Back in September, we previewed the opening of another of Scotland’s new breweries – Brewmeister, who were just about to begin production in the Deeside village of Kincardine O’Neil. Writing introductory posts for start-up brewers is one of the best parts about blogging – there are certainly plenty to record these days (I’ve got two currently drafted, for example). Brewmeister announced, right from the off, that they were going to rock up with something guaranteed to get them attention – they were planning on reviving the ‘strongest beer in the world’ race, by brewing a 65% beer called Armageddon.
That declaration worked exactly as intended, scoring interviews and features on STV, the Daily Mail, The Sun, The Metro and ABC in the States (I’m sure they appeared in other media outlets as well). They obviously learned from BrewDog about the column inches that can be generated by ramping up the abv. For a brand new producer, it catapulted them straight into the world’s media – how can that be a bad thing, irrespective of what you think about the abv-war race? Personally, I think things have moved on since 2010, but there you go. As we approach 80 breweries in Scotland – standing out is no bad thing.
Recently, however, the first pre-orders of Armageddon have been honoured, and reviews have been appearing on RateBeer. Interestingly, they are universal in asking one question. Is it really 65%abv?
“If I tasted this blind, I’d guess it has an ABV in the mid 20s.”
“If this really is 65% (and I can scarcely believe it) it’s a remarkable feat of beer engineering.”
“I in no way believe this is 65% ABV, there is nowhere near the level of booziness, complexity or viscosity that you would expect from the freeze distillation.”
So, what’s going on?
The process of freeze-distillation, whilst chemically straightforward, takes a lot of effort, and for a brand new brewery it would certainly be some feat if they managed to hit the world record-beating 65% on their first attempt. You’d be churlish not to cut them some slack. However, the beer has been released as 65% and labelled as the “world’s strongest beer”. People have paid £60 expecting to receive that abv, and many are not happy, judging by Brewmeister’s Facebook page – however, all of the comments there relate to fulfillment of orders – they can’t freeze enough of the stuff to keep up with the enormous demand.
Is this where the problem lies? Have they made a rod for their own backs? I haven’t tried Armageddon, so have no idea whether it tastes like a 65% beer should (I have tried all the BrewDog offerings) – but the guys on RateBeer certainly seem to have an idea. One even resorted to chemical experimentation to determine (in his opinion) it wasn’t near the advertised strength, testing it in a flame cabinet. Yet at the end of the day, if Armageddon did not turn out at the high abv, does it really matter? Well, yes, if you’ve paid money expecting it to be as advertised. I don’t know if Brewmeister had it analysed prior to release (they didn’t respond to my repeated emails). Time will tell how this works out – but for now, plenty of people aren’t buying it.
Lewis from Brewmeister responds:-
We did discover a problem which affected about 20 – 40 bottles. The first bottle in the line was sucking water from the bottling machine, which diluted the drink. We had some emails from people who clearly spotted the problem and we duly replaced their bottles.
The Armageddon was designed not to taste too strong. We mash at a high temperature to produce a sweet beer and we add a plethora of unique hops. Both of these techniques mask the alcohol, which is why some people doubt it’s ABV – but that’s the way it was designed.
Also the fact that it is quite syrupy takes away from the usual ‘spirit’ feel of the other strong beers. So apart from the odd bottle that was first on the bottling machine, it was 65%. We took readings with our equipment and sent them to Guinness and we’re confirmed by the world record academy.
As even more claims have now come out regarding the authenticity of Armageddon (see recent comments below), I have picked up a bottle and will have it independently tested, to see once and for all whether it is 65%abv, as claimed. Since January, Brewmeister have announced they are to brew a 70% beer, named Snake Venom…