Awhile back I was perusing the selection at O’Hares liquor store when the manager recommended DeuS Brut des Flandres as a beer that would ‘kick me down the stairs’. Intrigued and slightly confused by the sales pitch I promptly bought a bottle. What I learned later is that DeuS is a nice example of a strong Belgian Ale; the ‘kick you down the stairs’ adjective comes from the relatively high ABV of 11.5%. Using this as a launching point I thought I would devote this post to an exploration of strong beers.
Strength in the brewing world refers to both alcohol (the main product of fermentation) and gravity (the amount of solids in the unfermented wort). More malt brings more alcohol and more malt requires more hops in what can become a delicate dance between strength and drinkability. Gravity is used as a rough measure of the amount of alcohol that may end up in the finished beer; however, not every wort of the same gravity will end up as a beer with the same alcohol content. A whole other host of variables comes into play before we get our final ABV including the brewing process, yeast strain, sugar used, fermentation temperature etc. Brewers use the concept of apparent attenuation -finishing gravity divided by starting gravity subtracted from one hundred- to arrive at an approximate, if not entirely accurate, idea of beer strength. Real attenuation can only be assessed through the labour intensive process of distilling the alcohol out of a small sample but this is not commonly done. The higher the apparent attenuation the more of the beer’s extract has been turned into alcohol and voila we have a strong beer.
As a quick historical aside, the quest to make strong beer is not solely a modern endeavor in fact there are several Old English terms for strong beer including Stingo, Huffcap, Nipitatum, Clamber-skull, Dragon’s milk, Mad-dog, Lift-leg, Angel’s food and Stride-wide.
Back to modern brewing; beer styles such as barley wines, stouts, quadruples and double IPA’s all enter into this strong beer realm and a few brave brewers have ventured beyond into the ‘ultra-strong experimental’ kingdom. When it comes to taste these beers really have much more in common with fine liquors like scotch or cognac and they should be sampled as such; small pours in proper glassware, served as aperitifs and shared amongst friends. Some notable examples include:
|Brewer||Beer Name||Beer Style/Description||ABV|
|BrewDog||Tokyo||Intergalactic fantastic oak aged stout||18.2%|
|BrewDog||Tactical Nuclear Penguin||Beer for the dedicated||32%|
|BrewDog||Sink the Bismark||IPA for the dedicated||41%|
|BrewDog||End of History||Belgian blond infused with nettles and juniper berries||55%|
|The Bruery||Black Tuesday||Imperial Stout||19.5%|
|Dogfish Head||Fort||Belgian ale brewed with a ridiculous amount of raspberries||15-18%|
|Dogfish Head||World Wide Stout||A very dark beer brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley||15-20%|
|Fouders Brewing||Devil Dancer||Triple IPA||12%|
|Kleinbrauerei Schorschbrau||Schorschbock 40||Whisky like brew||40%|
|Mikkeller||Big V||Barley Wine||15%|
|The Refrigerated Ship||Start the Future||Drink it like a cocktail||60%|
|Samuel Adams||Utopias||Barrel aged beers||24-27%|
As one might suspect the quest for the title of world’s strongest beer has become a somewhat farcical game of one-up-man-ship; please see the following video by BrewDog for your consideration.
*Thanks to Mosher, Randy 2009 Tasting Beer An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink.