Archive for November, 2008

The first time I had heard of Norwegian brewery Nøgne Ø was when I learned of their collaboration with American craft brewers Stone and Jolly Pumpkin on a highly coveted “Special Holiday Ale.”


Naturally, my curiosity was peaked. After all, Stone and Jolly Pumpkin are two of the most kick-ass [craft] brewers in the world (forget about the country). If they thought that Nøgne Ø was awesome enough to collaborate with – then logic can only deduce that this brewery has got a little somethin’ somethin’ going on.


Truth be told, Nøgne Ø is ridiculously bad-ass. Started by two Norwegian homebrewers with lofty dreams, Nøgne Ø has completely revolutionized beer in Norway.

Now, you may think that my last statement is a radical over exaggeration. Well, I beg to differ.

Nøgne Ø will forever go down in history as “Norway’s first microbrewery for creative brewing.”


Before Nøgne Ø, there were no IPAs in Norway. (GASP!) In fact, there were no pale ales. No Porters … no Imperial Stouts … no bottle conditioned ales. Actually, Norway had pretty much nothing but lagers (insert high-pitched horror flick scream). Worst of all, most Norwegians had no idea that any other beer styles even existed!

Imagine a world without ales. For The Beer Wench, such a world is the equivalent of (if not worse than) Hell.

One of the brewery’s founders, Kjetil, is an airline pilot. On his frequent trips abroad, he developed a taste for better beer, and especially for bold brewing styles. His attempts to re-create these beers as a homebrewer were so successful that he was strongly encouraged to follow his dream of brewing professionally.


Today, Nøgne Ø is Norway’s leading and largest supplier of bottle conditioned ale.

The name derives from the first two lines of the famous poem Terje Vigen by Henrik Ibsen: “There lived a remarkably grizzled man on the uttermost barren isle”. In the ancient-styled language in which the poem is written, “barren isle” comes out as “nøgne ø”.

Nøgne Ø’s subtitle is “The Uncompromising Brewery.”  It is their mission to craft ale of highest quality, personality and individuality by using only the highest quality of ingredients in order to make beers of uncompromising quality.

They currently “create” nine bottle conditioned ales.


The list is as follows:

1. Nøgne-Ø # 100
2. Nøgne-Ø Brown Ale
3. Nøgne-Ø Dark Horizon
4. Nøgne-Ø Imperial Stout
5. Nøgne-Ø IPA
6. Nøgne-Ø Pale Ale
7. Nøgne-Ø Porter
8. Nøgne-Ø Saison
9. Nøgne-Ø Winter Ale

Sheltonbrothers are the official US representative. They help to distribute the Pale Ale, Brown Ale, IPA, Sasion, #100, Imperial Stout and Dark Horizon to a total of 43 different states.

The beer gods must really love me. Naturally, after finishing my post on the “Special Holiday Ale” collaboration and learning all about Nøgne Ø … I was bound and determined to find me some Nøgne Ø to taste. As fate would have it, as I was combing the shelves of Total Wine for some Lambics that same evening … there they were.

Four different beers stared me down with extremely seductive bedroom eyes. The Saison, Pale Ale, Brown Ale, & Porter all blinked their long flirtatious eyelashes at me … and I giggled like a little school girl. I wanted to kick myself for not noticing them in the past, but as it turns out, it was not an oversight on my part. The store clerk informed me that Nøgne Ø only just entered the store (and the Florida market???) the previous week along with Stone Brewing Company.

Being a slut for all things Belgian [well, actually just Belgian and Belgian-style beers], I was immediately seduced by the Saison. The Pale Ale also managed to slip into my basket as well. In a way I regret not picking up the other two, but then again the store is only a car ride away.

Tonight I opened the Nøgne Ø Saison.

Description on the bottle:

SAISON 14°P, 25 IBU, 6.5 ALC/VOL

One of our most refreshing brews, made for those hot summer days, but satisfying year ’round. Recommended serving temperature 8°C/45°F. Goes well with seafood, particularly oysters.

