Where is the World’s Most Northerly Brewery ?

Despite what P&O Cruises and the Mack Brewery would have you believe, the world’s northernmost brewery is not in Tromso.  This was the case for many years but since 2015 you have to travel another 1,000km or so until you reach Svalbard, Norway’s archipelago situated in the Arctic Ocean halfway between Norway and the North Pole where the world’s most northerly beer is now brewed.

It is here, on Spitsbergen, the largest island, that former miner, Robert Johansen, pushed and pushed against the conservative local authorities until permission was granted to open the world’s most northerly brewery, Svalbard Bryggeri, in Longyearbyen, the island’s main town.

P1030199I’d love to tell you more.  I’d love to have visited but I guess unless you are resident, have work commitments there or are a polar bear tourist, our chances of visiting the brewery are slim.  The Svalbard Brewery website tells a full story much better that I could share without visiting and I recommend you take a read of the trials and tribulations of such a passionate and enthusiastic venture.

Fear not though, friends.  There are only 2,500 residents of Svalbard, the world’s most northerly year-round settlement.  To make the business a success the beer has to travel and although I have never seen it in England or Central Europe, I have discovered it in a bar in Tromso and also if you search hard enough in the government run liquor stores in Northern Norway, the Vinmonopolet.  Seek it out, it’s worth the effort.

P1030194My main motivation for writing this short post, apart from calling out P&O and Mack for out-of-date information, is to share some of the photos taken of the beer in the sub-zero temperatures of Alta where our Northern Lights cruise eventually docked in anticipation of seeing the Aurora.  We get very little snow in London so it’s easy for a city boy to get excited and I was pleased with the results using a simple camera in the crisp, fresh snow.

A couple of other snippets :

Although Svalbard lies at approx 75 degrees North it is still a further 700km until you reach the North Pole (North Pole brewery, anyone ?)

The midnight sun in Longyearbyen lasts from 19 April to 22 August and the dark period is from 27 October to 15 February.

See also Cruising for Craft Beer in Tromso

Cruising the P&O Cruises Beer List – Batemans Mocha Beer

Any cruise to see the Northern Lights will require a slow sail towards the Arctic Circle.  In most cases, like any cruise, this will need a day or two spent at sea.  For many passengers, a day at sea gives time to relax.  A time for line dancing, a chance to brush up on art and crafts skills, listen to the lecturer’s talk, catch up on reading, take a swim, enjoy a gym session or eat more and more (and more) food.

For me, a day at sea gives me a chance to take a closer look at the on-board beer list, my attention no longer distracted by the best bars and beers of any port of call.

The P&O beer list is strong on quality and variety.  There is a choice of 40 odd bottles in the ship’s pub (over 70 on flagship, Britannia).  Many are standard beers that many passengers will recognise; the likes of Fuller’s London Pride, Newcastle Brown Ale and Marstons Pedigree.  But there is also a sprinkling or more unusual beers to sniff out.  As usual time spent on research pays dividends.  My highlight from this cruise was a beer that I have never seen before, Mocha Beer brewed by Bateman’s Brewery in Lincolnshire.

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Even for an amateur photographer, with a basic camera and in poor light, I’m sure you agree it really looks the part – appetising and inviting.  “Drink me !”

Served at cellar temperature (hopefully deliberately), the 6% rich chocolate/coffee dark beer was a perfect winter warmer with outside temperatures at about minus 9.  Silky, velvety and smooth, this was an unexpected treat.  Absolutely delicious, it fit the mood and the moment perfectly, a real winner – (vegan friendly too).  Many pubs are often reluctant to include such niche dark beers on their list.  My guess would be that this is not one of P&O biggest sellers but while it remains on the beer list it will be another go-to beer for me.

See also my earlier post Craft beer on P&O Cruises

Cruising for Craft Beer in Tromsø

From Kristiansand we head north in our quest to see the Northern Lights.  Well, most passengers are seeking the Aurora Borealis but I’ll be looking out for the best beer highlights that the north of Norway has to offer the cruising beer geek.

