Breweries are reaching entirely new levels of sophistication. How can I tell? Because instead of advertising their products with women tearing their clothes off arguing over whether a beer is “less filling” or “tastes great” they’re competing to see who can brew the beer with the highest alcohol content. Sort of a “mine is bigger than yours” competition. Much more of mature, sophisticated approach to the business, wouldn’t you say?
Whose is bigger? Just a couple of days ago I learned from our friends at BeerNews.org that Schorschbrau Brewing of Germany had beat out Scotland’s Brewdog Brewing for the current high alcohol by volume (abv) title with their 43% abv “Schorschbock”. It beat out Brewdog’s “Sink the Bismarck” which had previously held the abv title for a scant few months at 41%. Though surely, Brewdog is preparing a counter strike as I write this.
Brewdog seems to have touched off this battle with their 2009 release of Tactical Nuclear Penguin. Penguin weighs in at 32% abv. Schorschbrau responded with a 32% version of Schorschbock to regain the abv title. 32% was pretty strong for 2009 but not so much in 2010 where 43% is the new standard.
Aside from some gratuitous publicity, what’s the point of this battle for abv supremacy?
Brewdog describes their reasoning for creating Tactical Nuclear Penguin at their website:
This beer is about pushing the boundaries, it is about taking innovation in beer to a whole new level. It is about achieving something which has never before been done and putting Scotland firmly on the map for progressive, craft beers.
Progressive, perhaps. But also potentially pointless as far as beer is concerned. You’re really just making a distilled spirit and calling it beer.
How do they make a 43% (or 32%) beer? It’s pretty simple, really. All the beers in the recent competition for world’s strongest beer are simply regular beers that are frozen. As the beer freezes, water crystallizes into ice and leaves behind a thick liquid heavy with alcohol. That remaining liquid is separated from the ice and voila, 43% beer. In essence, beer is being distilled through freezing instead of boiling. The German “Eisbock” lagers were made into very strong beers through this same method but through all the centuries that Eisbocks have been made, no one seemed to think it necessary to ramp the beers up to 43% abv, which could have been done at any time given enough of a freeze.
If you’re a craft brewer and this battle is any indication of a lasting trend in the craft beer world, you might as well hire Heidi Montag to be your brewer.
Don’t get me wrong here – I loved seeing the Brewdog guys dressed in penguin costumes to promote this beer. That’s just good, clean, Scottish fun. But what about making great beer? I’m sure I remember reading somewhere that making great beer was what the craft beer movement was about.
I’ll invite any of you to join me in a great 12% Belgian Tripel or Russian Imperial Stout just about any day of the week. I’m not opposed to high alcohol beers. But I’m probably opposed to making something with a lot of alcohol in it and calling it beer just for the sake of some fleeting world record. I suspect that you’re probably sacrificing the good of the beer for the sake of the record.