Oh my god! Stop the presses! BrewDog has done it again! Having been denied any long-standing shock value fame from the release of Tactical Nuclear Penguin by Schorschbräu and their 40% alcohol Eisbock, Brewdog has struck back with a 41-percenter: Sink the Bismarck!

I am as eager as anybody to try TNP, and through the magic of friends and corporate globalization, I will be able to do so next week. I can’t wait! But even in the spirit of friendly competition between breweries this is getting silly and it won’t be much longer before it’s just plain old.

I can only assume that StB is ice distilled a la TNP. I can’t say that I’m an expert in freezing beer or eisbock production, but as far as I know there’s no reason to stop at 41%. You can just keep on distilling it further. All you really need is a colder ice cream factory, right? So, in the grand scheme of things there’s no good stopping point for this marketing competition, right? It’s just going to go up and up every few months, 1% at a time until they’re selling super-sweet whiskey and calling it beer. Unless you can tell me that either the 40%-er or the 41%-er tastes like it was made by magic gnomes, then in the grand scheme of things I’ll still prefer a nice smoky scotch to this beer-flavored schnapps.


I can rant all I want, but these guys are really funny.

You want to REALLY impress me? Make a 4% alcohol beer that is flavorful and wonderful that I will want to order every single time I go to the pub. You know how hard that is to find?

I don’t really want to direct this rant solely at BrewDog. They’re the current perpetrators, but they’re only the current exemplification of an overall problem in the beer marketplace. I ask this:

Is “up” really the only direction to go? In the grand quest for beer to be treated as seriously as wine and spirits, are we really going to resort to gimmicks and marketing ploys? Are we so out of ideas already that the only thing we can do to make a better beer is “put more shit in” or “make it bigger than the last”?

I wonder how many people are out clamoring for the world’s strongest wine. I wonder how may people drink Bacardi 151 over the Bacardi 80-proof for reasons other than “fire” and “drunk.”

I guess at the end of the day, I’d love to see people creating these stories and indulging in this quirky creativity that could so easily define the craft market segment – BrewDog does that SO well – but I want to see it about a beer that is, oh, you know, available and accessible. Instead of creating something that will draw people in that’s delicious and easy to drink, the craft brewing industry seems to be hell bent on making products fit into smaller and smaller elitist niche markets. I’m not sure that’s the direction to go in to rise above that 5% market share.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe StB does tastes like it was crafted by elves and unicorns and it will be the beer that wins the world over and stops the A-B InBev machine, but somehow I don’t think it will be anything more than another badge for beer geeks. “You had Utopias? Well I tried Sink the Bismarck!”

Would I try it? In a heartbeat. Send some over. Prove me wrong. I want to be wrong. I want it to be accessible and awesome. But I bet it’s a try-it-once “can I just have an IPA please?” kind of beer.

What do you think?

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And thus I have failed.

BrewDog, if you’re not familiar with them, are a Scottish brewery that, according to lore, are busy modeling their public image after Stone in their reverse psychology, “You’re not cool enough to be drinking this beer.” type of message. It’s all very cute and apparently incredibly effective.

The reason that I’ve been trying not to comment on them is because they’re punks. By punks, I think that it’s important that you realize that I don’t mean the sort of punk that rocks the Kasbah or the sort that promotes anarchy in the kingdom. They are the sort of punks with really consistent and compelling graphic design that have just recently had a public offering of their stock (EU residents only). They are punks in a sort of MTV “Punk’d” kind of way, which I don’t really mean as a compliment, but a sad statement of fact.

They also make, honestly, some really great beer. In a way, it’s too bad, because their beer is really overshadowed by their actions. Pretty much anytime I read about BrewDog I read about the company and the fact that the beer exists, not about what the beer actually tastes like. That I’ve had to find out on my own.

Without casting too much judgment (I’ll leave that to others) here are a few pieces that have caught my eye:

Earlier this year, BrewDog’s Tokyo* Imperial Stout was banned by The Portman Group, which is an organization in the UK which essentially acts as a watchdog group to promote responsible drinking in the UK. In and of itself, this isn’t really awful except that it was apparently banned due to a complaint by Brew Dog’s co-founder James Watt, which is just weird.

In response to the fairly ridiculous response that Tokyo* got by the media in the UK, the brewery released an “Imperial Mild” called Nanny State. They say it best in their own words:

Nanny State is our quiet and dignified response to the ongoing controversy surrounding Britain’s strongest ever beer, Tokyo*. Nanny State is a 1.1% ale. We have gone from making Britain’s strongest beer to a brew so low in alcohol it is below the legal classification of beer and not strong enough to be subject to beer duty.

Nanny State is an extraordinary little beer. It contains more hops than any other beer we have ever brewed. There is over 60 kilos used in our tiny 20HL batch. It contains more hops than any other beer ever brewed in the UK. It has a theoretical IBU of 225.

It hasn’t been very well received, but I haven’t tried it, myself. It would seem, to me, to be a bit out of balance.

This past week, they released what they say is the strongest beer in the world: Tactical Nuclear Penguin (which I think is an awesome name), an imperial stout weighing in at 32% alcohol on the same day that Scottish Parliament was debating a bill setting a minimum price for alcohol sales and raising age at which people may buy alcohol. It’s been posited, rather angrily, that the timing was intentional. Normally, I’d think that was a stretch, but after watching BrewDog operate its releases as social statements previous to this hard to think it’s anything but planned.

(Note: Apparently, it’s only going to be the world’s strongest for a little while. A small German brewery is releasing a 40% alcohol Eisbock. Yikes!)

As for me, I can’t decide if these guys are marketing geniuses or just making shit up as they go along. They seem to be operating under the aphorism by Oscar Wilde, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” I’m not sure I really agree with that. Statements from neo-Prohibitionists with words like “childlike attention-seeking” are the kind of things that get picked up by people who don’t know what you’re all about. That’s the backwards way to publicity. You want the Prohibitionists to be the ones defending their stance against the incredulous media, not you defending yours. You want to convince people in general that the crazies are railing against nothing, not give the crazies ammunition.

I’ve also read suggestions that this is just the wacky Scottish sense of humor coming through. I have to say: I do find some of the things that they’ve been doing funny. There’s amusement to be had. On the other hand, if I had laid down £230 per share on this company for any significant amount of shares I don’t think I’d be laughing. I think I’d be wanting them to stop fucking around with my £230 and get back to what they do best: Making good beer. The UK beer market isn’t that wild and out there. I’m sure there are plenty of boundaries that can be pushed in the UK without stirring up quite as much shit as they have. But I guess then they wouldn’t be punks.

Maybe they’re just being the wrong kind of punks. Myself, I’d shoot for Joe Strummer over Ashton Kutcher. I’m old school, like that.

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Tags Tags: , , , , ,
Categories: brewery, industry, marketing, news
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 30 Nov 2009 @ 04 59 PM

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