Bigger, Stronger, Hoppier…Just Stop It!

In case you missed it, a Scottish brewery called Brewmeister announced yesterday that they had topped their own record for the world’s strongest “beer” – reason for the quotation marks to follow – with a 67.5% alcohol liquid called Snake Venom. The bottle, The Scotsman reports, comes with a warning that no more than the contents of a single, 275 ml bottle should be consumed per sitting.

There is so much wrong with this that I scarcely know where to start. But I’ll try.

First up, unless Brewmeister has somehow come up with a way for yeast to survive in a ridiculously high alcohol environment, this is not a beer and neither is it the product of brewing per se. It is something that was once a beer before it was freeze distilled into a spirit, as are the slew of other “world’s strongest beers” that have come to market in recent years. (I’m looking at you BrewDog and Schorschbräu.) When you brew a beer, you ferment out sugars and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. When you concentrate that alcohol by eliminating a large amount of the water content, that’s distilling. Period.

Secondly, who cares?! Producing the world’s strongest “beer” is right up there with producing the world’s most caloric hamburger and the world’s most tannic wine. It’s an empty, useless gesture than has nothing to do with the item intended to be consumed and everything to do with laying claim to a pointless title.

Thirdly, this is irresponsible to a massive degree. The one bottle per sitting that the brewery recommends you not exceed contains an enormous amount of alcohol, 185.625 millilitres by my calculations. To put that in perspective, it is the equivalent in pure alcohol of drinking just under 62% of a 750 ml bottle of 40% alcohol spirits, or in other words, enough booze to potentially make a person very, very sick.

And fourthly, this kind of “bigger, stronger, hoppier” bullshit is precisely what craft beer is NOT about! Beer should be about flavour, not strength or massive, unbridled bitterness, and headline-grovelling attempts like this simply undermine everything that skilled and dedicated artisanal craft brewers around the world are trying to achieve. As Garrett Oliver once famously stated, no chef goes bragging about how they make the saltiest soup, and neither should anyone proud of their brewing skills be wading into the “bigger, stronger, hoppier” realm.

20 Replies to “Bigger, Stronger, Hoppier…Just Stop It!”

  1. Right on! I guess the end point will be a beer bottle filled with 100% alcohol and a label that reads “Can’t get a stronger beer than this!”. Recently, I was having lunch in a Stone Brewpub in San Diego and had to explain to the manager why I couldn’t have a second pint of their Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2%) and drive home. Overproof beer costs them sales.

  2. Best thing to do with bollocks like this? Simply ignore it. Yes, there’ll always be fools who’ll run to get a bottle of this sort of beers, just like they are fools willing to cue overnight to buy the latest i-crap or this years’ limited release bottle.

  3. I don’t disagree, but where do you stand on Eisbocks then? Granted, they tend to be in the 10-15% range, but they use the same process of freezing off a portion of water and removing it, thus concentrating the rest of the beer (er “beer”). Perhaps it is the extent of distillation that matters, and once you reach a certain point, it becomes something else entirely. No one calls Brandy a wine, right?

    1. I think it’s inherent in the “eliminating a large amount of the water content,” Mark. Eisbocks, as you note, are typically raised just a few percentage points in strength, whereas spirits have ample amounts of water removed for concentration purposes.

  4. I honestly am starting to believe that people who drink extreme beers all the time lose their palates, and that is why they don’t get subtle, elegant beers like a basic pint of bitter or a good premium lager.

  5. Bitterness is different (I’d argue) since some English beers historically had very high hop levels, as high or higher than the most extreme IPAs. Alcohol is different, you can’t have a beer really over 12% or so or if you do, then you have to call it something different. Like whisky. That’s what this new drink is except freeze-distilled instead of heat-distilled and flavoured (presumably with hops). But maybe it doesn’t meet the legal test for whisky there, I don’t know. I think doing this kind of thing is gimmicky and a waste of time. It is better to try to come up with a better pale ale, or stout, or gose. I guess it attracts attention and any publicity is good I suppose, but I don’t see the point of it either. And also, it isn’t really new. People always combined whisky and beer (a submarino, or a boilermaker, depending how served). If you want high strength beer just pour some High proof rum or Polish Pure Spirit in it… (But don’t drink very much of it!.


  6. I can’t imagine it even resembles beer very much at that strength, which makes me wonder if beer drinkers will want to drink it anyway.

  7. It has always been thus – although I don’t find these beers terribly interesting, they do get a whole lot more coverage/response than their limited impact on the market merits. I’m not sure I buy the irresponsibility argument though – you can pick up a 750 of vodka for $10 bucks in many places – is that less responsible than this? Some readers might find something I wrote about this a few years back interesting.

  8. Everyone wants to come up with something that´s gonna differ them from everybody else. In this case the beer was the matter. I agree with you that beer should be about flavour and not about strength. Almost 70% of alcohol liquid in one beer bottle? That´s insane. I know I wouldn´t even try to drink that.

  9. Amen, Stephen. Though I would point out that just because crafty breweries don’t put out press releases on the same subject does not mean they are not doing exactly the same thing.

  10. Spot on – I completely agree. I’m sick of the hops and alcohol arms race that seems to go on with some breweries. There’s marketing gimmicks, then there’s just pointless gambits that ultimately turn people off…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *