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HaandBryggeriet Odin's Tipple

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Odin, the chief god of Norse mythology, is associated with war and death, but also wisdom and poetry (amongst other things). I'll have what he's having. But then, we should be careful. Odin once drank from the Well of Wisdom, but to do so, he had to sacrifice one of his eyes. So, have you got what it takes to tipple with Odin? I'd like to think that I do, but I'm a little disappointed with my choice of drinking vessel, as I did not have any giant fucking ram's horns laying around (like Odin has on the label). I'll just have to make due with this snifter glass and this Mjolnir thing.

I've heard some conflicting things about this Norwegian beer from HaandBryggeriet. Some folks have noted that the recipe can change from year to year. It's labeled a Dark Norse Ale, but the Shelton Brothers website sez they use "wild yeast", which is something I didn't really get out of the beer (though perhaps that flavor I attributed to chalkiness is really more of a funky, musty thing?) To my mind, this is definitely in the mold of an Imperial Stout, wild yeast or no. Whosoever tipples this beer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Odin!

HaandBryggeriet Odins Tipple

HaandBryggeriet Odin's Tipple - Pours darker than a politician's soul (sorry, watching House of Cards tonight), black with a finger of brown head that quicky resolves into a ring around the edge. Smells of rich dark malts, chocolate, caramel, a hint of roast, maybe even some coffee. Taste is very rich, much larger roast here than the nose would imply, coffee too, maybe a hint of chalkiness, but plenty of rich caramel and chocolate too, and for a beer this big and rich, it's got a good ofsetting bitterness, especially in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, a little pleasant booze. A bit burly, so the 500 ml packaging is a good fit and hey, it's a cold winter over here at Kaedrin HQ, so burliness is welcome. Overall, this is a really fantastic non BA imperial stout. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (500 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 2/21/14. Batch 487.

I've got to haand it to these wacky Norwegians, they're pretty good at these dark beers. I should really take some time to explore more of their catalog.

HaandBryggeriet Dark Force

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After sampling this tiny Scandanavian brewery's wares a few months ago, I immediately made plans to get my haands on some more of their stuff. Norwegian Wood was possibly the best straight-up smoked beer I've ever had, and this one, well this one is unique. They call this thing a "Double Extreme Imperial Wheat Stout", a style I can't imagine is very common. I'm sure some cuckoo-nutso homebrewer is out there right now doing the same thing, but then again, these HaandBryggeriet guys are basically homebrewers. They brew in their spare time on "an absurdly small scale", which allows them to embrace whatever quirky ideas they may have. In this case, the wheat malt and yeast mixes surprisingly well with the more traditional roasted malt character, and I got some really well balanced smoke out of it too. Truly, the force is with this one (even if it is the dark side):

HaandBryggeriet Dark Force

HaandBryggeriet Dark Force - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with half a finger of light brown head. Smells very sweet, caramel, toffee, some wheat, some roast, and maybe even some smoke. Actually, as it warms, that smoked character develops even more, giving off a sorta meaty character. This isn't one of those overpoweringly smoked beers, it's subtle, but distinct, and while I usually don't get meaty character out of smoked beers, I'm getting it here. Taste has some light, rich caramel tones, that touch of smoke is more prominent here too, and some wheat and roasted malt too. Again, smoked bacon character is emerging as it warms, and it's actually really well matched with the rest of the beer. This is not one of those unbalanced "who put their cigar out in my beer" affairs, it actually fits with the rest of the beer. Subtle and complex flavors. Mouthfeel has plenty of carbonation, a welcome depth and richness. It's not dry, but for such a big beer, it's not very sticky icky either. Overall, this is an excellent and well crafted stout. Delicious and complex, well worth seeking out. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 3/22/13. (No bottling/batch info on label, for some reason)

This pretty much exhausts my current supply of HaandBryggeriet treats, but I'm sure I'll revisit them soon enough. They're clearly in the upper tier of my Euro-brewer experience.

Once upon a time, smoked beers were common. This was more a result of technology than anything else. You can dry malt just by spreading it out on the floor and letting it dry naturally, but if you're a commercial brewery trying to make a consistent product economically, you need to find a way to dry malt consistently, quickly, and in bulk. The process of kilning malt also imparts additional flavors, which is an added bonus. Initial kilns were direct fired, so the combustion gasses and smoke passed right through the malt, imparting that smoky character. However, once maltsters figured out a way to dry their product using indirect heat (looking at early 18th century here), smoke quickly disappeared from most beer. Some regional breweries have kept the process alive, notably in what was northern Bavaria (in particular, Bamburg), so we end up with things like Rauchbiers and Smoked Beers. I'm a little unclear on why these are distinct styles, but Rauchbiers seem to have a more narrow definition, basically using German lager recipes like Märzens, but with smoked malt, whereas the more general Smoked Beer can be just about anything with smoked malt.

