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P1030194My main motivation for writing this short post, apart from calling out P&O and Mack for out-of-date information, is to share some of the photos taken of the beer in the sub-zero temperatures of Alta where our Northern Lights cruise eventually docked in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 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 !

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

 

Real Ale on a Cruise

As soon as I typed recently the suggestion that P&O Cruises were offering real ale on one of their ships, it was confirmed in the latest copy of Moments, the loyalty club magazine for their frequent customers.

Real ale undergoes a secondary fermentation in the vessel from which it is served and this results in a sludge of yeasty sediment falling to the bottom of the cask.  The best cellar practice keeps the absolutely cask still while the sediment settles and then during the 2-3 days that the beer is served fresh to prevent the beer becoming cloudy again – impossible on a cruise ship due to the movement of the seas meaning that it has been never been possible for cruise lines to offer real ale.  Until now !

In the drinks section of the magazine, Raising the Bar, it states “Using an innovative cask system, we’ve worked with British brewers Dark Star and Batemans to bring two different real ales to sea for guests on Oriana.”

Dig a bit deeper and you learn that this is not quite new news.  The original press release that gives more details was dated January 2017 and still sits on the P&O website here.

The press release offers my curiosity more questions than answers and I am now pretty keen to sail on Oriana again to test the waters.  I am sending spies in the coming weeks who will report back.  Watch this space.

Some questions :

Does it taste any good ?  The real question for any beer enthusiast whether lager, bitter, craft, keg, bottled, can or real.  (How does it taste 10 days after the cask is tapped – more to the point)

Is it consistently served at cellar temperature, 11-13 degrees, even in and around warmer climes ?

If Oriana is the second ship to have this technology installed what was the first and why are folk not shouting about its innovation ?

Finally, for some reason the “real ale” press release also states that the spa on Oriana has a new pedicure station following her latest re-fit.  That will be great news for some people as much as real ale on board is for me !

Moments magazine is mailed twice a year in Spring and Autumn to members of P&O Cruises Peninsular Club

Craft beer on P&O Cruises

Although I’m a fairly recent cruiser, it could easily be said that I’m now a student of the P&O Cruises beer menu and this is something I’ll return to regularly as there is plenty that I have to share.

Having dipped my toe into cruising in about 2010 with a couple of Thomson fly cruises around the Med and the Canaries, the most underwhelming aspect of those cruises was the on-board beer list – an industrial lager such as San Miguel, a draught John Smith Smooth (or similar) and a short list of other “International” lagers, mostly UK brewed, and which to my palate taste pretty much the same (call me a beer snob if you must).  It is fair to say that most of my beer hunting was done ashore on those trips.

It was little things on the P&O list that attracted me on my first cruise with them in the Summer of 2013, not exactly the most trendy of modern craft beers but bottles of Fullers London Pride and Ringwood Old Thumper were tasty welcome additions to the lazier of menus.

However, the game changer for P&O was the launch of their biggest ship in the Spring of 2015.  At that time P&O, having patriotically named their new ship Britannia, took the marketing decision to rebrand completely celebrating its British heritage – a paint job with a large Union Flag on the bow of each ship and easily identifiable blue funnels. (A no brainer really given that the majority of P&O cruise customers are British; the ship’s currency is GBP; prawn cocktail, tomato soup, sirloin steak and baked Alaska are the mainstays of the dining menu and afternoon tea is a favourite).

Each P&O ship has a British pub as one of its bars and at this time a bright spark in the beverage department in the Southampton HQ suggested that the pub on board Britannia, Brodie’s Bar, should have a beer from each county of the United Kingdom.  Miraculously, over 70 choices of beer (and cider) appeared on-board, the largest selection of bottled British beers at sea.

I assume this was met with approval and approbation from the cruising beer drinkers as the idea was quickly rolled out across the fleet.  A smaller range of about 20 British bottled beers was quickly championed on all of the ships together with tasting flights of 3 * third pints of various ones.

One of those beer was Thornbridge Jaipur, an award winning, American IPA style beer, rammed with hops with delicious citrus flavours and extremely more-ish.  It is an absolute favourite, go-to beer for me and my delight in being able to drink that beer on a cruise was palpable.

These special beers are only in the pubs onboard so a trip there before going on to one of the other entertainment bars was an effort (sic) so I was delighted when, on a subsequent cruise, I noticed that Jaipur had been added to the beer menu in all of the on-board bars and lounges.  (I had suggested on my end of cruise questionnaire that they should roll out Jaipur to all of the bars so I’m taking a little credit for this.  I guess others felt the same.)

Jaipur in all of P&O bars – imagine that in 2013 !

So there you have it.  I wouldn’t necessarily say “I’m only here for the beer”, P&O has more to offer than that.  However, they are currently my chosen cruise line and it’s mainly because a simple soul like me loves the Jaipur ! (oh, and the Jarl, the Punk and the Yorkshire Pride)

A few notes :

Beer prices on P&O cruises are in £ and similar to UK pub prices – no service charge is added.
The P&O beer list sample can be found here.
The beer list on their smallest ship Adonia does not match up – I guess they have no room nor demand for a more extensive range of beers.   
The pubs on board P&O Cruise ships are usually called Brodie’s or Andersen’s Bars – more later.
I now understand that there might even be real ale served on board Oriana – more about this another time.
Don’t get me started on the Thornbridge decision to move from 50cl bottles to 33cl to prove their “craft” credentials nor the pricing issues that surround that.  It remains my go-to beer on the ship(s).
I have not yet been lucky enough to travel on Britannia but hope to rectify that in 2018.

See also my future posts as I work my way through the P&O Cruises beer list :

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