Monday, December 19, 2011

Nøgne Ø: Imperial Stout - Not for the Faint-Hearted

On a few occasions, one encounters an experience so memorable that the senses born out of that experience hold over for weeks – or maybe longer in the case of trauma. Fortunately, experiencing a Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout is simply memorable without being traumatic. And what a wonderful memory this ale can be.

The typical first encounter with Nøgne Ø’s Imperial Stout will immediately confront the simplicity and distinctiveness of the company’s bold purple “Ø” surrounded by a black label attached to a half-liter brown bottle, immediately giving away its Norwegian origins. Stamped with the same “Ø”, the cap is as simple and distinctive as the label. For those you not familiar with Scandinavian languages, the “ø” or “slashed o” as it is sometimes called, is a distinct letter in the Norwegian and Danish alphabets which is used to represent close-mid front rounded sounds (the closest English comes to this is the vowel sound in bird).

In my opinion, Nøgne Ø probably brews Norway’s most exiting line of products, although Ægir and Kinn are close rivals. Hailing from Gimstad, which is a coastal town on the southeastern tip of Norway, Nøgne Ø produces about 17 year-round products, including the Imperial Stout. Adding to this another dozen or so seasonal and specialty beers, each with a ceaseless array of well-balanced subtle and aggressive qualities, yields a rather long list of top-notch brews. And Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout is emblematic of brewery’s attention to both subtly and aggressiveness, with the balance in favor of the aggressive side of beer.

Breaking open the cap releases a welcomed hissing sound and, on a few occasion, the smell of roasted malts might immediately greet the olfactory system. When pouring Nøgne Ø's Imperial Stout into a glass, the pitch black body and thick brown head are signs of what’s to come: roasted malts and a heavy bodied beverage. Tilting the glass slightly will reveal the stout's impressively long-lasting lacing. Aroma? Think chocolate, toffee, vanilla, roasted malts, and a distinct alcohol sting – perhaps a bit too much, especially as it warms. When reviewing Nøgne Ø's Imperial Stout, quite a few folks on mention dark chocolate and licorice odors, but I’ll just stick with chocolate without the licorice.

The mouth feel and taste(s) are even more impressive than the aroma and appearance. Creamy and oily, the mouth feel is met with some mild carbonation. Taking a generous mouthful reveals a wonderful array of flavors, ranging from mildly sweet chocolate, toffee and roasted malts in the front to slightly bitter and citrusy flavored hops in the finished, marked by a strong alcohol taste – again perhaps a bit too strong.

I feel a warning is in order for those who never had a really good imperial stout. Drinking Nøgne Ø's Imperial Stout is an experiment not to be taken lightly, and if you’re used to lagers or milder ales, you will probably be a bit stunned by this imperial stout’s roasted flavor and high alcohol content, which again is pretty prominent in the taste. I recommend splitting it with a fellow beer explorer who’s up for the challenge. Be sure to finish it, even if you find it rather unpleasant. After all, you probably paid a fortune for it, so be sure to give it a fair shake. While these beers are an acquired taste, most drinkers I know manage to find Nøgne Ø's Imperial Stout to be quite enjoyable even by the end of the first glass.


Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout review on Humle of Malt (Norwegian)

Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout on San Diego Beer Blog

Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout on

Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout on BeerAdvocate

Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout on  brewery's site

Additional information

Stouts on Wikipedia

Image Credits

International Beer Shop

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