So I came across this article on The Kitchn yesterday: Extreme Beers: Are Brewers Going Too Far with High Alcohol Beers? and at first, I was just going to tweet it, but I decided I have Things To Say.
I own a share in BrewDog, and so I have had a few conversations on this subject, partially because they seem to be the target of a lot of the criticism on this and I think it’s easy to take shots at what you don’t understand, especially if you’re not a huge beer fan in the first place.
I don’t think everything BrewDog does is amazing for a start, but they make a solid line of really great beer, and they’re growing like mad. Their new Dead Pony Club is brilliant and a pretty awesome achievement. It’s a 3.8% California pale ale, but it tastes much, much stronger, like a lot of the beers I love but that are too strong to sit and drink all day. And while making a beer packaged in roadkill is perhaps questionable, the spirit of experimentation and innovation leads to knowing your craft better, and that leads to making the beers that keep you going and that keep people coming back regularly.
It’s silly to ask if brewers are taking things to far by trying to do something extreme – just as silly as asking if any profession is taking something too far by experimenting in any way. If you don’t push the limits, you don’t know what’s possible. And just because the extreme stuff isn’t for everyone doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes really good. Super high-alcohol beer is also not meant to be drank as you would a normal bottle of lager or something, and it seems that a lot of people don’t get that – that just because it’s called beer, it must be consumed in a certain way or it’s not worth it. But that’s crazy! I wouldn’t even drink my favourite Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre by the gulp, and that’s only 8%, so why would I slam back something that was 65%? If you don’t like it, you don’t like it and that’s ok, but some high-alcohol beers are really nice, better than a mediocre glass of wine any day.
I really want brewers to keep experimenting and trying crazy things, even when they don’t work. BrewDog recently did a competition with Flying Dog called International Arms Race to brew a zero IBU IPA. I’ve tasted Flying Dog’s (which was apparently declared the winner), and I thought it fell flat. I didn’t even finish the bottle (it kind of reminded me of this pine ale stuff I tried in Canada, but just not really for me). But I still love that they tried, and I will even go buy BrewDog’s entry because I’m curious. Trying new things is ALWAYS a good plan.
This is not to say that all brewers have to do crazy things all the time, but when they do, even if it’s a bit flashy and marketing-y, I think it should be applauded as long as the motivation is right. I mean, what historic human even figured out that beer was a thing you could do to begin with? I’m sure a bunch of people were like ‘Ferment this stuff and drink it? What?’ but then it was awesome and people have done all sorts of mad things with fermentation and we have a lot of lovely, lovely booze for their troubles. And plenty of people think beer ice cream sounds ridiculous, but you know what? It’s amazing and tasty. And no one would have known that until someone tried their bonkers idea to make it in the first place.