HaandBryggeriet Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood by HaandBryggeriet is a Smoked Ale from (surprise surprise) NORWAY! This is the first smoked beer that I’ve ever tried, and to be honest I wasn’t looking forward to it. From what I’ve heard this style of beer is very polarising – you either love them or hate them. Being an Aussie, I prefer the refreshing qualities and flavours of beer; it’s hard to imagine smoke being linked to anything refreshing. It’s beer number 91 from the Epic List though, so I’ve no choice but to try it and pop my smoked cherry.

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The bottle says:
A quick Google translation reveals that HaandBryggeriet means ‘Hand Brewery’. This explains the handprint on my bottle, which is seen on most of their range. On the Norwegian Wood bottle, it appears as if this black hand is reaching out of dead grey tree trunk, grasping hold of a ring of fire. It’s a bit foreboding, and gives me the impression that this will be a big smoky stout-like offering.

The rear label gives a quick history on where this style of beer came from. It turns out that farms in Norway had to brew their own ale by law (what an awesome law!) Since they didn’t have access to modern equipment to dry their malt, they would instead dry it over open fires. This gave the resulting ale a smoky quality; spice it with some Juniper, and you’ve got the traditional beer style that has been recreated in Norwegian wood.

First Half:
The body is a murky brown with some flashes of orange, with a dark tan head that disappears quickly. The aroma is earthy; smoke and a light peat mixed with ripe berries. The taste is surprisingly refreshing – there’s a burst of sweet berries and honey which lasts into the aftertaste, where they mix with some light smoke. The body is much lighter than I was expecting, which adds to the refreshment. This is nothing like the dark and foreboding Norwegian demon I was expecting…

Second Half:
The aromas have intensified in both smokiness and sweetness. There’s a light coffee flavour added to the mix now, and some cashew. The smoke and berries are still the stars, but neither flavour overpowers the beer – it’s all very harmonic. The carbonation is perfect; it’s like the smoke is trapped within the bubbles, letting it burst out when they pop. The aftertaste lasts longer now, letting all the major flavours of the brew linger on your palate.

Final Thoughts:
I can see why people recommend pairing smoked beers with ham, although it’s not much of a creative leap – they’re the same damn flavours! As far as the polarising effects of these beers, I’m leaning towards the lover’s camp. This beer was a fantastic experience, and surprisingly refreshing. I’ll hunt down some more smoked offerings to see if it is indeed a style I like, or if this was simply a great beer.

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