Let me start off this post with the positives. First, I love the Saison style of beer. Earthy, fresh, grassy – Every sip of Saison reminds me of Spring turning to Summer. Second, though I’ve never visited Norway, I have travelled through Scandinavia, hitting up Denmark, Sweden, and even crossing some ferry lanes to get into Finland. I loved hanging out in those countires and while Norway is probably a whole lot different than their neighbors, I’ll make the general assumption that I would have enjoyed that country as well. And third, Nøgne Ø Det Kompromissløse Bryggeri (Nøgne Ø for short) is a fantastic, small microbrewery out of Norway that consistentely puts out phenomenal brews ranging from traditional English and Belgian styles to even some great representations of American IPA’s. There, now that we have that out of the way, let’s move onto a review of the Nøgne Ø Saison. In short, the positive vibes end here.
This is only my second sampling of Nøgne Ø, which surprisingly has about 10 offerings on hand at my local purveyor (All in oddly shaped, slender 500ml bottles that look like they should be housing olive oil). The first beer I had from them was their Imperial Stout and good God that was a tremendous experience. One of the best I’ve had, hands down. The reason it took me 6 months to dive back into Nøgne Ø, even though I know full well that their beers are well-regarded and highly rated, is because of the price. Mind you, this is a small outfit that clearly uses the best ingredients. They also have to ship this stuff all the way from Norway and find themselves a tiny niche market, which can’t be cheap. I’m not complaining about the price, but at the end of the day a 1/2 liter bottle fetching between $8 and $15 is still a bit steep for me. The other day though, when I went picking through my garden and started pulling up some potatoes and ripping out the dead, burnt plants of Summer, I realized that Fall was soon approaching. Not real Fall of course, that’s still a ways away even for New England standards. I’m talking about “Beer Fall”, which happens around the 1st of September and really kicks off when you start seeing domestic Oktoberfest beers clogging the shelves. Wishing to hold on to the last bits of “Beer Summer”, I went into the haven of beerdom that I call my own and picked up various odds and ends of Saisons, Witbiers, and Rye Ales. Nøgne Ø Saison was tops on my list and I waited for a nice 90 degree day with an ass-load of humidity before I cracked it open.
Poured from a 500ml bottle into a Sam Adams “Our Glass”, the orange-hued Saison bubbled up a nice 2 inch head that coated the glass right up to the lip. Nose presented sour notes with floral, bready accents. No idea where those sour notes are coming from but it’s a little stronger than the horse blanket “Tang” you get from some similar brews. The first sip was off-putting to say the least. Metallic, sour, odd bitterness up front that doesn’t seem to match up to the brew at hand. I let the beer sit on my counter for about 20 minutes to bring up to the right temp and something just doesn’t work for me. I like funk, I like sour, but they have to work in harmony. Instead of a nice, subtle grassy flavor, there’s more of a grass clipping taste. The bitterness is there and that ends up saving the brew, but finish ends up coming out rather chalky. Mouthfeel for the most part is perfect for the style, a combination of light body with clinging effervescence, just what you’re looking for on a hot Summer day. Due to the 2 inch head and the smaller glass I chose, I ended up putting the rest of the beer in the fridge while I finished up my first sample. Not one to waste beer, I poured the rest of the chilled beer in my glass and enjoyed the final few ounces a bit more. It’s usually not a good sign when a beer tastes better very cold than it does slightly chilled, but maybe my opinions would have changed if I practiced poor serving practices (Which is what I normally do, I’m notorious for either leaving beer out too long or wanting instant gratification and downing a near-frozen Double IPA). Drinkability ends after the first bottle, no need for seconds.
Overall I’m going to give the Nøgne Ø Saison a 1.5 hop rating as it neither lived up to my expectations nor did it live up to what I’ve come to enjoy in the style. We rate beers at Aleheads based on a 4 hop scale so this one doesn’t exactly earn top marks. In no way will I let this experience deter me from trying other beers from these lads of Norway though. I had one great experience with this brewery and one bad so I’ll chalk this up to an anomaly in what I hope to be an otherwise stellar lineup.