Ingredients: Wheat and lager malt; East Kent Goldings and Crystal hops; Belgian ale yeast, and our local Grimstad water



Appearance: First off, let me just say that I totally dig the bottle. The crazy “O” logo is very reminiscent of my alma matta – Ohio State. Especially since the Saison’s version is in red (Ohio State’s colors!)

The beer is a ridiculously cloudy, Marigold yellow color.  (For all you non-Crayola kids … Marigold is light golden yellow with hints of orange). The small white head dissipates fast. This may be a result of my pouring the beer into a large round wine glass … but who knows. Regardless, it leaves a nice lacing on the glass … so carbonation is A-Okay.

Aroma: Definitely reminiscent of a Saison – aka Belgian yeast + farm “funk” smells. On the nose I get sweet grass, fresh hay, banana bread, and spice.

Taste: Starts out sweet with flavors of honey, toasted nuts and doughy yeast. The sweetness fades and a nice crisp hoppy bitterness takes over the palate. Light acidity fades as the beer warms.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, moderately carbonated, slightly syrupy (especially as it warms).

Drinkability: Overall, I like it. It is a lovely Saison-esque beer, moderately complex & flavorful. The nonabrasive, moderate alcohol level (6.5% ABV) makes it easy to drink.


I am really looking forward to tasting the others in the very near future. In the meantime, I encourage everyone (in the 43 states where Nøgne Ø is available) to hunt down and try some Nøgne Ø beers ASAP!


Read Full Post »

Jolly pumpkin/Nøgne-Ø/Stone Special Holiday Ale

Ummm … what?

When I first saw the title of this beer, I was utterly perplexed. BUT now it makes complete sense.

The brilliant brewmasters of Stone (California), Jolly Pumpkin (Michigan) and Nøgne-Ø (Norway) have joined forces and brain power to create what they are deeming a “Special Holiday Ale”

How did this all come about? Long story short: Greg Koch from Stone ran into Kjetil Jikiun, the owner and head brewer of Nøgne-Ø, at a bar in Tokyo. They saw each other again at a Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego. Kjetil invited Greg to visit his brewery in Norway. Greg accepted and took a trip out. The new friendship triggered the gears in Greg’s head. He suggested that the two of them collaborate with Jolly Pumpkin‘s head brewer, Ron Jefferies. All parties involved agreed and a magical triad was formed.


I happen to love superstitions, folklore … and all that jazz. (I was born on the 13th.) For me, the number three is pure magic. 3 is a Prime Number. 3 is a Triangular Number. 3 is a Fibonacci Number.  White light is composed of the mixture of the three additive primary hues: red, green, and blue.  The physical world has 3 dimensions. Earth is the third planet in its local Solar System. Atoms consist of three constituents: protons, neutrons, and electronsevolution3glyph

The Rule of Three is a religious tenet held by some Wiccans. It states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it positive or negative, will be returned to that person three times.

Plato split the soul into three parts: the appetitive, the spirited, and the rational.

The 3 Musketeers.

The 3 Stooges.

Whether it be a triad, trilogy, three-of-a-kind, trio etc … I believe that some of the best things come and happen in threes!


The “Special Holiday Ale” was brewed at Jolly Pumpkin’s facility in Michigan and is rumored to have a very limited release in late November. The theme of the beer reminds me a bit of Dogfish Head’s PANGEA (which was made with ingredients from each of the seven continents).

Here’s an excerpt from what Mitch wrote for the back of the bottle: “We quickly decided to try and use one indigenous ingredient from each of our brewing regions, Southern California White Sage, Juniper Berries (we couldn’t get Norwegian, unfortunately, so we used Italian Juniper Berries, at least they are from the same continent), and (mostly) Michigan Chestnuts. Kjetil suggested brewing with rye malt and Ron suggested adding some caraway to complement the rye, so we decided to brew a full bodied, spiced ale with 25% rye malt.”

For the full story on the ale’s creation from start to finish, visit THE STONE BLOG.

The beer is being released with three different labels.


