Drink Like a Viking

You heard it here first: Norwegian craft brew is going to be HUGE! Well, maybe not, but it’s still really good. Here are two small, experimental breweries that are exporting interesting beer to the United States. Shelton Brothers is distributing both companies’ beer in the States, and you can order it online from Sam’s Wines & Spirits.

HaandBryggeriet: Brewmaster Jens Maudal is trying to revive ancient beer styles from back in the day when brewing was mandated by law in Norway and the beers would have varied from village to village based on the local yeasts, hops, malt, and gruit, spices and herbs that Maudal says might have been used in lieu of hops. (Today he says the country drinks mostly homogeneous pilsners.) The most traditional of HaandBryggeriet’s brews is Norwegian Wood, a smoky ale (“All old beers used to have some smoky taste because they dried the homemade malt over open fire,” explains Maudal) flavored with juniper twigs and berries collected from the woods outside the brewery.

Two others that are soon to be released: Hesjeøl, a smoky harvest ale brewed with three different grains, normally a low-alcohol beer for farm laborers to drink during the harvest but amped up “for today’s not-so-hard-working beer drinkers,” says Maudal; and Wild Thing, a farmhouse fruit ale made with red currants and mountain cranberries, and fermented with Brett yeast to give it a pleasantly barnyardy, sour taste.

Nøgne Ø: Nøgne Ø makes great saison, pale, and amber ales, imperial brown ale, and IPA. It just released Tyttebær (which means lingonberry), a sour fruit beer made with Danish brewery Mikkeller in 2007 that’s been aging in the fermentation vessels and then in the bottles. Nøgne Ø brewer Kjetil Jikiun is also experimenting with extremely high-alcohol beers (17 to 18 percent) made with sake yeast, which can stand up to the higher alcohol levels without dying off. A soon-to-be-released holiday brew called Special Holiday Ale was made as a three-way collaboration with Stone Brewing and Jolly Pumpkin same recipe was brewed at the three individual breweries, with their unique styles. The one brewed at Stone last year is already sold out, but Nøgne Ø’s version will be released this year for the holidays. Jolly Pumpkin is still aging its version, which isn’t slated to come out of barrels until 2010.

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