It feels like this is unofficially becoming Style Week here on A Year of Beer! Our topic today: who really cares what style you call your beer? But first the back story of our hero, the Nøgne Ø #100 and how I came to be in possession of three bottles. If you are expecting murdered parents or radioactive insects, skip ahead a couple of paragraphs. The boring story is that I placed my first private order last December, hoping to have this beer sometime during the winter months. When looking at reviews of the #100 on Ratebeer, I noticed an interesting note in the description section: “Editor’s note: Even though the label says ‘Barley Wine’ in the States, the brewery says it’s brewed to be an I[mperial] IPA. The American label was a glitch. In Europe it’s sold as an IIPA.” Seeing as IIPAs are hard to come by in Ontario, this definitely seemed like the Nøgne product for me.
It finally arrived this past week and I finally got to visit the private ordering centre of the LCBO (living in Toronto means that I can’t have it shipped to a store near me). To those who have never had the pleasure, let me tell you how this happens. You wait in a line with a bunch of people obviously there for business reasons and picking up more than one case (you are not). You finally reach an employee, they take your form, run back and forth from the printer, take your money and then tell you to wait outside. As the goober picking up one case, you feel ridiculous beside all the people backing up their cars to load up. This is exacerbated by the fact you are TTCing it home. Wait a bit longer until you see your sweet, precious cargo. For the individual customer buying a case or two for themselves, the whole process is excessive and prolonged.
After so much waiting, it was no surprise that the #100 was cracked open the same night I picked it up. And, to my surprise, out poured a beer that was considerably like a barley wine: deep mahogany colour and a rich nose of raisins, toffee and earthy undertones. Perhaps, I wondered, this isn’t quite the IIPA expected. The description on the bottle doesn’t say what the beer is, though the label does say “barley wine-style ale” (as promised). The flavours continue to point in the direction of a barley wine – roasted malts and toffee, oak, figs and lots of alcohol. The body has a distinct syrupy, sticky molasses characteristic. There are some hops, notably the ones giving off earthy tones, but I have definitely had hoppier barley wines, not to mention IIPAs. An incredibly delicious and moreish beer, but it was hard to drink with the temperature in the high 30s.
But I got to thinking. Does it really matter how Nøgne Ø chooses to categorize their beer? Instead of looking solely at the style, perhaps I should have been reading reviews and looking closely at the characteristics of the #100. Styles are rough guidelines and very flexible to a lot of craft brewers. As drinkers, we should allow ourselves to be more fluid in our beers and care more about the overall product than what box it fits into. The beer wasn’t what I was expecting, though it is not at fault – that solely lies with me. So while I think of the #100 as barley wine, I recommend trying to find a bottle and approach it with an open mind. Just stay away from my remaining bottles, which will be nicely tucked away until winter.
Today: 400mL. Year-to-date: 145.86L.