The back of the Stone bottle.


The back of the Jolly Pumpkin bottle.


The back of the Nøgne-Ø bottle.

FYI: The name Nøgne-Ø translates to Naked Island.

Lucky for me, Stone just entered the state of Florida last week. We also get Jolly Pumpkin, which doubles my odds. HOPEFULLY, someone somewhere will get their hands on this beer so I can taste it! I am crossing my fingers that my stars will be aligned!


Read Full Post »

I have developed an intense fascination, preoccupation … and obsession with wild yeast beers.


In my personal opinion, Lambics are quite possibly the most exciting and interesting style of beer. Ales and lagers are both fermented carefully with cultivated strands of brewer’s yeast -using tremendous control. On the other hand, Lambics are produced by spontaneous fermentation.

Although, my spontaneous nature has led to less than desired consequences in the past … I still pride myself for having such a free-spirited and adventurous personality. So what if I almost died jumping off an 80 foot cliff when I was in high school … I am still alive now, right?


I love the thrill of not knowing. I function well in chaos. I love jet setting at the very last minute. I am an adventurer and explorer. And this is why I love the concept of spontaneous fermentation.

The late and internationally renowned Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson, has referred to Lambics as the winiest of all the world’s beers.

As with many Belgian beers, Lambics are also subject to many regulations. In order to receive Lambic “certification” and label privileges, Lambics varieties must have Traditional Speciliaty Guaranteed (TSG) status.

The Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) is a trademark for an agricultural product or a foodstuff, which has a certain feature or a set of features, setting it clearly apart from other similar products or foodstuffs belonging to the same category. The product or foodstuff itmust be manufactured using traditional ingredients or must be characteristic for its traditional composition, production process, or processing reflecting a traditional type of manufacturing or processing.


So what exactly is all the traditional mumbo jumbo for Lambics?

The Lambic style can trace its roots back over 400 years, and has remained mostly unchanged from its introduction. The first written recipe is dated 1516.


Although it is impossible to confirm the origin of the word “Lambic” (“lambiek” in Flemish / Dutch), its most likely origin is the small town of Lembeek (“Lime Creek”) – a municipality close to Brussels. Today, Lambic production is concentrated in the western part of Brussels and in the nearby “Pajottenland”.


The definition of Lambic was set out in a series of Belgian Royal Decrees in the 1960’s and 70’s. These determined that Lambic must be made from at least 30% unmalted wheat at a gravity of no less than 11 Plato.

Lambic wort is usually composed of 60-70% barley malt and 30-40% unmalted wheat. Lambic beers are typically made from an original density (wort-strength) of 11.75-13.5 Plato (12.7 is the classic level) with an alcohol content of around 5.0-6.5% by volume.


Lambic beers use a variety of mashing regimes – some being very long and elaborate. The traditional method involves making two separate mashes and heating each in individual kettles.

At the boiling stage, Lambic beers use far more hops than conventional beers – sometimes up to 6 times as many hops. HOWEVER … Lambics are NOT bitter. (We will get to the flavor notes later). One of the MAJOR differentiating factors about Lambics is that they use AGED HOPS, typically aged up to three years.


The object of aging hops is to diminish their aroma, flavor, and bitterness. INSTEAD, the hops are being used solely for their secondary purpose – to ward against unwanted infections and excessive oxidation.

Unlike conventional beers which usually boil for an hour or so, the Lambic boil lasts anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. After the boil, conventional beers are usually cooled in a heat exchanger. Lambics are not. Instead, Lambic wort will spend the night in a coolship.


Then it is on to fermentation.

Unlike with conventional beers, No yeast is artificial added to Lambic wort. Instead, Lambic wort is exposed to the open air of the “Zennevalei” aka the Senne-valley. Wild yeast cells, including Bretanomyces bruxellensis and Bretanomyces lambicus (which are always in the open air in the environment of Brussels), come into the wort and eventually result in spontaneous fermentation.

