At Strangeways, Tasting Some of the World's Strongest Beers
|Left to right: Sink the Bismarck!, Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Mikkeller Black Hole|
Brewdog's Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32 percent ABV) and Sink the Bismarck! (41 percent ABV) each at one point held the title of world's strongest beer, with the Scottish Brewdog company swapping the title annually with Germany's Schorsbräu Schorsbock a few times between 2009 and 2010. Brewdog got the title back, with its 55 percent ABV The End of History, each bottle of which is uniquely packaged with the neck protruding from the mouth of a taxidermied squirrel, but then lost it to the 60 percent ABV Start the Future from the Dutch brewery Koelschip.
Strangeways offered the two Brewdog monsters by the ounce, with TNP going for $15 and STB for $20. The $5 extra for Bismarck was well worth it, as it turned out.
Penguin, an ice-distilled stout with no carbonation and served at room temperature, was pretty lousy. It would be kind to say it was something like a cross between a port and a very dry stout. But in spite of a few maple malt notes, it had none of the refinement that makes similar super beers such as Samuel Adams Utopias enjoyable, or even palatable. Rather than coming off as a beer-like liqueur, it was just bitter and hot. It tasted like a tire fire that someone ill-advisedly attempted to extinguish with rubbing alcohol.
Bismarck, an ice-distilled IPA, was actually beer-like. Viscous and caramel-colored, it had a pungent piney hop nose. It could have been a shot glass full of hop oil, for the way it smelled, practically oily with hop resin. And it tasted OK, too, super hoppy and extraordinarily bitter. If Utopias appeals to maltheads, Bismarck is the hophead's alternative. Despite the 6 percent higher ABV, it didn't taste nearly as hot.
In comparison, even the 13.1 percent ABV of Mikkeller's Barrel Aged Black Hole Cognac Edition was downright mild. After my palate adjusted, though, it was easy to pick up on the vanilla and coffee, which went together wonderfully with the cognac on the nose. Though I'm not usually a cigar smoker, I had a sudden craving for a stogie. It's smooth, rich and balanced with a nice bracing bitterness at the end and without being milkshake thick. Even at $20 for a 12.7 ounce bottle, it was worth it, as it was a strong, slow sipper meant to be split between two people.