Ringnes Imperial Polaris

<< 2012-10-04 20:25 >>

The beer

For years now everyone's been wondering when Ringnes was going to wake up and realize that the old days of selling cheap industrial beers were over. Overall beer sales have been down consistently year after year for many years, while craft beer sales have boomed. Surely the biggest brewery in Norway had to sit up and notice at some point? Particularly when their owners, Danish Carlsberg, have already started two craft beer brands in Denmark (Kongens Bryghus and Jacobsen).

When I heard that Ringnes had brewed a 10% doppelbock with beer rock star Garrett Oliver (brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, and editor of the Oxford Companion to Beer), I knew something was up. And at the same time one couldn't help but wonder: why a doppelbock? Are they afraid of yeast problems in the brewery? These problems can take years to sort out; not a trivial concern when you brew tens of millions of liters of beer a year. Or do they remain half-stuck in the lager-brewing mentality? Or did Garrett Oliver suggest the style? Who knows? I don't.

My immediate impression of the beer was that it reminded me of Ringnes's Julebokk, a Christmas doppelbock that I for many years described as "the best Norwegian industrial beer". Now that I think about it, it probably still is. I'm told Garrett Oliver also liked the Julebokk, and that it therefore was chosen as the starting point for the collaboration.

As we're talking craft beer, the beer itself ought to be the real test. It pours a clear deep red, topped with a very photogenic offwhite head. The aroma is all fruity orange peel with syrupy spicy notes. It promises good things to follow, without blowing me away. The taste is most of all spicy: perfumy lavender orange peel and cardamom, with traces of roasty coffee and flowers. The perfumy quality detracts a bit from the flavour, making it seem if not artificial, then slightly overdone. In the mouth it's slightly hot (from the alcohol), and full-bodied.

Garrett Oliver adding honey (image courtesy of Ringnes)

So is the beer a failure? Definitely not. I find the way the coffee slips in and out in the background to be perhaps the best feature of the beer. I'm told the flavour derives from cold steeping coffee, to draw aroma without bitterness. At the same time, the perfuminess does not appeal to me, though others might well feel differently. Overall it's a quite good beer, but I probably won't buy it again. A beer this strong (10%) needs to be very good to justify all that alcohol.

The brewery says it can be cellared for many years, and given the strength and the flavour profile that seems right to me. It's impossible to say now how it will develop, but it's possible that it could develop new depths after some years in the cellar. I have to say I'm tempted to give it a try. Next year a bourbon barrel-aged version is going to be released, which could also be interesting, though I fear it may make the perfuminess even stronger.

Is it a craft beer? Does this mean Ringnes have gone really craft? Again, how would I know? Certainly this is a departure from the days of gimmick pseudo-Asian beers and the like. It's a well-made beer with interesting flavours that deserves to be taken seriously. Frankly, I think that's all anybody could ask. As far as I can tell, this beer is meant to compete on the strength of its taste, and it does that quite well. That alone makes it craft beer, if you ask me.

Whether you like it or not is up to you, but to me it seems to ring the funeral bells over the Norway that was a boring pale lager desert. Those days are gone, and won't return for many decades. Meanwhile, our biggest brewery wants to play with the little craft brewers, and as far as I'm concerned, that's great news.

(Full disclosure: the brewery sent me a free sample. It probably did make me biased. I've tried to compensate for that as best I could. The beer should be released on the market )

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The Beer Nut - 2012-10-04 15:28:43

Nice label! How do they make the paper stick to the cans?

Lars Marius - 2012-10-04 15:32:39

@The Beer Nut: I don't think it's really coarse paper, although it looks that way. I think it's an image of coarse paper printed on an ordinary label.

The Beer Nut - 2012-10-05 06:04:46

Wow! It's a great effect.

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