Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Imperial Stout

Nøgne Ø

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (World class.)

International Beer Month got off to a bit of a rough start for Nigel, as the BrewDog Hardcore IPA I was so looking forward to turned out to be extremely disappointing. As the “Editor’s Note” indicated (we have editors?), my Hardcore was from an early batch … as in, batch 002. Since then, the recipe has been altered. The brew was also past its “best by date,” which was July of ’09, though in a powerful style like an imperial IPA that shouldn’t lead to spoilage. While it may not have been as fresh as it should have been, it was still a bigger letdown than hearing the best golfer in the world had a thing for Denny’s waitresses. Who needs Swedish models when we can have trailer park skanks?

Moving on, I have another international brewer similar to BrewDog that I’m excited to check out. Grimstad, Norway, with a population of 20,000 on the southeast coast, a mere North Sea inlet from Denmark, is home to Nøgne Ø Brewery. Nøgne Ø was founded in 2002 and has quickly emerged as an international craft beer power from their small Scandinavian home. Apparently, Nøgne Ø translates to “Naked Isle” in Norwegian/Danish, a far cry from my original translation of “No Eggnog.”

There are a few reasons I compare Nøgne Ø to BrewDog. To begin with, they were both founded by a pair of countrymen within the past decade, in somewhat remote, small locales on the northern European coastline. But more importantly, it’s what these breweries were able to accomplish and what sparked their growth. As impressive as some of America’s craft beer gems are, from Stone to Bell’s to Dogfish Head, the chance that you’ll find them overseas is slim. However, go into any metro area in the U.S. and locate a fine beer retailer, and the chances are pretty good that you’ll find a brew from Fraserburgh, U.K., or Grimstad, Norway. I’m guessing not too many Scots or Norwegians have heard of New Glarus, Wisconsin or Kalamazoo, Michigan, despite the quality beer produced there.

As I stated in my Hardcore IPA review, the coolest thing about these new European breweries is just that … they’re new. Most European brewers of note have been around for at least a couple hundred years, including a good number that have been operating since the Middle Ages. Was it tradition that spawned these newer breweries? Perhaps in part, but let’s face it … Norway hasn’t ever been known as a brewing mecca (raping and pillaging possibly, but not brewing). What played a huge role is the American craft beer movement of the past two decades. The United States went from shit beer capital of the world to being on the cutting edge of ingenuity in brewing in a matter of a few years, and that helped add a new twist to Europe’s already rich brewing culture. I’m not trying to be the knuckleheaded American who claims everyone is copying us because we’re awesome; I just feel the recent American takes on classic European styles has shifted back overseas, and there’s an exciting trend taking place among European breweries, led by these newer, edgier brewers.

As for Nøgne Ø, I chose their Imperial Stout for a simple reason: imperial stouts kick ass, and Scandinavian brewers should have this style perfected. The reason strong stouts are often called Russian imperials is that the style originated in Britain, where brewers created a thick, dark, powerful brew to ship to the Russian czars, who were quite fond of beer, probably due to its complete lack of potato. The brew was strong not only to warm the drinkers on a cold Russian night, but also to survive the relatively short, but very arduous North Sea trek. Thus, the imperial stout is a style familiar to Scandinavia, which surely benefited from a few English pit stops to sample the original version.

Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout pours just as it should: dark as a long Scandinavian winter’s night, with a very slight dark tan head that dissipates into a bit of sticky trace at the side. Impenetrable to light, it’s an impressive looking brew in the glass, but then again, most imperial stouts are.

The aroma is absolutely awesome. Initial notes are sweeter than I expected, with dark sugary notes of molasses, toffee, and rum. These are quickly joined by the roasted malt and smoky overtones that are potent in imperial stouts: toasted grains with noticeable amounts of chocolate and coffee. The initial sweetness and strong, yet not overwhelming roasted profile makes this an aromatic treat, and no hint of the 9 percent ABV ever comes through.

As for the flavor … wow! This is one of the smoothest, most balanced, and incredibly flavorful brews I’ve sampled in some time. It’s silky smooth, more along the lines of a milk/cream stout than a 9 percent imperial. To say it’s complex is an understatement; there’s so many flavors coming through over the course of the session that you don’t know which way to turn, but they all fall into sync, creating a masterful brew. Initial flavors are heavy on the dark, roasted malt, with noticeable hints of roasted grains and nuts, coffee, and cocoa. The strong cocoa/chocolate flavor provides a smooth transition into the sugary element of Imperial Stout, with huge amounts of molasses, toffee, caramel, and dark brown sugar curling the tongue, playing well with the drier, roasted malt. In the background, hints of smoke are balanced by the slightest tinges of dark fruit, as well as a noticeable addition of Columbus hops. A kiss of hops is important in an authentic Russian imperial stout, as, like India pale ales, they were added as a preservative, though not to the extreme. That touch of bitterness, however faint it may be, really adds to the complexity of an imperial stout, and Nøgne Ø captures that brilliantly. While there’s a plethora of rich flavors present, they all dance in perfect harmony, making Imperial Stout a wonderfully complex and flavorful, yet approachable brew. Medium to full bodied and silky smooth on the palate, there is a mild aftertaste. Though delicious and addictive, as an imperial stout in a pricey bomber (I paid about 8 bucks for mine) this isn’t meant to be a session beer; simply enjoy one over the course of the evening.

Game on, baby. International Beer Month is back on track for Nigel, and I’m sure my next European venture, into Belgium’s Abbey Notre Dame-St. Remy for Rochefort 10, will continue the upward trend. Though Nøgne Ø is a new player in the European market, in a few short years they’ve put Norway on the international craft beer map. I’m extremely impressed with Imperial Stout, and I’m looking forward to trying more Nøgne Ø in the future. Check this one out for sure, as you won’t be disappointed.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 11, 2010.
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