I'm a complete sucker for new-wave German hops, mainly because we pretty much never see them here. But I did genuinely enjoy the handful of beers I've had using them, and Mandarina Bavaria particularly sticks out as a good variety. So obviously I leapt at Nøgne Ø Mandarina IPA when it appeared in DrinkStore, in a way that I don't normally leap at spendy Nøgne Ø beers.
This is 7.5% ABV and is dark orange with an almost reddish cast to it, topped by an off-white head. The aroma is a unique mix of Christmas spices, biscuits, gunpowder, jaffa, chocolate and herbs: one hell of a noseful. The flavour is calmer, smoother, based on the malt backbone coming through as light caramel and milk chocolate. Joyously, the carbonation is gentle and doesn't interfere with any of the flavours -- that wasn't always the case at Nøgne Ø.
But what of the hops? They're actually rather restrained. I think I was expecting more of a New World bitter bang but instead that herbal spiciness dominates, reminiscent of several Kiwi varieties and a reminder that many of them, too, have their origins in German breeds. There's a mildly oily resinousness as well, and then just enough of a citric punch on the end to make it worth the hophead's while. But overall it's smooth, complex, tasty and very very drinkable.
I should have been careful what I wished for with regard to a New World bitter bang as shortly afterwards there was the arrival of Nøgne Ø's Two Captains double IPA to the taps at Farrington's (now The Norseman, obvs -- this post has been in draft for a long time). I wandered along for a looksee. And y'know, I wasn't that impressed.
It's a clear innocent pale orange and starts with a hard jarring bitterness. This softens slightly after a moment, into more innocent sherbet lemons and light toffee; mandarin and a touch of dank resin, but overall just a bit too waxy and harsh for my liking. It reminded me a bit of Of Foam and Fury, and specifically of why that beer really is up there with the best.
Nøgne Ø's strength has always been its dark beers, I reckon, and these two, while perfectly palatable according to their own style, show little reason to change that opinion. And on that subject, a late coda of the dark beer variety:
I recently assisted Brian with a couple of his video podcasts and he brought along some beers to drink as we talked. The one that has the Norwegian segment in it went with a Nøgne Ø beer I'd never tasted before, an Imperial Rye Porter, brewed in collaboration with Terrapin Beer of Athens, Georgia. A huge 9% ABV, it's as heavy and sticky as you might expect, smelling powerfully of liquorice and tasting of unctuous coffee dregs. But there's also a gorgeous hop effect, delivering fresh raw cabbage in the aroma and a spicy, grassy vegetal flavour. And, like the Mandarina IPA, the carbonation is absolutely spot-on, leaving it rich, smooth and with almost a sherbet effervescence. Only the strength and the hugely complex flavour keep it from being an easy quaffer. Cheers Brian!