Rating → 83 points
Stats: Barley Wine. 11% ABV. 50 IBUs. Grimstad, Norway.
Size: 500mL bottle
Colour: Dark brown with auburn undertones
Mouth Feel: Low carbonation — sweet and soft on the tongue.
Pairings: On it’s own or with a cheese plate and dried fruit
If there ever was a beer that was not for the faint of heart, this is certainly it. Indeed, one sip in and I thought seriously about dumping it. I read the label three or four times and held the bottle up to the light looking for the smoked mackerel in the bottle … but there is none. So relax — there is nothing funky in this beer at all except a whole lot of desire by the brewmaster to truly turn you around.
This is my first Norwegian beer and what that means is that I won’t ever forget my first Norwegian beer.
As the label reads, this is a beer
…brewed at the same time as the sun changes direction [according Norwegian lore]. This brew is for the changing direction of the sun, the change of mind and the change of perception. Don’t fight it. Turn with it!
I’m not sure I’ve had a beer quite as smokey as this bad boy. I’ve had a number of barley wines over the past few years and it is a style that is definitely growing on me … and growing in niche popularity among the craft brew sector as well. But having said that, it is a style that is certainly an acquired taste both for its high volume of alcohol and its big personality and flavours. It’s also a style that is unique among most beers in that it is intended to be cellared. So even though this particular bottle was bottled on June 20, 2013 (and I’ve had for it almost 2 years), it is best before June 2018. Yes, that’s five years.
If you want to learn more about the style, then (re)read this one I wrote last year on Corps Mort, an American barley wine from À l’abri de la Tempête Microbrasserie. That one actually did have herring in it.
So for the beer? Smoke prevails. I smell a cross between smoked mackerel and smoked beer brisket. There is charred barrel in there as well — or smokey peat if you prefer the description. Lots of toast on the malts, to say the least. There is a bit of spice that comes via the rye malts and between them all, and there is definitely a flavour of Australian licorice swimming in the waters. Smoked dark fruit abounds — especially if you’ve tasted smoked plums/prunes. This along with the sweetness and big diacetyl presence makes it a great pairing with wine and some dried fruit (e.g. cranberries, prunes, dates, figs, etc).
Again, the most defining thing about this beer is the smoke. Bury your face in a cold campfire and take a bite of the soot or chew of a piece of the charcoal wood fresh from being extinguished and you have the flavour I’m tasting. So if you don’t like smokey things or smokey beer, this is going to be a fight. It was a fight for me and I love smoke. If you love barley wines, though, don’t give up on it too quickly. Under this smoke is an exquisitely silky sweet beer … and one that will grow on you more with each sip. But it will take nurturing, almost certainly. But almost as certainly, your palate will adjust to the smoke and then you’re in for a treat….
There really is no rating this beer. You’re either going to love it, tolerate it, or hate it. I do quite like it. It is well structured and if you take the smoke out of the equation, it has complexity and balance … but you can’t take the smoke out and so you end up with a beer that is nowhere near balanced … which many are going to have a hard time accepting.
Still, at just over $5/bottle, it is a steal of a deal for a barley wine and for an experience you won’t soon forget. Buy a couple of bottles and cellar one for a few years. Enjoy the last taste of winter.
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