The selection process for the 12 Beers of Christmas is, to my mind, ingeniously haphazard, and largely dependent on what’s on the shelves of whatever beer store I wander into. I did request two beers this year and if I’d thought further ahead I would have tried to score The Bruery’s Nine Ladies Dancing for today. I certainly enjoyed their Eight Maids-a-Milking last year and probably even more writing about the song.
But I read some dreadful reviews about the Nine Ladies Dancing and couldn’t find it anyway. So screw it, let’s go back to Norway.
A few days I had the lovely Julebrygg from the Aegir Bryggeri in Flåm, Norway, and mentioned the Winter Ale from the Nogne Ø brewery from Grimstad. Both could reasonably be called pioneering craft breweries in the country. Add the Haandbryggeriet of Drammen to the big three of early practitioners in Norway, where the craft movement (if it can so be termed) was slow to begin but which is now galloping right along.
The ‘Hand’ Brewery (more or less pronounced HOND-brig-gair-EE-eh) was started by four friends in 2005 in Drammen, a city in south central Norway.
Interestingly, it’s also the home of the Aass brewery, Norway’s oldest, and the brewer of one of the first Christmas beers I had ever heard of or tasted, and that was probably about 40 years ago. I still have the bottle in my too-extensive collection (left).
Haand has been known for its wild experimentation, while also trying to maintain some old hands-on traditions like smoking their own malt over beechwood fires, spicing beers with juniper berries, and so on. They’ve expanded three times since the start and I’d tell you more if I could translate the website.
I can say that this beer is named after Nissefar, which the label suggests is Father Christmas. I went on last year, while drinking De Ranke Père Nöel, about how I had once been pegged as Christmas Father by a bunch of giggling young caddies in China. But this Nissefar character on the label looks more like a Christmas gnome than the big man himself, and the legend on the back confirms it:
The ‘nisse’ is a traditional figure in Norwegian lore—a barn gnome who was never seen but was known to get quite ticked off, and play nasty tricks, when a farmer forgot to leave a bowl of beer out for him at Christmas. In the old days, farmers were required to be brewers, and they would all compete to brew the best Christmas beer in the region. This full-bodied, hearty ale has no competitors.
This particular Nisse also looks quite contented, though it’s hard to tell if he’s drinking a beer, eating a Christmas pastry, or smoking a giant doobie.
It’s also hard to say how these Norwegians jam so much into 7% ABV brews. Like the Julebrygg from a couple of nights ago, this gives all the appearances of a stronger beer, from a heady nose to a full palate of flavors and overall sturdy character. It pours a lovely dark cola brown with a respectable tan head.
After I let the beer warm up a bit all sorts of aromas wafted out of the glass—dark fruits like plums, dates, raisins, a thread of molasses, a touch of licorice, some alcoholic heat. The palate is sweet and spicy (though I’m not sure there are any spices actually in the brew), with suggestions of chocolate and cinnamon joining the chorus. It’s all in a mouth-watering balance, starting out creamy, finishing quite dry.
I took my time with this one, which this 16.9 ounce bottle allowed, and when it warmed up even more a definite smokiness appeared in the nose, a bit peaty on the palate. The beer is an evolving experience. The label suggests mischief, the brewery ethos suggests a rustic approach. But the beer itself is quite elegant. You can drink it in the barn, but it’ll work at the fancy dress ball, too.
Brewer: Haandbryggeriet, Drammen, Norway
Style: “Norwegian Holiday Ale”
Availability: Seasonally. Imported by Shelton Brothers Inc., which distributes to 27 states and Washington D.C. Check their “Locate Our Products” list to see if the beer might be near you.
For More Information: http://haandbryggeriet.no
[Dec. 22, 2016]