Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nordic Combined

I have something to admit. My knowledge of beers and the Scandinavian Peninsula is limited to the poster of the bikini clad, platinum blonde, bombshells I had on my wall when I was a teenager. Imagine my disappointment when I found out they weren't really from Sweden. That's what most teenage boys  are concerned about with bikini models, right—accurately portrayed nationality?  In all seriousness, I'm a Nordic beer noob. My first ever Nordic beer was Hantverksbryggeriet's Julnarren Special Winter Ale, from Sweden—of which I tried, only this past December. I've drank beer from every other nook and cranny of Europe, but for some reason, the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway and Finland seem to have been overlooked in my beery experiences.

Swedish erotica
At this point, you may have noticed that I've referred to those three counties as "Nordic" rather than "Scandinavian." I've done that because, in researching (I'm using that term very loosely) this post, I found out that Finland is not considered part of Scandinavia. The term Scandinavian, refers to a specific cultural group in Northern Europe—the Danes, the Swedes and the Norwegians. I always assumed it was a geographic association, and as usual, I was wrong. It all boils down to language and common ancestors, and apparently the Fins didn't pay their dues, so they got the boot. Being that we're never looking to offend here at drinkdrank, I'll use the more widely accepted, generic term for that area—Nordic. How all this geopolitical-ness will affect the beer, remains to be seen.

Speaking of beer, let's get to it.

To steal a line from the all mighty and powerful, Led Zeppelin—from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow, comes #100 (as in "100th batch"). Brewed by Nøgne Ø, in the southern coastal town of Grimstad, Norway. #100 is an American-style Barleywine, and you know it's the real deal because the brewery has not one, but two Øs in its name. The name means "naked island,"and comes from Norway's favorite son, Henrik Ibsen, waxing poetic about his homeland's craggy and barren southern coastline. Admittedly, I haven't a clue how to pronounce it, but I do know if any beer exemplifies Ibsen's naked island ruggedness—it's #100. Pouring a foggy, red-mahogany with a dense, buff colored head that looks like a root beer float. #100 gives off a muted fruity, toasted malt and butterscotch aroma. Its hop notes are low, on the sniff, coming across just as an underlying earthiness. When you get it into your mouth everything changes—this sonofabitch is intense. Starting out sweet, with bits of fresh bread, chocolate, molasses and figs, it then blends into an earthy mix of black coffee and a leathery, woodiness. The hop flavor comes toward the end, bringing an herbal pineiness, with just a hint of citrus—a little peach and berry. #100 finishes up with an overwhelming bitterness, that's accentuated by a decent amount of alcoholic zing. At 10%ABV, this beer is a sipper, in fact, it took a good 45 minutes for me to get through the bottle—and I don't know if I could have gotten it down any faster than I did. Nøgne Ø #100 is a brute—its bold, complex and strong, just like the Norsemen who plundered and ransacked Northern Europe, nearly, twelve centuries ago. The Vikings never had the chance to drink #100, but I know they would if they could have.

Moving east—and 1,000 years ahead in time—I decided to try something a little paler and a little less formidable. Dugges' High Five! seemed like the perfect choice. Brewed by Dugges Ale & Porterbryggeri, in the town of Mölndal, Sweden—just south of Gothenburg—High Five! is an American-style IPA brewed with, coincidentally enough, five American, high alpha, hop varieties. If the Nøgne Ø was like the surf pounding the Norwegian shoreline, then High Five! is like a cruise around the country roads, outside Gothenburg, in a Volvo S60. It's familiar and comfortable, but it's great in the curves. It pours a copper-red with creamy, downy head. The aroma is sweet with a malty forward tone. There's some piney-ness, with a touch of citric pith, but mostly there's a caramel with a touch of freshly toasted bread. Therse' a pleasant weight to this beer, a roundness that's a nice compliment to the rest of this brews nuts and bolts. I was surprised at the fruitiness of High Five!, it starts of with a mellow brown sugar or light molasses-like caramel quality that is supported by fresh apple and plum. There's a freshness to its hop quality, with hint of tartness, like a ripe tangerine. It's slightly drying with an astringency that works well with its fairly aggressive bitterness. It actually reminds me a bit of BrewDog's Punk IPA, I think it's the Maris Otter malt and American hop combo. This Swede is a straightforward, very drinkable IPA—malty and sweet where it needs to be, but with a nice hoppy bite to get you though the hairpin.

Onto Finland, home to not one, not two, but three winners of the Formula One World Driver's Championship—Keke Rosberg (1982) , Mika Häkkinen (1998–99)  and Kimi Räikkönen (2007). They have nothing to do with beer, but I do imagine they all like Sinebrychoff Porter as much as I do (one does add a bit of association with one's heroes, don't they?) Brewed in Kerava, Finland, by Oy Sinebrychoff, this Porter is a Porter built for me—complex, but to the point. The Nøgne Ø was dark, but the Sinebrychoff is absolute black, topped with a dark-khaki froth. Liquorice abounds in the aroma, with a nice roasted malt tone, as well. A lot of so-called "Robust" or "Baltic" Porters are astringent coffee bombs, not so much with this 7.2%ABV Finn. There's some espresso-like, black coffee roasty-ness, but there's a mildly sweet, dark chocolate and dried fruit quality to it as well. There are flavors of anise, sugared dates and tart plum with a subtle savoriness. It's sweet without being sweet; I know that sounds like a contradiction, but somehow it works—and it works amazingly well. There's a subtle bitterness, which I expected to be stronger, with a slightly spicy hoppiness—almost gingery, without going all ginger snap. I had no expectations with this beer, In fact one of the reasons I bought it was its price point—$4.00 for a 12 ounce bottle—at least $3–$4 cheaper than any other Nordic-made Porter, that I could find. That being said, it was—easily—my favorite of the these three Nordic brews. It was balanced between sweet and roasty, with a great complexity and it's just an all-around great Porter. If you can find it, drink it.

There you go—I'm three beers more acquainted with the brews of our Nordic friends—A Viking warrior from Norway, a laid-back cruiser with some zip from Sweden and a pleasant surprise from Finland—and not a bikini among them. Although, one bikini might have been nice. 

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