Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nøgne Ø Porter

I am always on the lookout for new beers that come into the Reno area, and one just arrived recently that I had seen before. Over Christmas, in Portland, I told you that I had found a cool beer named "Ø" amongst other foreign beers (I eventually settled on Hinano Tahiti, a French Polynesian beer). Apparently, the brewery itself, not the beer, is named Ø, and it's actually not Ø, it's Nøgne Ø, Norwegian for "naked island". I can't remember the style that I saw in Portland, but the one on sale at Booze Bros. was their Porter. It came highly recommended, so I had to snag it, even though the price tag was a little steep. (Not as steep as in Norway, where it can fetch €12, or $17, a bottle, more than twice what I paid.)

Nøgne Ø (full name "Nøgne Ø - The Uncompromising Brewery" when translated from Norwegian) was started by two Norwegian homebrewers, Kjetil Jikiun and Gunnar Wiig, in Grimstad, Norway (a town about 4 hours SW of Oslo), in 2002. Jikiun, an airline pilot, started homebrewing in 1997 after bringing homebrewing supplies back from Seattle and Chicago. He met Wiig and, after months of persuasion, convinced him to join him in his pursuit. You see, like many countries (including the US), Norway's beer market is dominated by two main breweries, Carlsberg-Ringnes and Hansa-Borg, which control 85% of Norway's beer market. Combine that with strict alcohol control laws (no advertising, alcohol more than 4.75% ABV must be sold in state-run liquor stores, Internet legislation, high taxes, etc.), and it seems unlikely that any micro could survive.

And yet, Nøgne Ø (and many others) has, mostly thanks to exporting 70% of its crop to more tolerant countries. Even though they've had some pretty rough times over the last 7 years, it seems as if Jikiun and his crew have found their niche introducing new beer styles (mostly ales and bottle-conditioned beers) to Norwegians and sharing their interpretations with the rest of the world. The porter in particular was first homebrewed by Jikiun in 2000 and was released commercially in 2003. Jikiun himself has a soft-spot for this particular beer; says Jikiun, "Our porter was developed by me, and I am the one who have made the adjustments required, when we have changed brewing equipment or there has been inconsistencies in malt/hop supplies ... [it] is my baby." (Various pages on Nøgne Ø's site that can't be direct-linked, All About Beer November 2007)

Here come the stats:

Nøgne Ø Porter
BREWERY: Nøgne Ø Brewery, Grimstad, Norway
US IMPORTER: Shelton Brothers, Belchertown, MA
STYLE: Porter
FIRST BREWED: 2000 as a homebrew, 2003 commercially
ABV: 7%
ORIGINAL GRAVITY: 16.5° Plato (1068.04)
MALTS: Maris Otter, Munich, caramel, black malt, and chocolate malt
HOPS: Centennial and Northern Brewer hops
FOODS TO PAIR WITH: Dark chocolate, cheese, red meat dishes
AWARDS: 2008 World Beer Championships Silver Medal (Robust Porter)

I got all but First Brewed, Calories, and the Awards from Nøgne Ø Porter's website (no direct link, so go to the Homepage → Our Beers → Porter). The rest was generously provided by Kjetil Jikiun, head brewer at Nøgne Ø. Tusen takk, Kjetil!

The head exploded out of this beer, even while I was trying to pour it the right way; it emerged a large fluffy copper color. The beer itself was an extremely dark brown, so dark that no light shone through it, despite my efforts. The smell was very pleasant, with a malty and slightly hoppy aroma with strong sweet coffee and chocolate overtones. The beer itself tasted sweet and malty with a larger amount of hoppiness than its smell. The finish dissolves into a strong coffee aroma, but it doesn't leave a bad aftertaste.

Overall, Nøgne Ø is a very well-crafted and complex beer. The beer, and the brewery, deserve all the praise they get for improving the quality of beer in Norway. Jikiun and company are doing something special in that part of Scandanavia, so pick one up in one of the 43 states Shelton Brothers distributes Nøgne Ø's beers to, or also in Finland, Sweden, or Japan for that matter.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pike Kilt Lifter

At the end of our Alaskan cruise, my wife and I were dropped off in Seattle. Now, while I am very biased towards Portland's beer history, Seattle is a great beer town, full of well-known and obscure brews alike. One of them is the Pike Brewing Co., situated a couple blocks from the historic Pike Place Market. Being one of the more widely distributed of Seattle's breweries (they distribute to WA, OR, ID, MT, UT, and AK in the United States and BC in Canada, but not Nevada!), I had to check it out. Unfortunately, I only had enough time to dash in, pick out a bottle I thought looked cool, and dash out. That bottle: Kilt Lifter, a Scotch-style ale that was first brewed in 1990.

