Tasting at Haandbryggeriet

<< 2008-09-03 21:44 >>

Rating at Haandbryggeriet

In April a group of beer enthusiasts booked a tour at Haandbryggeriet where we were shown around the brewery and tasted some of the beers. And since they knew of us from our blogs and from RateBeer they also let us taste some test brews of unreleased beers. Being real enthusiasts and raters we of course were quite vocal with our opinions, and apparently they appreciated that, because they invited us back this week to review some more test brews. Of course, we didn't need to be asked twice.

They told us that demand for their beer has increased quite markedly of late in Norway, through all channels: pubs, the wine monopoly, and shops. They also keep expanding where they export to, and at the moment they export to the US, Finland, and Denmark, but Japan is about to follow. Apparently the US is the easiest of these markets, since Shelton Brothers take on just about anything they brew, whereas in other markets they really have to push to get anything new accepted.

Because of this they are upgrading the brewery. On strong beers with lots of malts the existing one can only do 700-liter batches, and that is no longer enough. So they've bought a new brewery from the UK which will allow them to do 2000-liter batches. (For lighter brews the old one did 900 liters, and the new one should do about 2600, if my maths is correct.)

The beers

The Haandbryggeriet guys obviously do a lot of experimentation with both new brews and tweaks of their existing recipes. They usually brew test batches on their homebrewing kits to perfect the recipes before doing full-scales brews. If anything goes wrong with a full-scale brew they can't just pour it out, as they have to pay full alcohol taxes on anything they brew. So in that case they have to pay a modest fee for a special beer destructing truck to come and pick up the beer, crush the bottles in a kind of garbage-truck, and then dump it all down the nearest street drain.

One beer they are working on they call Valhall (and it's also been referred to as Miklagard). This uses honey and Turkish figs. We tried an 11-12% version of this back in April, and I really liked that one a lot. This time around they'd used both wild yeast and a sour mash and produced a 9% brew (labelled Valhall 3), which I have to confess I did not care for. It had a kind of harsh acidity that I did not like, and the figs and the honey from last time had more or less disappeared. My impression was that they weren't too happy with this one themselves, either. Still, the previous version was very good, so I'm sure they're on to something here.

They've brewed this year's Nissefar (a Christmas beer) to a new recipe. It's the same amount of alcohol (7%), but this time around it's lighter and more delicate. They've also taken out much of the sweetness and made it drier with a hint of acidity. I think the result is maybe not as great for sipping as the old version, but certainly easier to drink. They were unsure whether this really would be seen as a typical Norwegian Christmas beer, and there was general agreement that it would not, but that none of the craft brewers were really doing that anyway, so this wasn't an issue, we felt. (This was batch #163, in case you're curious.)

We also got to try their Nissemor from 2006 (this is the other Christmas beer). This got poor ratings in newspaper tests, and so it didn't sell much that year. This was Norwegian newspapers, however, so they sent out the same beer again in 2007, when it got much better reviews. And in fact it had aged very well. Now, in 2008, it was excellent. Anyone who's still sitting on bottles from 2006 is very, very lucky. I see that my cellar has Nissefar from 2005 and 2006, so I might be lucky, and I'm certainly going to cellar a few more of these.

Odin's Tipple

Another new beer they were working on they call Odin's Tipple. The version we tried in April had a bit much cocoa and was perhaps too dense, but the one we tried now was 10-11% alcohol and had been fermented with wild yeast. It had an excellent mix of dryness, sweetness, and acidity which is really unusual, but worked very well. The aroma similarly mixes unusual elements with estery banana and chewing gum, burnt cocoa, and oily toffee. The result was very complex and at the same time light and clean. This was very well received, to put it mildly, and so I wouldn't be too surprised if something like this hits the shelves in the future.

They'd also updated the recipe for batch #170 of Dobbel Dose, their double IPA, which they've moved in a more English direction with more English hops where earlier batches had Crystal hops. They'd used 2 kilos of Styrian goldings, Fuggles, and Galena hops, and with today's hop prices that meant they'd paid more for the hops than the malts, which is astonishing given that beer is pretty much liquid grain. Anyway, the result was a lighter and more delicate beer, less oily, and with a slightly unusual hop profile, with catty apricot and minty citrusy sherry. I really liked it.

They're also making a lingonberry beer, which we also tried in April. I very much enjoyed it both times, and hope to see this one on the market soon. This was the last one, so my notes are a bit jumbled, but the taste was dominated by tart lingonberry juice with a more complex layer on top. "Really, wildly unusual" I've written. Not sure how much of this is alcohol-induced, but I remember really enjoying it.

Dobbel dose

I've skipped some of what we tasted here, but this was the highlights. They revealed that they were also working on a redcurrant beer, tentatively given that latin name of the species, Ribes rubrum. We didn't get to taste this, but they were very happy with the feedback they got, and were talking about inviting us again soon. In fact, they've referred to us as their "Taste Reviewing Panel". Which does sound rather grand. So maybe we'll get to try the redcurrant beer next time.

After this, we took the train back to Oslo, and as the evening was still young, we had a beer (well, several, actually) at Beer Palace.

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