Nøgne Ø

30 Mar

If you mention the words ‘Norway’ and ‘beer’ in the same sentence, someone nearby is bound to take a sharp intake of breath and mutter darkly about how expensive it is to drink beer in that country. ‘Ten quid a pint!’ someone will add, knowingly. Well, yes, Norway is known for its high beer prices – not sure if it’s actually ten quid a pint, but there is now more to Norway and beer than the legendary high price tag.

Recently, a quiet revolution has been unfolding in the Norwegian beer industry. It is, at last, the advent of the microbrewery. Whilst micros are hugely popular and plentiful in the UK and the US, Norway at present can claim only 9. But that’s 9 more than there used to be.

Perhaps the most recognised of the Norwegian micros outside Norway is Nøgne Ø brewery in remote Grimstad, a small town in the south of Norway, 135 miles from Oslo. ‘Nøgne Ø’ is a quotation from Henrik Ibsen and means ‘naked island’, a reference to the many bleak outcroppings of rock off Norway’s southern coast. The company was founded in 2002 by two homebrewers who evidently thought they had what it takes to produce extraordinary, comercially-viable beer. The last decade has proved them right.

Their website lists nearly 30 beers that they produce and (bizarrely, it may seem) 5 different sakes (Japanese rice wines).

Fascinated by this success story, I decided to try two different Nøgne Ø bottled beers available here in the UK. The large ‘Ø’ on the labels is becoming familiar to those who seek out fine beers. Both these beers were bottle conditioned and in excellent form.

Nøgne Ø Saison

Nøgne Ø Saison – A strong saison beer. Saisons are originally from French Belgium and are traditionally rather low-alcohol beers, 3.8% or thereabouts, but Nøgne Ø Saison comes in with a fairly whopping 6.5%. It’s a pale yellow in colour, almost straw-coloured, with a massive, wacky foamy white head that is difficult to control during the pour. The bottle warns that there will be sediment in the bottom of the bottle so to pour carefully if you want the beer in the glass to remain clear and bright. Once I’d seen the clear brightness, I dumped the rest of the beer into the glass. It’s a shame to waste good beer just because it’s got a bit of sediment in it. The taste is very sweet, crisp and citrussy. It tastes a little bit like a wheat beer (and it wasn’t the cloudiness that prompted me to think this, it really does taste that way). There is a dry bitterness, especially at the end. There’s pepper in there and something else, something a bit herbal – coriander, perhaps. The taste also carries a spiciness with it that adds a touch of the exotic. This is wonderful beer. I would especially love to drink it on a hot summer afternoon looking out over some great view somewhere. I’m not fussed where I am, just give me the beer.

Nøgne Ø Porter

Nøgne Ø Porter – Here again, they’ve gone for strength over tradition. 7% is strong for a porter, you’d think they would call it a stout. This strong porter pours a deep black in colour, barely red round the edges even when held up to a bright light. The head is dense and brown. It is incredibly smooth with a velvety, creamy mouthfeel. The flavour is dominated by a sweet roasted maltiness with plum and hints of dark, bitter coffee, which slowly dries in the mouth after the swallow. There are slight spirituous overtones, but not as much as you might expect from a 7% beer. This beer is a real mouthful.

If you want to demonstrate to someone the fabulous range of flavours available from beer, you could do little better than to give them these two beers. Wildly different styles, wildly different flavours. Both hugely complex and utterly wonderful.

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Posted by on 30 March, 2012 in Bottled Beer


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12 responses to “Nøgne Ø

  1. Chris Stairmand

    31 March, 2012 at 09:54

    I am lucky enough to stock both the Saison and the Imperial Brown in my pub. They are stunning beers from a great range. Should be getting one, probably the Brown Ale, on draught soon too as a guest. Lovely beers though.

  2. Alebagger

    31 March, 2012 at 11:23

    Hi Chris – thanks for the reply. I would love to try these beers on draught. I see you’re at the Wharf in Macc. I may be paying you a visit soon!

  3. Christina

    8 April, 2012 at 23:22

    We enjoyed both of these with an aquavit at the Cafe Kristiana for a splurge while in Oslo last summer. One of the highlights of our trip!

  4. Alebagger

    9 April, 2012 at 01:12

    Ah, insider knowledge! So, is it ten quid a pint or not? 🙂

    • ES

      9 April, 2012 at 08:54

      A normal price for a pint of standard pilsner beer here in Oslo would be around £7. For crafts beer (or actually any other style besides industrial pilsner) it’s a different story. The Nøgne Ø Porter goes for around £12 at my local crafts beer bar, and stronger beers would cost even more. I believe the main reasons are that stronger beers are more heavily taxed, and that a smaller production results in higher prices. Luckily, we have a few very high quality breweries around (Nøgne Ø being one of them), making it somehow worth paying the extra money.

      • Alebagger

        9 April, 2012 at 11:54

        Thanks, ES, that puts our whinging about beer prices here in the UK into perspective. Depending on the beer, prices are about £2.80 – £3.50 per pint, but it can go higher for silly ABV levels.

    • Rickard

      9 April, 2012 at 09:12

      Draughts goes for (30cl) 10€ and (50cl) aprox 15€ bottels goes from 10-15€ depending on the amount of alcohol, we have high taxes on alcohol beverages here in Norway:( But for beerlovers the last years have been awesome. 5 years ago nobody knew what an IPA was:) My favourite are the Imperial Brown Ale I recon its one of the best beverages ever made by mankind:) Im gonna treat myself with a trip to Grimstad this summer:)

      • Alebagger

        9 April, 2012 at 11:58

        Hi Rickard – I’m really pleased that the real ale/craft beer scene is at last taking off in Norway. I wonder if your government is aware of the fact that super-high alcohol prices are a big turn-off for tourists, and that now some really good beer is being brewed, it’s time to turn beer ino a positive force for tourism and not a negative one.

  5. Tor Iver Wilhelmsen (@toriverw)

    9 April, 2012 at 07:20

    Kristiania is not exactly the cheapest pub in Oslo (Nøgne Ø is also served at a few other pubs), but I would guess the price there would start to approach ten pounds (VAT and alcohol tax included).

    But do try their Wit as well.

    • Alebagger

      9 April, 2012 at 12:00

      Hi Tor, I guess my original off-the-top-of-my-head guess was about right then.

  6. Roy

    9 April, 2012 at 10:49

    These are around 120kroner (11-12 pounds) a piece in a Norwegian pub, but most definitely worth it. Nøgne Ø is a great brewery and more beers should be tasted. They are excellent in every beerstyle.

  7. Alebagger

    9 April, 2012 at 12:02

    Hi Roy – Yes, I will definitely be on the look out for more beers from Nøgne Ø. They are now imported regularly to the UK in both cask and bottle, so plenty to look out for. I’ll probably blog again about others that I find.


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