Haand Brygegeriet, is a Norwegian brewery and beer of modest, 6.5% abv strength. Specifically, this brew originates in Drammen, Norway. The spiel on the back of the bottle informs the prospective drinker that;
Once, every farm in Norway was required by law to brew its own ale. All of that ale had a natural smoky taste because it was kilned by fire and spiced with juniper berries. Norwegian Wood, a recreation of that traditional style, is made by the "Hand Brewery"-four guys brewing in their spare time, on an absurdly small scale"
So, how exactly does a wood smoked Norweigian juniper beer taste?
1) Opening and Aroma: the bottle yields a whispering hiss when opened, releasing an immediate scent of forest soil, interwoven with a quasi-lambic sourness. Sticking the nose deeper, smoky raisins ala imperial stout come forward, while pine begins to develop in the background.
2) The Pour: The beer is quite dark, somewhere between English Ale and Porter, perhaps a Belgian Trappist, yet more brown than ruby. All the same, the head is hard to rein in, quite surprising for a beer of this darkness, so be careful in pouring. The lacing from the head is also extreme, once again surprising given the color of the beer. The head itself is light and very fluffy/delicate, almost to the level of Hefeweizen, but with a thinner texture, ala cappuccino foam.
3) The Taste. Here things get out of hand a bit. Having never tasted anything quite like this, few comparisons come to mind. The pine enters the nose in full force as the glass hits the lips, the liquid being very effervescent and light in mouthfeel. The flavor first announces itself as salty, with smoked eel and sardines, you can literally taste a Scandinavian beach. This is soon transformed into cinnamon and beef jerky roasting over an open fire in the rain, we have moved inland. Romaine lettuce wraps up the jerky next, which finally returns to earth with a traditional wave of malt and hops, bouncing back and forth between this secure, familiar base, and a hit of leathery tobacco, ie Charles Fairmorn Dark Fired Shag. The pine of the juniper berries is really the only constant here. The aftertaste is perhaps the most rewarding part of the beverage, settling into a nice post-steak cigarette, which lingers in a hearty, reassuring manner. The mouthfeel confirms the overly frothy, thin head, being very light and crisp. It seems that the flavors and structure of the beer would have been better served by heavier texture.
4) Conclusion: This is one of the most exotic beers, wines, foods, ie, general flavors that I have experienced. The drinkability of this beer is extremely low, it is too complex, weird, unusual, strange, you get the idea, not normal, etc. to knock back. As I write this, I am preparing myself for a long evening, spent nursing a single pint to completion. Makes Russian Imperial Stout seem like Pepsi in terms of drinkability. The only thing perhaps less drinkable than this beer would be 80 degree F Keystone Light. Yet unlike Keystone, this beer has meaning and artistry, even if it is highly disturbing... this is not a date movie, as it were, it is difficult and demanding. If you do come across this beer, and want to give it a try, make sure you have 3 or 4 friends to help share the load, no kidding. Certainly a worthwhile experience for a culinary minded soul, but certainly not your after work stress reliever, in fact this beer may very well raise your blood pressure just sitting in your mouth. Finally, under NO circumstances drink this beer between March and October, for unless you really are in the Arctic Circle, you will gag.