I had no plans to go out drinking last night. There are domestic things to do before Christmas, and there are events coming up over the next days as well. But when I saw the invite posted on one of the beer forums, I knew I had to go. Lars Marius and Geir Ove had announced their presence as well.
The event was a BrewDog tasting, arranged by their importers and led by none less than James, co-founder of the brewery. I’d go along to have a chat, even if he just presented their lagers.
But there was more, this was the beer line up:
Tactical nuclear Penguin
I’d had most of them, but the last two are among those who really get the coverage in the beer blogsphere right now. Nanny State has just 1,1% alcohol (but a million bitterness units), while the Tactical Nuclear Penguin has 32%. Yes. Thirtytwo per cent. Alcohol by volume.
I’ll skip the notes on their more regular beers for now and jump to the last two and most interesting beers:
The Tactical Nuclear Penguin started out as a 10% imperial stout, similar to their Paradox series. It was the aged 8 months in an Isle of Arran whisky cask and another 8 months in an Islay cask. The beer was then transported to an ice cream factory and stored at minus 20 degrees. Thereafter, in several stages, some of the frozen water content was removed, leaving a liquid with concentrated flavour and alcohol.
The nose is of smoke, tar and chocolate. The first sip reveals treacle, tar and rope. Strong warming alcohol. Yet there is an intense hoppiness, too, which justifies its claim that it is a beer. There is liquorice, salt and brandy, with a finish of smoke and fire.
What do I make of this? It is taking the intensity of their whisky aged beers even further, and I applaud the way these guys are playful and inventive. And it is a real pleasure to sip, at least if you appreciate their other whisky barrel beers.
Will this be a major trend in the industry? Hardly. I won’t go into the technical details about what makes a beer and when it is no longer considered a beer. That’s for others to quarrel over, and that discussion is, of course, a part of BrewDogs strategic marketing. This is never going to be a mass market drink, but both the quality and the hype will ensure that there will be a long line of both tickers, collectors and drinkers making sure it will sell out fast. And while, as James pointed out, it is expensive compared to vodka of the same strength, it is priced nowhere like the Samuel Adams Utopias.
So, I’d be happy to have a few bottles of this at the back of my beer shelf aside the Dark Horizon beers. But it’s for rare occasions, not for weekly consumption. Because with all this concentrated flavour, aroma – and alcohol – it lacks the refreshing drinkability, which, ultimately, is what you want from an everyday beer. But it’s a wonderful addition to the range of beers to have for special occasions. And it makes a great gift!
The power of the hops is shown by the beer that rounded off the tasting, Nanny State at just above one percent alcohol. I tried this in London the other week, so I knew what was coming.
This is a barely fermented hop concentrate, with IBUs way beyond what human senses can detect. It’s intense bitterness stays in the mouth for a long time. It’s a novelty beer, and I doubt it will be up to much if its aged.
I think Nanny State’s main importance is that it also moves boundaries, and a logical next step is to create some balanced, yet flavourful low alcohol beers.
After the tasting, there was time for a chat with James and his Norwegian importer. The Punk IPA and Rip Tide will be launched in the Vinmonopolet stores in Norway in January, and there will be new BrewDog beers available in March and May as well. Hopefully there will be some beers available on keg during the year, the disposable kegs used by the Norwegian craft breweries seem to function well.
The main markets for BrewDog are the UK, the US and Sweden, but Norway has a good potential. Look out for a BrewDog/Nøgne ø/Mikkeller collaboration next year – I’d like to reserve a few bottles right away!