So, Ninkasi Brewing Company just started following me on teh Twitterz! They’re a West-Coast brewery doing about 56,000 bbls of beer (if facts from Wikipedia can be believed) out in Eugene, Oregon, and they’re one of the fastest growing. It was started in 2006 by two guys, Jamie and Nikos, and the company is named for Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer. For true. There’s even a Hymn to Ninkasi, which includes one of the first known beer recipes.
The waves rise, the waves fall.
You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey [and] wine
I had heard of Ninkasi Brewing Company, though precious little of their brews make it to the East Coast. I snagged a bottle of their Maiden the Shade ale at City Beer Store last fall on the trip to SFO. My critical tasting panel back east didn’t think much of it when we tried it… I think it was either an older bottle where the hops had fallen off their peak, or it’s simply a lighter IPA style, and we’re used to big palate crushers. Looking back at the other things we tasted that evening, it might have gotten lost too far down in the lineup. There were some big boys that seared our taste buds, like Epic Armageddon IPA and Ballast Point’s Sculpin. Still, it was enjoyable, even if it wasn’t comparable to the other hop monsters. I would LOVE to try their Tricerahops Double IPA, partly because of the style and mostly because of the awesome name.
So I was excited when my brother brought back another Ninkasi bomber from his new residence in Portland, OR. Yes, he and I both moved to cities named Portland on opposite sides of the country this summer. Now the beer trading begins. The bomber he gave me was the Oatis Oatmeal Stout, and in honor of my new Twitterz pals, the Lady Friend and I (she’s become a big fan of oatmeal stouts) cracked it and toasted Ninkasi.
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
What’d I think?
Well, the nose is boozy, with a strange fruity aroma. Grape! That’s it. The Lady Friend pinned it down. It’s almost like a hint of brandy. The stoutiness is lurking underneath, warm and roasty, with that hint of bitterness. But those stinging grape smells are what’s eye- (well, nose) catching. I suspect it’s a trick of the malt, which can get fruity with higher abvs. It’s not a BAD aroma by any means, but just a bit unexpected.
The taste starts with a quick hit of that alcohol astringency and fruity grape essence, before the dark roasted stout rushes in. Decently medium-light mouthfeel, avoiding the cloying syrup of others, and a nice dark mocha roast, and a bitterness almost akin to a high cacao dark chocolate, without the sweetness. There is a bit of sweetness in there, though not too creamy, just a hint of lactose. I doubt whether there’s lactose actually in the brew (like a milk stout) but there’s just a touch of creamy mouthfeel to round things out; the finish isn’t a sharp biting dark roast bitter, but rounded. The sharp edges have been sanded off, though there’s still a slight snap. Complex flavors, nice level of booziness, and very drinkable.
It’s quite excellent.
Compare this complexity to the brew we tried right behind it: Boatswain Chocolate Stout (Rhinelander Brewing, a $2.50 bomber sale from Trader Joe’s) which was like Fruit Stripe gum: a rush of flavor then suddenly gone. Wham, bam, thank you… wait where’d the flavor go? I didn’t even get to “ma’am.” It just evaporates in your mouth. That’s how you can pick a cheap brew out of a lineup. And Ninkasi is not in that cheap league.
They’re the real deal.