Last Updated : 02/11/08
e’d not visited Sweden for the purposes of scooping as of 2008 and I decided it was about time we put that right. I’d been there back in 1991 on my inter-rail when Big Feller and I had travelled right across Scandinavia from southern Finland to Copenhagen via the Arctic circle, getting evicted from a train (for having no seat reservations) in the middle of a Finnish bear-infested forest within a few miles of the Russian border along the way, but Sue still required the country and then there was the small matter of a craft beer explosion in common with the rest of Europe (and the world, truth be told) which was currently gathering momentum and with one of the most prolific beer scoopers outside the UK, Per Samuelsson, hailing from Stockholm surely the country must be doing something right in the beer stakes?
The main issue was getting there; Stockholm was served by Ryanair although the airports used were miles out of the city so, having decided we wanted to do somewhere in Sweden, my extensive research eventually came up with a trip to Gothenburg with the only real downside being that it was from Stansted… After our early years of European exploration we’d grown sick of Stansted or, more truthfully, the 2.5 hour slog in the wee small hours to get there, so the decision to go to Gothenburg from Stansted wasn’t an easy one. After some deliberation, however, we came to the conclusion that we’d not been along the A14 for close on a year and so I booked the flights with Ryanair to the tiny Gothenburg city airport for £25 plus I was able to pay for the bus into town online too. The only problem was that we’d be leaving home at 02:30 which brought back memories of our early days of travelling (2003 onwards) when travelling with Ryanair meant a choice of either travelling from Stansted or not going anywhere!
Thursday 12th June 2008.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder.
Thinking about it, I suppose our view of Stansted is clouded by bleary-eyed drives along trunk roads in the middle of the night and getting no sleep but, as we caught the bus from what is still, allegedly, “the world’s favourite car park” and headed for the security gates, I realised that despite it’s huge size and massive throughput of passengers Stansted is actually one of the better airports; it rarely seems crowded, there’s a decent whisky shop and when you take the transit to the gates there’s loads of space there too; overall, then, Stansted is a much better airport experience than East Midlands or Bristol, it’s just a shame it’s 150 miles from home which tends to cloud judgement against it somewhat.
After passing through security, having to remove my Al Qaeda boots and belt in the process lest I be put on the Axis of Evil list, we had a quick mooch around the shops. Now you may wonder why we do this as, you’d be correct in assuming, 99% of airport shops are shite and peddle tat such as sunglasses, luggage or clothes which any sensible traveller would have acquired for a fraction of the price before setting off; I mean, who carries all their clothes to the airport before concluding that a crappy piece of pull-along luggage costing twice what they could get it for on the high street would meet their aspirations better than a Tesco bag for life? No, the shop we always go to is a kind of pastiche of the UK, what I imagine people from abroad who’ve not much idea of the British way of life see when they imagine Britain; it’s funny just to wander around and stare in disbelief at the beefeater teatowels, toy taxis, London underground boxer shorts (with “mind the gap” on the fly), cuddly policemen and suchlike whilst wondering just who the fuck buys such unadulterated crap
Once our flight was allocated a gate we boarded the next transit and were treated to some free entertainment as a normal somehow conspired to spill his entire cup of (very beige) coffee all over the floor and another normal’s feet! Our flight was on-time and we were soon on the final descent into Gothenburg over an amazing archipelago of islands dotted with colourful houses and surrounded by bobbing boats and the occasional ferry; we’d planned to visit these islands on said ferries which were part of the validity of the public transport day ticket we needed to purchase once in Gothenburg. The airport was tiny, one of the smallest I’ve seen for a long time, and within five minutes of landing we were stood outside in the very pleasant sunshine waiting for our bus to arrive. It eventually put in an appearance 15 minutes late whereupon once the driver had verified our printout via his complex ticket machine off we went through a very green and lush countryside towards the city.
VW campers on rails.
We alighted at the main bus terminal alongside the rail station and were immediately impressed by the cleanliness, Ikea-esque design and signage inside the bus station; it’s probably the nicest bus station I’ve ever been in, compare and contrast it with Stalinist concrete abominations such as Preston if you don’t believe me! We soon found the public transport information desk and acquired, from an absolutely gorgeous lass who spoke perfect English, four day tickets (Rött Dagkort) for the very reasonable sum of 60Kr each and so, after a visit to a nearby shop for some much-needed water and snacks (including a “Plopp” chocolate bar!), off we went to see what the city’s trams were like
I’d already seen photos of the vehicles and knew that the older ones looked very strange indeed, but I wasn’t sure how many were left and how far plastic trams had taken over the city. We took a semi-plastic over the huge bridge which crosses the river Göta, enjoying the panoramic view of the dockyards as we did so, and got off at the first big stop for a tram back across the river in a tellytubby-like “again!” scenario. I wasn’t sure which routes the heritage trams worked but, knowing we had a choice of several lines, we flagged the first semi-plastic hoping for something better on an alternate service, something a lot realer!
My patience was rewarded with the arrival of a pair of the old trams and I gazed at the vehicles with reverence; these things were absolutely hellfire! They were obviously a child of the 60’s with curvy lines and a split windscreen making them look just like a VW camper van and the addition of big headlights and skirts completed a vision of outrageousness; I’d never seen a tram like this before, what a pair of utter whoppers! The surprisingly sprightly old vehicles were taken back into the centre whereupon it was time to find a Systembolaget in order to stock up on some room beers for later on.
State control isn’t necessarily a bad thing…
Sweden’s alcohol system is highly controlled with only weak beers allowed to be sold in general shops; to get proper-strength beer you must either visit a pub or a branch of the “state alcohol control” shops which, with a name like that, I had visions of being all bare shelves, bars on the windows, sullen staff and patronised by old tramps drinking rotgut from brown paper bags. I’d done my homework – as usual – and knew that there was one of these suspiciously Soviet-sounding outlets in the huge Nordstan shopping centre opposite the bus and train station so, deciding to brave whatever the place was like as we were in need of some scoops for later, we walked through the pleasantly airy and quiet centre until we finally found the shop at the northern end.