Tromsø is the principal city of north Norway.  Its beer heritage is long established being tagged the “gateway to the Arctic” and the consistent flow of beer drinkers that this has historically brought to the city.  Tromsø, for well over a century, also boasted the world’s most northerly brewery though this crown has long since slipped even though the (Mack) brewery and most of the tourist guides will not accept it.

(More about the world’s most northerly brewery in a future post)

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The Mack Brygghus and its attached pub, Ølhallen occupies a large footprint a short walk to the east of town at Storgata 4, where they have quenched the thirst of travellers for over 140 years.  The main brewery (one of Norway’s largest) relocated to an out of town site in 2012 leaving a new micro brewery in the old building.  There are now daily tours of the microbrewery, just drop in at 3.30pm (in summer there is a second tour at 2pm).  NOK180 (2018 price) per person for an hour tour and two tastings.

The real treat for the beer lover though is the pub next door, Ølhallen.  It is the oldest pub in Tromso (1928) and could easily be stuck in the past being owned by the old traditional, family owned, Mack Brewery and being a classy old-school, dare I say English style, pub with a long mahogany bar and wooden furniture (oh, and a stuffed polar bear).

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As you might expect there is a range of Mack beers, both from the microbrewery next door (12 taps) and from the out of town, more commercial, brewery (15 taps).  However, to make us feel like we are in the 21st century there is also a long tap wall bringing the total number up to 67 beers.

On my visit in November 2017 there were 39 beers available from a further 7 Norwegian microbreweries.  A kid in a sweetshop where the candy costs from NOK 65 (about six quid) for a 33cl glass up to a knee-trembling NOK 215 for a 33cl serving of Lervig 3 Bean Stout – expensive but one of the world’s greatest beers in my opinion.

I decided to wait until my local beer shop, Micro Beers, stocks this beer again at a more affordable c£9 and plumped for the Mack Microbrewery Christmas stout at a more modest NOK 85 – just perfect to take the edge off a cold day.

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I heard it suggested by a fellow drinker that the wall of taps here is the longest in the world.  It is great to see in such a traditional old pub but frankly, these days, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t more beers available in a bar somewhere else in Norway.  The search continues.

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On the road out of the city towards the Tromsø Bridge is a fairly new taproom for Bryggeri 13 at Skippergata 15 set in an unimposing shopfront that was clearly previously a deli shop.  Here you find a tiny brewkit to the right of the shop and a bar area to the left as you walk into the single room premises.  There’s also an upright piano, a clear sign that good times happen here.

P1030140.JPGIt’s a friendly spot with a warm welcome in the coldest of weather with a small range of (7 on my visit) beers brewed on the premises priced at 40/60 NOK depending on strength for a 25cl pour.  The beers and styles are a work in progress as the brewery had only just been installed but any slight deficiencies in the beer were more than made up by the friendliness and the knowledge of the owners who were in situ during my visit.

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Although it’s only about a 10 minute walk away from the city, it feels a bit out off-piste but I hope they make a success of this venture as it is a great new spot for the cruising beer geek.

I lingered here for a little longer than I had intended, so easily done when you are enjoying a beer or two.   The light was giving way to winter’s early afternoon twilight and flurries of snow were falling.  I had run out of time to visit my third option Cafe Sånn.

A bit of a shame but my motto is always leave something for a future visit.

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Café Sånn is situated at 1 Erling Bangsunds Plass.  It’s a bit hidden and tucked away and the only signage is the etched windows on the corner and the A board outside when open.  The easiest way to find it is to stand with your back to the catholic church facing the Culture Hall and Café Sånn is opposite you as illustrated in the photo.

If the time, the light and the weather had not beaten me, it was here that I was hoping to find a beer from the world’s most northerly brewery.  No, not as still claimed by Mack of Tromsø, but the latest holder of that geographic accolade, the Svalbard Brewery, situated in the Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean midway between Norway and the North Pole – of which more in the future (see below).

Café Sånn has 9 taps of draft beer – usually all Norwegian including a rotating beer from Svalbard Brewery.  I had to leave that for another time.