Pike itself was opened in 1989 by Charles and Rose Ann Finkel under Seattle's Pike Place Market, in what they call "one of the smallest breweries with the tallest smokestack". There, they brewed their Pike Pale, an Amber ale, and XXXXX Stout, but it wasn't long before they expanded to the Kilt Lifter, as well as numerous other styles, such as a barleywine, IPA, and even Belgian-style doubles and tripels. Pike got a big boost when it was spoken of favorably by the late great Beer Hunter Michael Jackson in 1991, and they've never looked back. They've won numerous awards at many festivals and judgings, and All About Beer magazine ranked their IPA as one of the 5 best in the country and one of the 10 best in the world. Now, as far as Kilt Lifter's awards go, I may have missed some (mostly because I was tired when prepping this entry), but in 2006-2008, Northwest Brewing News rated it the Best Northwest Scotch Ale. (Pike Brewing Website → History)

Here come the stats:

Pike Kilt Lifter
BREWERY: Pike Brewing Co., Seattle, WA, USA
STYLE: Scotch ale
CALORIES/SERVING: ~190 per 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 6.5%
ORIGINAL GRAVITY: 15.58° Plato (1064)
MALTS: Peated, pale, crystal, Munich
HOPS: Magnum, East Kent Goldings
FOODS TO PAIR WITH: Pike pulled pork sandwich, salmon sandwich, Kilt Lifter mac n' cheese (all of which are on Pike's brewpub menu)
AWARDS: 2006-2008 Best Northwest Scotch Style Ale as voted by readers of Northwest Brewing News
INTERESTING FACTS: It's their most popular beer, equally popular amongst men and women alike, and it's "extremely popular around St. Patrick's Day", which is odd considering that it's a Scottish styled beer on an Irish holiday

Much of the info comes from Pike's Flash-based website; first brewed and awards come from History, and bitterness, ABV, OG, malts, and hops come from the Kilt Lifter "page". The rest of the information comes from Pike's own Head Brewer, Drew Cluley. Thanks again for the info!

The beer poured very smoothly, revealing a medium amber color and a white foamy head. The nose was very malty and sweet, with just a touch of hoppiness to it. The beer itself tasted malty and carbonated in equal amounts, perfectly balanced. As the beer warmed up, a little smokiness emerged as the maltiness and carbonation waned. The finish started off a little stale, but actually ended up quite nicely. Overall, a pretty good beer.

I am more of a wheat beer and stout fan, and not usually one for strong ales, but I really enjoyed this beer. Check this one out the next time you're in Seattle or anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saigon Export

Recently, I was at the Golden Flower Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Reno, enjoying some of their delicious phở. When I went to pay, I looked over in the cooler next to the counter, and something caught my eye. Next to the "33" Export (which I reviewed back in October 2008) was a bottle with a similarly-designed label: Saigon Export. I decided I needed to buy a bottle and try out another beer from Viet Nam.

Unlike the French-Australian-Vietnamese-whatever brewing situation of "33" Export, Saigon Export's label actually matches what it says in RateBeer's The Beer Guide; it is actually brewed by the Saigon Beer Co. (or "Saigon Beer-Alcohol-Beverage Corp." on the label, or its abbreviation of "Sabeco"), actually based in Saigon (a.k.a. Ho Chi Minh City), actually in Viet Nam. I was able to find that Sabeco brews both Saigon Export and "333" Beer (according to this Reuters report about Sabeco's IPO), which adds a new wrinkle to the "33"/"333" brewing situation; this means I may need to update the entry.

Furthermore, I found Sabeco's Vietnamese site and, thanks to Google Translate, I was able to cobble together a little more info about the beer and its history; apparently, Sabeco was formed in 1977 from a merger the Official Southern Beer-Wine Company (I think that's how it's translated) and the Cho Lon Beer Factory; I assume that it was around this time that Saigon Export was created. I could be wrong, so I may need to verify this info with the US importer. (Saigon Export page, Sabeco History, both pages in Vietnamese)

Here come the stats:

Saigon Export
BREWERY: Saigon Beer-Alcohol-Beverage Corp., Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam
STYLE: Rice beer, lager
ABV: 4.9%
MALTS: "Malt"
HOPS: "Hop"
FOODS TO PAIR WITH: Vietnamese food, I suppose

I got name, importer, ABV, malts, and hops off the bottle, and serving temperature from Sabeco's Saigon Export site. Is there more to come from the U.S. importer? Stay tuned!

This beer started off similarly to "33" and other Asian lagers I've had, mostly in keeping with the golden color and bright white bubbly head that dissipated rapidly (although I am trying to pour my beers better). However, the similarities between Saigon Export and the other Vietnamese beer end there. I caught a big whiff of a hoppy but overly metallic scent that turned me off; now it was starting to remind me of Central American lagers. The taste certainly exuded that same metal undertone along with more carbonation, like a pilsner. Finally, the aftertaste that lingered was more metal, as if I had been sucking on a penny.

Overall, Saigon Export was a very disappointing brew. I had high hopes for this beer ever since I had "33", but unfortunately it reminded me about the worst attributes of various beer styles I've had: The inconsistencies of some Asian beers, the poor water quality of some Central American beers, and the metallic taste of Eastern European pilsners. Maybe it goes better with Phở, I dunno. All I know is, I'm grabbing a "33" next time I'm at the Golden Flower. However, if you wish to try this beer for yourself, you can probably grab one at your local Vietnamese restaurant or Asian supermarket. Besides, it's not even nearly as bad as Korea's Hite Exfeel-S. But I still wouldn't spend $4 on this one.