The reality of the Systembolaget shop was about a million miles from what I’d imagined; a bright, modern shop looking like a small supermarket had shelves groaning under the weight of just about every alcoholic drink I could think of; rare aged tawny ports, Southern French botrytised wines, more vodkas and akavit than I thought existed… if this was an advert for state control, I mused, gazing around the shelves seeing stuff I’ve never seen back home, then I’m all for it! We found the beer section and I soon realised that there was simply too much we required here to drink in two days; this was good in that we’d have scoops to come back to next time we went, but bad in that it was so difficult to choose!
Ignoring such luminaries as Brewdog Punk IPA (about £1.50 a bottle; who said Sweden is expensive? It’s dearer than this back home, if you can find the stuff that is!) we stacked our basket with scoops until it was groaning under the weight of winners before finally admitting we’d already bought far more than we could realistically drink in two nights (same old story then…), and reluctantly leaving superb beers such as various American imperial stouts on the shelf, we headed for the checkouts with our booty. The guy behind the till, far from being a sullen, Soviet-style tool of the state, was very helpful and even smiled as we bagged up our motley collection of random Swedish beers in a knowing – very scooperish – way…
A room with a view.
It was a short walk from the station to our hotel for the next couple of evenings, the Scandic Crown, and as we passed the impressive post office and wandered along a canal both of us realised how different Sweden was to almost all of mainland Europe in feel and how good a first impression Gothenburg had made on us. The hotel was soon located and I was pleased to see how close to the station it was and, more importantly, there were tramlines running right past the front door! We checked in, managing to blag a 7th floor tram-facing room, and headed for the glass lift to sort out our baggage.
Our room was perfect for us with a superb view over the city and trams rumbling below every few minutes, plus a most unusual mini-bar built into the wall in which our scoops could be cooled! Within half an hour most of the bottles were busy chilling in the fridge (we had so many they wouldn’t all fit in even after removing all the salty snacks and multinational tooth-solvents… usual story!) and so, with the gen sorted out, it was time for an afternoon of tram bashing and exploration! We had a plan of the network and loads of information about the city therefore it was out into the sunshine to see what Gothenburg could show us.
I shan’t bore you further with gibbering about trams so let’s skip forwards a while were you find us in a café indulging in a much-needed espresso to counteract our “Stansted syndrome” as, by this point, we’d been awake for 15 hours and had plenty more to go before there was any chance of some doss! As we’d bought so many bottles for later it was decided that we needed some sustenance to help us sup them so we ventured into the indoor market, housed in a striking iron-framed building, where we found a superb cheese stall whose server explained the various types of cheese on offer, giving us tastings of any we fancied, until we went happily away with several large hunks of Swedish cheese plus some bread laced with raisins; that was the evening’s snacking sorted!
After a wander around the canals and main square, Gustav Adolf’s Torg, we came to our first beery stop of the trip, Delirium. As we’d been up since 01:30 the previous morning I’d decided to act sensibly and only schedule one pub in for our first evening; this meant we’d probably not have time to do the rest but as there were so many bottles back in the room there was, realistically, no way we were going to scoop a couple of pubs then drink half the beers before exhaustion kicked in! Delirium sounded like a beast of a place with a huge range of bottled Belgian beer although, obviously, that wasn’t what we were after and the list I’d seen also contained an impressive number of Swedish microbrewery beers; let the scooping commence!
0 to 10 in five hours.
I perused the large number (20+) of draught taps and saw there were two obvious beers to try, Ølfabrikken Cream Ale and Nynäshamn Indian Viken PA, and although the Ølfabrikken was Danish at least both were Scandinavian! The Cream was a good start to the evening with a sociable smooth maltiness followed by a prickle of citrus hop which was engulfed by the rich, creamy, grainy finish and ended slightly dry yet still smooth and malty, whilst the Viken was deep amber in colour with a hefty bitterness – which tasted like European hops to me – whilst all the time a resinous, spicy and fairly bitter hop flavour increased to a crescendo at the finish which was sappy, resin-laced and very bitter; a very British IPA!
These two beers had been a very promising beginning to our Swedish scooping weekend though we tried not to think about the cost with both being over £5; ah well, we were here to scoop and the cost didn’t really matter, after all if all we cared about was the price of scoops we’d have gone to the Ukraine or somewhere cheap! Next up we had a beer I’d already scooped courtesy of Per from Stockholm but thought Sue should try, Närke Slättöl, which sadly wasn’t quite as magical on tap as it had been in bottle yet was still very hoppy and bitter, along with a bottle from the well-stocked fridge. Ölands Amarillo IPA sounded just the kind of brew we were after and it wasn’t bad at all being very suppable (expensively so!) and the flavour included plenty of citrussy, juicy and bitter hoppiness with a tangy bitter finish.
Feeling peckish we studied the encyclopaedic menu and found the bar snacks; a bowl of chips and a plate of cheese sounded just what we needed to stave off the beer hunger and so the cheery waitresses brought us two more scoops whilst our snacks were prepared. Nynäshamn 101 Oktan Imperial stout came first and although it wasn’t really strong enough to be an imperial stout the flavour was definitely big and bold enough to pass as one with heaps of “smoky bacon” woodsmoke, roast malt, nutty and toasty flavours and we both thought it bore more than a passing resemblance to Beamish, although in truth if Beamish tasted like this I’d be supping it all the time!