Due to the spontaneous fermentation, Lambic can be brewed only in the “winter season” (October-May). In summertime, there are too much undesirable bacteria, which can infect the wort and interfere with the natural fermentation.

Most ales and lagers are produced using only a few strands of yeast, while Lambics are typically made with around 86 yeast strands.


As you can imagine, spontaneous fermentation is a very lengthy process. The microorganisms involved in the creation of Lambics must work in a specific sequence. Each microroganism depends on the metabolized products of its predecessors. It takes about two to three years for the entire process to complete and to produce a mature Lambic.
The varieties of Lambic include: Straight Lambic (Lambic Pure), Faro, Fruit, Mars … and MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE, Gueuze.

Straight Lambic: Cloudy, uncarbonated (almost still), unsweetened and unblended draught beer. Generally three years old. Extremely hard to find. It is served in only one or two two cafés in Brussels and a handful in the area of production.

Faro: Unblended three-year-old lambic sweetened with rummy-tasting dark candy sugar and occasionally spiced. Also hard to find and typically found on draught. Sometimes available at Lambic cafés in a do-it-yourself version where sugar is added directly at the table by the drinker and crushed into the drink with a mortar. Faro was once the restorative for the working man in Brussels.


Mars: Traditionally referred to a weaker beer made from the second runnings of a Lambic brewing. It is no longer commercially produced.

Fruit: Lambic with the addition of whole fruit or syrup. Most common fruits include sour cherry (kriek), raspberry (framboise), peach (pêche), blackcurrant (cassis), grape (druif), or strawberry (aardbei). Rarer fruit lambic flavorings include apple (pomme), banana, pineapple, apricot, plum, cloudberry, and lemon. Fruit lambics are usually bottled with secondary fermentation. Lambic-based Kriek beers are the most traditional fruit brews.


Gueuze: Bottled, sparkling and easier to find. Made by blending young Lambic (6 months to 1 year old) with more mature vintages (2 to 3 years old). It is then bottled for a second fermentation (similar to Champagne and is actually bottled in Champagne bottles). The word Gueuze (hard “g”, and rhymes with “firs”) may have the same etymological origins as the English words gas and ghost, and the Flemish gist (“yeast”), referring to carbonation and rising bubbles.


Last spring – while drinking and eating my way through Chicago, I was introduced to the gueze. My first experience was with Lindeman’s Cuvee Rene – which absolutely blew my mind. I loved it so much, in fact, that I opted to drink Cuvee Rene for my last birthday (the quarter of a century celebration) in lieu of Champagne or sparkling wine. To this day, I find it very hard to choose between Gueuze and Champagne!


Now that I have posted the educational mumbo jumbo about Lambics … I look forward to tasting and blogging about some of my favorites in the (very) near future!


SOURCES: Michael Jackson’s GREAT BEERS OF BELGIUM, Wikipedia

Read Full Post »

I love making friends. And I love love love taking care of and showing appreciation for my friends. In fact, I would do almost anything within reason for a friend.

And I never expect or demand any sort of reciprocation. In fact, I typically am awkward about accepting gifts. Unless of course, these gifts involve beer. In those circumstances I tend to overcome my gift receiving insecurities and weird mental complexes.

This past weekend I hosted a party for a good friend of mine who was visiting from Napa, CA. To show his appreciation, he awarded me with a Harviestoun OLA DUBH Special 30 Reserve.


DISCLAIMER: I will not be tasting and reviewing OLA DUBH at this moment. HOWEVER, when I do … I will most definitely blog about it. Since this is a limited edition ale brewed in very small batches, I have made the executive Beer Wench decision to hold it for a special (or spontaneous) occasion!

What I would like to do, though, is talk a little bit about the brewery and share the story behind OLA DUBH!


According to Harviestoun, Ola Dubh translates literally to “Black Oil.” Although not 100% certain, I have come to the conclusion that Ola Dubh is Gaelic. (I know Dubh = Black, and I assume Ola = Oil). Since Harviestoun is located in Scotland, my assumption is probably accurate.

