Armageddon – strongest beer in the world, or not?

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.

UPDATE 21/01/13

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.

UPDATE 13/06/13

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…

17 thoughts on “Armageddon – strongest beer in the world, or not?”

  1. I haven’t had the pleasure but if they’ve labelled it 65% and its not between 64.5 and 65.5% they’re breaking the law.

  2. I tried this at the “launch” in Inverness back in November and I was very surprised how drinkable it was, considering what you’d expect from a 60%+ abv. Don’t get me wrong, it was very nice – syrup consistency, quite sweet, but not overly boozy as expected.

    Even though I can’t accuse Brewmeister of being misleading by any means, I do believe if you are going to make big claims like this (especially as a new brewer) you need to back it up with concrete proof from an independent testing body.

  3. If you are going to claim something big and controversial then don’t be surprised if people expect you to prove it. Apart from being a legal requirement, and affecting the level of duty paid accurate declaration of abv is a basic requirement of running a brewery.
    If they have got this wrong – deliberately or by mistake – they have lost my respect.
    If they haven’t why don’t they prove it?

  4. I asked them more than once if they were confident it was 65% as advertised, but have yet to receive a reply. When they do, I’ll gladly copy any comment here. Having the beer analysed by Heriot-Watt (as BrewDog did) would clear up any doubts…

  5. Simple test: fill a very small glass glass and apply a match, if it’s 60% or over a blue flame will appear on the surface. They serve 60% schnaps in Austria this way. Even 50% spirits will burn if it’s warm.

  6. One of the RateBeer reviewers tried just that, Stuart:-

    We grabbed some 200 proof ethyl alcohol from the flame cabinet and diluted it to 130 proof or 65% alcohol. We put a flame to the known 65% ethyl alcohol. It caught on fire. We did the same to the Armageddon and it did not catch fire.

  7. I tried it and it’s one hellva strong drink! Not like whisky, it makes you a very happy drunk…..and mine caught fire! You have to heat it up a little

  8. I work for a brewery and we tested it in our lab last week. Came out at 19.5% ABV. Ridiculous claims on the bottle!

  9. To be quite honest we are getting a little sick of these claims. If you want to see the latest lab report then send us am email and we will happily sent it to you.

  10. Alrighty, you know my email address Lewis. I’ll bet it’s frustrating, people doubting the abv of Armageddon. But it launched you into the international media, and there are dozens of people on RateBeer doubting the efficacy of the beer. Of course, they could all be wrong. Maybe, to end it, you should publish the lab results, and the independent verification from Guinness World Records. Otherwise, I’m afraid, it seems as if people will continue to doubt how strong Armageddon really is. The nature of the business, I’m afraid!

  11. Bought this in Xmas 2012 as a present for my boyfriend and we are doing the grand opening tomorrow night at our beer tasting.

    Going to move from BrewDog Tokyo to this as the big reveal and now really really worried it’s going to be a watery washout 🙁

    Will post again tomorrow with our findings……I take it if it’s not 65% or even close I can return what’s left for a refund? Cost me £40 in the honest belief I was buying a 65% beer as advertised, fingers crossed it delivers!

  12. Sorry for the late reply….it was a LOT of beer 🙂

    Well, we decided to put the Armageddon between the Tokyo and some new Belgium Brewery Imperial Chocolate Stout, just in case it was a let down as we didn’t want to end on a blurp.

    Out of the 8 of us none thought it was 65%. Not even close. More like, as many have said about 15% at most, although we did all feel a slight alcohol burn afterwards. We had a shot each, sipped slowly, but to be honest I probably could have just knocked mine back and not noticed 🙁

    It was definitely a novelty and made for interesting discussion but the overall opinion was that there was no comparison between the Armageddon and the other strong ales we tasted- it just didn’t stand up to scrutiny and had no real depth of flavour,

    Luckily the chocolate stout was a knock out and I’m SO glad I went with that as the grand finale ‘pudding’ taster rather than my original plan of ending the evening with the Armageddon.

    Oh and yes we lit it……nothing 🙁

  13. I’ve just seen this on thedrinkhut its £10 off a bottle until this Sunday!!
    Even then I haven’t been able to find cheap drinks online that beat them.

  14. Brewmeister how about you publish an independent lab report? The link you provided to the “World Record Academy” looks like a site a 5 year old made and just a mash of copy and pasted articles from around the web.

    Currently The Guinness Book of World Records still has BrewDogs The End of History listed as the strongest beer ever sold.

    Having paid for and consumed Armageddon I’m not convinced of the 65% ABV and feel until you can provide concrete evidence I would like a refund.

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