Let me get this out of the way right at the start – the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival is simply awesome. There are several reasons why, the first of which being the most obvious – the sheer amount of unfamiliar beer on offer. Wandering around the lower hall – one wasn’t large enough for this festival – I spied a few logos from the UK (Harviestoun, Innis & Gunn, Summer Wine). But this trip was all about Swedish breweries – such as the Gotlands Bryggeri from Visby. Owned by the giant Spendrups, they are something of an experimental arm (located on an island, presumably in case things get out of hand).
I spent a few minutes chatting to the people behind the bar – discovering that Gotland is a Baltic island renowned for its churches. The long row of pump clips certainly reflected that, even though the beer styles were very different to the local brew, which apparently is often some form of smoked beer. Gotlands do produce one of these, but only at Christmas. Any disappointment that registered on my face quickly vanished with a sample of their Jubileum V, aged in brand new barrels. You can tell – it’s so young and green, fresh oak from start to finish.
The scale of the event is pretty astonishing. Two cavernous halls, held over two weekends, with dozens of exhibitors and thousands of people. It’s a trade show really, in all but name. Certainly, completely different from the UK-style beer festivals I normally attend (which is not meant as a slight at any other organisation). The most important distinction was that each producer had their own stand, and were pouring the beers (or, sometimes, their representatives were). It makes such a change – wandering around, chatting to all the various beer people.
For example, after leaving the Gotlands bar I ended up at the one for the Malmö Brygghus, and spoke with them for a while – in, of course, perfect English. This is a common occurrence in Stockholm, a faltering request in broken Swedish being followed by a ten-minute conversation regarding the minutiae of Scandinavian brewpub legislation. Interestingly, the Malmö Brygghus is also a fully operational chocolate factory, resulting in beers such as the lovely Cacaoporter Criollo. Beer, food and chocolate, in one location. Perfect!
Literally next door to Malmö were the Mohawk Brewing Company, based in Gothenburg. After failing to goad a bit of Glasgow/Edinburgh style enmity from the Mohawk rep (he was from Stockholm, and loved Gothenburg), we talked for a while about their unfiltered lager. It was really something, as good as any I’ve had in Germany. The main man at Mohawk, Stefan Gustavvson (who’s hair is pictured here) was busy demolishing a reindeer burger, so after discovering their beer is brewed under licence in Sweden and at De Proef in Belgium, I moved on…
…another twenty paces to Stronzo Brewing. They were directly opposite Mohawk (next in line was de Struise, and as much as I love a touch of the old Panneput, I was after local Swedish producers on this visit). It came as a mild surprise when the quietly spoken, bearded man behind the Stronzo desk almost whispered that they were actually from Denmark. Close enough – they sell plenty of beer around the tightly-knit countries of Scandinavia, although their name is actually Italian (Stronzo = asshole).
Their beer names were scrawled onto a large boxy counter that the two Stronzans were standing behind, and one beer jumped out immediately – ‘Fruit Cake Brett’. As it turned out, there was no actual cake in there – but the soured raspberry and grape saison certainly tasted fantastic. They seemed pretty nonchalant about the idea of letting Brettanomyces into their brewery – although I later found out they too brew under licence. It seems there are plenty of small breweries who do, just as is happening here in Scotland.
By this point, I was well and truly warming to the festival. Speaking with the people involved was a real pleasure – highlighted by a lengthy visit to the Brutal Brewing stand. Another Spendrups concern, their rep Sofia led us through six of the Brutal beers, including a rare draft version of the wonderfully (if optimistically) named Sir Taste A Lot, a 3.5% offering designed to evade the clutches of Systembolaget – which, to be fair, is certainly a reasonably-priced place to buy beer, if a tad inconvenient. Why can you never find one when you need a carry-out?
Brutal are also an experimental arm of Spendrups – although they seem to be aimed more at the younger, cult market compared to Gotlands. They also know how to involve the public, as five new Brutal beers were on offer to be sampled and voted on, with the most popular going on to be served in a number of restaurants. All were really interesting – the ‘kebab’ beer (i.e. cumin) got my vote, if only because it was the most brutal. Unless you tried to pronounce their liqourice beer Glyzyrrhiza Glabra, of course.
Sweden is a rock nation, despite the history of bubblegum pop and ABBA. Where better, then, for epic metal legends Motörhead to launch their own lager. It was back in June that the beer actually came out, but as a rider to Slayer’s Reign In Blood wine (sold in a coffin-shaped box), it’s a natural fit. As to the taste…well, it tastes pretty much like you’d expect. Drink it cold, turn up that metal, and rock out.*
* I have no idea what I’m talking about, as you can probably tell
Finally, it was the turn of Södra Maltfabriken. To me, this summed up the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival – a new brewery (in their first year), a long chat, forward-thinking beer, some complete honesty (problems with their bottling line), and a great-looking stand. Magnus from Södra spoke with me for a while, talking me through the beers they produce – the ESB was very good, and the 7% IPA an oily, pithy, multiple hop-laden bomb.
As you may have noticed, there’s no whisky notes in here – to be honest, there was so much beer on offer there was no point. I did manage to speak with some gin and wine producers – the festival was enormous – and in the end, spent six hours there. Huge thanks to Marianne for the press tickets, and to everyone that I spoke with. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area, the festival will be running again from the 4th of October. Visit the official website for more details!