When the Baron threw down the gauntlet to name some prestige beers, I added the name of a beer I knew very little about, the Schorschbraeu Schorschbock 40. This ridiculous brew was created by the tiny Schorschbraeu brewery in southern Germany and all I really knew about it was that it was an 80-proof beer. Why would you drink an 80-proof beer? For the same reason you’d drink Absinthe…just to say that you did.
Little did I realize that the Schorschbock 40 was just another missile in the escalating and hilarious arms war between Schorschbraeu and the BrewDog brewery in Scotland (I told you the Scottish knew what they were doing!).
It seems that Schorschbraeu had created a 31% ABV brew back in December ’08 through a process called “freeze distillation”. This process, which creates Eisbock (ice bock) beers in Germany was also used to deleterious effect in the US in the ’90s during the short-lived “ice” beer fad (remember Bud Ice? I hope not.). Essentially, the brewer lowers the temp of the brew to the point that the water in the beer freezes but the alcohol (which has a higher freezing point) does not. When the ice crystals are removed, you have a beverage that still tastes ostensibly like beer, but has a much higher alcohol content. Schorschbraeu leveraged this process to an extreme and the result was their Schorschbock 31.
Unbeknownst to the Germans, a Scottish brewery saw the 31 as a challenge. A few months after the extreme beer was produced, BrewDog, a Fraserburgh, Scotland-based suds manufacturer, unleashed their Tactical Nuclear Penguin. The Penguin clocked in at 32% ABV, making it the strongest beer on Earth.*
*Amusingly, BrewDog actually got in a bit of trouble last year for a much lower-strength beer…an 18.2% ABV oak-aged stout called Tokyo. The local media quickly stirred themselves up into an “oh, won’t someone think of the children!” fervor and claimed that the high-strength Tokyo was a sign of all that was wrong in the world. The same thing (sort of) happened here in Alabama when we were trying to get the laws restricting the sale of high-gravity alcohol changed. Some lawmakers decided that high-alcohol beer would only be consumed by alcoholics and impressionable teens. Apparently they didn’t realize that the high price tag and huge flavor profiles of these beers actually make them MUCH less likely to be consumed by such constituencies. No one ever accused local politicians or local media of being intelligent.
BrewDog’s cheeky reaction to the Tokyo fervor was to produce a beer called Nanny State with a barely-stronger-than-milk ABV of 1.1%. I think this is awesome. I wholeheartedly back “revenge by brewing”.
Not to be outdone, Schorschbraeu went back to the lab and upped the strength of their Eisbock. In November of 2009, they debuted the Schorschbock 40, an 80-proof monster…end of the story, right?
Nope. BrewDog wasn’t about to be bested by the Germans…even if the beer they were up against was now the same strength as most commercial vodkas and whiskeys. This month, they unveiled their cleverly titled “Sink the Bismarck”…a 41% ABV brew. Once again, the Scottish reigned supreme.
So what’s next in this absurd rivarly? Schorschbraeu claims that a 45% ABV beer can easily be produced and there is little doubt that they’re working on it as I write this. For their part, BrewDog declared that they aren’t interested in crafting ridiculously high-alcohol beers just for the sake of it. They’ll only do it “for the beer itself, to create something interesting”. But something tells me that when the Schorschbock 45 hits the shelves, those wily Scots will be in the backroom of their brewery, tinkering on a 101-proof beer bomb. Stay tuned!
For more on the story, check out: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5259170,00.html