Next up was a local micro beer, Dugges Gustav’s Finger ESB, a full, malty and sweetish brew with a heavy treacly malt flavour balanced by some spicy hoppiness and a thick caramel, nut and malt finish. So, we’d scooped one of the local micros, but I wished the beer had been a touch hoppier although I was sure we’d soon find one of their famously American-esque IPA’s. Our snacks arrived and, as we supped our beers, the food was soon demolished with a beery frenzy; the chips were freshly cooked, crispy and came with a small pot of mayonnaise – how very Belgian! – whilst the cheese was creamy, buttery and may even have been Belgian, or if it wasn’t then it tasted very much like Abdijkaas!
The electric sunshade.
By this point we were beginning to feel knackered, having being awake for 20 hours, so we decided to flag our other “maybe” bar for that evening (shame, as we never did get to go there) and head back to the hotel for some beers and well-earned doss. I paid the bill, trying not to think that six beers and a snack had cost us over £40, and said goodbye to the very sociable staff then, as there was the small matter of ten beers in the mini-bar to drink, we trammed it back to central station and wandered along the canal back to the hotel, amazed by how light it still was at 9 in the evening. Back in the room we were just about to select some beers for supping when a whirring noise outside sent us both rushing to the window; it turned out to be the blinds above the windows which, with the sun slowly sinking, had begun to retract themselves electrically… we watched as every blind whirred it’s way closed and decided that the hotel had been worth stopping at just for that… now that’s how shallow and easily impressed we are!
First out of the fridge was Spendrups Wisby Pils. Now I know this isn’t a particularly auspicious start to a tasting but, in my defence, I’d been blinded by the sheer choice of scoops in Systembolaget and had, somehow, neglected to read the label properly and notice that it was made by a huge brewer… memories of not reading labels properly came flooding back to me and I shuddered as I remembered the sickly can of Koff “super strength” at Tallinn ferry terminal, most of which had been deposited into the Baltic sea, and a particularly repulsive bottle of Zlatý Bažant “nealkol” in Bratislava amongst others… memo to self, yet again – Read the feckin’ label !!!
To be honest, the Wisby wasn’t too bad; yes, it was bland and lagery, yet saved itself with some toasty malt and a hint of bitterness, not bad for a big brewery lager we reasoned. Oppigårds Golden was next out of the minibar (and at perfect cellar temperature, it must be said!) and, after the first sip, it was smiles all round – oh yes, this was more like it! An excellently balanced brew, it had a solid malty backbone overlaid with a zingy, fresh citrus hop taste and good bitterness although it vanished far too quickly… had we not had as many bottles to drink I think we’d have been back down the Systembolaget the following day to stock up on this delicious beer which was a lesson in full flavour combined with excellent balance, a rare thing.
Another new brewery was next, the amusingly blasphemically-named Nils Oscar God lager, and this wasn’t bad either with a decent, full-bodied malty taste with enough hoppiness, albeit a touch restrained, to keep things interesting. As we supped, some random channel-hopping turned up the very surreal South Park critter Christmas (why is it always South Park? At least it wasn’t dubbed into German for once…) which kept us entertained for half an hour until something a lot crappier predictably came on.
How to follow God lager? Why, Hell beer of course! Jämtlands Hell was a lot better than it’s slightly kak label insinuated and was a very drinkable golden brew with a surprisingly bitter flavour and finish allied to a creamy maltiness, although there was no dispute that bitter hops were the key player here. One more bottle was chosen, just to keep the scoop count up, and so Nynäshamn Bedarö’s bitter was the last to be opened although, sadly, the hoppiness we’d hoped for just didn’t materialise and despite a well-balanced malt and bitter taste there just wasn’t enough hop for us although, admittedly, it would have easily passed as a British best bitter and was a decent, drinkable brew which I’d be happy to quaff again.
Friday 13th June 2008.
A breakfast to remember.
After a superb night’s doss we wandered down for breakfast hoping it would be as good as our most memorable one thus far when we’d stayed in Åarhus, Denmark, a good few years back when we’d munched away on almost every type of breakfast goods possible. Difficult as it was for us to believe, this one was even better and we gorged ourselves on a variety of foods as diverse as scrambled eggs, diddy sausages and bacon, rye bread, self-carve cheese, caviar, rye crackers, ham of various types, cereal with yoghurt and soured milk plus cakes, decent coffee (very rare in hotels!) and biscuits… as I said, it was one hell of a feast!
After close on an hour eating it was concluded that enough was enough and we needed to be able to walk around so, reluctantly grabbing a final piece of cake, it was back to the room to get ready for the day’s exploration. We had more trams to scoop plus I wanted to get down to Saltholmen, down on the coast, and catch one of the boats out into the cluster of islands offshore for a change of scene and, more importantly, to get our money’s worth as they were free with our day pass tickets!
Feeling like eating so much may have been a bad start to the day, we staggered off to the tramstop where I was determined to catch a “real” pair of trams down to Saltholmen; if we were going, we were going to do a proper tram down there! Unfortunately we’d just missed one and the next was plastic so, rather than stand around for another 15 minutes, we took the next real tram a few stops out to enable us to have a look around whilst we waited for the next Saltholmen service to arrive.
Luckily the next one was a pair of heritage beasties so on we got for the half hour trundle down to the coast. Being a prepared kind of chap I’d printed the boat timetable and saw that we were getting very close to missing the one I’d wanted to do all because we’d flagged a plastic tram; martyrdom to real-ness is a difficult thing! We arrived at Saltholmen with four minutes until the ferry for Brännö Rödsten departed and so were forced to run down the road to the port – luckily only a few hundred metres away – in order to catch it although annoyingly, as we slumped in our seats gasping for breath, the boat waited for some of the stragglers from our tram so we could have saved our breath and simply walked quickly rather than running…
Free ferry, free beer.