Ola Dubh is so named because it is gloopy and viscous (just like oil).

Ola Dubh Ale is the result of a unique collaboration between Scottland’s “most innovative micro-brewery” and “the world’s most respected single malt.” (Source: Harviestoun)

harviestoun plus_sign30yo1equalsfireworks-42051333

The range comprises of Ola Dubh Special Reserve 12, Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16 and culminates with Ola Dubh Special Reserve 30 – “perhaps the ultimate whiskey cask matured ale.” This limited release has been aged in selected Oak Casks formerly used to mature the award-winning Highland Park 30 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whiskey. The casks add complementary whiskey notes to what is already an amazing brew; it is extremely chocolatey with a distinctive roasty, bittersweet finish. (Source: Harviestoun)


Every bottle of Ola Dubh Special Reserve 30 is individually numbered and labeled BY HAND. My Ola Dubh is number 5121 and was bottled in September 2007.



Ola Dubh Special Reserve 30, ABV 8%

Appearance: Deep brown with a burgundy flush; a rich, rocky head the colour of milled oatmeal.

Aroma: Gently finessed top notes of fresh heather and honey; subtly toasted malts; vanilla and balancing hints of red fruits; distant and beguiling smoke.

Palate: Elegantly subtle development of wine-like notes, through bitter chocolate and espresso beans, to a sustained, oaked conclusion.

Finish: Elegant. Extended and oaky. Pine resin and juniper. Perfumer honey and traces of peat.



We can’t pretend this is just a job. We love beer. We really mean love. It’s our work, our play, and our passion. Heck, we’d probably bath in it – if that didn’t seem a bit of a waste of a few good pints.

We don’t do things the way everyone else does. We learned traditional brewing skills and then scoured the world for the best ingredients to use in our custom-built brewery. We craft beers by hand – but we like to be innovative. If we make it light – it’s really light; if we make it dark, well, it’s not called Old Engine Oil for nothing!

We won’t use additives. Even in ancient times there was some weird stuff put into beer (tree-bark anybody?). We only use the finest quality barley, wheat, hops, yeast and water, and unlike some other brewers, we don’t use hop concentrates- just the whole flower as grown by Mother Nature.

Our beers are also bottled using less carbon dioxide – resulting in a more natural tasting beer.

We shouldn’t boast, but we’re really good at brewing. We mean exceptionally good, and it’s not only us who thinks so. Just have a look at all the nice awards people keep giving us.



Highland Park is one of the world’s most respected single malts. When American drinks guru F. Paul Pacult published a list of the top 110 spirits in the world, Highland Park 18 Year Old was at the top of the list. That’s a tough one to beat. However, in 2007 Highland Park was named Distiller of the Year at the San Franscisco International Spirits Competition. These accolades are no fluke; respect has to be earned and more than 200 years of distilling tradition, attention to detail and honesty at Highland Park achieves just that. (Source: Harviestoun)

“Our whiskey is made with the same enduring belief and integrity, to the same exacting standards, as it has been since 1798. That’s why it is the most respected single malt in the world. Like Harviestoun we are passionate about tradition and obsessed by quality.” – John Craig, Global Controller, Highland Park



Read Full Post »

So … I may be a few steps behind when it comes to the seasonal beers released by Lagunitas this year. BUT – better late than never, right? Lagunitas released its 2008 Imperial Red Ale late this past summer. Its running streak ended in October. (And with most seasonal beers, its availability lasts longer than its deadline).

I love Lagunitas. I particularly like the Lagunitas Censored Rich Copper Ale. With an IBU of 84 and an ABV of 7.6%, the Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale excites me tremendously. I think we shall taste it … what do you think?


Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale (Limited Release):

ABV: 7.6%
IBU: 84.20

Text on bottle: “This special Ale is, in reality, a reconstructed exhumation of the very first ale that we ever brewed way, way, back in 1993. Brewed with a big head, a muscular malty thorax, a silky texture & all strung together with a hoppy sweet nerve sack… yum.”

goodbye-alex-lagunitas-red-086THE WENCH’S TASTING NOTES

APPEARANCE: Dark brownish crimson RED. Super cloudy. THICK off-white head that dissipates very quickly.

