I was having dinner and a couple of beers at the Richmond House Hotel in Fort Augustus, Scotland earlier this month when a Swedish family sat down at the table beside me. We got chatting and the father told me he was heavily involved with home brewing and he talked about trends in Swedish beer.
It made me realize that aside from Carlsberg, which I primarily associate with Denmark, and Pistonhead Kustom Lager, a run of the mill brand which got a marketing push in Canada a few years ago, I didn't know much about Swedish beer.
That changed on Friday when I met Johan Spendrup, the chief executive officer and brewmaster of Gotlands Bryggeri (and the brother of the man responsible for Pistonead), at Toronto's Festival of Beer. This year's fest put Sweden in the spotlight and featured 28 brands from six Swedish breweries.
While overly refreshed patrons were walking by and asking for Ikea beer, Spendrup generously took time to pour me each of his beers he had available at the fest from Sweden's first craft brewery and to explain about each one, while also telling me more about the Swedish brewing industry.
The first one I had was Wisby Hopfenweise, a 5.6-per cent alcohol beer made with 60 per cent wheat malt, light caramel malt and Bavarian malt as well as Chinook, Magnum and Centennial hops. It's fermented in open tubs. It poured dark gold and had a lovely aroma with a hint of banana. It comes in at 30 IBU and has a slightly bitter taste with a hint of acidity.
Next up was Sitting Bulldog IPA, an American IPA that was amber in colour and poured with a rich white head. The 6.4-per cent beer uses only American hops (Centennial, Chinook and Amarillo) and crystal and light caramel malts from an island off the coast of Sweden. It was a little more malt-heavy than I like my IPAs.
Great White Bulldog Wheat IPA is an American pale wheat ale made with 55 per cent wheat malt and hops from four continents. The 7.2-per cent beer pours golden orange with a medium, foamy white head. The taste is complex and somewhat fruity with citrus elements, and it's a bit heavier than most wheat beers.
I was aware that IPAs have taken off in Sweden from my conversation in Scotland, but I was surprised to see how many sour and gose beers there were at the festival. I'm not much of a fan of either style, so I stuck more to what I know and like when trying some of the other Swedish beers.
Omnipollo Leon Belgian Pale Ale poured orangey gold and is made with Amarillo and Simcoe hops and champagne yeast. The 6.5-per cent beer is mildly fruity, slightly acidic and has a decently dry finish. It's quite refreshing.
Omnipollo Mazarin Pale Ale is cloudy orange with a nice white head and has a hint of melon in its bouquet. It's made with Columbus, Amarillo, Chinook, Citra and Simcoe Hops. The 5.6-per cent beer registers 48 on the IBU scale but it tastes more bitter than that.
Omnipollo Viktor IPA is a hazy, pale gold that poured with a big white head. The 7.5-per cent beer has a lovely aroma with touches of fruit and brett, and the brett is quite evident to taste. It's quite bitter and has a crisp finish.
Omnipollo Olympus Mons Imperial IPA is made with Mosaic, Simcoe and Columbia hops. It has an eight-per cent alcohol content, and that comes through a bit too much in the flavour. It's OK but I had hoped for more.
Omnipollo Nebuchadnezzar Imperial IPA is dark gold and had a small white head. It has an 8.5-per cent alcohol content. While the aroma and flavour are complex, I didn't particularly enjoy it.
Dugges All The Way Session IPA poured gold with a thick white head. It's made with barley malt and Amarillo, Cascade, Columbus and Citra hops. The 4.2-per cent beer has a nice floral bouquet with a hint of pineapple, and there's a bit of pine in the flavour before finishing dry.
Dugges Orange Haze IPA is cloudy gold with a light white head and a light fruit aroma. The 6.4-per cent beer is made with barley malt and Columbus, Citra and Cascade hops. There's a hint of fruitiness in the taste but no overt orange element jumped out. There was some bitterness and a crisp, dry finish.
Poppels Bryggeri Session IPA is dark gold/orange and had little head. The 4.2-per cent beer has a fruit and malt aroma and a slightly malty flavour. It's mildly bitter, slightly malty, dry and relatively indistinct.
Poppels Bryggeri Fatserie 006 Single Hop IPA Southern Passion is made exclusively with Southern Passion hops from South Africa. The 6.5-per cent beer is pumpkin orange and has a slightly resinous aroma and finish. Melon and blueberry flavours make for a relatively juicy brew.
Tempel Brygghus Surpene Rhubarb Sour IPA is dark gold and pours with a creamy head. The 5.7-per cent beer has an acidic nose and flavour, and you can taste the rhubarb. This was my least favourite of the Swedish beers I sampled.
While I was in the Swedish section, women were walking around with trays of Aalborg Taffel Akavit, a Danish schnapps with 45 per cent alcohol that has a licorice flavour but isn't as sweet as Ouzo or Sambuca. I didn't need a second shot.
I walked around to see what else would catch my interest and came across a few breweries that were new to me.
Sextant Craft Brewery is from Etobicoke and its Why So Sirius? is a 4.8-per cent summery, light pale ale with elements of mango and citrus. It's dry-hopped and has a crisp finish from its 33 IBU bitterness. It's solid but nothing exceptional, but I like brewmaster Dave Wingfelder and wish him well.
Brock Street Double Vision IPA is an amber beer with a small white head. It's made with New Zealand hops and is fairly bitter. The 7.5-per cent alcohol content is a little too evident.
High Park Brewery's Off the Leash unfiltered IPA is a 6.5-per cent beer made with English and American west coast hops. It's amber and pours with a medium head. It has a citrus-hop aroma and flavour and comes in at 57 on the IBU scale.
I met up with Spendrup the next night at Reposado, a Toronto bar best known for its tequilas and mezcals, but which also has a small selection of craft beers and ciders on tap. I introduced him to two Canadian beers and he bought a round of high-end tequila.
Spendrup also turned out to be a big music fan and had heard of the Horseshoe Tavern, since Triumph had played there in the band's early days, so I took him there since I know all of the staff and owners and could help make him feel more at home. There was more beer and liquor consumed until we reached our limits and went our separate ways for the night. Hopefully our paths will cross again.