared to the Bayer.

Bar Barista is a nice place to have a beer or five. The lack of draughted beers makes the bar less interesting than it ought to be, but an excellent interior and fine paintings on the wall make a good effort. You could do worse in Bergen than visiting Bar Barista, but in the meantime this is a great place for some local Hansa beers - even though only from bottles and cans.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Easter Theatre

Bergen again. The second largest city of Norway is a beautiful sight with its lovely harbour and nice sights. Spring has arrived. The weather has been nice this week, and the usual Bergener rain has been nowhere to be seen.

The theatre of Bergen, Den Nationale Scene.

Near the theatre, you can find several interesting cafés and pubs. I have written about Naboen earlier, but this time it is time to visit Henrik. Henrik is just opposite the theatre. Between Henrik and the theatre is a tiny park where pidgeons and seagulls roam. If you want to feed the birds, get ready to see some fighting. The pidgeons have more or less no chance against the seagulls, so people try to feed the pidgeons exclusively. Usually the seagulls get there in no time, so the pidgeons need to flee.

Henrik is above the local 7-Eleven competitor, Deli de Luca.

Henrik is on the first floor across the street. There is only a small door, and then up the stairs you go. On your way you pass several pictures and paintings of the Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen.
Ibsen was based in Bergen for some time in the 19th century, and it is therefore natural to use the Henrik name for a pub near the theatre.

The inside of Henrik is a large room with a decent bar. Beer bottle lovers will find many beers and beer styles represented. From tap Norwegian lagers Ringnes and Frydenlund lead on together with Carlsberg lager. Stout is represented by Guinness, and Kilkenny is also to be found. But this is not why I visited Henrik this time. They also sell draughted beer from the Norwegian cult brewer Nøgne Ø, and it is rumoured that this is the only place in Bergen to do so.

As I visited this week, the Nøgne Ø Easter beer God Påske was available as a draught beer. As always, Norwegian beer prices are high, and that is also typical of Nøgne Ø. At Henrik I had to pay 76 NOK for 0.35 litre of God Påske.

God Påske is copper coloured. In the glass there is nearly no head, but there is some carbonation. Actually, there is more carbonation than I expected, and it is nice to have a glass of Nøgne Ø without sediments. The first taste is typical of several other Nøgne Ø beers. Here there be hops! But there is more to it. Together with a fruity scent and some yeast notes, this is a very enjoyable beer. I have tasted several offerings from Nøgne Ø, but this is the best one. After one glass I am very tempted to taste another, but then I see something on the shelf.

Henrik sells Budweiser Budvar lager! OK, it is only available in 0.33 litre bottles, but for a Budvar fan like me it is nice to see a beer I have not seen in Norway for years. Sorry, Nøgne Ø, but curiosity kills the cat. I need to have a bottle of Budvar. From the bottle label, I can see that this is a beer bottled for Norway and imported by the Norwegian importers Interbev. The price at Henrik is 67 NOK.

This is Budvar's lezak, as it has 4.5% alcohol. I have had both the vycepni and the lezak from tap in the Czech Republic, and they are great lager beers. The bottled Budvar is also very nice, and pours with a large head into the glass. There is more carbonation than in the Nøgne Ø God Påske, but still very little. The colour is light amber with a nice contrast to the white head. This is a tasty beer with some hops and a nice bitterness. This is a good session beer, and I hope that we can find it in shops very soon. It is rumoured to be found in the Norwegian ICA supermarkets in May. I hope that also other chains will sell it and that it will be a success. Myself, I would prefer Budvar to the leading Norwegian lager beers like Ringnes and Hansa any day.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Czeched out at home

After several visits to Prague and the Czech Republic, I feel that Czech lager beers are among the best in the world. Sitting at home and thinking of delicious Kout na Sumave lagers or fresh Budvar or unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell brings back great memories. Some of those memories can be revived at home, as a few of the Czech beers are also available here in Norway.

Various beers at a Coop Mega supermarket in Norway. Among the international brands, you can see Czech lager beers like Starobrno and Pilsner Urquell.

The first time I tasted a Czech beer, was in England in 1990. A pub in Scarborough sold Pilsner Urquell from bottles. I liked the lager beer and had several bottles that evening. Later I found Pilsner Urquell now and then at the stately Norwegian Vinmonopolet outlet. Later Urquell also was available outside Vinmonopolet in ordinary shops, and at times I also found Budweiser Budvar here and there.

Pilsner Urquell is sold in both half litre cans and 0.33 litre bottles in Norway.

These days it is easy to get hold of some Czech lagers here in Norway. Pilsner Urquell is sold in many supermarket chains, and in my opinions this is one of the best lager beers. I really enjoy that hoppy taste. Urquell is a tasty lager beer and fortunately it lacks the sugary distinctions that I did not like with the Spanish lagers I had in Tenerife. Poured in a glass, Pilsner Urquell has a golden colour, a large head and little carbonation.

Gambrinus is only sold in half litre bottles in Norway.

Urquell's beer colleague from Plzen, Gambrinus, is sold in the Rema 1000 shops together with Bernard lager. Gambrinus lacks the bitterness and hoppyness of Pilsner Urquell, but it has nearly the same golden colour. Just like Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus has little carbonation and a large head.

Bernard lager in green bottles - but without the trademark swing tops
as found in the Czech Republic.

