The Penguin That Everyone is Talking About

Evidently, the minds behind Scotland’s BrewDog have rattled more than a few cages with their new beer, Tactical Nuclear Penguin. (I still love that name.) Roger has taken them to task, then tried to address his critics; Alan has added his two cents, mostly addressing Roger’s response; Jay and I chatted about it all at length over the phone, and then he waded into the morass; and a fellow named Dave made the keen observation that Linux may just get a new and very boozy mascot out of the whole deal.

I seldom write about beers I have not tasted, and never write twice about such a brew, but rules are made for breaking and the Penguin craves ink, even if it is only the virtual stuff. Besides, it raises more questions than it does answers, to wit:

  • Given that the concentration of alcohol through freezing is a form of distillation, is this even a beer?
  • Given that eisbock is a recognized style of beer, does taking that freezing process to the nth degree disqualify the Penguin from such a style?
  • Does anyone care, as Roger seems to, whether the beer is fermented with a beer yeast or a wine yeast or both? (BTW, the BrewDog website suggests that the original, pre-freezing Imperial stout was but 10% alcohol, the attainment of which would certainly not require a non-brewers yeast.)
  • Should we even worry about such distinctions between beer and spirits, or even wine, for that matter? I have, after all, an open bottle of Sam Adams Utopias on my desk that has to my palate been steadily improving since I uncapped it a few months ago, which is most definitely not a beer-ish trait.
  • Since in nothing I’ve seen posted thus far has anyone said anything about what the Penguin tastes like, has anyone actually sampled the damn thing?

That’s it. I have no answers, only questions. Mr. Watt, if you’re reading, please do get in touch!

9 Replies to “The Penguin That Everyone is Talking About”

  1. 1. And what about that insane price?
    2. It seems odd to me that the difference between Utopian and TNP in terms of legitimacy is a penguin suit. Humour be banished! We must take these things seriously.
    3. Protz’s reort “I’ve no idea what any of you do but I don’t do a lot of web browsing simply because I don’t have the time” is just silly. Remember what they call a doctor who got “D” in anatomy? Doctor. He has exposed through his reply that he is as out of touch about the conversation about beer as his original post did in relation to experimental beers.
    4. who will ever taste the stuff when they make 500 bottles?

  2. 2. Actually, it’s more than just the penguin suit, Alan. Utopias is the product of full fermentation, while the Penguin is technically distilled. Also the former is more expensive.

  3. If this beer does ot sell a drop it will still be 100% successful for BrewDog. International headlines, tweaking the nose of the establishment,generating more buzz for the brewery. Its win win!

    Mr. Protz’s post (as noted by many in the comments) drips with a “You kid’s get off my lawn!” feel to it, and seems to miss the point entirely.

    You have nailed it Stephen: The question remains as always, does it taste any good? (I’d love to find out if anyone wants to send some my way! 🙂 )

  4. Isn’t this a “tree falls in the forest” moment? If you and I never taste it (and, granted, each of us may be given the opportunity) it really is about the penguin thing in the sense that it is about the marketing and not the fluid itself.

    Strengthening through ice formation is just one form of strengthening. Bourbon barreled stouts and Port and sherry and Madeira even swish are all strengthened in different ways but is not each is as worthy as the other before lip meets glass?

  5. Indeed, ice formation and removal is just one way to make beer stronger. Another way is to do a longer-than-usual boil. Yet boil times are considered part of the normal brewing process. So should freezing beer, which is another way to do the same thing, essentially.

    As to yeast, in my view, yeast is yeast, it can come from the wild, it can come from a big brewery lab, it can come from the wine community … is not wine yeast simply one adapted to ensure a more vigorous fermentation?

    Certainly, Utopia and the other very, very strong beers are hot house flowers. Yet, I know from beer history that similarly strong beers were available hundreds of years ago in Britain. One commentary likened them to brandy in strength. It is hard to know now how these beers were made. Probably spirits were added to them (e.g., a flip which was rum and beer). But anyway there is a kind of precedent for these new beers.

    Yes, putting out beers of outlandish strength tends to blur the boundaries between beer and spirits. I do not see that as a negative though. And I say this as one who by habit is inclined to drink beer in its (mostly) traditional, low-ABV form. These beers are good for the industry. They create buzz, draw attention to the breweries, they interest some connoisseurs and taste-makers. I see this as similar to the periodic releases of very expensive old malts. I’ll never taste them, but I like reading about them and they attract attention and buzz for the distillers.

    Once again too, you never know what can happen. A beer cream liqueur/vintage port-type drink might emerge from these experiments which will become a permanent part of the drinks scene.


  6. The beer was matured in whiskey casks so it was originally a normal beer, so it was fermented with normal ale yeast. Left in one whiskey cask for 8 months then transferred to another cask for another 8 months. Then it was taken to the chill to be frozen to seperate the water from the alcohol.

    Wikipedia’s definition of distillation is;
    Distillation is a method of separating mixtures based on differences in their volatilities in a boiling liquid mixture. So this cant have been made using distillation. Its simply a beer with most of the water taken out, so to begin with you would have 5000 litres, by the end you would 500 litres depending on the strength you wanted.

    I think this is good for the industry as well as the image of beer. Yes you will get people trying just to see how drunk they can get, but because of the price they will be very limited! It will allow people to realise that beer can be enjoyed instead of just drinkin 50 pints of piss coloured fizzy water.

    Yay to brewdog!

    1. That’s one definition of distillation, but what you are essentially accomplishing by boiling OR freezing is the same, that being the concentration of alcohol. In fractional distillation, you are collecting the concentrated alcohol in vapor form. In freeze distillation you are concentrating the alcohol by removing the water, rather than vice versa. Basically, they’re two sides of the same coin.

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