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.


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