Nøgne Ø Pumpkin Ale is 6.5% ABV.
I poured some of a 0.5 Liter bottle into a Belgian ale glass.
Appearance: A careful pour produced a quarter inch of thin and off-white foam, which dissipated to a very thin cloud atop the beer. This has a deep and fairly dark red/amber color with good clarity. This looks to have moderate to heavy carbonation.
Smell: I get some vegetal pumpkin with some prominemt roasty notes, as well as some serious and dark sweet malt. This beer also has some inviting warm and earthy spice notes to it, giving off something dark and reminiscent of allspice, earthy wood, and licorice. There is not much by way of hops, but some herbal and floral notes. The sugar has a presence like from molasses and dark smooth malt. Finally, there is some fruit to this, like from date and dark cherries. Great aroma.
Taste: This has some great dark flavors with roasty and sweet dark malt. I get some vegetal pumpkin to it. There is a definite roastiness to this beer, but it seems to come more from the grain than from the pumpkin. This has interesting spice tones that I would compare to allspice and an earthy dark bark-like flavor. There is also some astringency. The yeast in this has a pepper quality, imparting some fine texture and interesting slightly sour and slightly bitter dimensions. This finishes with some sour notes and more sweetness as from dark fruit, charred toffee, and dark caramel. The aftertaste has some fine-grained and soft bitterness from the yeast, as well as some strong roast that hangs on for a while. Not a ton of pumpkin, but a complex beer with great dark and malt-forward flavors and some serious roast.
Feel: This is medium bodied, with moderate to heavy carbonation. The feel is pretty dynamic, with some sour notes, earthy and somewhat round woody spicing, dark fruit, fine-grained pepper, as well as some bitterness from the yeast. It is a really enjoyable to drink for its feel, though I’d say the roast is a bit heavy with it.
Drinkability: This is pretty complex, with a lot of different flavors to pick up on. Given that, it drinks pretty well. It has some round corners, and the sweetness and wood help for that. The earthy spice tones and the roast do drag a bit. Otherwise good marks here.
Overall: This is the first Norwegian pumpkin beer on this site, and one of only a few beers outside of North America on the site. It made a long voyage to get here. I really like all the complexity of flavor in this beer. It is delicious. There is serious dark malt, wood, and earthy spice notes. Some slightly sour vegetal pumpkin is present, and nicely balances with the fruity sweetness of dark cherry and date. This also has a lively texture. I wish it had a bit more pumpkin presence, as usual. I’d also maybe want to town down the intense roast than hangs on the palate. Even so, this has great complexity and depth of flavor. It reminds me some of Urban Chestnut’s “Count Orlok” in that it is a non-standard and dark take on the pumpkin ale. They both also have darker flavors with some sour notes coming through, and a lot of complexity. This offering from Norway does well to be complex but not overwhelming. This is definitely worth the try if you get the opportunity.
Overall Rating: ***1/2
About Nøgne Ø and their pumpkin ale: Nøgne Ø opened in Arendal, Norway in 2002. The name ‘Nøgne Ø’ means “naked island”, and is a reference to Ibsen’s description of some of the barren outcroppings on Norway’s southern coast. The name was chosen as the founders of Nøgne Ø wanted to bring more diversity and craft into commercially brewed ales, in a setting where there wasn’t much to speak of. I communicated some with Kjetil Jikiun, who was very generous and helpful. Kjetil is one of the co-founders and also the brewmaster of Nøgne Ø. He is known as “The Bearded Giant”, and has really been committed to unrelenting quality for the beer he produces. His main ingredients include imported Maris Otter malt, as well as some imported American hop varietals: Columbus, Cascade, Chinook, and Centennial. Important to Nøgne Ø is the making of real ale, which they ferment at higher temps than is standardly done. When this is done well, it can, like a nice complex saison, bring out some great fruit and complexity. None of their beers are filtered, and all undergo some fermentation in the bottle from live yeast, which, among many other things, increases shelf life. Since they have opened, Nøgne Ø now produces ten times the amount of beer, putting out about 3,000 barrels annually.
Nøgne Ø makes their pumpkin ale by putting pumpkin in the mash, of course an often painstaking process. They note that they use dried pumpkin, and that the run-off from the mash took 7 hours! The rest of the recipe includes barley malt, wheat malt, rye malt, oatmeal, lactose, and Summit and Columbus hops. I’ve seen their beer in the U.S. in really craft-oriented beer bars that have some international presence. I’ve had their brown ale, and about 2 or 3 other beers by them. They were all just so delicious.