Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Super Beer!

What's that in the sky? It's a bird...it's a plane...no, that's just ol' Jim flying high from a mere sip of his Super Beer! I stumbled on an interesting article, which led to a couple of other articles.  It all started when I was reading the May/June 2011 edition of DRAFT.  They featured an article about an independent Scottish brewery called BrewDog.  Founded in 2006, they have apparently become quite popular in a relatively short period of time.  The article states that BrewDog's sales increased by 230% after opening a restaurant / bar in their hometown of Aberdeen, U.K.  What was most interesting, though, was the trilogy of ice-distilled beers that they released, each one setting a new world record for highest alcohol by volume:
  1. Tactical Nuclear Penguin, 32% ABV
  2. Sink the Bismarck, 41% ABV
  3. The End of History, 55% ABV
Just to give you an idea, a typical beer is between 4% and 6% ABV (see my previous blog post, How Does Your Beer Measure Up?).  Wine is usually about 13% ABV, while vodka may be about 40% ABV [3].

If you think BrewDog's names of beers are odd, the packaging is even more eclectic:  the highly-intoxicating The End of History was sold stuffed inside of a squirrel -- well, at least it used to be a squirrel.  I won't post any pictures here, but if you are interested, you can find one posted on the Consumerist's website and on an LA Weekly blog.  According to a Reuters article, only 12 bottles of The End of History were made, and they sold for over $700 per bottle (1/3 liter [1], which is less than 12 ounces).

So I got to wondering if The End of History was still the highest-ABV beer available.  After all, it was released a whole year ago in mid-2010.  It turns out that only a week after BrewDog introduced their limited-time offer, a Dutch brewery announced a new 60%-ABV beer [1], [2].  In a friendly competitive way, the 60%-ABV was given the moniker Start the Future.  The Dutch brewery, 't Koelschip (The Refrigerated Ship), offered 1/3-liter bottles of their 120 proof brew for the competitive price of only $45 [2].

I have not been able to find anything stronger than the purported 60%-ABV beer by 't Koelschip, but that's not to say it doesn't exist.  If you find one or see a news article about a new high-ABV beer, let me know - I'd like to include it here as an update.  I did find a nice image on gizmag.com, which I've posted below.  It shows some of the high-ABV beers that are available from various breweries.  As you can see, ABV increases over time.

Photo courtesy of http://www.gizmag.com/worlds-strongest-beers/15256/
I suppose it should go without saying, but this isn't the kind of beer that you chug or otherwise drink "normally".  This is the kind that you "enjoy" -- in a small glass.  BrewDog even goes so far as to place a quasi-serious disclaimer on their website for the Tactical Nuclear Penguin:  "This is an extremely strong beer, it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whiskey, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost."

Need to be rescued from a boring night?  Never fear -- Super Beer is here!  Prost!

[1] http://consumerist.com/2010/07/high-alcohol-content-beer-war-continues-with-60-abv-brew.html
[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/07/29/us-dutch-beer-odd-idUSTRE66S3SR20100729
[3] http://www.pricecuts.us/abv/encyclopedia.htm

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Smoked Beer: Good or Gross?

A while back, I thought I'd try what's called a smoked beer (or in German, Rauchbier).  I didn't know what to expect, but after some preliminary research, it sounded like it would taste like some kind of meat.  Granted, I prefer my beer to taste like beer, but I was intrigued!  So in the name of learning, I took the plunge.

In addition to trying a new type of beer, I had read about food pairings in a DRAFT magazine article, so I decided to try cheese with the beer.  During a trip to a Giant Eagle Market District, I picked up a cave-aged Gruyere, which was listed as a pairing recommendation for smoked beers.  I also bought Aecht Schlenkerla's Rauchbier Märzen, which is an import from Bamberg, Germany.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen -- imported from Bamberg, Germany
Märzen is a type of lager that has its origins in Bavaria.  Originally, it was a beer that was brewed in March and laid down in caves or cellars before the summer weather rendered brewing impossible. Stocks would be drawn upon during the summer and finally exhausted in October. [1]

Post-Pouring, Pre-Partaking
Now for my tasting notes.  The almost-black beer had a frothy off-white crown.  The aroma that met my nose was a wonderful bacon or smoked sausage, which literally made my mouth water.  Surprisingly, the first sip that met my tongue was less meat and more lager.  As the crisp flavor began its descent, the aftertaste was reminiscent of that first smell of bacon, this time with a hint of wood.  I was impressed that while the brew had a definite meat flavor, it was still very much a lager.

After a few more sips, I tried pairing it with the Gruyere and found that they indeed mixed well together.  The blend of beer and cheese made for a sensational burst of flavor in my mouth with the Rauchbier fizzing around the cheese.  The cheese enhanced the flavor of the smoked meat but in a refreshing way.

Bottle Cap from the Rauchbier
All in all, I was glad for the chance to expand the horizon on my journey to learn more about beer.  If you've never tried a smoked beer before, it's definitely worthwhile to experience the flavor at least once.  However, I would recommend picking up a single bottle to try.  While I would partake of a smoked beer again, it's not on my "must drink again soon" list.  So many beers, so little time...


[1] http://www.beerhunter.com/styles/marzen.html