Drink Magazine

The Bigger the Better

By Marc Wisdom @JaxBeerGuy

The Bigger the BetterYou often read me writing about big beer. Usually I am referring to the megalithic brewers that produce the lion’s share of all beer consumed around the world. But, this week big beer refers to high alcohol beer. I mean really high. Like over 20-percent alcohol by volume. Beer so strong a pint will put you down for several days.

The alcohol content of most beer ranges from around 3-percent for some sours and lambics to around 16-percent for a particularly big stout. What you don’t see very often are beers that break the 20-percent barrier. And there’s good reason for that. Making a beer with that much alcohol is very difficult. It requires yeast that can survive in a high alcohol environment and often employs some rather labor-intensive brewing methods.

Coming in at the low-end of the big beer spectrum is Samuel Adams Utopias. At just 28-percent, Utopias is a light weight compared to some of the other big beers out there. It’s worth mentioning because it is also an example of crafting a beer that not only has an eyebrow-raising ABV, but also an extraordinary flavor profile reminiscent of a fine sherry. The brew is created by blending several other beers – some that have been aging in barrels for over 24 years – with multiple strains of yeast, three different types of hops and several different malts. The result is a smooth, boozy, non-carbonated beer that deserves to be sipped from a snifter on a cold night in front of a roaring fire.

Don’t run off to the local liquor store to look for Utopias, though. The beer is only release every other year (2019 is its next release year), only about 17,000 bottles are released and it costs a cool $200 a bottle.

The mad men over at Scotland’s BrewDog got into the high-alcohol beer game with their oddly-named Tactical Nuclear Penguin. This bombastic imperial stout boasts 32-percent alcohol by volume and is said to be both bitter and tart. Its flavor is enhanced by aging it in whiskey barrels for more than a year.

Not to be outdone, Belgian brewery Struise, created their Black Damnation series and, through the use of Eisbock techniques – the beer is brought just below the freeing point of water, the ice is removed leaving a higher alcohol concentration – have elevated the ABV to 39-percent. For reference, most spirits are 40-percent ABV.

Back at BrewDog, another super strong brew, this time an imperial IPA, emerged from the breweries depths called Sink the Bizmarck. This brew upped the alcohol ante to an astounding 41-percent. This bitter bomb packs more wallop than most vodkas, but does not mix well with vermouth.

But, the brewery that tops the charts with the booziest brews is Scottish brewers  Brewmeister. And they have not one, but two insanely alcoholic brews; Armageddon at 65-percent and Snake Bite at 67.5-percent. These two brews are on the same level of strength as Absinth which is said to induce hallucinations. The brewers maintain that they should be savored like a fine scotch or whiskey and have great complexity beyond its mind-numbing booziness.

In the world of big beer, there are some real heavyweights. But, if you do get your hands on one of these amazing brews, remember; sip, don’t gulp.


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