There's a remarkable wealth of craft beer brewing in Sweden, Mike went to Gothenburg to sample as many as he could during GBG Beer Week.
If Stockholm is a sophisticated urban female in a cocktail dress, Gothenburg is her little scruffy sister drinking beer in tee shirt and jeans.
Gothenburg is Sweden’s beer capital with brewery history dating back to 1621. No wonder a local group of friends founded the first Swedish ‘beer week’ here in 2015. Since then, tap takeovers, beer dinners, brewery tours, beer chemistry lectures and even dog walks with a beer theme have all flourished.
The city now boasts 37 local breweries including six of the Swedish top ten. Five micro-breweries are located near inlets from the river Göta älv which runs through the heart of Gothenburg so I take a classic ‘Paddan’ open canal boat tour to visit some.
Cruising past cranes and containers, it’s clear this river is a working artery not a tourist amenity. We hop off the boat and walk through what our guide Petur Olafsson describes as “a very cool and upcoming old harbour area of Ringön” So cool it resembles a light industrial estate.
Vega brewery produces special edition “Goodness Grapecious” IPA for GBG Beer Week 2019. It is dry and fresh with a slightly sharp citrus finish – very drinkable and you’d never guess it was 6% ABV.
Meanwhile, guide Petur has moved the boat closer so we are spared the industrial estates but now face a precarious tip toe along a hastily positioned 45 degree bit of wood down onto the boat. All walk the plank without incident. Well, we’ve only had one beer.
Stigberget brewery was originally started in 2013 to supply the owners' restaurant Kino with their own beer. Three years later, their India Pale Ale, ‘GBG Beer Week 2016’, was heralded as one of the best in the world.
So why the boring name? Especially as one of their other brews is called “Gigantic Trash Metal Pool Party American Pale Ale”.
We taste the ‘new and improved’ 2019 version, it’s a juicy and slightly bitter American style IPA at 6.6% ABV. The beer speaks for itself, going down a treat.
Spike Brewery’s taproom in a former slaughterhouse opens every weekend to the public but for us they lay out a multitude of tinned pleasure, from ‘Fresh Prince’, a 3.5% ‘table Beer’ to ‘Burger Beer’ APA or ‘Dusty Fingers’ Brut IPA (my favourite so far).
Their risqué named “Pornographic” Wheat IPA. got banned from Sweden’s state monopoly off-licences leading to notoriety, so people ordered it online from the Danish outlets they had exported to, to re-import it.
The daft rules of ‘The monopoly’ are certainly constricting, breweries can sell to consume on site but not for people to take away. 'Only Sweden and North Korea are like this.' Guide Petur tells me with a smile.
O/O Brewery: O/O is a small brewery specializing in everything from unfiltered lagers to juicy IPAs. Started by two beer connoisseurs whose aim is for quality rather than quantity, their attention to detail and style is evident in their labels, works of art designed by Lundgren+Lindqvist graphic designers. We drink their 6.8% Narangi IPA out in the car park, which somehow reminds me of my youth.
In the evening Stigbergets have organised a party (p*ss up) in their brewery to kickstart GBG Beer Week. Vast brewing vessels are colourfully lit up and DJ’s pump out tunes as we shout to order beers.
I sip a taster of their barrel aged ‘Red wine BA’ Chocolate Porter which is delicious but lethal at 11%, before settling on their ‘Amazing Haze’ IPA, still a meaty 6.5%.
‘Live music’ is two guys making strangled cat noises with synths and a room full of non-dancing zombies. Perhaps I’m too old so it’s time to go to bed and wake refreshed for tomorrow's tastings.
In the morning it’s back to Spike for GBG’s ‘IPA Party’, with some brews produced solely for the occasion. Brewers mix with beer aficionados and we try all seventeen beers.
It’s easier to say the one I didn’t like – the Poppels Sour IPA, personally, I just don’t go sour even though that one “is for beginners”. Barlindbeer’s New England style Louise IPA is among the favourites for me.
After all that beer some lunch is in order, (with beer obviously) so the place to go is Lindholmen Street food market. it’s a cavernous brick building where they used to build boats.
Luckily, way back there was previously a restaurant on the site, so they didn’t have to get a new licence – a bureaucratic nightmare here. Now it’s filled with various bars, restaurants and food trucks.
We meet Pontus Henningsson from the micro-brewery ‘Wet Whistle’ in Landvetter, just outside Gothenburg.
He is one of five shared owners and tells us that one of them doesn't like beer – so they test all new brews on him - if he tolerates it they sell it.
He offers five beers today: ‘Light + Delicious’ American IPA, ‘Fresh and Hazy’ IPA, ‘Smooth + Spicy’, a dark and creamy 9% Stout and ‘Delicate + Noble’ a German style ale which, although tempted by the stout, I sensibly go for. It glides down nicely.
They make a Wet Whistle brewery burger too, with onions fried in oil made from their hops and BBQ sauce made with that stout, so I do get to try it that way.
Next, we meet Daniel and Peter from the metal band 'In Flames'. They used to find Sierra Navada pale ale buried under their Bud Lite after tour gigs. It was too fruity so for years they threw it away.
Then they got older, tried it again and got hooked. Inspired to brew, they started ‘Odd Island’ Brewing. We sup their Citrauvin American pale ale and it’s really good. They built its popularity like a band, meeting fans and selling ‘merch’.
They have a bar in the city called 2112. It stocks 120 beers and serves craft burgers. “It’s a place where everyone is welcome. Not judging people on how they look or dress, which used to happen to us.”
They also brew a Folkale (people's beer) called ‘Hanks Bum Beer’. These under 3.5% beers can be sold in regular shops and are becoming more and more popular. Heavy metal goes light.
Another maverick of brewing is Henrik Jonsson who made a chunk of money in IT and bought a former helicopter hangar next to lake Landvettersjön, east of the city and started Rådanäs brewery. They also sell brew equipment to others.
There has been a gold rush in brewing in Sweden and they supply the shovels. Karin Lund is in charge of the brews and artist Lars Isestig creates their intricate label Illustrations.
I try their Organic 4.7% Pilsner and it’s lovely but by now, just maybe, I’ve had enough beer.
Before leaving Sweden, I quickly visit a café in the picturesque old town district of Haga to sample ‘Fika’, a tradition the Swedes love, presumably because they stop work to eat a cinnamon roll.
I tear moist glutenous chunks of it apart and relish the cardamom and cinnamon flavours, all washed down with, no, not beer, coffee. Perfect.