Smoked flavors in beer can be a bit intimidating, but I find that after the initial shock of smoke (who put their lit cigar in my beer!?), my palate adjusts to the point where it can become enjoyable. Some smoked beers can certainly be overpowering and I don't think I've ever gotten to the point where I can taste the meaty, bacon-like flavor everyone talks about with smoked beers, but I can find an appreciation for a well crafted version or one that incorporates just a touch of smoke. As it turns out, I inadvertently went on a smoked beer kick recently, so this week, I'm going to review four beers that use smoked malt in one way or another.

We begin with the most obvious smoked beer of the lot, a tribute to a time when Norwegian farmers were required to brew their own ale (they don't say why, but I guess the lack of potable water made such practices common back then). Not being professional brewers, they generally just kilned the malt over an open fire, thus imparting that smoky character. In an added twist, those wacky Norwegians spiced their smoked beer with juniper twigs and berries. HaandBryggeriet enjoys a pretty healthy reputation here at Kaedrin HQ, and they seem to get a kick out of smoked beers, so we thought this one would be worth checking out:

HaandBryggeriet Norwegian Wood

HaandBryggeriet Norwegian Wood - Pours a deep, dark amber color with a finger of white head. Smells really interesting, but I'm having trouble articulating it. The most prominent feature is obviously a light smokiness, but there's a lot of other stuff going on too. Perhaps a rich malt aroma is also there, but there's something bright about the finish of the aroma too. Taste starts off sweet, some nice crystal malt character along with a very, very slight roast flavor that leads into the smokiness, followed by that brightness from the nose, maybe a kinda fruit flavor (I'm guessing this is the fault of the juniper berries). Mouthfeel, medium bodied and well carbonated, very well balanced, goes down easy. Overall, this is a very well balanced, complex beer. The smoke is extremely well integrated; it's the star of the beer and most prominent aroma/flavor, but it doesn't dominate the beer either. It's just that it's so well integrated into the rest of the beer. As smoked beers go, this may be the best straight version I've ever had. B+ (borderline A-)

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a on 1/11/13. Label sez: Batch 358. Total bottles 1500.

So a pretty powerful start to smoked beer week. Next up, I strap on my Clown Shoes and Slay some Vampires. Stay tuned.

HaandBryggeriet Bestefar

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Along with the recently mentioned Nøgne Ø, HaandBryggeriet is at the vanguard of the burgeoning Scandanavian craft brewing movement, bringing big, bold flavor to the land of trashy Euro-lagers, and turning quite a few heads in the process. Including beer dorks like myself, who have read the raves and eventually plunked down some hard earned dough to get my hands on some of their stuff. I don't know much about them and basically picked up this bottle solely on the general enthusiasm Jay has for their work, choosing their Norwegian Winter Ale because we are suckers for that sort of thing here at Kaedrin. Also, they only made 2160 bottles of this stuff, most of which was presumably hoarded by Norwegian beer nerds. How could I turn this down?

Bestefar is the Norwegian word for "grandfather", referring to the father of Father Christmas, who, if the label is any indication, possesses the magical power of beard growing. I guess this is not a surprise, as it's coming from the land of the vikings. And I'm happy to report that, in my limited Norwegian beer consumption, this is the "best by far" (as they say on the bottle):

HaandBryggeriet Bestefar

HaandBryggeriet Bestefar - Pours a very dark brown color with 3-4 fingers of brown, fluffy head. Smells of roasted malt, chocolate, maybe even a little coffee (but nothing overpowering). Taste is deep roasted malts, with some chocolate and coffee and maybe just a bit of caramel. There's also a sorta elusive hop character that faintly chugs along in the background. Different flavors pop in and out of prominence as I'm drinking, though all those flavors are always there. But sometimes I'll take a sip, and I'll really feel the roast or the coffee. Next sip, I'll get more chocolate. And so on. Interesting. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, a little chewy, well carbonated but not quite effervescent (really hit the balance well here). Overall, this feels more along the lines of a Baltic Porter or Imperial Stout than a Winter Warmer, but who's complaining - it really does make a great cold-weather beer and it hit the spot perfectly. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (500 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/24/12. Batch: 384. Total bottles: 2160.

Let's just say that I can't wait to get my haands on some more of their stuff. Bryggeriet on, I say. Ok, enough puns, but I was quite impressed with these folks and will gladly seek out more of their beer.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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