Nøgne Ø – a Norwegian microbrewery with international success
Beer has always been an incredibly popular drink in Norway, and has an important role in our history and traditions. In a previous post on this blog I described how Norway used to punish those people who didn’t brew their own beers by law, either by fining them or they were ordered to give up their farm or even go to jail. So vital was this drink to most, so it’s not surprising to see the continuous popularity of this drink today.
Microbreweries are popping up everywhere at rapid speed in Norway. Whereas we only had 2 breweries ten years ago, today we have over 30 breweries in the country. More and more people are preoccupied with selecting local beers when ordering beers out, seeking out specific producers, much like with wine. There is a pride in knowing how and where your beer was made, and plenty of beer enthusiasts are experimenting with brewing their own beer at home.
Nøgne Ø is a brewery located in Grimstad, and probably our most famous artisan brewery. The name means “naked island” and was, according to the website, a poetic term used by Henrik Ibsen to describe any of the countless stark, barren outcroppings that are visible in the rough sea off Norway’s southern coast. This brewery has won numerous awards in the beer industry and continues to impress with their new releases.
All their beer is unpasteurized, and contains wild yeast. This provides a long shelf life and a fuller beer which continues to develop in the bottle. No gas is added, all the carbonation is created from a secondary fermentation happening in the bottle.
Another interesting fact about Nøgne Ø is that they are also Europe’s only sake producing brewery. They make a junmai, Yamahai Motoshibori and a YK-70 sake - I will reserve the details for another blog post since I want to focus on beer in this post.
I first discovered Nøgne Ø in the U.S. at one of my local watering holes in downtown NYC, and boy was I surprised to see Norway represented on the drink menu! I have loved it every since. Nøgne Ø are now readily available in many shops, restaurants and bars in New York as well as other locations in the US.
Nøgne Ø started out brewing in a garage in 2002, and last year they doubled their sales from the year before, totaling over 37 million kroner (approximately $6 million). In addition to seasonal beers and special brews, here are some of their outstanding beers in my opinion:
This is an ale, but also a wine and a coffee drink, according to Nøgne Ø. On the nose it has that sweet roasty malty smell coupled with charred wood and leather. Almost madeira or sherry like. Chocolate, coffee and licorice on the palate, but also black and dried fruits.
This is an interesting beer as they use sake yeast in the brewing process. They use the famous sake yeast no 7 from Masumi Sake in Nagano, Japan. The other ingredients are local water from Grimstad, malted barley, malted wheat and hops. The result is a deliciously fruity beer with impressive alcohol. On the palate I get caramel, spices, passion fruit, orange and lemon. Impressive beer that could almost be compared to a whiskey or cognac, and has a lot going on.
This beer spends one year in Cognac oak barrels. Aromas of dark chocolate and espresso, with some yeasty notes. The palate is also chocolatey with hints of plums and raisins, but has a nice bitterness as well. Dry and long finish, with a nice complexity and good balance.
Belgian ale. Aromas of hops, yeasty bread, malt, citrus peel and apples. Big and full on the palate with a nice acidity, slight spice (nutmeg and pepper), long and rich finish. Watch out – at 9% this doesn’t taste that alcoholic, and could be dangerous as you’ll be tempted to drink more than one, or two, or three!
This is one of my favorites, I get it at my local specialty beer store regularly.
INDIA PALE ALE
Very aromatic, blackcurrants and grapefruit on the nose. Medium-full body with flavors that mimic the palate as well as some spices and herbs. Long and bitter finish. Great for food pairings, to help with digestion.
Double IPA – grassy aroma with hint of citrus zest. Aggressive bitterness on the palate but also nice malty flavors, and the mouth feel is nice and creamy. With a huge hoppiness balanced by the sweet malty flavors, this is a very well balanced beer and one of my favorite IPAs!
I could go on and on about their other beers, but to limit the length of the post, I will just include that other beers include a porter, imperial brown ale, bitter, blonde, amber ale saison and double IPA as well as many others. What impresses me the most about these beers, is their ability to be paired with many types of food where wine might not do the food justice. In Norway we have a lot of salty and smoked foods, as many of you know, and these beers make wonderful companions to our cuisine.
Ask for Nøgne Ø at your local shop, and if they don’t already have it, chances are they could probably order it from their distributor! Skål!