Finnish This Brew, A Helsinki Microbrew Festival

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While exploring Helsinki, we stumbled upon a Finnish microbrew festival.  He loves microbrews, so we had to check it out.

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It was a good chance to meet and talk with Finns.  Everyone had told us that the Finns are reserved and not the sort of people to use two words when one will do.   When drinking, this does not appear to be the case.  We were repeatedly engaged in conversation by nearby Finns.  We really enjoyed chatting about their country, beer and life with them.

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While you might not be able to name a single Finnish brew as they don’t export a lot of it, they have a surprisingly good microbrew culture.  The Finns are making some fantastic microbrews.  If you’re traveling there, they are definitely worth seeking out.  There were too many participants to name them all.

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Some of our favorites were:

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They weren’t all crazy beers, but for the traditional Finnish beer drinker, the IPA’s Ale’s and Stouts were probably different than what they grew up with.  However, a growing number of Finns are choosing microbrews instead of the typical beers produced by big global brewing conglomerates.   Karhu (which translates to bear), a traditional Finnish beer, is now owned by Carlsberg.  Many people report boycotting it post acquisition, however a decline in sales cannot be verified.  Small breweries only account for about 1 percent of Finland’s total beer consumption in Finland, but it’s growing each year as Finns develop a taste for more character filled craft beers.   With such good local brews to choose from, it comes as no surprise.

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Our favorite was the Malmgård’s Brewery.  Their Dinkel and Arctic Circle Ale were exceptional.  We met the head of marketing who told us a bit about the brewery, beer in Finland.  The brewery’s products are produced by hand in small batches using clear spring water, the domestic malts, cereals from the farm’s own fields.  They don’t use any additives. Malmgård has both the standard craft beers and more adventurous products.    If you’re in the US, you can get some through Shelton Brothers in shops featuring organic and locally produced products. DSC_0179DSC_0180

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The Best Beer In Geneva

Our friend discovered the Brasserie Des Murailles at a summer festival.  He made a strong statement and declared it to be the “best beer in Switzerland.”  After tasting it we fell in love with the brewery (brewery is brasserie in French).  Here’s why:

1. They regularly brew five varieties of beer (and additional seasonal ones). Each one is great.  They don’t make a bad one.

2. The brewer studied in Belgium.  Yeah Belgium!

3. They have continuously grown their business each year with minimal advertising.  They grew so much that they went from the tank above to the tanks below.

4. We like to tour breweries and microbreweries (and pretty much any kind of factory).  Although they are small, their old farm is one of the coolest buildings around.  It is a rustic old bar that has been retrofitted to accommodate brewing and visitors.  The best part is the setting in the countryside of Geneva with a wonderful view of the French Alps and Le Salève.  From the back, you can see the Jura. mountains.

5. Like the Belgians, they manage to pack their beer full of flavor.  Somehow, they manage to keep it light enough for the local market.  Even in during a summer heat wave, they never seem too heavy.

6. Their beers are unique and complex.

7. They are small enough to exercise strong quality control.

8. Although it isn’t technically a reason their beer is great, they are nice.  Really, really nice. You want them to succeed.  Although they love great beer, they aren’t pretentious or snobby.

9. At summer festivals, what would you rather drink Heineken, Kronenbourg 1664 or something with taste and flavor?

10. In a market like Geneva, where great unique beers are hard to come by, they are a godsend.

If you are interested in Swiss beers, check out the Ultimate Switzerland Beer Guide.  Sante! Proust!  Chin Chin!  Cheers!

Belgian Trappist Beers

Orval

Orval (Photo credit: jucanils)

“This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption… Beer!”

Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, Friar Tuck

I thought this quote was perfect for the Trappist beers. To qualify as a Trappist beer, it must:

  • be brewed in a monastery,
  • monks must play a role in its production,
  • profits from the sale must used to support the monastery and/or social programs.
Trappist

Trappist (Photo credit: Titimo)

There are 6 in Belgium:

The Netherland’s has the only other one in the world. While they are all yummy, they have different styles.

Achel trappist beer (Belgium).

Achel trappist beer (Belgium). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Achel was an established monastic brewery until the German army looted its copper kettels during WWI. They restarted brewing in 1998 and have continuously improved their operation. You are starting to be able to find this brand with more ease in the US.
The four varieties of Chimay, with Chimay Bleu...

