At this stage, if you’re a beer lover in Los Angeles, it takes minimal effort to find compelling beer-driven events on a near-nightly basis. Of course the L.A. Beer Blast is the best place to start, since the newsletter rounds up local beer happenings. Last weekend alone, building the blast led to a unique Brouwerij Bockor Sour Beer Blending Class at Blue Palms Brewhouse, and the following night, BrewDog managing director James Watt made The Surly Goat his only stop on a two-week tour of the U.S. He brought a number of rare kegs and bottles, including the controversial Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a beer that proved to be tame compared to BrewDog’s latest treasure.
Dozens of hop-mad beer fans turned up to fete the renegade co-founder of the boldest Scottish brewery. As soon as we arrived and saw the blackboard menu, it was clear that we were in for a serious beer experience. The Surly Goat co-owner Ryan Sweeney tapped four BrewDog beers that are relatively hard to come by in the States: Tokyo, 5 A.M. Saint, Punk IPA and Black Dog. Later on, Watt broke out even bigger fermented fireworks.
We started with reasonably priced pints of Punk IPA, a golden beer brewed with Nelson Sauvin, a hop that Watt claimed had characteristics similar to Sauvignon Blanc. Another highly drinkable beer was BrewDog’s new Black Dog, a creamy stout with an intoxicating coffee aroma. We also grabbed a pint of 5 A.M. Saint, a red ale with balanced hoppiness. These were all good beers, but it was the rarer brews that made a bigger impression.
Watt retreated to the back room and broke out a couple bottles that hadn’t appeared yet on American shores. Abstrakt was a Belgian quad with just the right amount of sweetness from malt and vanilla bean.
BrewDog brewmaster Martin Dickie had already brewed a Hardcore IPA, but he and Watt weren’t satisfied with the results. They kept the name revamped the recipe, producing an all-too-inviting double IPA with Columbus and Simcoe hops, punctuated with a Centennial hop finish.
After mingling with a bar full of BrewDog fans, James Watt got behind the bar to present his brand to the assembled masses. He made an impassioned plea before sliding on his penguin suit and posing with The Surly Goat co-owner Ryan Sweeney.
Watt then took to the floor to pour rare bottles of Tactical Nuclear Penguin – a 32% ABV “beer for the dedicated” – for anybody who wanted a taste.
Still, it was a record 41% ABV “IPA for the dedicated” called Sink the Bismarck that made the strongest impression. The beer was produced in response to Schorschbräu’s Schorschbock, a beer that hit 40% ABV. “We wanted to make an IPA with the same ABV as a whisky,” said Watt, who discussed “concentrating flavors, concentrating aromas and turning up the ABV.” Mission accomplished.
According to the label, Sink the Bismarck is “a quadruple IPA that contains four times the hops, four times the bitterness and frozen four time to create a staggering 41% ABV…This is IPA amplified, the most evocative style of the craft beer resistance with the volume cranked off the scale. Kettle hopped, dry hopped then freeze hopped for a deep fruit, resinous and spicy aroma. A full attack on your taste buds ensues as the incredibly smooth liquid delivers a crescendo of malt, sweet honey, hop oils and a torpedo of hop bitterness which lasts and lasts.” The finish was certainly long and bitter, but there was enough sweetness to provide what could pass for balance. Unlike Tactical Nuclear Penguin, which delivered a whiskey-like alcohol burn, Sink the Bismarck actually tasted good. Since the alcohol content was so high – the highest ever for a beer – it’s hard to imagine drinking too much Sink the Bismarck.
The ABV arms race will no doubt continue to rage between BrewDog and the Germans, but Watt and Dickie have proved that they won’t compromise in their extreme thinking, so my money’s on BrewDog.