Drinking Outside the Box – Beerism Talks Imports, and More Specifically: Nøgne Ø

In Quebec, we have a fantastic number of choices when it comes to drinking local craft beer. And from these choices, there are tons of amazing beers that are consistently available. For a long time, the only thing we were really missing in Quebec was a solid American IPA, and now, thanks to Dieu du Ciel!’s Moralité and Le Castor’s Yakima, we have two readily available, utterly fantastic IPA’s (not to mention many others). So for those who want to drink locally, things are pretty great, and getting better all the time.

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That being said, what often accompanies a beer hobby is the desire to try brews from outside of your city, province, state, or country. From my perspective, there are several reasons for this; for one, as you start preaching about how good your local beer is, part of you wants validation for these claims, so trying beer from outside your area in order to compare brands can become important. Second is simply variety. When you have tried most of your local beers, you want something different once in a while. And thirdly, as your beer geekdom grows and you want to expand your palate to new heights, you simply want to try anything and everything you can get your hands on in order to analyze, or to simply enjoy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG fan of drinking and eating locally. I think it’s extremely important to support your local artisans, and there are a countless number of reasons to do so. However, for all the reasons I listed above, I still want to try everything! And plus, when you think about it, yes some beer may be produced locally, but where do the ingredients come from? There is a fantastic organic craft brewery (which I’m a huge fan of)  that imports all their ingredients from Germany. There is nothing wrong with that, but although you may be financially supporting a local business, your carbon footprint might be larger than you previously thought. Again, no judgement on my part.

Quebec is pretty lousy for beer imports. We are not legally allowed to sell imports at grocery stores or Depanneurs (corner stores), and the SAQ (government run liquor store) only imports a small number of offerings. What’s a boy to do!? Well, what I do is go to the LCBO in Ontario, who bring in quite a large number of beer imports every season. This leads us onto the topic at hand; Nøgne Ø, a brewery from Norway who’s popularity and notability have been increasing steadily over the last few years. The LCBO has been consistently selling their offerings here and there for a while, and I’ve managed to grab some when I can. All of Nøgne’s beers are “live,” which means they are fermented a second time in the bottle using ale yeast. A lot of breweries take this route for various reasons, one being that the beers shelf life can be extended substantialy due to the live yeast in the bottle. Below, I’m going to look at three different offerings from Nøgne Ø; #100 – a hopped up American Barleywine, Nøgne Porter – you guessed it, a porter, and Nøgne Imperial Stout – A big, baddass brew that I have been aging for almost three years.

Nøgne #100

IMG_20130817_091213This American barleywine was created to celebrate Nøgne’s 100th batch. It poured out a chestnut brown color with some deep red highlights. The nose begins with earthy hops, that carries a hard to describe zesty quality. There are loads of caramel and toasted barley aromas that traveled up my nostrils,  Which carried only a little bit of ethanol booze to sting my nose hairs. I smelled some interesting yeasty esters as well; lets call it bubble gum funk.

After the first sip it came across quite hot (boozy), with less body then I would have expected for a barleywine, not to mention what the nose would make you think. There is sweetness, but it’s cut down by a spicy bitter finish. There is a slight smoke flavor as well, with lots and lots of cooked caramel, star anise, and just the right amount of sugar. Besides the relatively potent ethanol presence, this one does drink very easily. It kind of tingles the tongue on the way down, and the aftertaste leaves you with with a tangy, bitter, caramel flavor that sits there, until your next sip. The more I drink this, the more interesting it becomes.

I was a bit taken back with this one, because for lack of a better word, I found it a bit “watery.” That being said, it’s also quite a potent and flavorful brew, and the lighter mouthfeel improved it’s drinkability.  It reminded me of a Belgian Quad, minus the Belgian yeast profile, especially given the effervescent mouthfeel. Overall I enjoyed this quite a lot, and would try it again for sure.

Nøgne Porter

IMG_20131003_073827After cracking this one open, it started to foam up and spill over the bottle. Pouring it out was also a bit challenging given the extreme carbonation situation. This bottle was clearly live (bottle fermented); perhaps I kept it a bit longer then I should have given this yeasty explosion. Aromas of chocolate hit me first, followed by a ton of earthy yeast, which is not surprising in the least given the giant head that appeared before me. I also got hints of coffee grinds, making a general moka thing happen.

The mouthfeel is quite effervescent, lightening up the would-be heavier body and slightly above average 7% ABV that usually accompanies a porter. It is also much dryer than expected, and a little metallic, which is a flavor I often find synonymous with live dark beers. It actually reminds me a bit like tasting the iron in your own blood when you cut your finger. Yes, I know that’s a bit odd, but its true! Similar to the nose, this one has some nice light chocolate and general dark roasted flavors. There is also a bit of a tangy and earthy yeast presence. As it warms up, a little sweetness starts to come out, with an even bigger chocolate presence. There is some bitterness here, but it’s not over the top by any means.

Overall this was a solid porter that was a bit different than the norm given the extreme effervescence. Well balanced, rich and smooth, I’d drink this again for sure.

Nøgne Imperial Stout

20131213_221906This beer was one of, if not the first beer I decided to age. I’ve since learned better, and now  always try to buy two bottles if I’m going to sit on something for a while. That way, I can have one fresh and then have one a few years later to see the progression (if any). At this point the bottle was pushing three years, so it was time to crack her open. It pours out like motor oil, which I always love in an imperial stout. There is a nice tan colored head on it, which dies down pretty fast. It has an extremely complex nose; I’m getting coffee, cocoa, black cherries, and lots of other fruity yeast esters. It smells incredibly rich, imparting what smells like bourbon flavors (if I didn’t know better). It has this beautifully complex and rich aroma that you just want to bury yourself in.

Let’s taste this bad boy! It’s Surprisingly dry, with a hefty bitter finish that cuts everything down nicely. It starts out quite chocolatey, but the dryness kind of makes me feel like I’m missing something; I guess I like my Imperial Stouts with a touch of sweetness. And I say this, while also loving this beer. The body is fantastic, nice and chewy with a beautiful mocha colored  head. It’s got a caramel, dark roasted coffee, almost espresso like flavor; again extremely dry.  It is effortlessly drinkable with virtually no booze, which I’m presuming is a result of the aging process. There is a sherry quality, or bourbon richness, which is followed by a little bit of star anise lingering in the background, then a hefty bitterness comes through, cutting everything down. I would like to have tried this one fresh as well, but I could not wait forever to see this one hit the shelves again.

Drinking locally is important, and I will stand by that statement. However for me, in order to better understand what I’m drinking, I need to be able to try beer from outside my province. Analyzing and comparing beer is an important learning exercise for me, and well… delicious!

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