There’s really no escaping Fraserburgh’s BrewDog at the moment. The unorthodox twosome from the Aberdeenshire coastline must account for more column inches than all other Scottish brewers combined. Of course, we’re no different – we’ve featured and reviewed several of their beers over the last couple of years. With our recent 2009 Beer of the Year Show being recorded, I decided to spring a surprise on the other panellists by slipping in a fifth beer at the end of the recording session – BrewDog’s (and now arguably British brewing’s) most infamous beer, Tactical Nuclear Penguin, at 32.0%abv currently the world’s strongest beer.
As one can imagine, the mainstream media are in uproar. Even the beer media got involved, with CAMRA’s head scribe Roger Protz falling foul of the internet army who rushed to defend James and Martin for their imagination/irresponsibility (delete as applicable). To create Tactical Nuclear Penguin, two separate phases of barrel ageing were followed by flash freezing the beer in a local ice-cream factory. ‘Eisbocks’ might not be a new style – but it’s certainly an effective way to ramp up the alcohol. The frozen water is discarded, and the concentrated solids refrozen to repeat the process. Apparently as the proteins and hops are retained it is still a beer – they would be removed during distillation if you were after a spirit.
So eventually it turns into a tar-black 32% monster. We sampled it as was intended, from shot glasses as a de facto spirit. Without doubt it got everyone’s attention – and unsurprisingly opinions were mixed. The spirit drinkers tolerated (or even liked) it, the non-spirit drinkers found it hard to get past the massive upfront smoky tastes. You can ask the question who would buy this beer – at £30 for a 330ml bottle it’s totally out of reach of the average beer drinker. But then BrewDog’s mission statement is not to cater for them. ‘Experienced’ beer drinkers might also balk at the £5 a shot pricetag, but would possibly try one out of curiosity. I’m not sure many would go back – it’s that kind of thing that you’d try once just to say that you had. In the end we were reduced to taking photos of each other’s screwed up faces while drinking it. But maybe that says more about us than the novelty status of Tactical Nuclear Penguin.
“It’s got that massive peaty smokiness about it, and the ‘legs’ run down the glass like a whisky. In context (with a Burns Supper?) it would be very good; otherwise this one is definitely a sipping beer.”
“This is a winter beer because it’s warming – it burns when it goes down the oesophagus. You feel like you should be drinking it as a beer but really it should be sipped over a couple of years.”
“I can’t stand the smell but the taste is OK. I have to hold my face when I swallow it though.”
“It’s like chewing logs from the fire, I really don’t want to finish it but it’s so expensive I’m going to – you could buy a bottle of single malt for that price.”
“Oh my goodness, it doesn’t smell like beer, and it’s six pounds a sip! I don’t drink spirits so I’m quite scared. It’s so smoky, it’s like peat in a glass.”
“As a man who often drinks a sherry or port I can appreciate this. It’s closest to whisky but is more palatable – I like the smokiness and peatiness. I can imagine Russians drinking this.”
“It’s pretty disgusting, it’s like a very malty peaty beer but with a shot of Laphroaig in it.”