The ferry – named Vesta, as the timetable had said it would be – was a smallish affair with an open area at the rear and so we leant against the railings as we powered away with an unforeseen turn of speed from the harbour. We weren’t actually going anywhere, just taking the ferry out and back to see what the islands were like, so enjoyed the hour trip out to Brännö Rödsten via Asperö and back as we relaxed out in the bracing sea air as the islands passed us by looking very treeless, grassy and windswept; they seemed pleasant now, almost at the height of summer, but I’d guess they are very different places in the grip of a Swedish winter.
We were soon back at Saltholmen having thoroughly enjoyed our ferry trip and, feeling as if the cobwebs had been well and truly blown away by the sea air, we wandered across to the tramstop – seeming much closer than when we’d run it an hour earlier – and took the next tram, conveniently real, right back across town to Gamlestadttorget for the first beery visit of the day, the Pannrummet brewpub, situated north of the city in an old wallpaper factory.
The brewpub is in a factory complex which has been converted into units and is occupied by a very varied mix of companies, but there was only one we were interested in and so we trudged along the central yard until we came across a very missable door right at the far end. Inside was a large room, obviously a former production area, with a small brewery to one end of the bar and very canteen-like rows of tables at the other. Selecting a table, we made for the counter and paid a very reasonable sum (around £6) for a pork steak in sauce with chips plus free run of the salad bar and unlimited coffee, but what was even better was that we’d got in just before what looked like a works leaving party, all 50 or so of them!
This was all well and good, but although we were hungry (despite the huge breakfast) it was really the products of the Ödman brewery we were after and so I enquired as to what was available in the home-brewed field. The barman said he’d bring one over and so, not knowing what was going to appear, we tucked into the tasty food and fortified ourselves with plenty of strong black coffee; after all, we wanted to do more than one pub that evening as we’d way too many to scoop in our final evening and would have to be selective.
The barman brought my beer with news it was a homebrewed pils and so, having cleared my plate of food, I went straight for the scoop. It was deep golden, far darker than any Czech Pils I’ve had, but that was the only real fault I could find with it as it possessed a complex malt and grassy hop nose, full malty flavour with hints of toast and a developing hop resin character with plenty of bitterness in the rich, malt and almost treacly aftertaste; very good indeed, and a very good attempt at making a Czech polotmavý!
I decided to see if any more beers were on tap and so went to find the barman who’d served us the first time, although before I could find him he saw me examining the brewery and, guessing we were beer enthusiasts, came over to talk. It turned out he was the owner and we had a long, varied discussion on all aspects of beer and brewing ranging from beer styles through different countries’ best beers to what the smallest brewery in Europe was; he had an idea his was, although I told him I knew of smaller ones in the UK and that was without bringing up the tiny copper plant in the window of Pivovarský Klub! He then told us how the pub was becoming ever busier as a result of the locals’ increasing interest in beer and that he was running several “tasting evenings” a month, sometimes including a brewing session… all of a sudden, living in Gothenburg sounded very tempting indeed!
He brought over a glass of pale ale, “free, on the house!” he grinned, before returning to the busy food service. This beer wasn’t as good as the pils, being a fairly bland malty brew with a soft grainy character and a touch of bitterness in the dry malty finish, and although it wasn’t a bad beer by any means it just wasn’t as interesting or hoppy as the pils and so, with the beers scooped and pausing only to examine the old print rollers from the wallpaper factory displayed by the door, off we went back to the tramstop feeling happy with our day thus far.
Father Jack Haket.
We spent the afternoon sat on trams scooping as much of the network as we could using the heritage ones wherever possible, and decided that Gothenburg had been well worth the visit not only for the real trams and good beer but the general feel and laid-back sociability of the city. Wanting to stay awake long enough to score at least two pubs and finish off our bottles we decided on a quick coffee before hitting our first pub and so made our way back into the centre, viewing on the way a crazy golf course so packed with families they could hardly swing a club, before trying out a café on the corner of the canal by Södra Hamngatan where the coffee and cakes were spot-on.
We then wandered around the quayside, looking at the various ships and industrial relics on show there – including a massive surreal floating carpark – before catching the next tram along to Masthuggstorget where our first pub, Haket, was located. This bar sounded pretty decent from the research I’d done and we were expecting a whole host of micro-brewed beers in bottle including, hopefully, the new local micro Ocean… and I still thought a bar named after a character in Father Ted was funny; would they yell “Feck off!” at us when we walked in, I wondered, although there’d probably be plenty of “Drink!” and “Girls!” there…
We soon found the bar which was in a row of buildings looking out over the tramlines and ferry terminal where a particularly large specimen of the ship world was being stuffed full of lorries in a seemingly never-ending stream. We commandeered the last table on the patio (well, a fenced off area on the pavement outside) and I braved the dark interior to see what beers were available. I knew that the taps would be rubbish, as they were, but I was impressed by the three fridges full of huge Swedish – and various other countries – scoops and was particularly pleased to see several Ocean beers prominently on view; the move was on!
I returned to our table with Ocean IPA and a large seasonal scoop, Nynäshamn Midvinterbrygd, and so we sat in the glorious afternoon sun, watching trams pass every couple of minutes, sipping beer and generally relaxing; this was the way forwards we decided, as the huge ferry blasted it’s horn and slowly slipped away, drinking huge winners in a pub with plenty of transport action to watch! The Ocean IPA was very impressive with a deep amber colour and rich citrus, hop and malt flavour, plenty of malty body and a full spicy bitterness with plenty of hop tastes and resinous character in the finish, although the Nynäshamn had a bizarre cinnamon, spice and very “cola” hint to the flavour which, despite my trying to get past it, blotted out all the other tastes it had.
