For being Sweden’s smallest brewery, Pang Pang proved to be a pretty big deal. Fredrik, the lone founder and brewer, and most of the time, lone employee, is an incredible example of Sweden’s ambitions in craft beer. It was clear in the first few moments of our chat that Pang Pang was aiming high, despite it’s humble beginnings.
Currently located in a basement room beneath a residential building in Hökarängen, a quiet neighborhood in the far south of Stockholm, Fredrick, a former homebrewer, brews on equipment he’s either scraped together or built himself, and it’s all strikingly efficient. In many ways, his situation reminded me of the boys at Chicago’s Spiteful Brewing in Ravenswood.
Fredrik already has two labels under his belt: The Puttin’ in Hours Pale Ale and the No, It’s Not from India, It’s from Hökarängen IPA. Bottles and kegs from his first productions were hand-delivered to some of Stockholm’s best bars and restaurants, including Pubologi in Gamla Stan and Nytorget Urban Deli in Södermalm, generating a buzz around the city that still persists.
Distribution in Sweden is a much more direct process than in the States. Breweries are allowed to make direct sales to bars and restaurants, enabling them to develop strong relationships with their customers. In turn, premise accounts have much more say in the beers they serve.
This changes when it comes to retail sales, however. Sweden controls the sale of alcohol through a state-run liquor store monopoly called System Bologet. The System stores carry a variety of beers, both macro and micro, but selection varies greatly from store to store. Legally, a brewer has the right to sell their beer in the nearest three stores by default. But to get wider distribution is challenging. As a brewer with dozens of System stores between his brewery and downtown Stockholm, Fredrik is busy jumping through many regulatory hoops to reach his target audience.
He felt the first major sting of the System in his label review. Pang Pang’s bottle labels are created in the style of noir comics, both elegant and violent. The original label for Puttin’ in Hours Pale Ale was rejected due to it’s suggestive content. In the revision, the artist removed the blood from the character’s collar and erased the chalk outline of the missing axe in the background. Label approved.
Fredrik’s brewing is on hiatus at the moment, but he still had a Pale Ale handy that he was reluctantly willing to share. It was from a batch that he’d determined was slightly “off” and he decided not to distribute it. The hops were a bit too astringent in his opinion. As someone who sees many American brewers running loose with their recipes, even swapping out one hop profile for another due to price fluctuations, I was encouraged by Fredrik.s desire for precision. He was right about the beer’s quality, but only by a few degrees. It was a solid pale.
Fredrik was only brewing in this space for a short time before an opportunity for a larger, more visible space became available nearby. Hence the hiatus. We took a brief walk through Hökarängen to a corner with a small row of storefronts under construction. The city is interested in Hökarängen becoming a draw for artists and craftsmen, and they see Pang Pang as a potential draw.
The new space has a kitchen (taprooms in Sweden are required to serve food), multiple walk-in coolers and a storefront large enough for a killer taproom. Fredrik was noticeably excited by the possibilities. His goal is to save as much of the vintage cottage feel of the space, the painted cupboards and lockers, light fixtures and flooring, all harkening back to 1960s Sweden. He even knows where he wants the taps, styled like vintage weapons — think sawed-offs and Tommy Guns.
Before parting ways, we swapped some beers and recommendations for beer hunting in Stockholm and some postcards and literature from our respective hunting grounds. Fredrik was recently featured in a folio-style mag from Hugo, a high-end menswear store in Stockholm, which provided one hell of a platform to talk about craft beer and Pang Pang. In return, I dropped off a copy of Mash Tun and some postcards of my trips to Goose Island and Solemn Oath, which stoked his desire to make the trip to Chicago.
My visit to Pang Pang set the tone for the rest of my excursion. Where last year’s trip to Portugal was a wasteland for beer hunting, Sweden had already proven to be exciting, fertile grounds for innovative approaches to beer. And there’s so much more to come!