Saturday, December 8, 2012

High Octane Brueing!

One of the more newsworthy aspects of the craft brewing-industry in recent years has been the battle to achieve the title of "World's Strongest Beer." This quest for high alcohol content has also had the effect of rethinking what we consider "beer" to be, and how far we can go in that direction.  Two of the heaviest hitters in the War for Potency has been Scotland and Germany; oddly enough, the Americans, despite their massive craft brew industry and penchant for competitiveness and experimentation, have more or less adopted a policy of isolationism here, with only Sam Adam's "Utopia" being anywhere near the top ten, as seen on RateBeer here.  With the opponents ready to brew, what followed was more or less a retelling of the shipbuilding wars of the Second World War - just replace battleships with beer. The first to really get things rolling were the folks at BrewDog, a Scottish brewery that I've taken issue with before, but in recent months have developed more of an appreciation for what they do, with the exception of the gimmicky crap that they've done in association with the Strongest Beer War.  Known for their experimentation and mild insanity, the folks at BrewDog already had a respectable 18%er, "Tokyo" in 2009, before opening the floodgates with a mammoth brew later that year, Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which sat at a mammoth 32% ABV.   Within just a few months, a German brewery with the Sean Connery's German brother-sounding name of Schorschbrau released a 40% doppelbock called Schorschbock which overtook the Penguin.   Naturally, the BrewDog folks countered with a historical fuck-you to the German brewery with Sink the Bismarck (41%) in February 2010.  Controversy revolved around BrewDog's follow-up brew, The End of History, the twelve bottles of which came housed in the bodies of dead squirrels, much to the ire of animal rights activists and reasonable human beings.  The title was appropriate for BrewDog, because they seem to have bowed out of the Strongest Beer race for good, which allowed another Scottish brewery to hold the current title - a unthinkable sixty-five percent ABV bock aptly named Brewmeister Armageddon, which is much stronger than your average sipping whisky.  About the only thing that we can say about the Strongest Beer title is that it doesn't really mean much, save for serving as a bit of a pissing contest I suppose, considering how little of these brews get produced, and how expensive they run for. I guess that's not really fair, because there is a great deal of science and brewing expertise needed to distill these brews down to such a potent end product.  It's just important, in my humble opinion, to remember these brews are novelties, and are (thankfully) not on the liquour-store shelves (the End of History retailed for $750 - each!), so there's no risk of beers ever getting that strong in the forseeable future.

There's a typo here: it should read
"Contains a Metric Fuckton of Alcohol."
What is happening is that craft brewers are consistently pushing the envelope with their one-off, or special edition brews, which tend to almost exclusively range between 10 and 20% ABV, more than sufficient alcohol to knock you firmly on your ass.  These, are sipping brews that really have to be shared with others, lest you awaken in a drunken stupor with a blistering headache and no memory of the previous nights' events.  And one craft brewery that has really found a niche with these high octane brews is the feature of today's entry - The Bruery.

Started in 2008 in California by Patrick Rue (get it?), The Bruery has quickly become one of the big names in experimental craft brews.  While most of the Bruery's lineup sits in more reasonable levels of alcohol content (mostly Belgian style ales with a healthy number of American-style brews), there is a disproportionate number of brews in their lineup that push well into the 10+ range.  These limited brews have proven so popular that The Bruery has set up a sort of pay-in "Reserve Society" where you pay a big price up front and get a whole smack of the "big" brews guaranteed, plus some other perks.  The closest thing to a country club membership I've seen in the craft brewing world, but there you go.  Demand is high, and beer geeks are getting more and more assertive in their drive to acquire the hottest brews around, with some bottles of other rare beers going for over 100 dollars online, much in the same way that folks purchased PS3s after waiting in line, and then turning them around on eBay.  I was lucky in this case, and thus I've had the pleasure of enjoying three of their biggest brews over the past couple of months, and - having pieced together what little memories exist from those evenings,  I'll try to take you through them all.  In honour of our World's Strongest Beer theme, we'll start with the lowest and work our way up.  It's crazy when you have to say that the lowest strength beer of the list is approximately fifteen percent booze.  That's the kind of shit we're dealing with today, folks, so hold on tight.   A huge thanks to my friend and fellow member of the Beer Society of Odd Fellows for sharing these brews with me over the past few months.  Cheers Brad!

Beer: Fruet
Type: Old Ale
ABV: 15.5%

An anniversary brew (for their fourth in 2012), this brew is of a style known as Old Ale, which really means what it sounds - a strong ale that has been aged until it is old and smoothed out a bit.  In more technical parlance, the brew will be big and malty and extra dextriny (whatever that means) with lots of fruit (usually grape, raisin, a few other goodies).   This one does precisely that, except the alcohol content is well above the charts!

