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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.

Dark Horizon 4th Edition

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A crazy-high ABV imperial stout brewed by Kjetil "the bearded giant" Jikiun at Nøgne Ø in Norway? Fine, I'll take a flyer on that. Oh, who am I kidding? This was packaged in a triangular prism! With, like, Viking markings and shit! How could I not?

Inspired by Avery Mephistopheles's Stout, this is "a pain in the neck" for Nøgne Ø to brew, owing to the lengthy and unpredictable fermentation needed to reach that high target ABV. They change up the recipe every year and they brew some variants, including Red Horizon, which uses a variety of sake yeasts (Nøgne Ø apparently loves them some sake and makes their own as well). This particular edition of Dark Horizon (their fourth) uses Muscovado sugar and some sort of wacky green coffee beans treated with alfa-amylase (basically an enzyme that helps bread down the coffee). It's clocking in at a healthy 16% ABV, but they've packaged it in an adorable little 8.5 ounce bottle, so let's take on some null sets:

Nøgne Ø Dark Horizon 4th Edition

Nøgne Ø Dark Horizon 4th Edition - Pours a deep black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of roasted malt, a little of that coffee, maybe a hint of smoke, lots of vanilla, some chocolate and caramel too. Taste features lots of that roasted malt, plenty of booze right up front, with tons of vanilla and a little caramel too. That booze returns in the finish, which also has a slight bitterness to balance all those malts. As it warms, some fruity, almost port-like notes emerge. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and reasonably well carbonated. Lots of heat from the booze, and a little stickiness too. A nice sipper though. Overall, this is pretty damn good. Perhaps not the best evar or anything that hyperbolic, but certainly a worthy beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 16% ABV bottled (8.5 ounce capped). Drank out of a snifter on 9/6/13.

I've definitely seen earlier editions around, even somewhat recently, so maybe I'll have to check that out sometime...

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.

Nøgne Ø #100

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Since I've already pedantically delved into why Nøgne Ø seems to favor the use of null set symbols in their name (apparently an artifact of old Danish language), I'll instead observe that brewery founder Kjetil Jikiun is a straight-up viking:

Dude's also known as "the bearded giant," and what a mighty beard it is. So very viking. Anywho, these guys are among the ranks of Scandanavian craft brewers that draw a lot of attention from American beer dorks (though local adoption of "craft" styles have decreased their amount of export). One of the interesting tidbits from the above mentioned video is that Kjetil Jikiun was an airline pilot who, inspired by American craft beer, managed to bring home some American ingredients and use it in his homebrew. He entered it into competitions, which were more strictly hewing to traditional English or German styles and gave him feedback that his brews were too powerful or too hoppy and unbalanced. Well, nuts to that, so he opened his own brewery, and along with a handful of other Scandanavian brewers, has been spreading the word of good beer to all who will listen. Which also includes a lot of American beer nerds (like myself) who pay handsomely to sample these brews.

This particular beer was originally made as their 100th batch and only distributed to their employees, but it was so popular, they had to release it commercially.

Nogne O #100

Nøgne Ø #100 - Pours a dark brown color with amber highlights when held up to the light and a half finger of light tan head. Smells strongly of piney, resiny, hops and lots of crystal malt. It feels like this isn't quite as fresh as it could be, but I guess we'll find out. Taste has more of that crystal malt character, perhaps of the darker variety, along with some other more chocolate or toasted type malts. Faded hops come out to play in the middle and finish, which isn't quite bitter, but there's just barely enough to balance out the big malt character. Mouthfeel is surprisingly well carbonated with tight, smooth bubbles. Definitely a big beer, plenty of booze, a little stickiness in the finish. Overall, a solid American style barleywine, I kinda wish I got a fresher bottle, but them's the breaks. B though I suspect a fresh bottle would garner a higher rating... It's clearly very well made, but I can really feel that faded hop character.

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/16/12. IBU: 80. Hops: Columbus, Chinook, and Centennial.

