Last night I was invited to be on a tasting panel being conducted (with a little help from North Bar's Matt) by a marketing research team working for Nøgne ø brewery based in Norway - no they unfortunately didn't fly us over there, it was held in Leeds!
NB - In case you're wondering how to pronounce Nøgne ø; going by the way our Norweigen hosts said it, I think the pronunciation is something like "Nerg-na-ya oh" but please don't hold me to that. Let's just agree it's hard to say and leave it at that.
We started off by talking about what beers we liked, how seasonality effected our choices, how we got into 'good' beer and some other general beery subjects while the tape recorder rolled and a few of the marketeers made notes.
During the discussion we were served some of the brewery's Pale Ale and were then asked our thoughts on it. Which is pretty much how the rest of the session panned out - a bit of chat while drinking, then a talk about the beer itself after we'd tried it. Everybody there was very honest and forthcoming about what they thought of the beers and there was a really informal atmosphere (we were in a bar afterall), exactly what a tasting session should be.
My notes below are what I thought of the beers, much of which I repeated to the group at the time, but some of which I have contemplated in retrospect.
Pale Ale 6%
Quenching and refreshing, this beer drinks like a good session pale yet has an American hoppyness too it aswell. I liked this beer but it didn't have chance to wow me, and I don't think it got a fair outing. It's the kind of beer you appreciate over the course of a pint, not a small amount being swirled around an oversized wine glass!
Admittedly, it's not a style I've drank a lot of but this one left me distinctly underwhelmed, probably my least favourite of the session. It had a yeasty, slightly citrus aroma which carried through into the flavour which was also earthy and slightly spiced with hints of clove or coriander seed. It was nice, but if all five were on the bar I think this would be my last choice.
India Pale Ale 7.5%
This smelt amazing, with a huge passionfruit led aroma and hints of other tropical fruit such as mango and grapefruit. The flavour didn't quite deliver on the smell but was still damned good, tart and hoppy with big citrus flavours running right through and a dry, slightly boozy finish. I liked it but a few of the others were a little dissapointed and didn't think the flavour matched up to what the smell was promising. I would agree but I think it might have been judged a little harshly by some (Dean!). As we said during the tasting there are so many awesome IPA's flooding the craft beer scene that we are a little spoilt for choice. If you'd have given us this beer a year or so ago I think it would've knocked all our socks off.
This was a really good, classic Porter. It had that typical roasted, slightly chocolatey coffee flavour yet a nice dry hoppy finish which balanced everything out. It also had that straight-after-an-espresso after taste that I love to find in Porter, where the roasted coffee flavour and hops come together to dry your mouth in the same way that a coffee does. It was really good and something I could have drank a pint of (but probably shouldn't at that ABV).
Imperial Stout 9%
They really saved the best for last with this one - It was the unanimous favourite with the group. A really deep, rich, thick to the point of being oily, Imperial Stout. This was a beer to be savoured. I'm a massive fan of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and this was the closest I've tasted to it. It wasn't quite as good, but it wasn't far off. The group were bouncing flavours off each other with more mentioned than I can remember, but I'll try: Dark Chocolate, Coffee, Liquorice, Blackcurrant, Peat, Salt, Brown Sugar, Molasses plus loads more. It's the kind of beer you could serve as a dessert with a scoop of good vanilla Ice-cream, and in fact, that's exactly what we ended up doing.
Does that count as a beer cocktail I wonder?
Big thanks to Matt at North Bar for the invite, Nøgne ø for the free beer, and everyone who attended (including Rob from HopZine, Nick from Beer Prole and Dean from Mr Foley's) for making it such an enjoyable few hours.