Bernard is the odd one out. This is a lager beer that I thought I would never find in Norway's largest supermarket chain. But it is there! This is a malty lager with as good as no visible carbonation. In the glass it is presented with a large head and a brownish character in the colour. The beer is unpasteurized, which is quite uncommon among beers sold in Norwegian supermarkets. I like Bernard, and together with Pilsner Urquell, these are the lager beers I usually buy these days.

Starobrno is called "Czech traditional lager" on the bottle label.

Here and there I can also find Starobrno in 0.33 liter bottles. In a glass the colour is somewhat pale. The Starobrno lager is sweeter than the other Czech lager beers sold in Norway, but some hops and bitterness makes it a nice alternative. My wife likes this beer better than Bernard and Pilsner Urquell, but she prefers Gambrinus to Starobrno.

Dark lager from Staropramen.

Staropramen is the big brewery from Prague. Here in Norway Staropramen's pale lager beer is not available, but I can find their dark lager in some shops. Staropramen cerny is nearly black and it tastes fresh with some caramel notes. In my opinion this is much better than Staropramen's pale lagers, but I have tasted Czech dark lagers that are better than this. Kout na Sumave comes immediately to mind.

Budweiser Budvar is returning to Norwegian shops later this year!

Unfortunately Budweiser Budvar is not available in Norwegian shops these days, but that will change. According to a friend who has contacted the importers, the Norwegian ICA supermarkets will start selling Budvar in May. Hopefully more Czech lagers will follow. I would love to be able to buy Kout na Sumave's lagers now and then, and I would also appreciate some of the Svijany beers as well. And why not some offerings from for instance Primator?

Let us have Svijany in Norway, please!

Czech beers are very nice. If you have not tasted them, my recommendation is that you do it. And remember: Czech beers taste even better in the Czech Republic!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Session: Smoked beers

It is time for another edition of The Session, and this time the theme is smoked beers. I have very little experience in smoked beers, so I took a visit to the nearest Vinomopolet outlet. There I found Ächt Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen - a German smoked beer from Bamberg.

Poured into the glass, the Schlenkerla märzen is dark brown with no visible carbonation. It has a solid, large head, and it smells like smoke with distinct notes of smoked mackerel.

The first taste tells me that the smoked fish is still there, but now it is accompanied with smoked bacon. Afterwards the smoky feeling stays in the mouth. The crisps on my plate taste less, and the Danish gräddost cheese is more or less tasteless.

I feel that this smoked beer is an acquired taste. I will not say no if I am offered it by a friend, but I will not actively seek it out. But I will absolutely have a lager beer or two and some smoked ham later tonight.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lagers in Spain

Two months has passed since I left Lanzarote, so a report on Spanish beers is long overdue. These days Spring is in the air here in Norway, and the bliss of warm weather and beach life is a memory. So are also Spanish beers, although I can find San Miguel in several supermarkets here at home in Norway. The stronger version, San Miguel Especial, is sold at the stately alcohol outlet Vinmonopolet, and Estrella Damm can be found here and there in shops.

Beers in a Lanzarote supermarket. Here are Spanish beers and international brands.

I did not try (nor find) any Spanish craft beers, so I drank mostly Spanish lagers. They were found more or less everywhere. In Lanzarote the Canarian brands Tropical and Dorada seem to have a large share of the market. Mainland beers where also common, but according to local people the Canarians prefer their own beers to the mainland brands.

Local Canarian lager Tropical from draught.

My favourite Spanish lager was Tropical. It is brewed on Gran Canaria and is commonly found everywhere in Lanzarote. Many restaurants sell this beer from draught, and in shops it can be found in bottles and cans. Tropical is s a pale lager with some malty taste. It is a little bit fizzy, but normally without a big head. This is a great thirst quencher, and I enjoyed it both by the pool, on the beach and on the terrace of my hotel room.

Dorada from tap.

Dorada is also a Canarian brand, but it hails from Tenerife. It is even lighter than Tropical in colour and very watery in taste.

Dorada from can.

There is also little carbonation in this beer, which falls through compared to Tropical. So does also Reina Ora from Gran Canaria. It is more tasty than Dorada with a more malty twist, but all in all both Reina Ora and Dorada are worse alternatives than Tropical.

A half litre of San Miguel as bought in a Chinese restaurant.

Mainland beers were easy to find in Lanzarote. San Miguel is available in several versions. From draught this was a light coloured lager with some carbonation and little head. It was more sugary than the Canarian lagers, and the San Miguel Especial version from bottle and can had an even more sugary feel. San Miguel Especial is stronger in alcohol than its Canarian cousins, and it has an alcohol taste in it as well. My favourite is the San Miguel version with less alcohol. It is tastier, but compared to Tropical the Canarian lager is my favourite.

This glass of Cruzcampo was bought in the mountains of Lanzarote.

Cruzcampo lacked most of the sugary nature of San Miguel. Otherwise this was a pale lager with little taste and medium carbonation. This is a nice beer for warm Summer days, but it fells through compared with other Spanish beers.

Estrella Damm has more in common with San Miguel Especial than the Canarian beers. The sugary tones are very accentuated but it lacks some of the alcohol scents of its mainland relative. Estrella Damm is also maltier, but the combination of tastes in the less alcohol version of San Miguel makes for a better offer.

What to drink, then? And when? On cold Winter nights, I would rather have San Miguel Especial of all these beers. In warm Summer days Tropical is to be preferred. It is Ok from bottles and cans and best from tap. In Lanzarote it costs about 1 Euro from supermarkets. In bars you pay around 2 Euros for a half litre. This is a good price compared to Stella Artois and Carling, which can cost 3 to 5 Euros.