Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Big Swede

Viking Brewing Company
Dallas, WI

Style: Imperial Stout

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Some people never learn …

In Nigel’s endless search to find the latest and greatest in the world of craft beer, I’ve occasionally stumbled upon a small, rather obscure brewery that I was unaware actually existed until said stumble. Some of these have been in my own backyard, making me wonder how the heck I could’ve missed something so close. In many of those cases, I’ve quickly come to realize that I missed them for the simple fact that they’re not that good. Unfortunately, Nigel’s quest for a craft beer diamond in the rough remains largely a fruitless effort.

But brave Sir Nigel soldiers on, and I’m once again giving a previously unknown (to me, at least) brewery from a small Wisconsin town another try. And, like my last attempt to find a diamond in the rough with River Falls-based Rush River Brewing, Viking Brewing Company originates in the far northwestern corner of the state, the one area that, in my opinion, is largely void of the great craft brewers that characterize the rest of the state. Dallas, Wisconsin, home of the Cowboys and J.R. Ewing, is also home to a microbrewery with a distinct Scandinavian theme, something that is unusual in its own right.

While browsing the Viking selections available at my local Milwaukee retailer, I settled upon Big Swede, a “Swedish Imperial Stout.” A Swedish imperial stout? I thought the only thing to come out of Sweden in the past 50 years was ABBA and Stockholm syndrome, but perhaps there’s an underground brewing culture there that I was completely unaware of. Other brews in the Viking lineup include plenty with titles containing that “ø” thingie, as well as Horse Piss Beer and Berserk, which I’m hoping is a proper tribute to Scandinavian death metal. And yes, if you’re not down with quirky, themed brews, there’s plenty of standard, boring titles in the lineup as well. Established in 1994, Viking claims to be northwestern Wisconsin’s first microbrewery, and has a rather impressive lineup of over 20 brews, including a huge number of seasonals.

As for Big Swede, I’m a bit reluctant before even cracking one open. First of all, a four-pack of 12 oz. bottles was selling for $5.69. Hell, you can’t even buy Miller Lite sixers for that price anymore, so it’s hard to believe that any brewer, particularly a small one, could make any money giving away a ballsy imperial stout for next to nothing. The other red light is the packaging, including bottles with poorly fitted foil covers and cardboard cartons on the verge of collapsing. Of course, it’s the product inside of the shitty packaging that really matters to us Beer Dorks, so here we go.

Big Swede pours in typical imperial stout fashion; black as night, with a minimal tan head that immediately dissipates, leaving nominal lacing for the rest of the session. There appears to be some sedimentation, though it’s hard to tell in such a dark beer. The aroma is surprisingly potent and pleasant. Huge malt aromas of thick molasses, caramel, and dark brown sugar dominate, followed quickly by a secondary malt aroma that is more chocolaty and roasted to temper the initial sweetness. As if that wasn’t enough, a wonderful fruity aroma is present as well, led by figs and raisin with a lighter touch of vanilla. Big Swede is truly an aromatic delight.

Can the taste achieve the lofty precedent set by the aroma? Well, no … not quite. But, in my best Wisconsin accent, lemme tell ‘ya, its not too bad, der. Perhaps the “Swedish” style imperial stout is labeled as such due to thick, syrupy sweetness, because Big Swede packs a punch in that department. It curls the tongue at the outset and doesn’t relent until the glass is empty. Name the darkest sugars you know of and that’s what you have: caramel, toffee, molasses, and dark brown sugar. The fruity notes in the aroma translate well to the flavor, as there is a constant fruity touch of fig and plum throughout. Many of the chocolate tones in the aroma are absent in the flavor, as are the roasted notes, but that’s okay … Big Swede still retains a nice amount of flavor. Ultimately, I’m very impressed, as this does appear to be an imperial stout in every aspect, which leaves me baffled as to the cheap price tag. Full bodied and a bit rough on the palate due to the syrupy thickness, Big Swede goes down fairly well with a medium aftertaste. I was unable to track down an ABV, but you can probably assume that as an imperial stout, it’s rather high, making this a dangerous choice for a session brew.

While Big Swede is far from being one of the best imperial stouts I’ve ever had, I was nonetheless impressed. Many of the other Viking selections I saw today in the store appeared to be a bit tame (a Vienna lager, pilsener, and Marzen were among the choices), but I’m certainly willing to try some others to see if they can match the quality of Big Swede. Viking is currently only available in Wisconsin, but with a low price tag on a tasty imperial stout, be sure to pick it up should you stumble upon it, much like Nigel did.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on November 10, 2008.
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