Before long our beers were finished whereupon I ventured back inside to get some more. At the bar I took a look around and saw this was basically a local’s pub with a crowd or regulars watching sport on a small TV and, if truth be told, the beer range seemed rather out of place in such a bar although I wasn’t complaining about that! This time I went back with Dugges Holy Cow IPA and Ocean Porter which were both rather good: the Dugges stood out as a very American style brew, deep amber in colour, with bags of rosepetal, pine and citrus aromas that led into a hop-dominated palate with a good bitterness, lots of Turkish delight and forest floor all underscored by a subtle toffee maltiness with a hint of bitterness in the finish, although there was no getting around the fact this beer was squarely aimed at hopheads! Ocean’s Porter was more of a stout than a porter with it’s roasted grain character yet still hit the spot with a lovely coffee and sweetish toasted malt finish.
They call me the Swedish Rover…
These last two beers had been excellent, as I’d hoped, but with the sun retreating behind a building opposite we decided to press onto our next destination, the Rover, a single tram stop back into the centre. It was soon located and looked a lot better than an Irish pub usually does when not in Ireland – and in Ireland, generally – a very long building comprised of various rooms and an ornate bar with two handpumps in the middle! Unfortunately these turned out to be dispensing Shepherd Neame crap rather than the hoped for local cask beers and so were ignored in favour of the keg taps where I’d spotted a few whoppers.
We began with Nynäshamn Brånnskår Brown and Oppigårds Indian Tribute; the brown was a light brown brew with a dry, malty taste, some light toastiness towards the finish and some bitterness to finish along with more burnt grains, not bad, whilst the Indian Tribute wasn’t really hoppy enough to be a proper IPA yet was very pleasant supping with a well-balanced toffee malt and hopflower taste and some dry bitterness to round it out in the aftertaste. As we drank the beers I looked around the pub and decided that it was one of the better “Irish” bars I’d been in and, had I not known, I’m not sure I would have guessed it was supposed to be Irish apart from the usual random Guinness signs littering the place… overall, then, the Rover was a sociable, relaxing pub with a busy edge and very friendly staff who were very keen to help with our beer choice and describing the individual brews.
We’d planned to stop for only one round but, being secreted in an alcove, it was decided unanimously that we’d have one more and then head back for our room beers. Witheringly, one of our massive winners had just gone off and the beer replacing it was dud (amazing yet true!), so I was forced to reconsider the round and came back with Dugges Avenyn IPA and Oppigårds Slåtterol. The Oppigårds was sadly a touch bland although it did have a pleasant maltiness to it, whereas Dugges scored yet again with this deep amber brew with a lovely sweetish Seville orange marmalade taste and top notes of lemon zest before a bitter, thick malty finish with an almost sticky candied orange finish; Dugges were definitely the find of the trip thus far!
With night drawing in and a mini-bar full of winners we reluctantly paid up and left, unable to visit any of the other bars I’d hoped to, but hopeful that we’d return to Gothenburg as it’s possible to catch a train to quite a few decent beer places including Stockholm, Oslo and even Copenhagen from there and, with the frequent Ryanair flights and easy connection from City airport, I felt we’d be there again before very long as we were already planning to return to Scandinavia the following June as it seemed a good time to visit with the almost endless daylight and sociably warm weather.
We took the first tram back to central station and, for the final time, wandered along the canal back to our hotel where we shared the lift with a most unusual bloke wearing a huge baseball cap and a padded jacket covered in motorsport detritus. We knew that there was some sort of car racing going on across the Göta, as we’d seen it from the tram crossing the big bridge, and also the ludicrous phenomenon of “monster trucks” was at the large stadium just across the canal from our hotel, but what we weren’t prepared for was for the geezer to offer us free tickets for it! When we told him we were going home the following day and wouldn’t want them, thanks very much, he still attempted to persuade us to have them anyway… desperate for custom, or what? Still, watching vans with stupendously sized wheels squashing cars isn’t really my thing and, from his desperation to offload some tickets, I assume it isn’t the Gothenburgers’ thing either!
Back in our room we broke into the beers immediately; Nynäshamn (yes, them again!) Landsort lager was a fairly bland, malty beer yet better than most standard lagers you’ll find around Europe, and Jäntlands Postiljon was similar albeit of the ale school with only some dry graininess to break the dullness. Conscious that we’d drunk the best beers the night before and maybe should have chosen better, we opened up Spendrups Argang Porter which was pretty disgusting in an artificial, caramelly and generally industrial way… cheers then, most of that went down the sink, and I was glad we’d not blown £5 on it in a pub!
Slottskållan Kloster 2007 was next, a 9% Belgian-style ale, and despite a promising start with very Tripel-esque bubblegummy (remember Bazooka Joes?) maltiness it regressed into a sickly-sweet malty mess which was increasingly cloying and difficult to finish. Our final beer, Nils Oscar India Ale, had high hopes resting on it which, unfortunately, it didn’t live up to with a lack of hoppiness all through; okay, so it was pleasant enough drinking, but the hints of malt, spice, oranges, fruit and hop resin needed doubling to make it into a really good beer and, at the levels present, simply meant that it didn’t live up to it’s potential or, more importantly, name, but was still the best of the bottles we’d had that evening!
Our beers finished, all that remained for us to do in Gothenburg was to gorge ourselves on breakfast the following morning – which, obviously, we did – and then do a few more tram moves until it was time to get to the airport for our 15:30 flight back to Stansted. This was accomplished easily in the amazingly relaxed bus station where the coach had it’s gate listed when we arrived and duly departed on-time for the leisurely journey through the notably green countryside to the airport. There being nothing of any use there, we killed time until our flight departed and were back in Stansted early for the soul-destroying drive back to Worcester… and that was the end of our travels until September as the airports were already filling up with package tourists and screaming brats which we just can’t be arsed putting up with! Roll on Poland in September, then…
Sweden is, in common with almost everywhere else in the world, waking up to the glories of craft-brewed beer and micros are springing up all over the place to satisfy this demand. Gothenburg (Göteborg) is a very pleasant city in it’s own right which would make a decent weekend break for anyone but, adding the city’s good bars to the mix, you get somewhere that merits a visit from any beer scooper after a different trip than the normal European jaunt as, in my experience, Scandinavia is a very disparate place indeed from the rest of Europe.