AROMA: The first whiff is heavy with hops – lots of pine notes as well as grass, citrus & flowers. As the head disappears, so does the hops aroma – giving way to a rich, sweet and malty aroma with hints of toasted oak, brown sugar and butterscotch.

TASTE: Hello hops, nice to meet you. The flavor of hops is citrusy and floral in the beginning and very bitter and astringent in the finish – almost like pine sap. Being a major fan of hops, I ABSOLUTELY ADORE the taste of this beer. There are some nice hints of malt that just barely help to reduce the power of the hops. Great acidity!

MOUTHFEEL: Medium-bodied, excellent carbonation. Almost no alcohol burn.

DRINKABILITY: Besides being ridiculously hoppy, this beer is really well balanced!

OVERALL: I really really really like this ale! SUPER BIG PROPS go out to Lagunitas on this one! (BE AWARE: The Wench is a major hophead and is slightly biased towards ales with really high IBUs). I am very sad that Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale is only a limited release. I will definitely be picking up lots more of it while it is still available!


Read Full Post »

My moment has come! For some time now, I have been envious of my wine blogger friends whom have had samples and swag sent to them from peeps in the industry. Now let me clear something up first: I am not envious because of the “free” part. I am MORE THAN willing to pay for the beers I drink. I WANT my dollar to support the little guys (the craft brewers, the monks … you get it).

The part that makes me envious is that when people are sent free samples it is usually because someone out there respects the blog and recognizes the credibility of the blogger. Bottom line: the blog is being read or at least acknowledged by the industry!

And of course there is the PR element of sending samples. I understand that the blogging world has experienced some sincere criticism lately about blogger ethics and all that jazz. BUT here is my philosophy: If someone is taking the time and resources to read my blog, contact me and then mail me free product – out of respect for this person, the least I can do is write a blog about said product.

The ethics kick in here, though. I will only write honest reviews! Keeping this in mind, also understand that my blogs are purely subjective. My palate is my palate and my nose is my nose. My words are not the end all be all!


OKAY … so TECH-NIC-ALY my first “free swag” experience was not actually with beer. However, there is beer in the product as well as the name – so for me that is just as good if not better!

I was recently contacted by the brilliant mind behind Beer Chips – Brett Stern  – in response the the blog I had written about Beer Chips back in July. He offered to send me a sample and of course I accepted. I was delightfully surprised to receive not only two FULL-SIZED bags of Beer Chips … but full-size samples of their other two flavors – Margarita and Bloody Mary – as well as a T-Shirt! ROCK ON!

Beer Chips LLC. has a great idea … great marketing … witty copy … an awesome interactive website. But what about the product?

The mixing of two items that are already fantastic on there own can be a risky move. Sometimes the yielded product is fabulous. For example: Bacon is amazing. Chocolate is freaking amazing. Mixing chocolate and bacon? Vosges Haut Chocolat took this risk – and the result was ridiculously orgasmic!

Then there are the combinations that flop. For me, this was the Jose Cuervo filled chocolates (my father bought them for my mother once and they were ABSOLUTELY HEINOUS!) Tequila = good. Chocolate = good. Tequila + Chocolate = Heinous.

And now we have BeerChips. Beer = the most amazing thing in the world. Chips = delicious salty treat that COMPLIMENTS beer well. But what about Beer + Chips???

My verdict?

These are some pretty tasty kettle-style chips!!! The coating of sugar and salt is very balanced and the chips are moderately thick and crunchy! “A virtual party in your mouth delivered in a shiny golden amber bag.”

Unfortunately, I do not detect the beer flavor in the chips (and trust me I ate almost the whole bag already!) BUT, beer flavor or not – BeerChips would make an excellent pairing with many beer styles. And on that note, I think I will pop open a Bell’s Two-Hearted and polish off the rest of the bag right now! CHEERS!


Read Full Post »