Mind-Bending Brews

The race to make the world’s strongest beer

beer_02In the beer world, a well-known rule of thumb is that beer has less alcohol than wine and whiskey. But a handful of renegade brewers have decided to blow that out of the water with mind-bending brews with alcohol pushing 50%.

Though adventurous home-brewers have been experimenting with high-alcohol beers for years, the modern trend dates back to 1994 when Jim Koch, who founded the Boston Beer Co., coined the term “extreme beer” as he unleashed the Samuel Adams Triple Bock. With an ABV of 18%, Triple Bock is best served at room temperature in a classy snifter, a few ounces at a time. The beer has the mouth feel of a port and offers rich flavors of toffee, vanilla and oak. As a follow up, Samuel Adams released Utopias- a beer with 27% ABV it called “the epitome of brewing’s 2,000-year evolution.” Utopias is a batch blend aged up to 16 years in bourbon casks. It has the feel of an old sherry or fine cognac and is packed with heavy notes of dark fruit, vanilla and wood.

Recently we’ve seen an arms race to make the world’s strongest beer. Things got scary in 2009 when BrewDog in Scotland released Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which clocks in at 32% ABV. It’s a super-charged Imperial Stout made by freezing the beer at a local ice cream factory. Alcohol freezes at lower temperatures than water so the ice can be skimmed off the top to increase the alcohol percentage.

A back-and-forth battle began when a German brewery named Schorschbrau released Schorchbock at 40% ABV. From there, BrewDog fired back with their appropriately named Sink the Bismark!, which was enough to take the high-alcohol crown at 41%. They didn’t hold the top spot for long because Schorschbrau quickly came over the top with a 43% ABV Schorchbock. BrewDog took the title back with The End of History, which measures a ridiculous 55% ABV and comes in an equally ridiculous taxidermy bottle. Most recently, Armageddon, produced by Brewmeister Brewery took the title with 65% ABV.

The dust in the extreme beer battle appears to have settled for now, but surely the truce won’t last. Some have wondered whether extreme beers are good for beer’s image or reputation. Mostly, though, these beers are offered in such limited quantities that they’re only available to the thrill-seekers who sniff them out--and are willing to pay high prices. A bottle of Armageddon is $52, Tactical Nuclear Penguin will set you back over $55 and Samuel Adams’ Utopias is over $150.

If you’re ready to brave the heat of the extreme beer battle, we recommend starting in the 15-18% ABV range and sipping slowly. After all, some of these are cognacs masquerading as beer.

What's the strongest beer you've tasted? Tell us below!

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