I guess it was simply a matter of time for this development to occur. Extreme beer recipes have been the rage in certain circles: the imperials, as it were, whether it was India Pale Ale, Helles Lager, Pumpkin Ale, Barley Wine kicked up to notches unknown, etc… But leave it to the independent Scots at Brew Dog Brewery, to take Ice Beer to a brand new level.
Tactical Nuclear Penguin begins life as a 10% Imperial Stout, then gets double cask aged for 16 months, the first eight months in a Isle of Arran whisky barrel, then transferred for the remainder to an Islay cask. After that, it is stored at -20 degrees for 3 weeks. The result? 32% alcohol by volume ale. The world’s strongest beer.
News of this release made me recall the conversation I had with B. United International president, Matthias Neidhart, some 14 years ago, when he described for me how Eisbock was produced. Where the beer is stored in very cold temperatures and the ice formed is removed, and then stored (or lagered) for many many months. A reinheitsgebot description of German invented ice bier. A much more elaborate process than that which is employed to make Icehouse, Labatt Ice, in North America.
Concentrated flavor is what this is all about. A fine example to compare would be Schneider & Sohn’s Aventinus and their Aventinus Eisbock.
But the folks at Brew Dog it seems, have decided to further expand the definition of ice brewing.
At one time, exceptionally aged and strong beer meant Hurlimann Samiclaus or Kulmbacher Eisbock or Scaldis Noel. But this was before Brew Dog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin or Samuel Adams Utopia.
Strength has always come as a bit of a shock to the American beer drinker. After decades of mainly weak, cereal adjunct, mass produced beer. The re-introduction of flavorful brew was indeed a mini-revolution, to that small segment of beer seekers now often referred to as craft brew fans. But I think that ice beers were (and still are) quite significant amongst the larger beer drinking population. Before ice beer, there was only malt liquor, a dubious term used to refer to high gravity corn lager, ( which also went through a bit of transformation, when established brands such as Schlitz and Colt 45, introduced higher gravity versions.)
There is a novel effect to strong beers. This attraction has been partially enhanced by ridiculous state alcohol laws that prohibit their sale. Some of the legends that I am sure, some readers remember having for the first time: Carlsberg Elephant, Sierra Nevada Big Foot, Stone Double Bastard, etc… I am sure some folks have fond memories of those encounters. Like recalling the first time they drank a shot of Jagermeister liquor!
I learned quite awhile ago that strength alone can not be the final arbiter when determining the quality of a beer. If imperial and extreme become the only criteria, they you going to automatically deprive yourself of my flavorful experiences. In other words, Milk Stout, for example is not suppose to knock you out of your chair. In fact many stouts of moderate strength, are there to remind you that beer is food and if hootch is really what you are seeking, they many other avenues.