Monday, November 14, 2011

How strong can beer get? Really freakin' strong

People tend to think of beer as an easy drinking beverage you can chug all day long. And it's true, it can be that. But it can also be the slowest drinking booze you would ever want to grace the table. More rich and nuanced than the finest of wines or whiskeys. Utterly complex, sophisticated, and yeah, potent as frickin' hell.

How potent? I'm talkin' a tall glass of single-malt Scotch potent. Sometimes more.

Over here you can see a list of the strongest beers in the world. Take a gander at those numbers. They're HUGE. Almost 30 beers come in at over 20% alcohol, more than the most potent of wines you'll find on the shelf of your local shop. And that list doesn't even climb to the top. Absent is a beer called Start The Future, which claims to come in at a whopping 120 proof, or 60% ABV, but even so, look at that top 10. Did you ever imagine a beer could be twice as potent as a hefty wine and still not even make the top 10?

Though I have to be honest ... I don't consider these Super Beers to be beers at all. You see, they're made with a process called freeze distillation. It means they freeze off the water (which freezes at a higher temperature than alcohol) and leave behind a more potent beverage. How is that different than traditional distilling, which uses heat to boil off and contain alcohol (which boils at a much lower temperature than water)? In my opinion, it's not.

The highest alcohol real beers in the world, meaning beers made with traditional fermentation techniques and nothing more, are Samuel Adams super expensive Utopias series, and more recently, Brewdogs's (stupid, gimmick-driven) Ghost Deer. Both come in at 25%+ alcohol by volume.

Think about that for a moment. The average beer is about 5% ABV. So a glass of Utopias is equal to drinking almost six glasses of regular beer.


But then, these are high-end, stupidly expensive, richly complex beers that are as worthy of examination as the finest whiskey or port wine.

These mega-beers aren't always super expensive or difficult to find, either. Dogfish Head's obnoxiously large World Wide Stout clocks in at 18% ABV. It's easy to find, relatively affordable (about $9 a bottle), and will keep in your cupboard for decades. BrewDog's Tokyo* is another 18% stout that can be found in most better beer stores in America. There are many more. When it comes to beers as potent as wine or more, forget it. The list would run into the hundreds. In my cellar alone there are probably two dozen beers that will kick your Cabernet in the nuts and push it off the table.

Not that alcohol content is what matters. It's not. Not at all. What matters is taste and complexity and the overall drinking experience. The point is that beer is not locked into being the guzzlin' beverage it's often stereotyped as being. More than people realize, it can be much more than that.

Beer. Yeah, it's not just for Saturday softball anymore.

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