Cạn ly!

(Today's foreign language lesson: Beer in Vietnamese is bia)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cusqueña Premium

UPDATE: Additional information was found once I called the importer and found out it was MillerCoors.

About 6 months ago, I noticed that a new restaurant was going to open in a strip mall on Moana Ln. near Kietzke. It was called "El Tumi," and they specialized in Peruvian food. I thought, How exotic, I'll need to try them when they open up. And for the next half a year, I was always so disappointed driving by and continually seeing the "Coming Soon" banner still waving in front of the restaurant. I was worried that they would never open in this economy.

Well, as luck would have it, about a week ago, I noticed that they were finally opened for business. So I took my wife out to Peruvian food tonight to see how the cuisine was comparable to other Latin American food I've had while in Reno. I have to comment that the food was excellent for the price. My wife got a half rotisserie chicken for $6, and I got a delicious chicken, pork, and potato dish called carapulera for $8.95. The fried plantains were also fantastic.

But enough about the food: While I was there, I had to try one of their Peruvian beers. Of the two that were offered (Cristal and Cusqueña), I had to go with Cusqueña for no other reason that it sounded more Spanish (it's the "ñ"). Now, just from looking at their Peruvian website, I imagine that Cusqueña as a company is similar to Budweiser, mostly because it appears they sponsor all sorts of sporting events, concerts, and movies without giving a detailed history of the company of their beers.

So I called the 800 number of the US Importer, "Latam Imports," supposedly based in Fort Worth, Texas. Turns out that Latam Imports is another name for MillerCoors International Brands (which imports Cristal, as well as Pilsner Urquell and others). He directed me to MillerCoors' "Great Beers" website (click Imports and scroll down) and Cusqueña's English website (which for some reason I was unable to find) for the information I didn't get from the Spanish website. So here goes the history; hopefully it's accurate and not just a legend.

In 1908, two German brewers came to Cusco, Peru, and found that the water there was incredibly pure. So they decided to brew a European-style lager in Cusco that adhered to the Reinheitsgebot, or the 1516 German Purity Law, using this water. Enter Cusqueña (Spanish for "from Cusco"), which was first brewed in 1911 and is still apparently brewed using that same water source found 18,000 feet in the Andes. The teardrop bottle shape caught my eye when it was served to me. The bottle also contains an engraving of an Inca wall, including the famous "12 angle stone," a one-ton stone crafted to have 12 unique sides that still sits on a main street in Cusco today. (Like I said, it all sounds pretty legendary, but hopefully true as well.) (Various pages on Cusqueña's English site)

Here come the stats.

Cusqueña Premium
BREWERY: Union de Cervecerias Peruanas Backus Y Johnston S.S.A., Lima, Peru
US IMPORTER: Latam Imports, Fort Worth, TX
ALSO KNOWN AS: MillerCoors International Brands, Milwaukee, WI
STYLE: Pilsner
CALORIES/SERVING: 130 per 11.2 oz. bottle (I've also seen 140 and 143 for 12 oz.)
ABV: 4.8% (I've also seen 5%)
ORIGINAL GRAVITY: (proprietary)
MALTS: Meltcalfe, Scarlett, Caramel, and Barke
HOPS: Nuggest, Styrian, Saaz
SERVING TEMPERATURE: 36°F (2°C) (the Spanish site advocates serving it between 28 and 35°F, or between -2 and 2°C)
FOODS TO PAIR WITH: Peruvian foods, I assume; also couscous tabouleh, spicy prawn stew, steamed scallops, and others

The brewery and importer came from the bottle; style, and the first three malts came from Cusqueña's Ingredients page, translated from Spanish; first brewed, calories, IBUs, the last malt, hops, and serving temperature came from Cusqueña's Facts page; and additional food pairings came from Cusqueña's Food Pairings page.

This beer was served to me in an 11.2 oz. bottle accompanied by a frosted mug, which made it look all the more delicious after I poured it. It had a foamy white head with a translucent golden color. At this point, it reminded me of Corona, but with a stronger grainy nose. The real difference between Cusqueña and other Latin-American lagers I've had is that this one had no metallic taste, which I usually chalk up to bad water when brewing. In fact, now that I think about it, Cusqueña may have been one of the best pilsners I've had, mostly because it didn't taste like it was brewed using pocket change. It wasn't skunky, and tasted malty with a little bit of a hoppy bite, but nothing even approaching an IPA. The finish was faint, with a little bit of malt and fruity notes before vanishing.

While it's not my favorite beer in the world, it's a pretty good beer considering it's from a part of the world that brews mostly forgettable lagers. It paired very well with my carapulera, and I imagine other Peruvian dishes would go well too. Since it's the height of summer, it'd even make a good thirst-quencher after a long day's work (or relaxation) in the sun. In Reno, you can pick one up at El Tumi (although they're kind of expensive) and possibly Machu Picchu, the other Peruvian restaurant in town; otherwise, your local Peruvian restaurant or store may have it. Or, use this Find Cusqueña tool I found (it may be out of date, as it only listed locations in Las Vegas for Nevada).

¡Salud y amor y tiempo para disfrutarlo!