One immediately obvious difference is the cost of almost everything which, as you’ll probably know, is a lot higher than the UK although they do have a much higher standard of living than we do so I suppose it’s all in balance. To be honest we didn’t find the majority of everyday things to be that much more expensive than, say, in Germany with coffee, bread and cheese all coming in at reasonable prices and beer bought in the State alcohol monopoly, Systembolaget, being cheaper than the UK although, admittedly, our beer prices are high. Where you will notice the difference is buying beer in bars where 59Kr for a micro-brewed beer is about the norm which equates to around £5 a pint! Eating out is expensive, too, which is why we didn’t bother and survived on bread and cheese bolstered by snacks during the day!
The quality of most of the beers we had was high and, happily, the local micros seem to be into flavoursome brews with a good dose of hops in them. American beer styles are in favour and Dugges in particular brew some cracking IPA-style beers with enough hops to keep most people happy. Porters are also fairly common along with a good range of interesting styles, although as usual it pays to read the label carefully and make sure the beer you’re investing in isn’t made by some big brewer such as Spendrups.
So, overall, our first visit to Sweden for the purpose of beer scooping was a resounding – if expensive – success and we’ll hopefully be back there in 2009! There is a good undercurrent of craft brewing which is growing all the time and, if brewers such as Dugges can keep up the quality, then I look forwards to scooping many more on our next visit. Sweden itself is a joy to travel around with good transport links between – and in – cities and the general relaxed cleanliness is very pleasant and welcoming with the only major problem being the high cost of hotels, eating out and beer in bars… but there’s no pockets in shrouds, eh?
Gothenburg city gen.
Gothenburg (Göteborg) is situated on the west coast of Sweden and is a modern yet attractive city with a noticeable lack of vehicle traffic compared to most other European cities I’ve visited although whether this is due to the carrot of excellent, cheap public transport or stick of taxation was unclear to us! Nevertheless, the lack of cars makes for a relaxing environment in which to wander and/or drink and the city is worthy of a visit without it’s beery attractions, even more so if you’re a sad tram lover as it has the largest tram system in Scandinavia plus the ferries out into the archipelago from Saltholmen (tram 11) are valid with city day tickets!
The city is quite small and, although not as pretty as some other Baltic ports such as Gdansk or Tallinn, it’s still well worth a visit to soak up it’s relaxed charms and decent supply of scoops. The pub culture seems to be well established with plenty of “English” pubs around if you want to drink tat but pay twice what you would back home, although I’d suspect most people reading this would be after scoops and there are plenty of those with Delirium café having 30+ on tap and over 1,000 on it’s bottle list then Haket stocking well over a hundred on a well put-together bottle menu, and that’s without the Rover’s good draught selection and the various other bars we didn’t get time to check out!
Yes, beer is expensive in bars (around £5 a pint/bottle), but that’s not their fault so don’t hold it against them; beer prices in the bars averaged 50 to 60 SEK a bottle/pint which is, at current exchange rates, £4 to £5 a go – expensive, but nowhere near as bad as I’d feared. Bottles in the surprisingly excellent Systembolaget shops are around the 20-25 SEK mark and the range includes some cracking beers with Swedish micros featuring alongside oddities such as Brewdog Punk IPA, North Coast Old Rasputin and plenty of other American and UK bottles and, it must be said, the selection puts most UK beer shops to shame for both price and range… it’s a strange world, I expected a state alcohol monopoly to be dingy, dour and expensive whereas the opposite is true!
Eating is an expensive occupation in Gothenburg, although here are some tips. First, take advantage of the Pannrummet brewpub’s 70SEK lunchtime deal, which includes a main course plus salad bar and unlimited coffee – a bargain – plus the beer is well worth a scoop being the city’s only brewpub. For those in need of a reviving espresso and/or cake there’s a great Konditori (kaffe und küchen, or coffee and cake café) very close to the Bishops Arms at Västra Hamngatan 2 called Konditori Brogyllen which is bang on the corner looking out over the canal and passing trams; the cakes were superb and the espresso pretty good too!
Getting there and getting around there.
Gothenburg has two airports, City and Landvetter, both connected to Nils Ericson bus terminal next to the main train station in the city centre by Flygbussarna coaches which run regularly and can be booked online; you need to either book online or get a ticket at the airport as, from January 2009, cash won’t be accepted on the coaches. City airport is probably the one you’ll fly into as it mainly deals with budget airlines and is one of Ryanair’s major business routes from Stansted and has up to three flights a day meaning you can get some excellent deals on fares. Landvetter is used by flag carriers which, unless you’ve got more money than sense (or someone else is paying), won’t be an attractive option and, as a final clincher, it’s a fair way further out of town than City too.
There used to be a DFDS ferry from Newcastle to Gothenburg but this seems to have vanished, so there are now no ferries from the UK to Sweden as far as I know although you can still go from Newcastle to various Norwegian ports or from Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark. One other option is to fly to Denmark and then take the train across to Sweden, although it’s a fairly long trip from Copenhagen up to Gothenburg so, unless you’re on a tour of Scandinavian beer cities and have plenty of time, then this probably isn’t a very viable option… but it’s there. It’s feasible to reach Gothenburg by rail from mainland Europe using the surreal train ferries (or new bridge at Copenhagen) although it’s a long way, takes a long time and is prohibitively expensive compared to flying.
Gothenburg’s public transport system (run by Västraffik) is comprehensive and well-run with Sweden’s largest tram network running some superb old vehicles in normal service and, probably of more interest to ordinary scoopers who don’t give a toss about trams, it’s fairly cheap too; from the Västraffik kiosk in the Nils Ericson bus terminus you can buy day tickets (Rött Dagkort) which cost 65Kr for 24 hours from the first time you punch it, and I’ll echo the obvious tip offered by the lovely lass at the desk to ensure the ticket is punched just after the hour to maximise travel time. These day tickets are valid on all bus and tram services in the city plus the ferries from Saltholmen out to the islands which are great fun and highly recommended for a bit of fresh sea air and scenery.
Gothenburg is a pleasure to walk around, being largely car-free and with plenty of canals and riverside to explore, although most of the good bars are some distance out of the centre meaning that using the trams is pretty much essential if you want to scoop most of the bars listed below. I’d recommend Gothenburg as a first Swedish destination for the beer scooper as it’s easy to get to from the UK, has a good transport system and some excellent bars plus there’s a decent sprinkling of top micros around the area, in particular Dugges and Ocean, making this an easy first exploration. The people are extremely friendly, speak perfect English and I honestly can’t think of anything to put a prospective scooper off visiting – just start saving up now!
My Google Map is here.
Pannrummet Kök & Bar, Gamlestadsvägen 4. Open lunchtimes & 16:00 onwards Fridays.
This is one strange place… it’s not really a pub, more of a canteen for local workers, and only opens in the evening on Fridays yet it’s still well worth a visit. The tiny 1 barrel plant of the Ödman brewery sits at the end of the bar (which has two handpumps for the regular beer appreciation classes they hold) and produces three beers plus the occasional special. Drinking without eating is allowed although, with prices from 70SEK for a main course plus free salad bar and coffee, it’s definitely worth a cheap pit-stop in the food stakes. The brewer was very sociable, speaks excellent English, and is happy to stand and chat for ages about his brewery and beers throughout Europe; all in all then, a strange place but well worth the trip out of the centre.
Take trams 6 (Kortedala) 7 or 11 (Bergsjön) to the Gamlestadstorget stop. As you exit the tram you can’t miss the huge ex-wallpaper factory to your right; cross the river via the little bridge at the front of the tram stop, walk alongside the factory front for 25 metres, then turn right into the courtyard. Follow this down and the brewpub is on the left near the far end… it’s not that obvious, but after you’ve passed the narrow part of the courtyard it should be set back to your left. You can also take trams 4, 8 or 9 (Angered) to Gamlestadstorget although the stops are split and it’s further to walk from this platform!
Bars and Pubs.
The Rover, Andra Långgatan 12. Open 17:00 daily.
A lovely long pub (and it’s definitely a pub not a bar!) on a quiet street out west which serves some excellent beers from it’s dozen or so taps and large bottle range. Handpumped beer is also served although this was only Shepherd Neame on our visit and looked as if it may be through fake handpumps (not 100% sure on this!)… However, crappy UK beer isn’t what you’ll be here for, so I’d get stuck into the guest taps which feature Swedish micro brewers and change frequently. Overall, then, this is a lively and sociable pub with some good local beers on tap and bottle plus it’s a mere five-minute walk from the excellent Haket. The food looked good, although we didn’t partake, and they major in beefburgers!
Take trams 1,3,9 or 11 to Järntorget. Head left across the top of the square in front of the trams (assuming you’re heading out of the city) and you’ll see Andra Långgatan on your right a short distance along Linnegatan. The pub is 100 metres on your left at the junction of Nordhemsgatan and is very obvious – even I saw it!
Delirium Café, Kronhusgatan 2. Open Saturday from 14:00, Friday from 15:00, rest of week from 16:00 until 01:00.
I’m not sure if this place is in any way allied to the Brussels/Gent cafés of the same name, although I have suspicions that it may be… whatever, it’s probably one of the two best bars in Gothenburg and, as a bonus, it’s only a few minutes’ walk from the centre and Gustav Adolf Torg. It majors in Belgian beers with a huge selection which includes some absolute whoppers such as 3 Fonteinen, although you’ll pay for them! More of interest to the beer scooper visiting the country to score some local beers is that the bar stocks several Swedish micro brews amongst it’s large tap list of 30+ beers (plus cask ale) and there are also some good micro bottles to be scooped in the list of well over 1000. Food is available, although we just had the bowl of chips plus a portion of cheese, plenty adequate to prevent beer overload. Overall, then, Delerium is a centrally-located bar with a great beer range, lots of space inside and I honestly can’t think of anything bad to say about the place; even the staff were cheerful and speak good English, which helps a lot!
Take any tram to Brunnsparken then walk along the canalside (Norra Hamngatan) past the statue of Gustav Adolf until you reach a bridge. Turn right, away from the bridge, along Smedjegatan and you’ll find the bar on your left at the third crossroads of Kronhusgatan.
Haket, Första Långgatan 32. From 17:00 daily.
This is the second (with Delirium) of the best bars in Gothenburg although it’s different in almost every way. For a start it’s situated out in the wilds of west Gothenburg, secondly it’s more of a locals bar than one for beer lovers (although they obviously visit too!) and thirdly it’s a hell of a lot smaller… but apart from these minor points it’s just as good, if not better, than Delirium and is well worth the ten minutes on a tram to get there. There’s not a lot of room inside but the exterior pavement area is great if the sun’s out and you can sit there tram-spotting all evening if that’s what you like doing. Behind the bar are several large fridges filled with bottles and, although the tap list of 5 isn’t particularly interesting, the bottle list most definitely is with local boys Ocean and Dugges featuring strongly along with several hundred more – see the list here. This bar is much more down-to-earth than Delirium but a visit to both is essential to get the full picture and this is highly recommended, plus several other good bars are close by at Järntorget.
Take tram 3 (Marklandsgatan), 9 (Kungssten) or 11 (Saltholmen) to Masthuggstorget and walk 50 metres further along the road and you’ll see the bar on the left-hand side.