Nøgne Ø continues to be interesting to me, and I really can't fault them for this old bottle as it sat in my (unrefrigerated) cellar for quite a while, which probably accounts for the faded hops. I'll probably try some more stuff from them at some point, provided I can scrape together enough shekels to buy them. In the meantime, I just had another beer from a different Norwegian brewery that I thought was really fantastic. Look for a review, er, next week? When I get to it, okay?

Beer Geek Brunch Weasel

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Also known as: that beer made with weasel poop coffee. Yes, this beer is made with civet coffee, one of the world's most expensive varieties. Apparently, coffee berries are fed to weasel-like civets and are thus passed through their digestive tract. The idea here is that the coffee beans are exposed to various enzymes in the process, helping break them down. But not too much, as the beans retain their coffee-like properties, just with a different, supposedly less bitter character. There's apparently a lot of controversy surrounding the coffee due to the novelty factor and also the ease with which "fake" civet beans are put on the market. Oh, and the fact that people are drinking coffee made from poo. Ok, fine, the coffee is apparently washed and roasted, but still. Weasel poo.

And of course, leave it to Mikkeller to make an exceptional beer with this stuff. He's got a whole series of Beer Geek stouts, mostly brewed with various coffees. Not being a big coffee person (poo or no poo), the beer never really made it past my radar, but I eventually broke down and got a couple bottles from the series to see what all the fuss is about. Well, I'm glad I got over my hesitation, because this stuff is great:

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel - Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light brown head. Smells fantastic, very rich dark malt aromas, caramel, booze, maybe a little roast (but not much). Taste also features those rich dark malt flavors, much more coffee and roast character than the nose would indicate (but not overpowering or anything), plenty of caramel and chocolate, and maybe a hint of booze. The finish has some balancing bitterness, some of which is coming from that coffee (rather than all hops - though if wikipedia is to be believed, the bitterness is less pronounced than regular coffee). Mouthfeel is thick and chewy, full bodied, low but appropriate carbonation and just a little stickiness in the finish. Alcohol is very well hidden here. Towards the end of the bottle, the yeast got a little clumpy, which wasn't great, but only really impacted a small portion of the bottle. Overall, this is expertly crafted stuff and while I don't normally go in for coffee in my beer, this one is fantastic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 7/20/12.

Up next on the wallet-lightening train of Mikkeller beers is Beer Hop Breakfast - basically a similar beer, sans poo, plus tons of hops. All aboard!

Mikkel's Black Tie

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Continuing to make my way through the cellar, I finally cracked this beauty open. An imperial stout brewed with honey and smoked barley, then aged in Scotch barrels for 4 months, I don't know what the hell I was waiting for, but I'm glad I finally got to this:

Mikkeller Black Tie

Mikkeller Black Tie - Pours a thick, syrupy black color with a finger of brown head. That's a really deep black color, no real brown detectable. Smell is filled with sweet Scotch aromas, a little roasted malt, and some vanilla oak character too. The taste hits with a ton of roasted malt character (perhaps some of this comes from the smoked barley or maybe even the scotch), and that's maintained throughout the entire taste. A pleasant and well balanced sweetness keeps things interesting and the Scotch, vanilla, and oak flavors are highlighted in the finish and aftertaste. As it warms, these flavors intensify and melt together. Mouthfeel is very thick and chewy, coating your mouth, and yet this is surprisingly approachable. Dangerously drinkable stuff for such a high ABV beer. I don't think I would have guessed at how strong this beer is, except that there's a bit of that alcohol warming factor (which comes up especially since you can drink this pretty quickly). Overall, this is a well balanced, complex stout. Another winner from Mikkeller. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 3/16/12. Brewed at Nøgne Ø. (Label has a slot for Batch #, but it's blank - I bought it sometime in mid-2011 though.)

That Mikkel guy sure knows his stuff. If you're willing to pay the premium, it's often worth the stretch. I've got a barrel of his barleywine in my cellar which I plan to get to in the next couple weeks as well.

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

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