Of course, Knut did not arrive in Dublin with (as we say) one arm as long as the other. It's not in his nature, as evidenced at the bottom of this post from last year.
The bulk of the goodies he brought me this time were from a spectacular new brewpub in Flåm in western Norway. Ægir is named after the brewer to the gods of Norse mythology and was constructed in the style of Norway's iconic stave churches (the one from Oslo's folk museum is pictured right). Inside it's designed to resemble a Viking banqueting hall. The proprietor is an American, but the beers are as conscientiously produced as any I've tried from Norway's other craft breweries. In keeping with the theme, the labels feature a cheery Norseman and Celtic scrollwork doubtless plundered from the nearest Irish monastery.
I'll start with the blonde ale Bøyla. This pours rose gold with a lovely thick head. It's quite full-bodied if a bit fizzy, and tartness is the dominant feature of the flavour. It's definitely not bland in the way so many golden ales are, wearing its bitter fruitiness up front and then rebalancing at the end with some soothing smoothing malt notes. Definitely a cut above the standards of the style, but that's what I've come to expect from Norwegian craft beer. The alcoholic strength of all the Ægir beers is individually printed on the label with the best before date. My bottle of Bøyla features neither, so I'm just guessing that it's probably a relatively light beer, ideal for those clear sunny summer afternoons Norway does so well.
"Amber ale" is the stylistic subtitle on Rallar, and I'd say a lot of unwary drinkers will be surprised by what pours forth. Expecting something vaguely orange-coloured and quite malty, I instead got a dark brown fizzy affair with a mildly sour coffee-like aroma. There's lots of fizz again, making drinking this slow work. The malt is present in the heavy caramel foretaste but it's swiftly followed by a lactic sourness and a slightly metallic astringency. Sounds a bit unpleasant but the two do work together to create an enjoyable but very serious beer.
The brownness and coffee character of Rallar had me thinking of porter before I even opened Sumbel, Ægir's porter. Once more we have that lactic sourness present from the moment of uncapping and the pour is again very opaque: a muddy brown topped with a creamy off-white head which subsides before long, leaving a tan skim. Porter's trademark brown malt is here in spades, in the colour and in the definite but not overpowering dry coffee notes. The acidic sourness kicks in as well, but it's not allowed dominate the dark malt. The end result is something, to my mind, as porter as porter can be: brimming with flavour and eminently suppable.
And so we leave the lofty halls of Valhalla and finish up with a beer made by the hands of mere mortals. Apparently there was quite a fuss last year over Haandbryggeriet Romjul: each branch of one supermarket chain was initially assigned only a single case of this Christmas beer, which put the country's ølhunder on full alert. Knut has the full story here, though he tells me that the beer later became more readily available. Hence I was lucky enough to be given one.
It's another opaque brown affair, though much more smoothly textured than the Ægirs. Downright creamy, in fact. Dark sour fruit is the main character here: damsons and plums, mainly, with just a tang of tobacco on the end. Despite a mere 4.5% ABV, this reminds me a lot of the heavier, darker Trappists. A session-strength Westvleteren 12? Yes please.
I was saddened to read of the passing of Atna, Norway's third-biggest craft brewery. I do hope Ægir succeeds in carving a niche for itself either nationally, by export, or just by attracting visitors to its amazing home on the Sognerfjord. Why not all three?