01/07/2010 11:39 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mikkeller Black Ale: Being the Strongest Beer In Scandinavia Isn't a Good Thing

I love dark beers. But it goes without saying that they're not all created equal. I recently called Southern Tier's Iniquity Black "the blackest beer I know," not just in terms of color but also in purity of emotion. And I stand by that, even though tonight I just tried a black ale that not only doubles its alcohol content but also its lack of color. Mikkeller Black (黑) is one of the more intense beer experiences I've had. I wouldn't repeat it, but I won't forget it.

It's 17.5% alcohol. That isn't the highest-alcohol beer I've ever had -- if I'm not mistaken, that would be Dogfish Head's wonderful World Wide Stout (rating: 90), 18% alcohol and yet miraculously well-balanced -- but it certainly is the beer that feels less beerlike. After one sip, I shared the same first impression as several friends of mine I shared it with: "This isn't beer." It has the consistency and aftertaste of liquor, with little more than its color and the feeling of its weak carbonation on the palette to identify it otherwise. In fact, despite its extremely high alcohol content, it's very bitter going down, like dark-roasted coffee. I love dark beer, and I love high-alcohol beer, but every man has his limits. Tonight, I found mine.

Mikkeller is a phantom brewery. Danish homebrewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø borrows space from various beermakers around Scandinavia to brew his extreme concoctions -- and love them or hate them, they pack a punch. He describes the Black Ale as "the strongest beer in Scandinavia," and it may well be -- unfortunately, like the wild North of Europe, it's also cold and unfeeling, harsh and unyielding, austere and unforgiving. I respect Mikkel with all my heart for bringing his dreams to life, recipe by recipe -- but I won't be drinking this one again. Once is quite enough.

Rating: 55

Crossposted on Remingtonstein.