Slag ’em or praise ’em, you just can’t stop talking about ’em.
But it’s nice to be able to talk about Brew Dog for the right reasons again. Today, the brewery announces the launch of Tactical Nuclear Penguin – at 32%, the strongest beer on the planet, beating previous record holder Sam Adams Utopias by 7%.
The boys – slightly chastened by the whole Portman farrago a few weeks ago – assure me that this launch is all about the beer. Doubtless there will be headlines about how irresponsible it is to brew a beer at this strength, and the whole presentation of the launch will be edgy and controversial (without explicitly baiting the Portman Group, thankfully)because that’s who they are – that is the Brew Dog brand.
But the press release proves Brew Dog have learned that you can do edgy and at the same time still promote a responsible drinking message. I love this:
Beer has a terrible reputation in Britain, it’s ignorant to assume that a beer can’t be enjoyed responsibly like a nice dram or a glass of fine wine. A beer like Tactical Nuclear Penguin should be enjoyed in spirit sized measures. It pairs fantastically with vanilla bean white chocolate it really brings out the complexity of the beer and complements the powerful, smoky and cocoa flavours.
A warning on the label states: This is an extremely strong beer, 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 whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.
So let’s talk about the beer. TNP is an Imperial Stout that has been matured in wooden casks for eighteen months. It has then been frozen to minus twenty degrees at the local ice cream factory in Fraserburgh (not much demand for ice cream up there I’d have thought, but I guess the ambient temperature makes it much easier to produce). By freezing the beer to concentrate it this way, they get the alcoholic strength.
This could make for an incredibly harsh and fiery taste. I’ve yet to taste the beer myself, but Brew Dog claim that because of the 18 months in cask, there’s a very rich, smooth, mellow and complex flavour.
In beer circles the debate will be as to whether you can still really call this a beer at all, given that (apologies if my science isn’t quite right here) the freezing technique is effectively doing the same thing as distillation. Is this cheating?
I once attended a breakfast hosted by Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams, father of the awesome Utopias. I asked him a similar question – is this still beer? – and was inspired by his answer. He said something along the lines of beer has been around for thousands of years. Over that time it has evolved continually, and the pace of evolution has picked up considerably in the last couple of centuries. “How arrogant would we have to be to say that in this time, our time, we’ve done everything with beer that can be done? That we’ve perfected beer?” he asked me.
This is why when I love Brew Dog, I really do love them. It’s easy – and not always inaccurate – to accuse them of arrogance. But not when they do something like this. It’s far more arrogant to say ‘we can’t possibly improve on our beer’ than it is to never stop trying to do precisely that. In my marketing role, I often hear brewers talk about something like a slightly different bottle size and refer to it as ‘innovation’. Brew Dog are genuine innovators on a global stage, redefining what beer can actually be.
I hope to taste some soon. If it tastes like fiery alcoholic gut rot, then that’s what I’ll say. But I hope – and suspect – that it’s going to taste sublime.