Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When will it end?

Recent news has set the beer blogosphere and beer forums like Beer advocate on fire. What's that news you ask? That an IPA weighing in at 41% abv (yes you read that right) has been made by Scottish brewer's Brew Dog. You may remember a few months back they received quite a bit of publicity when they created a beer Tactical Nuclear Penguin that weighed in at 38%. However shortly after the release of that beer, another brewery Schorschbrau released a beer weighing in at 40%. Before all of this there was of course Sam Adams Utopias weighing in at around 26-27% abv. Now why the controversy, why this post? Well, my question is in the title...where does it stop? When do we go back to brewing beer because it tastes good, because it has all the nuances that a great beer should, versus brewing beer for no other reason than get some cheap publicity (sorry but I truly believe that's all this is). Beer is NOT whiskey (yes I know beer from a certain point of view is the basis of whiskey), beer is NOT wine, beer is NOT cognac, beer IS beer.
Another issue I have is how are these brewer's getting this high in alcohol? Sam Adams has made no secret that they are using "ninja yeast," to get the alcohol that high. Basically a highly active champagne style yeast along with using other yeasts help create this beer. Both of the Brew dog's beer use a freeze distillation process. Some of you might say well its distilled so it can't even be counted as beer. Well this is where I actually do back folks like Brewdog. Freezing the beer, removing excess water leaving behind alcohol and solids has been going on for years in Germany (reference my recently reviewed Eisbock for some background). So just because they used a non standard brewing practice doesn't mean its not beer, but I still have some question as to whether or not using Eisbeer methods would get alcohol that high, what else are they doing and why?
Another argument in support of going as high as possible in alcohol is that its no different than other breweries adding tons of raspberries, or aging in whiskey barrels, or using brett in beers. Except for the fact that all those things were going on around the world for hundreds of years, its just that for the most part we (especially here in the US) have rediscovered these methods over the past few years. Never have brewers pushed the level of alcohol to the levels that folks are doing so today. Not to say that's bad, but to compare it to methods that were traditionally used and are just now coming back into vogue is nonsense.
My last point on this and honestly probably the most important, is that very few (if any) of these high octane beers taste good. Yes there are those that will swear up and down that the beers are good (but then if you look at BA some folks think Sam Adams Triple Bock tastes good), but there is nothing that's going to hide 41% abv, its not going to taste like beer. If you want whiskey, have a dram, if you want beer, have a pint (or snifter, or mug, etc). I don't mean to bash Brewdog, but wouldn't they be better served working on their beer, making all of their offerings better, working on distribution to the states (which I know they ARE starting to work on) to ensure their beer is better when it arrives? I've had a few BrewDog beers and I'm about 50/50 so far on what they've made and I hear about the same thing from other folks that I've talked to. So why not work hard and improve what you've got vs going out for what I consider a cheap publicity stunt? Many will compare BrewDog to Sam Adams Utopia, or Dogfish World Wide Stout. My response is that for the most part both SA and DFH have a pretty strong line up of beers, they have worked incredibly hard to improve the quality of their brews across the board, working on distribution issues, and then they have worked to release these high octane beers (and if you remember I wasn't a huge fan of WWS). My feeling is Brewdog can't compare themselves to DFH or SA for those reasons.
How far are we from a 50% beer that's been fermented with multiple strains of champagne yeast, triple frozen, freeze hopped, loaded in bourbon barrels, blended with alcohol, and someone tries to call it beer? Will folks still stand up and proclaim that it is? Where does it stop and when do we go back to enjoying beer for beer's sake and not trying to make it something its not.


Steve said...

I'm hoping it ends now. They've obviously received a lot of negative feedback as they took it upon themselves to post on a BeerAdvocate forum explaining (defending) their latest actions. For a two year old brewery to compare themselves to Sam Adams and Dogfish Head is pretty funny.

Steve said...

Apparently its not going to end as Schorschbräu has annouced its coming out with a 45% ABV beer soon.