See also the previous stop Cruising for Craft Beer in Kristiansand

So, where is the world’s most northerly brewery then ? See the explanation here.

Cruising for Craft Beer in Kristiansand

Kristiansand is Norway’s fifth largest town and a popular cruise port when heading north to the Fjords or Northern Lights or heading east to the Baltic.  Like so many Norwegian towns these days, it has also become a craft beer hot-spot (warm really but anything’s better than nothing in the hunt for good beer).

My last visit was a surprise one.  In November 2017, on P&O Aurora, heading to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights, most passengers were disappointed to be informed by the Captain that poor weather made it less safe to head north and we would be seeking safe-haven in Kristiansand in the south rather than Åndalsnes in the Fjords.

Much delight from me as I knew the beer offering in Kristiansand was far superior to sleepy Åndalsnes even though we would be berthing on a Sunday and opening hours would be much restricted.

Firstly the touristy stuff : a leg-stretching walk along the waterfront taking in the fresh, clean but cold, crisp air.  Then head into the town and a walk around Posebyen, a large historic settlement of wooden houses followed by, if time affords, a climb up towards Baneheia Forest, a delightful area of forests, lakes and walking paths – an unmissable peaceful haven just a few minutes walk to the north of the city.

Later in the day as you think about refreshment you will be keen to find a beer and luckily there are a couple of places I can recommend.

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There are a few bars in Kristiansand where you can find craft beer, particularly from local Norwegian breweries.

Patricks Pub & Restaurant

Patrick’s is in the main town at 10 Markens gate and my guess is that it was once a faux Irish bar given its name and the fact the interior is pretty pubby, all shiny with plenty of dark wood.  It now prides itself on its rotating range of craft beers, mainly Norwegian, some very local, a sprinkling of UK, German and Belgian.  The 18 taps are all described on the large TV screen on the wall.  This all includes brewery, style, price and also each beer’s rating on Untappd – all pretty helpful if you need some guidance.  The fridges are also stuffed full and the bottle list is a great read.  I suggest you linger and take your time to make a considered choice – the staff are pretty knowledgable and helpful too.  Not cheap, but beer in Norway is always premium priced – about NOK100-130 for a glass (a half litre or 33cl depending usually on strength).

You can get beers from the local Christianssand brewery here but I was a bit confused regarding which beers are brewed in the microbrewery in Kristiansand and which are brewed in the more commercial out-of-town facility.  To get word from the horses mouth so-to-speak I suggest a walk around the corner to the brewpub at 9 Tollbodgata.

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Christianssand Brygghus

I did not get a chance to visit here as no Sunday opening.  However, I’m sure you’ll be able to get the low-down on which beers are brewed on the premises and which are brewed out of town.

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Kombinat bar and restaurant

The Kombinat is at 8 Dronningens gate and another bar that I did not really get a chance to visit as they only opened shortly before the ship was about to set sail for Tromso.

They have only recently reopened following a refit where they removed a beautiful rack of about 20 traditional handpumps.  The latest offering is a bank of 12 craft beer taps (pictured above) and although it is now more foody than it was previously they are more than happy to serve you if you simply want a beer or two.

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Finally, Vinmonopolet

Vinmonopolet is the Government run off-licence and the most centrally located one in Kristiansand is situated at Lillemarkens Shopping on Gyldenløves gate.  However, the recent changes to the P&O policy on bringing aboard your own beer makes this information a bit redundant for the beer loving cruiser – I’ll expand on this in the next post.

See the next stop Cruising for Craft Beer in Tromsø

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Golden Rules for the Beer Hunting Cruiser (2)

GOLDEN RULE #2

DO NOT MISS THE SHIP

OK, it’s obvious and should go without saying.  A cruise ship will not wait for you and if you fail to get back onboard by the nominated time the ship sails without you and you will be required to make your own way to the next port stop.

For most this is pretty obvious, and a huge reason why folk take the ship’s organised excursions as they guarantee to get you back to the ship before it sails.

