The phone goes and a woman at the other end of the line says she’s from Customs & Excise. ‘Are you expecting a parcel from Iceland?’ Yes I reply, it’ll be beer. ‘How strong will it be,’ she continues. I don’t know, I say, it’s a mixture, I’m being sent them, I write about beer for a living. This perplexes her (but at least I don’t get the best job in the world comment), but once she’s sure that this is not some dodgy deal it’s all sorted. And the next day the delivery man struggles up the path, a terrier trying to nip his ankles, with two cases from Borg Brugghús, about whose Brio I have written about before here. I only wanted a couple of cans and a branded glass for the purposes of photography, but Óli at the Reykjavik-based brewery said that they would be sending me a few extra beers as well, whether I liked it or not.
And I am glad he did what he did as when they arrived an intriguing variety of beers popped out of the cases, including a barley wine, wheat beer, imperial stout (two kinds), porter and an IPA. Dare one whisper Icelandic craft?
As for Borg it’s a micro owned by Egill Skallagrímsson, one of the biggest breweries in Iceland (I suspect there aren’t that many). As I researched a bit more into beer in Iceland, I found out that ‘strong beer’ (that is, beer above 2.25%) wasn’t allowed to be sold until the late 1980s, though apparently it was ok for brennivin, a distillation of potatoes containing about 40 percent alcohol and often called the Black Death, to be sold — I did read somewhere that the relative cheapness of beer compared to brennivin meant that legislators thought that the common people would get legless all too often (nothing really changes does it?).
Anyway that was then — there didn’t seem to be much concern about ‘strong beer’ now as several of the beers I tried were 9% onwards, which was the strength for Imperial Stout Nr 15, which had a rich wonderfully expressive espresso coloured head under which lay a bubbling fornication of mocha coffee, chocolate, treacle toffee, earthy hop (as in the small of wet earth). And to drink it was to lie in a storehouse of more coffee, spirituous chocolate, milky sweetness with a dryness spreading around the palate like radio waves girthing the globe. I think I liked it.
The beers continued Everest-like in their climb with the 10.5% Júdas Nr. 16 Quadruple, which again had that morning glory espresso-coloured collar of foam spread across the beer’s surface like a temptation. Soft zephyrs of milk chocolate drifted across the nose on first pass, but then there was the sternness of a rye cracker or even Marmite, plus a vinous note that was suggestive of an old wine barrel (funnily enough I got pineapple chews on another bottle). It was fiery and fruity on the palate with nougat, cherry brandy, woodiness, toasted marshmallows (one for the camp fire?), sugared cold coffee and a juicy full mouth feel. Yes please.
And finally, another Imperial Stout, this one with the designation Nr 8.1 and 13% worth of alcohol (it was also aged in French Cognac barrels). This was a beauty, as dark as the darkest thought that comes to you in the middle of the night, while the stygian theme continued with the nose, though this time with an added grape-like ferociousness and plenty of cognac character. I took a swig and there it was a rich dark knight smoothness and creaminess, more chocolate, liquorice, some hint of apple sourness, mocha coffee, a soothing hand on the brow with the flavours bombarding the palate with the frequency of a metronome. This was a dessert beer, a massive spread of a beer that was leathery, bible black, tobacco road, ancient lights and old books all rolled into one glass.
Whether these are Icelandic craft or not they are truly remarkable beers that pulsated with flavour and favour. And next time the Customs & Excise woman calls I’ll be able to tell her a bit more about Borg.