Poured into a sampler goblet.  Hazy caramel-chocolate brown, murky, and with a small but sturdy head of foam that survives as a thin ring.  The sheer viscosity of this brew is remarkably evident with the pour - this brew has some legs to it.

Nose is bloody spectacular: a rich caramel sweetness, cocoa, vanilla, bourbon, figs, dates, wine grapes, raisins, toffee and a rich warming booziness.

Tastes just as good as it smells, if not better.  If you're wondering how a beer this strong tastes, think of drinking a good port or fortified wine and you get the idea.  Fortunately, this one is so tasty that you don't even notice the booze, at least not until you attempt to stand up. It tastes like it might be only about 9 or 10 percent, which is damned fine with me. A terrific blend of sweet sugar, fruit, caramel and vanilla.  Rich and well worth each slow sip.   Thick, a bit syrupy (no surprise there), but with enough carbonation to be easy to drink - dangerously so.

God freaking damn, this was good. (Grade: A)

Beer: Black Tuesday
Type: Double Imperial Stout
ABV: 18%

First of all, I have to apologize for the shit picture.  Apparently, my last digital camera was on its last legs when I took this, and I thought that the picture was merely set on a high exposure setting, but actually it was about twenty minutes from death. Really, I'm just glad that I got any shot of it at all.  But in case you weren't sure, the beer is black.  Pitch black.  That's about all you need to know.  Black Tuesday has a dual meaning: the first refers to Tuesday October 29th, 1929, the day of the stock market collapse that officially marks the beginning of the Great Depression; the second refers to the colour of the brew combined with the fact that the Bruery was founded on a Tuesday.

Had this a couple of months ago at a big beer tasting, and it really capped off the evening nicely.  Like looking into a black hole this one was.  Thick as molasses it seemed - well, maybe not quite, but again the heft of this brew is apparent just by pouring it.  A thin off white ring is all that survives.

Nose is sweet and sugary, with notes of roasted malt, chocolate, coffee, molasses, bourbon, vanilla, and a slight peat or leathery note in the mix.  And yes, I can detect the booze - it's almost five times stronger than your typical bottle of beer.  But again, I've had 10%ers that smelled boozier than this.

Well this is all kinds of wonderful.  Rich, sweet stout flavours, just amped up considerably.  Assertive notes of bourbon, vanilla, chocolate, sugar and vanilla.  A strong alcohol burn is there, but because I'm sipping it so slowly, it's not much of a chore to deal with.   Thick, mild carbonation, creamy and oily on the palate.

When drinking this brew, I think I felt that calm, assured euphoria that folks in September of 1929 must have felt after trusted economist Irving Fisher assured the nation that stocks had reached a "permanently high plateau."  I was comfortable, complacent, and so I kept drinking.  And man did this brew give me a Depression-level headache a few hours later.  Granted, this was my several-th beer of the evening, but that much sugar and booze is going to have an effect.  So drink this brew with caution - take it slow, and enjoy it.   Cause it's damned good.  (Grade A)

Not pictured: Florida's electoral votes.
Beer: Chocolate Rain
Type: Double Imperial Stout
ABV: 19.5%

Enjoyed this one celebrating the victory of President Obama last month; sadly, none of us could find a "White and Privileged Bitter" to toast the Romney camp.  Oh well, such is life.  Again, several beers into the evening's drinking, so take this one with a grain of salt.

Wine glasses for this majestic brew.  Black as pitch, slightly chestnut when held to the light, and a thin, off-white head that recedes into a thin ring.  At almost 20%, I'm not sure if appearances really are going to play into this one.

Nose is incredibly sweet and sugary, with coffee, cream, booze, vanilla, caramel, chocolate, and lightly toasted sugar.  You can smell the weight and strength of this beer.

Very tasty indeed, but probably my least favorite of the three, simply because it is just that strong.  The nice thing is, far worse beers than this have had far less alcohol, and still tasted much more like someone had snuck a shot of vodka into the bottle, so as strange as this sounds, for being 20% the alcohol is well-hidden. But trust me: it's there.  The sweetness and booziness is more pronounced than in the Black Tuesday, though the notes of chocolate, sugar and vanilla still hold true.  Syrupy, velvety feel, and with enough carbonation to keep the sweetness somewhat at bay.   Kind of felt like drinking a glass of Kahlua.  Rest assured: you need to share this beer.

The Bruery's high octane stuff is well worth seeking out, though because of the market demands and such, this can be tricky, unless of course you know where to look.  If you do see them around, however, give them a try, but fair warning: they are sweet, they are delicious, and they pack a serious punch.  Have a glass or two of water handy - the blood vessels in your head will thank you for it in the morning.

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