Tag Archives: ABV

‘Kick you down the stairs’ Beer

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.


How to Read your Beer Labels or WTF do all those Abbreviations mean?

As an avid beer drinker sometimes I am dismayed by my complete and utter ignorance when it comes to deciphering beer labels. As a beer blogger this ignorance is blissfully overlooked as you become some sort of de facto expert by proxy of sounding like an actual expert.

But my inadequacies came to the surface the other night when someone casually asked about the presence of Plato on our beer selection.  Apart from the degree of philosophical discussion that may arise once said beer has been consumed I was at a loss. This got me to thinking about the other abbreviations that adorn beer labels -I presume for some purpose other than filling up space. The brewer and the name of the beer are a gimme, this is also true for the bottle deposit but what could I learn from the other shorthand?


ABVAlcohol by Volume. This indicates how much alcohol is in the bottle. Ethanol is the type found in fermented  beverages but other types also appear in beer in small quantities. The higher the alcohol, the more rich and complex the beer tends to be. High alcohol beers also often have a thicker, smoother mouthfeel.

IBUInternational Bittering Units. The accepted method of expressing hop bitterness in beer.  This refers to the amount of dissolved iso-alpha acids (bitter hop resins) present in the beer given in parts per million (ppm). Essentially, the higher this number, the more hoppy the beer.

FGFinal Gravity. This is a measure of the density of the beer at the time of bottling and is used to determine the alcohol content of the fermented beer. Sometimes you’ll see the term Apparent Attenuation (AA), which refers to the difference in original and final gravity.  Attenuation is the degree to which residual sugars have been fermented out of a finished bottle.

Plato – European and American scale of gravity based on a percentage of pure sugar in the wort.  This indicates the ratio of fermentable sugars to water in the beer. It’s based on the specific gravity and is given in degrees. A newer, more accurate version of the Balling scale.

Lovibond, SRM, or EBC – All terms describing the color of beer. Lovibond is a beer and grain colour measuring system that compares vials of beer to vials of coloured liquids. SRM (Standard Reference Method) is expressed as ten times the optical density of beer as measured at 430 nm in a spectrophotometer. EBC (European Brewers Convention) is continental standards organization for brewing. EBC is most commonly encountered as a term applied to malt colour. For all scales, the higher the number, the darker the beer.

Bottling and Expiration Date – If they list this, beer labels generally give one or the other. With the exception of higher alcohol beers meant for aging, beer is generally good for about one year after the bottling date. If the expiration date is given, this means that the brewer feels the beer will not be at its best after that date.  With the introduction of cask beers there is an increasing amount of beers sporting a Best After date as well.

Other information that can be found on beer labels includes, but is not limited to, serving temperature, recommended glassware, storage recommendations, food pairings, brewery information (address, website etc.), ingredients, musings, government warnings on the dangers of alcohol consumption etc.


And just for fun…


The collecting of beer bottle labels. — labeorphile, n. 


The study of beer bottle labels. —meadophile, n. 


The collecting of cardboard beer coasters. —tegetologist, n.


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