BERGEN INTERNATIONAL BEER & WHISKY FESTIVAL

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BERGEN INTERNATIONAL BEER & WHISKY FESTIVAL

By Claire McPherson

Two weeks ago I was sent to do a pretty great job: represent Innis & Gunn at the Bergen International Beer & Whisky Festival. With hundreds upon hundreds of bottles of my favourite things, surrounded by some of the friendliest faces in the industry and 26 different masterclasses running without a hitch, I’ll tell you this for nothing; Bergen has set the bar high for 2015’s festival schedule.

Innis & Gunn itself is born out of the coming together of whisky and beer, and all good whisky begins its life as good beer, so for me these joint festivals seem to have a natural chemistry. At our Edinburgh HQ, a hauf n hauf is something we’re rather fond of having collaborated with our friends at Auchentoshan and Bowmore for past events with some quite delicious consequences. However, this idea of uniting the two is still a little alien in Norway, and the coming together of the beer and whisky communities has not been realised until recently.

The Bergen International Beer & Whisky Festival is the first of its kind in Norway. Evolved from the annual Bergen Whisky-Meet, the inaugural event was held on the 12th and 13th of February this year in the Scandic Bergen City Hotel. More than 3000 thirsty folks crossed its threshold over the two day stint to sample our wares, which is no mean feat with upwards of 1000 different bottles to choose from.

I was working with our distributor, CASK Norway (a charming bunch of handsome bearded giants) who have some of the most interesting and exciting products around, spanning both beer and whisky. Our team for the weekend was made up of mostly Brits, myself alongside members of the Brewdog, Wild Beer Company, Beavertown and Brew By Numbers teams. We were also joined by Oslo-based Amundsen Bryggeri and Swedish brewers CAP, creators of curious audacious products.

As you would expect we were rooting around each other’s products straight away. Although there were only six breweries with representatives at the fayre, CASK had products from around twenty different breweries, which again, we all made sure we ‘familiarised’ ourselves with. The stand out beers for me were:

“Yadokai” by the Wild Beer Company
A sake-inspired beer with Yuzu, Sea buckthorn and Seaweed. 13%.
I’d heard such weird and wonderful things about this beer, and was chuffed when Andrew (Cooper aka Mr Wild Beer) produced a bottle for us all to share. What seems like a completely off the wall collection of ingredients, in fact comes together in a surprisingly drinkable fashion. Intense & sour as you’d expect from WBC (and from yuzu!) but really nicely balanced with an interesting umami character.
 
"Holy Cowbell” by Beavertown
India Stout. 5.6%.
I asked for a taste of Smog Rocket, which is my favourite Beavertown tinnie, and was persuaded to go for this instead. Delicious fusion of two distinct styles: rich aroma of coffee and chocolate gives way to fruity hop freshness. The slight citrus tang mingling with the hefty dose of dark malt takes me back to my childhood obsession with chocolate limes.
 
“Death from above” by Garage Project.
IPA with mango, chilli, mint & lime. 7.5%.
Inspired by the brewer’s love of Vietnamese mango salad, this is one heck of a beer! Superbly balanced, with no one flavour dominating the others. Fruity first, punch of bitterness, followed by a lingering warmth from the chilli. Sadly, Garage Project beers can currently only be found in New Zealand and Norway, but I’m ever hopeful they’ll swing some our way soon.

 

Prior to heading out to Bergen I’d been asked to host a masterclass, and as such decided to smuggle along the last of my stash of our Malt Whisky Trail, as a special treat. This last minute decision proved to be a brilliant one, as we were awarded Best Barrel Aged Beer of the festival. Malt Whisky Trail was one of our quickest sell-outs, despite the making over 9,000 cases of this delicious nectar, and there are even a few poor souls at HQ who didn't manage to snag a sip. A 90/ ale, or 'wee heavy', this beer was aged in barrels from Islay, Campbelltown, Speyside, Lowland and Highland distilleries, before being carefully blended back together by master brewer Dougal Sharp. Dougal's vision was to create a beer to celebrate Innis & Gunn's beginnings which are heavily rooted in the Whisky industry. With intricate layers of flavour, encompassing characteristics indicative of each of the Scottish Whisky regions, this beer is a true labour of love, so if you're lucky enough to still have a bottle stashed - enjoy!


At close of play on Saturday night, we were treated to a ‘Battle of the Brewers’: Beavertown, Wild Beer Co. and Brew by Numbers went head to head for three rounds of beer versus beer, with the winner being measured by the loudest cheers. While it was difficult to compare the bottles as they were all so different, even within the three categories, and all stood on their own as brilliant brews, my personal favourite of the nine sampled was Wild Beer’s “Wildebeest”. However, the stars of the show were in fact the men behind the beers, who put on a top performance, and encouraged plenty of cheers/jeers from the audience. An excellent end to the weekend and quite befitting of the festival's chilled out vibe.

 

Frode Harring, the man behind the whole operation, has the ambition of making this festival the largest of its kind in Norway. We look forward to seeing that, and being a part of that mission. Hopefully, the success of this festival will spur on others to open their doors to the ingenuity of beer.

Roll on 2016!

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