For the last two years brewers in Europe have waged a liquid arms race to create the world’s highest ABV (alcohol by volume) beer. Since fall 2008 the ABV of the most potent beer on the planet has more than doubled from 27 percent to a quite-literally staggering 60 percent.
These probably aren’t the beers you’re drinking. Most beer has an ABV of 4–6 percent, with 12 percent typically the limit for beers brewed using traditional methods. Bud Light and Guinness both have an ABV of 4.2 percent, for example. But over the past decade brewers have experimented with abnormal methods of brewing, which can greatly increase ABV.
A little background on alcohol content: Alcohol comes from the breakdown of sugar in the fermentation process. The amount of fermentable sugar in the brew is the most important aspect in determining ABV. Most brewing yeast used to create beer cannot produce an ABV above 12 percent. Innovative brewers recently discovered methods for exceeding this cap by using champagne yeasts and “freeze distilling.” Alcohol has a lower freezing point than water; a brew can be set to an extremely low temperature and when the water in the mix freezes, it is removed, leaving behind a potent mix. It is a complex process, with little margin for error.
These are the three breweries pushing the limits and gunning for the title of strongest beer in the world.
Brew Dog Brewery, Scotland
Brew Dog Brewery is a relative newcomer to the craft beer scene, but what it lacks in experience it makes up for in gusto. Owners James Watt and Martin Dickie founded the brewery in 2006. Since 2009 Brew Dog has held the title of producing the world’s strongest beer three different times.
Tactical Nuclear Penguin
Fear not. No penguins are actually nuked, although a few brewers probably get very cold. Tactical Nuclear Penguin is made using the freeze distillation process three times, and this following a 14-month aging process in double barrels. With an ABV of 27 percent, Tactical Nuclear Penguin was the daddy of all strong beers for a short stretch at the end of 2009. According to the brewers it “should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance in exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whiskey, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.”
Sink The Bismarck
Sink the Bismarck was brewed largely in response to Brew Dog losing the strongest beer title so quickly to German brewery Schorschbräu (more on it later). As the name implies, Brew Dog rolled out the big guns to take down the competition’s flagship and brewed this quadruple IPA with an astonishing ABV of 41 percent, which just happens to coincide with the year The Bismarck was sunk by the Brits. It has four times the amount of hops and bitterness of a traditional IPA and is freeze-distilled four times.
The End Of History
After losing the crown to Schorschbräu again after just a weeks, Brew Dog seemed irritated and decided to go for the knockout punch. The brewers say that “this 55 percent (ABV) beer should be drank in small servings whilst exuding an endearing pseudo vigilance and reverence … this is to be enjoyed with a weather eye on the horizon for inflatable alcohol industry Nazis, judgmental washed up neo-prohibitionists or any grandiloquent, ostentatious foxes.” Indeed.
The name of this beer comes from philosopher Francis Fukuyama, who defined history as the evolution of political systems. He traced this through the ages to the Western Democratic system that Fukuyama considers the end point of man’s political evolution and consequently the end of history. Brew Dog has said that The End of History is the last high-ABV beer it will brew and considers it the end point of how far it can push the boundaries of extreme brewed beer.
Only 12 bottles of this expensive ($780) blonde Belgian ale were brewed, using nettles from the Scottish Highlands and juniper berries. Because this beer is so rare, it comes with its own certificate of authenticity and is packaged in road kill, because what better way to enjoy an expensive and rare beverage than drinking it out of a stuffed squirrel? Never have taxidermy and alcohol been mixed in such a fine fashion.