Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

February 28, 2009

Beer Diary:

The New Breed

As International Month wraps up here at, we’d like to introduce you to what may be the next generation of great European breweries.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
That’s a wrap. International Month ends today at, and hopefully you’ve discovered or revisited some foreign friends. Most of the breweries we touched on in our reviews have been from the established producers, some of whom have been around for hundreds of years. Europe is filled with breweries possessing staggeringly rich brewing backgrounds, and an amazingly large number of them are still making interesting, if not incredible, beers … especially if you consider how many decades this country had to suffer through the dominance of shit beer. And in the last five or 10 years or so, a new trend has materialized in Europe—the emergence of small, super-creative, super-passionate breweries inspired by both their local culture and the dynamicism of the American craft beer explosion. Scores, if not hundreds, of this new breed of European brewers are popping up all over the European map, from the frozen reaches of Norway to the toes of Italy’s boot. Below are descriptions of a tiny fraction of these breweries, ones that are well-known enough that you probably can find their offerings here in the States, if you look in the right places.

Meantime Brewing
London, England
Once a world brewing powerhouse—you can find echoes of English beer styles in such varied locales as India, Japan, Russia, and the Caribbean—England fell victim to a wave of consolidation after World War II and saw their rich beer heritage begin to disappear into the foggy night. CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, helped save the Brits from a doomed existence of shit beer, but a wave of pub closures and accelerated consolidation among big breweries makes the English beer landscape look grim indeed. A bright beacon in all this cockney gloom is Meantime Brewing, smack dab in London. Although they do have some specialty brews like Raspberry Grand Cru, Chocolate Beer, or the splendiferous Coffee Beer, their forte is bold, solid takes on historical styles—their IPA isn’t the watered-down drivel most “English-style” IPAs are, and their London Porter is a luscious, meaty version of that classic worldly beer.

BrewDog Micro Brewery
Fraserburgh, Scotland
Scotland is no pushover when it comes to brewing heritage. The oldest inhabited house in the country, Traquair House, built almost a thousand years ago, just happens to double as a brewery. But with a balls-to-the-wall punk attitude, tiny BrewDog in Fraserburgh, about an hour’s drive north of Aberdeen, throws all that history to the wind. Their all-malt lager is called, appropriately, Hop Rocker, and settles in at a mere 8.8 percent ABV. Throw in their Hardcore IPA (an “explicity Imperial ale”) and Rip Tide (a “twisted merciless stout”) and they’ve got their rep as crazy-ass brew freaks signed and sealed. But their tour de force is Paradox, a gigantic stout aged in Duncan Taylor scotch barrels and made from some of the most distinctive malt in the world. Just don’t you piss on about how it’s a dollar an ounce here in the States.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Technically, Mikkeller isn’t a brewery. It’s more of an entity revolving around a lone Dane, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a self-titled “gypsy brewer”—he travels from brewery to brewery, contracting out space and equipment to brew some wild, funky, challenging beers. Starting out a few years ago home brewing, he’s become an international celebrity in the craft brewing world for his inventive brews. He should also be lauded as a national hero for introducing good beer to a country that previously only knew (gulp) Carlsberg. Black Hole, a 13.1 percent ABV imperial coffee stout was brewed at the tiny, technologically advanced De Proef brewery in Belgium, while the massive, port and bordeaux barrel-aged Mikkels Monster was brewed in collaboration with Nørrebro Bryghus, a brewpub in Denmark.

And Mikkeller doesn’t confine its collaborations to Europe. Bjergsø recently traveled to our neck of the woods—Munster, Indiana, to be exact—to collaborate with Three Floyds in the making of Oat Goop, an “oat wine,” the latest in several brews he’s done with the Floyds.

Drammen, Norway
For a quartet of djudes (that’s Norse for dudes, by the way) who claim to only brew in their spare time, they sure can get a lot of beer across the sea to us here in America. HaandBryggeriet produces a mix of traditional styles like London Porter, Pale Ale, and Bavarian Weizen; modern takes on historic brews like their Norwood, an ale brewed from smoked malt and spiced with juniper twigs and berries; and the crazy-insane stuff like Dark Force, a “double extreme imperial wheat stout.”

Birra Baladin
Piemonte, Italy
When you think of beer and Italy—if that combination does, indeed, ever pop into your mind—you probably think of horrific gag-inducers like Peroni or Moretti, some of the worst beer on planet Earth. But the worm is starting to turn over in Italy, albeit with lots of twists and turns, some more pleasant than others. Since Italians have virtually no beer brewing heritage and little exposure to the wide expanse of the craft beer world in their wine-dominated country, upstart Italian breweries are stylistically and qualitatively all over the map. Some breweries are literally throwing random stuff into the kettle to see what brews. One craft brewery that has risen out of the muck is Birra Baladin in the tiny town of Piozzo. The brewer, Teo Musso, cut his teeth at Belgian brewery Brasserie à Vapeur, and his concoctions reflect the individuality—and quality—Belgian beers are known for. Herbs, spices, adjunct grains—he isn’t afraid to use any of it, and does so with aplomb. He’s also a bit of an eccentric, like how he puts giant headphones on some of his fermenters so the yeast can listen to music while they work. Finding Birra Baladin’s stuff in the States can be a challenge, especially on your bank account—I’ve seen 750 milliliter bottles for $30. Ouch.

Nøgne Ø
Grimstad, Norway
Yet another Scandinavian brewery leading the charge against shit beer, Nøgne Ø got its inspiration from aggressive craft beers of America. Co-founder and brewmaster Kjetil Jikun got a taste for big, flavorful beers while working as an airline pilot making cross-Atlantic flights to the United States. He started home brewing in a country that was at the time a beer wasteland, and co-founded Nøgne Ø in 2002. Since then, the brewery’s beers have “shocked” Norway with such exotic fare as saisons, bitters, porters, and amber ales. But when they get aggressive and creative, like with their India Pale Ale, a big, crunchingly bitter take on the style, or Dark Horizon, a massive (16 percent ABV) coffee stout, that’s when things get really interesting, and it’s those brews you’ll find over here in the States.

Today is the feast day of St. Arnold, patron saint of beer.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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