The point I really make is to be sure you are thinking about this when you are in the beer zone of a day’s sightseeing.  The beery bit for me is usually at the end of hours of trudging around the city’s main sights, the odd museum and standing outside every trashy gift shop on offer.  When you reach the pub an hour or two before the sailaway time, it is very easy to get settled in, ignore the passage of time and lose your bearings when it is time to leave.

A few tricks :

Always make sure you know the directions and how long it will take to get back to the ship.

The featured photo above is of the Kombinat bar/restaurant, 8 Dronningensgate, Kristiansand in South Norway (of which more in future posts).

You can see the blue funnel of P&O Aurora at the end of the street, it’s a stone throw away so an ideal spot for a beer before the ship sails.  However, all is not what it seems.  The ship is the other side of the water.  It is not the 5 minute walk that it might appear.  On my last visit it took me about 15-20 minutes to leg-it back and although I was about 10 minutes inside the curfew, the ship’s staff were calling my name over the loudspeakers to ask whether I had returned without the computer checking off my name.  My wife, who had returned to the ship earlier, was NOT impressed.  It was a close call and a valuable lesson.

Always add  at least 20 minutes extra time to that which you guess it will take to return – then add another 10.

If you take a wrong turning it is easy to become disorientated especially when refreshed.  Last year, I thought I was going to be stuck in Tórshavn, Faroe Isles, Old Town waving goodbye to the ship as I kept losing my way, going round in circles, beer affecting my inner GPS.  Luckily I had left plenty of time that afternoon.

Always drink one beer at a time.  

We (middle aged ) Brits can be a cautious bunch, particularly nervous about using our bank cards to buy simple things like a pint of beer.  As such, in countries where I do not carry currency like Norway, I have a habit of buying a couple at a time so I only have to use the card once.  If you leave it late, have to slug back that extra glass of barley wine or imperial russian stout, it will be swilling around your belly if you have to stride out a bit quicker to get to the ship.

Never take that “one for the road”  

When you are thoroughly enjoying the beer, it is easy to want to sneak in one final one before heading to the ship.  Don’t !  There’s plenty of beer on the ship, you don’t want to be pickled in time for dinner and the 15-20 minutes extra taken to knock back that last one will mean your leisurely stroll back to the ship becomes an energetic canter – any enjoyment is thus lost.

So, there you are.  I don’t want to teach grandmothers to suck eggs.  It’s obvious, don’t miss the ship.   Enjoy a beer or two responsibly, make sure you know the way back to the ship and don’t, for any reason, linger too long – however good the pub or beer may be.

See also Golden Rule #1

Cheers !

Craft Beer in Malaga

One of my favourite beer drinking spots from a cruise ship is a little bar on the Malaga harbour called La Cerveceria La Surena.  It’s the last bar as you leave the harbour side stretch of bars and shops on returning to the ship (Paseo del Muelle 1).  It ticks many boxes being in the shadow of the Lighthouse and therefore a short walk back to the ship; the beer is cheap, cold and fresh; draught Cruzcampo (Spain’s biggest beer producer, owned by Heineken) or bargain buckets of bottles of Heineken or again Cruzcampo; small plates of fresh fish, olives and meats are just sufficient to keep off the hunger until your next cruise banquet; an outside patio in the sunshine overlooking the pretty harbour side and an informal, friendly Spanish welcome.  It’s a bit touristy and part of a small chain but then again, you are a tourist and on holiday ! Enjoy it.  It’s one of my must visit bars when I’m leaving Malaga on a cruise ship.

 

However, “Craft” it is not and you have to march a bit farther afield to find some more flavoursome beer from some of Spain’s newer, smaller breweries.

The two bars that I can fully recommend are Cerveceria Arte & Saña (above) and Central Beers.