Systembolaget, Lilla Klädpressaregatan, Nordstan shopping centre. 10:00 - 18:00.
I’d expected a state alcohol monopoly to be all grim Soviet-style unsmiling staff, austere décor and bare shelves with random drunks clutching brown paper bags whilst mumbling to themselves yet, at the Nordstan branch at least (plus others we went past on a tram), things proved to be just the opposite with bright, modern shops staffed by perfectly normal people and shelves literally groaning under the weight of a massive array of all types of drink imaginable… the beer selection spanned everything from crappy multinational tat to rare imported micro-beers via a decent selection of Swedish micros and even some UK beers (including Brewdog Punk IPA!) and it seems that from the beers on offer someone - i.e. the buyer - knows what he/she’s doing with regards to good beer and is trying to get as much quality stuff as possible.
It’s not just beer, however, as we saw hugely rare Ports such as Krohn 1966 Colheita and rows of top wines plus proper vodka and Akavit… all products available are listed in a brochure which almost makes you wish we had state alcohol control back in the UK and, as a final bonus, the prices are eminently reasonable with most beers coming in at around 20SEK a bottle with the American ones closer to 30SEK, although this is still under half of what you’ll pay in any bar.
There are Systembolaget shops all over the place (there’s a big one close to Jagerdorffsplatsen) but the one in the huge unsightly Nordstan shopping centre opposite the rail/bus stations is easiest to find. It’s on the ground floor at the very top end of the centre where the exit to Kanaltorgsgatan is located; from the station, enter the centre via the subway and, at the big crossroads in the centre, turn right. Head along past the dazzling array of consumer goods and into another section of the centre where you’ll find the surprisingly large store on your right close to the exit onto Kanaltorgsgatan.
Other bars we didn’t have time to visit.
Plain Kitchen Sportsbar, Risåsgatan 8. From 12:00, micro beers in bottle.
Apparently this is a decent enough bar with a good range of micro beers in bottle plus it’s not too far from the beery delights of Järntorget, although the “sportsbar” bit did put me off!
Tram 2 (Högsbotorp) to Brunnsgatan, then walk back along Risäsgatan for 50 metres.
The Bishops Arms is the name of a chain of bars throughout Sweden which apparently stock some decent micro brews although, unfortunately, we ran out of time and inclination to visit any of them. The three Gothenburg pubs are located at Järntorget 6 (on the city-centre side of the square, see Rover for tram details), Kungsportsavenyn 36-38 (close to the Berzelligatan tramstop, trams 4 or 5) and finally Västra hamngatan 3 (just north of Domkyran tramstop, nos 1, 2, 9, 6 or 11, it’s on the left-hand side of the road in what looks like a cellar).
Tre Små Rum, Kristinelundsgatan 4.
A bar with, so I’ve read, a good range of micro beers. The owner is apparently quite keen on his micro-brewed beer which bodes well for the range, shame we didn’t have time to visit. The name means "Three small rooms" if you were wondering.
Close to Valand tramstop and the Bishop’s Arms at Kungsportsavenyn; from the Valand stop, head south down Avenyn one block until you reach Kristinelundsgatan, turn right, and the bar should be two blocks along at the junction of Chalmersgatan.
Brasserie Ferdinand, Drottninggatan 39. Monday-Friday 11.30-15.00, Saturday 12.00-17.00, Monday-Saturday 18.00-23.00.
This sounds like a cellar bar with, according to reports I’ve seen, a decent list of micro beers in bottle.
From the busy Brunnsparken tram junction (every tram except 8!), head south over the canal - away from Gustav Adolf’s statue - and you’ll find Drottninggatan to be the second road on your left with the bar a short distance along.
I received some gen from Per Samuelsson about the local (and not so local) micros so, for completeness, I’ll post the information here.
Gothenburg has plenty of hotels and, in a break from most of European tradition, even the ones around the station don’t seem to be dodgy! We stayed in the Scandic Crown, a few minutes’ walk from the station, tramstop and bus terminal, which I booked through Skoosh for a very good rate. The best bet is to search the various hotel sites such as hotel.de, Opodo, Expedia and HRS plus always try the hotels direct in case of offers. Expect to pay more than you would in, say, Germany but if you hunt out the deals you won’t break the bank… just don’t even think of scooping the hotel bar’s fizz, the prices are truly frightening! The city’s Ibis is actually a boat, not a building, although it’s slightly inconvenient to get to, but if you want to sleep on a boat it may be your first choice.
Beers of the trip.
I was very pleased with most of the beers we scooped in Gothenburg and also the Systembolaget shops which have a very decent range of beers from both Sweden and other micros throughout the world. Obviously our exposure to Swedish micros wasn’t comprehensive in two nights, but here’s what we liked best…
Pub of the trip.
There are some excellent bars in Gothenburg, and that’s only the ones we visited – there were loads of others on our list, see above, that we simply ran out of time to do!
Haket, Långgatan 32. Nondescript bar on a road heading out of town opposite the ferry port with nothing outside to hint at it’s beery greatness. It’s not much to look at inside either, and ignore the taps, but what you come here for are the fridges full of micro-brewed beer from Sweden and elsewhere which will keep all but the top men quiet for a while. Not too expensive (for Sweden!), but then again it’s a tram ride from the centre, 50 metres from Masthuggstorget tramstop on routes 3 (Marklandsgatan), 9 (Kungssten) or 11 (Saltholmen).
We also enjoyed our visits to Delirium and the Rover, all three come recommended!
© Gazza 02/11/08. V2.0
|Delirium bar, Gothenburg||The best use for a minibar...||Gazza at the Pannrummet brewpub, Gothenburg||Haket, Gothenburg||Scooping at Haket, Gothenburg|