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!
Style: Quadruple IPA
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
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.
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.
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.