Cerveceria Arte & Saña is located on Plaza de la Merced (5), the main square to the north of the city, and probably as far as you want to walk on a day out in Malaga.  The tap list usually has 9 choices : at least one brewed locally; a German lager style – normally Weihenstephan; a couple of other Spanish beers, a strong Belgian and a possibility of something from Scandi or even England or Scotland.  It is the bottle list that is a marvel though – an exhaustive list of over 700 choices.  It is perhaps the best list of Spanish micro-brewed beers that I have ever seen and that is normally where I do my shopping – Dougalls, Malaqa, Naparbier (try the Back in Black) – all recommended.  The knowledgable staff will be pleased to help you choose.

Watch out for the opening hours though (remember the Golden Rules).  The opening hours here seem to change regularly and can be  a bit laid back and informal even when fixed (that goes for most of Spain to be honest).  I’ve stood outside for 20 minutes at opening time on at least 2 occasions waiting for the “keys” to come.  At the moment the scheduled opening time is 7pm which is, of course, useless for the cruiser.  However, if you are lucky enough to dock on a Saturday, you are in luck because they open in the afternoon at 2pm – hopefully.

Around the corner, left out of C A&S, left again, into Calle Carcer (6), you’ll find Central Beers though again watch for opening hours.  Winter hours currently shows opening time of 6pm – again useless for the cruiser – hopefully you may find that’s better in summertime.

15 taps here and a more conservative 150 bottles but still plenty of choice whatever your preference.  A bigger food offering here too but cruise passengers, particularly British ones, seem particularly cautious of making too much of a contribution to the local economy by eating off-ship.

The tap range is set up on a series of big TV screens which you can gawp at, open mouthed, while making your considered choice.

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Yep, we’ve fallen foul of cautious daytime opening hours here !

So, on the basis that the only one of these you might find open, particularly on a weekday afternoon in winter, is the cafe on the harbour with cheap-as-chips pints of Cruzcampo, I had better dig a bit to see if I can find you anything else.  Caveat being that I have not visited any of the following and CHECK THE OPENING HOURS :

El Rincon del Cervecero , Calle Casas de Campos 5, in the SoHo district is a brew-pub with a sunny terrace.

Cervecería Mapamundi 2011 , Trinidad Grund 7, seems to specialise in Belgian beers but also comes recommended.

La Botica de la Cerveza , Calle Victoria 13, a bottle shop with 5 taps.

La Madriguera , Calle Carreteria 73, a craft beer bar with 12 taps – including locally brewed beers.

Spain remains a country where the first choice of beer is a small glass (caña) of industrial brewed lager for about a euro with many people loyal to their favourite brand.  Like many cruise destinations these days, scratch the surface and take the path less travelled and you’ll hopefully find something more tasty.

 

 

 

 

Golden Rules for the Beer Hunting Cruiser

GOLDEN RULE #1

CHECK THE OPENING HOURS

One of my pre-cruise tasks is doing enough research to beer up my holiday but my absolute failing is taking insufficient attention to details such as opening hours.

I’m all good at using Google etc to help me find new places, I note addresses and check out locations to find the best beer spots either close to tourist attractions or in the shadow of the port for a late beer and a quick getaway (Golden Rule #2).

However, I have learnt my lesson all around Europe marching off to find a new bar with some great beer only to find that I failed to make sufficient notes on the opening times and I find that I am waiting outside for the bar to open or worse still that the bar only opens long after the ship sails.

It seems that I am in good company though.  In the latest P&O Moments magazine there is a double page spread celebrating Bruges and its attractions during the countdown to Christmas.  The pub they have chosen to use to illustrate the piece is the t Brugs Beertje, translated as the Little Bruges Bear.  It is a good pub to illustrate a piece on Bruges as anyone who has ever been there would describe it as one of the World’s greatest bars.

However, it is a very poor pub to use to illustrate a cruise.  The pub does not open until 4pm – long, long after any cruise travellers have had to head back towards Zeebrugge (where the cruise ships dock) for sailaway and pre-dinner drinks.

So, take heed of Golden Rule #1, check out opening times afore ye set foot ashore, it will make for a more enjoyable beery time.

Perhaps it is described as one of the World’s greatest bars as it only open after all of the day-trippers leave the city.  That’s for you to decide.

See also Golden Rule #2