Posted by: Scott | May 6, 2010

Sink the Bismarck Review

War has erupted on European soil. In one corner, Scottish beermeisters Jim Watt and Martin Dickie (leaders of BrewDog brewing company) grin mischievously, thinking they’ve already won; in the other, the brewers at Schorschbräu (BrewDog’s German adversary) wait silently, readying a secret weapon. Each brewery wants to make the world’s strongest beer. Only one can emerge triumphant.

In 2002, Boston Beer introduced the world to super-powered beers by releasing the 27% ABV Sam Adams Utopias. But in 2009, Schorschbräu landed a fearsome blow with a 31% eisbock called Schorschbock. BrewDog then leapt into the fray with Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a 32% imperial stout. Schorschbräu’s response to BrewDog’s WMD? A 40% monstrosity. Today I review BrewDog’s latest retaliation, a 41% quadruple IPA named Sink the Bismarck! (Ha!) As of a few days ago, Schorschbräu had already announced another superbock, this one a whopping 43%. But when my friend placed this order for two bottles of Bismarck sometime last month, BrewDog’s ship-sinker was still straddling the throne, so I’m going to ignore all German news for a day and call this “Beer(ein)stein’s Review of the World’s Strongest Beer!”

As cool as that sounds, an ABV arms race probably won’t interest the majority of beer drinkers. Sink the Bismarck is expensive to begin with, and it has to be shipped from Scotland, which just about doubles the sticker price. And even if you have the cash, who wants to drink a beer that 1) seems like a gimmick aimed at breaking records and earning publicity (which could mean they’re focusing less on simply making good beer) and 2) probably won’t be on top for long, with the way these two are going at it.

Nonetheless, I managed to secure a bottle, so here’s beer(ein)stein’s review of the strongest beer in the world as of five minutes ago!

Stats:
Brewery: BrewDog
Style: Quadruple IPA
ABV: 41%
IBU: Couldn’t find the number, but I’m guessing it’s a lot
Glassware: Snifter, Tulip, Scotch Glass?
Serving Temp: 50°F
Price Range: $60 per bottle, comes with free bottle stopper

REVIEW:

First, these high ABV beers aren’t built for chugging. They’re meant to be sipped like a fine scotch or brandy, which I think justifies the purchase somewhat. Wine connoisseurs regularly spend $30 or (much, much) more on 750 milliliters of Cabernet Sauvignon, and refined older gentlemen have created a popular cliché by breaking out their $100+ bottles of scotch on frigid winter’s eves. But beer is still low-brow, and relatively few recognize it as a beverage to be savored. I blame advertising. Big beer companies have spent millions convincing us that beer’s best selling point is an acceptable low:high ratio of price to can quantity.

One whiff of Sink the Bismarck will alter that perspective. This ruby-hued beer doesn’t pour — it slides into the glass, scattering bubbles across the surface. A thick, syrupy ale! Despite the lack of foam, I can smell alcohol, sweet malt, and pungent hops even before lowering my nose to the glass. Sink the Bismarck is going to be intense.

Jim Watt and Martin Dickie, looking mischievous.

The alcohol heat is tremendous, as I expected, but somehow Sink the Bismarck still tastes like beer – not just any beer, but an IPA. The hops are huge, imparting spicy, resinous flavors, while sweet notes of honey, citrus, and caramel calm the hoppy onslaught. Hints of bright fruit and sticky pine supplement the beer’s complexities. As it warms, these flavors can become a bit overwhelming, as if some were amplified solely to hide the ABV – but, considering the size of that ABV, Sink the Bismarck is remarkably well-balanced and extremely drinkable.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t rip apart your palate. The spicy alcohol and intense bittersweetness make for a complex, rich, delicious beer … one that demands to be sipped slowly. Take a drink, let it roll around on your tongue, and enjoy the way the flavors transform and swirl into one another, like those of a vintage whiskey. But, also like whiskey, it packs a punch, so be careful. Sink the Bismarck must be savored. It’s the ultimate sipper’s beer.

My only other complaint concerns its attention-grabbing origins. Schorschbräu has already announced another 43% superbock that sinks this Bismarck; will the Scottish brewers abandon their tasty new beer in favor of something even stronger? When will the battle end? Should Brewdog refocus their marketing funds on the fantastic lineup of normal-strength beers lying at their feet, or should they continue slamming ABVs against the ceiling until these high-octane ales start to taste like rubbing alcohol? Feuds are fun for a spell, and both sides insist that this is a lighthearted skirmish, but I can’t picture this war of escalation advancing either brewery’s reputation if they keep it up much longer. Perhaps they should join forces — collaboration is popular in today’s craft brewing industry — and brew a phenomenal 50% percent beer that would let them hold the trophy high together.

I can dream. Whatever happens, it won’t change the fact that Sink the Bismarck is/was a damn good beer. I considered lowering the score for the previously outlined reasons, but that would undersell one of the most unique tasting experiences I’ve had in years.