The four varieties of Chimay, with Chimay Bleue in the glass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chimay, the largest and best-known Trappist brewer, now uses non-monks to do most of their brewing. This has created a bit of a backlash with two main effects arguments: (1) creation of a controversy whether they merit their Trappist designation, and (2) whisperings of a decline in quality.

They make three types: red, white and blue (by far the best). If you are looking to bring something other than wine, a large bottle of Chimay Blue is a nice and pretty easy to find.

Orval Trappist beer

Orval Trappist beer (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Orval is only known for one kind of beer. It is dry, light and hoppy (which makes it different from other Trappist ales).

The monastery of Orval has the beautiful ruins on their grounds that are worth touring. Their symbol is a fish with a ring.    This is because a noblewoman allegedly lost her ring in a pond.  A fish brought it to the surface.  To show her gratitude, she funded the monastery.  That’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

The beers of Rochefort

The beers of Rochefort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rochefort (not Roquefort where they make the yummy but stinky cheese) makes rich ales. I like them all, but if you have never tried them, Rochefort 8 (a bit lighter) and 10 (stronger and darker) are good bets.  Michael Jackson (the Beer Hunter, not the singer) wrote a great article about his visit there.

Westmalle Trappists and friends

Westmalle Trappists and friends (Photo credit: valde_)

Westmalle is the originator of the widely imitated Trippel style. (You are now officially warned about the high alcohol content of all Trippels, Dubbels too. In fact, be aware of the high alcohol content of virtually all Belgian beers. Trust him on this one.) Any of their beers are a good ones and relatively easy to find.

Westvleteren XII - Best bier in the world

Westvleteren XII – Best bier in the world (Photo credit: Philippe Clabots)

Westvleteren is the best beer we have ever had. They don’t market or distribute this beer. To lay our hands on a bottle, our friend Steamer traveled to Belgium, went on a specific morning at a specific time (they don’t sell it any old time) to the abbey and bought all he could.  Don’t quote me on this, but I think there was a six bottle max. It was so good that he drank them all over the course of his vacation.

Luckily, he stopped in a shop in Amsterdam at the end of his trip. They had just sent someone to the monastery to buy a limited amount. He managed to buy one and bring one back to the US for us to taste. Steamer is such a good friend! If you tasted it, you might not share. This beer is so good that it will set the bar by which all beers you taste will be measured (and found wanting).

For more in Westvlandren, here’s a link to an article about someone’s visit.

 

Beer Tours – If You Want To Improve Yours, Just Ask Us?

We’ve had a beer or two on our day and have been on a few brewery tours. While we were in Copenhagen, we toured Carlsberg.
Carlsburg had several things going for it.  It has decent beer (sorry Heineken). It has a nice campus. It has a decent place to sit and drink your free beers.  One of the best parts of the tour was the Guinness (ironic) Book of Records certified world’s largest collection of unopened beer bottles (currently +/- 20,000). The other nice part was the history of the company and it’s role in Danish society.
Sorry, I couldn’t fit them all in. Not even close.
They have a copy of The Little Mermaid Statue. The family commissioned the one in the harbor.  You get to see a bunch of old machinery and, like the Budweiser tour, there are stables with horses (no horses in the stables on the Heineken tour).
 

Several things go into making a good tour.  We enjoy a tour and here are some easy ways to make a factory/product tour better:

  • Show funny old commercials. Even ones that the suits setting up the tour don’t think are funny.
  • Have a location with a view.  Look out over mountains, the sea, the city, even a garden. Guinness does a good job with this.  Their Gravity Bar has the best view of Dublin.
The second best part of the Guinness tour
  • Provide plenty of silly photo ops.
  • Try not to be as obvious about making it a giant commercial for your product. Yes, Guinness Tour I am talking to you. Miller, please pay attention as well.  World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, you might be a lost cause.
  • Have knowledgeable people who can actually answer questions about the product. Olde Mecklenburg, Thomas Creek and lots of American microbrews do this well.
  • If at all possible, try to show production.  We eat it up. I’m not sure if you can still do it, but you used to be able to do this at Yuengling and some of the Milwaukee breweries.