Food Pairing

I won’t lie; we had pizza with the second bottle, and it wasn’t bad! But I think something else would be better. I can’t suggest typical IPA foods, because Bismarck would overwhelm them, but it might pair well with a peppery cheese or flavorful barbecued meats.

Monday: I’m not sure yet. This review was a doozy. Taking the rest of the night off.


Responses

  1. good to hear these things aren’t abominations. i was deeply concerned about such things occurring.

    also, unrelated: on the music front, new serena maneesh is surprisingly good. autolux-y as usual, but miles better than their last few.

    • I was also worried about that before I opened my first bottle. How could a 41% beer taste good? Somehow it works for this one. I can’t vouch for the others.

      And yeah, that CD is pretty solid. Also: new Rosetta is outstanding.

  2. Man.. I just can’t even imagine tackling such a thing.. and wow at the price tag (though, like you said, it’s justified) I’d be quite intrigued to try one just to say I did.. and therein, the ploy I guess worked. Thanks for making the rest of us want one. PS – I don’t have a cd to pimp right now other than I found a love for Ludovico Einaudi after watching “This is England”. yay.

    • Ha! Sorry. I guess this review is for people who either have lotsa extra money or are lucky enough to stumble across it on tap in a bar somewhere. Also, it should be noted that although my friend payed the price of 60 bucks (plus shipping) for one bottle, they sent him two.

  3. payed, huh? interesting usage of made-up words.

    sticking with music, since you’re both here:

    adding to the ipod as we speak:

    2 new priestbird tracks
    rosetta
    god is an astronaut
    holy fuck
    year of no light
    ozomatli
    periphery
    red sparowes
    wintersleep
    circa survive
    blackstorm (new band from karl middleton of earthtone9 – hooray!)

    others also, but those are the ones i thought might be of note. there’s another i haven’t heard called my education. will report back, but probably through other channels.

    • Thanks for completely hijacking the comments section, Ben! (I will be checking out a few of those new CDs, though.) And my bad on “payed” … I was a professional copy editor for crying out loud. How could I mess that up? But, to be fair, payed is a real word; it’s a boating term that refers to providing slack on ropes, or something. And some sources say they used to be interchangeable. Ah, the English language.

  4. Scott- The bottle cap on Godzilla’s head had me laughing out loud. I’ve been working on an in-depth post about all these high-ABV beers, looking to see what the community as a whole has to say about them. I’ll definitely be linking to this when I finally finish it. (ive been slacking lately).

    I’ve been wanting to try some of these myself, but unfortunately I’ve haven’t been able to acquire any as of yet. Although, I have had Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout and 120 Minute IPA which both clock in at 20% ABV, so that’s a start.

    As always, great review, had me laughing the whole time, and the Godzilla novelty still hasn’t lost it’s touch. Of the countless beer blogs out there I look forward to beer(ein)stein posts the most.

    • Thanks so much. And I appreciate the future link!

      Those two Dogfish Head beers are where I started with extreme ABV beers too … in fact, they’re the strongest beers I’ve had after this one! Glad Godzilla hasn’t lost the magic :D

  5. Jealous! I want to try this beer bad. Where did you get it?

    In my interview at DrinkWithTheWench.com I said Sink the Bismark would be the last thing I requested before execution day. :)

    Do you have a pic of it in a glass? Would like to see what it looks like.

    Tommy

    • Haha, it would be a good beer for that purpose. My friend bought a couple of bottles from the BrewDog online store. I’m glad he shared with me, considering how much it cost! Sadly, I don’t have a pic in the glass … I rarely have enough foresight for that, since I usually drink them in the evening, and my wife, the professional photographer who takes all the pictures for this blog, prefers taking them during the day in natural light. Hence, the abundance of bottle shots. That’s something I need to work on in the future, though. It would be nice to actually see what the beer looks like. Thanks for the comment!

      By the way … how’d you get that interview? I e-mailed the Wench a while back and never heard anything.

  6. It’s nice to hear that this is actually a good beer. I love high-ABV beers, but I had the same worries about this one that you did (emphasis on gimmick over quality, etc.). I might try this one of these days—you know, when I have $60 bucks to blow.

    Also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KecIdlEAKhU

    On the music front, I can confirm that the new My Education album is the best post-rock record of the year so far. Although Ascent of Everest just put out a new one that I haven’t heard yet, so that’s also a possibility. Other new records that I’m excited to listen to are Kayo Dot and The Monroe Transfer.

    Ben: based on that list, I’d say there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of the music site I write for called The Silent Ballet (www.thesilentballet.com), but if you haven’t heard of us, check us out! I think you’d like our stuff. Although, I’m also suspecting that you might be the Ben who used to write for Decoy, and in that case, hi!

    • I definitely chuckled and thought of that song the first time I heard the name of this beer.

      Sounds like I need to check out that My Education album!

  7. ay, i am one and the same. i’ve gotten out of that music review game, though. had nothing creative to say. new kayo dot is aces, as usual. got a chance to hear my education briefly at work on monday and i liked it a lot, but then my phone kept ringing. alas.


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