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Three bottles of Sink the Bismark! beer
The strongest beer in the world is made in ScotlandImage: Brewdog

Drinking contest

February 18, 2010

Specialist brewers in Aberdeenshire have launched a new beer that not only knocks the socks off those hardened enough to drink it, but also thwarts German efforts to be creator of the world's strongest beer.


Maverick Scottish beer-maker BrewDog launched a new tipple that packs 41 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) this week. In recognition of its ongoing battle with Germany's Schorschbraeu brewery over the title of 'world's strongest beer', it's called it 'Sink the Bismarck!'

In a statement to coincide with the launch of the new beer, Managing Director James Watt said: "In true BrewDog fashion, we've torn up convention, blurred distinctions and pushed brewing to its limits with this audacious amplified ale." He said 'Sink the Bismarck!' takes beer to a whole new level.

"We want to highlight a different approach to beer, one which focuses on quality ingredients and craftmanship and not marketing budgets, mass sales and binge consumption," he said. "Many fall down the monolithic corporate brewers rabbit-hole, we are on a mission to open as many people's eyes as we can."

BrewDog founders Watt and Dickie dressed in naval and Bavarian costumes
BrewDog founders Watt and Dickie dressed up for their promotional filmImage: Brewdog

Beer and battleships

But that is not all they're doing, as with the launch of its potent new pint, the company could also be said to be engaging in extreme beer battle with its faithful competitor, Schorschbraeu.

Back in December 2008, the little company in southern Germany proudly announced that it had produced "The Strongest Wheat Beer" in the world with alcohol volume of 31 percent.

The brewers used a process called 'freeze distillation' that Bavarian brewers traditionally use to make specialty called Eisbock, or 'ice bock' beer. The method involves freezing already-fermented beer. The water in the brew freezes at a higher temperature than the alcohol, which means it can be removed to create a highly concentrated liquid rich in both flavor and alcohol.

When the news of the Schorschbraeu innovation reached the Scottish town of Fraserburgh, and more specifically BrewDog founders Watt and Martin Dickie, it interpreted as a challenge.

The Scots duo decided to give their German rivals a run for their money and a few months later BrewDog were capping 500 bottles of 32-percent-ABV beer, which they gave the unusual name of 'Tactical Nuclear Penguin'.

The batch sold out within a matter of days, and while Watt and Dickie set to work on a new one -- due to hit the shelves next month -- the fermentation tanks back in Germany were already nurturing Schorschbraeu's later, greater-strength beer.

A wax-tipped bottle of Schorschbock 40
The Schorschbock 40 is Germany's strongest beer yetImage: Schorschbräu

In November, Schorschbraeu released a beer with 32 percent ABV, and then just one month later outdid themselves with a 40 percent brew known as the 'Schorschbock'. The "strongest ever beer" flag fluttered proudly in the snowy skies of southern Germany until this week, when BrewDog struck back with its throat-burning 'Sink the Bismarck!'

"We wanted to reclaim our world record from the Germans who killed our Penguin," Watt said in a statement released in tandem with a marketing video which parodies Teutonic brewers and sees a small stuffed penguin catapulted at a battle ship.

The funny side of competition

Schorschbraeu Managing Director and brew master Georg Tscheuschner told Deutsche Welle he saw the funny side of the BrewDog film and even said he doesn't mind conceding defeat to his Celtic competitors. But he warned that it was only temporary.

"We'll just brew another, stronger one," he said. "Forty-five percent shouldn't be a problem and we have beer enthusiasts waiting for it."

And if that brew does ever come into being, it could be that it manages to hold onto the heavy-weight title for longer than its 40 percent predecessor. BrewDog's James Watt told Deutsche Welle that he is not interested in making high alcohol content beers simply for the sake of doing so.

"I think we could go past our current level," he said. "But we would only do it if it were for the beer itself, to create something interesting."

Join the queue

Schorschbraeu's strong beers in a wooden presentation box
Packaging specialty beers is an artform unto itselfImage: Schorschbräu

The proof is of course in the drinking, and thanks to the cross-Channel contest between BrewDog and Schorschbraeu, there are beer aficionados lining up to have a taste.

"This trumping system is good marketing and we both stand to reap long-term rewards," Tscheuschner said. "It's a friendly contest that has already brought me new customers."

But by customers he doesn't mean teenagers on their way out for a sly night of surreptitious drinking in a park. Both companies charge real money for their wares. A single 330 milliliter bottle of Sink the Bismarck! costs 45 euros, while Schorschbräu asks 99 euros for a bottle of its high-octane December vintage, which comes with a wax seal, a hand signed label and its own wooden box.

It might sound more like whisky than ale, but Tscheuschner is adamant that as long as it retains some of the character of beer, that is what it is. He says his is mixture of complex aromas, slightly smoky with a fruity, hop taste.

'Sink the Bismarck!', on the other hand, is described as having flavors which explode into crescendos of malt, honey, sweet alcohol, hop oils and hop resins which kick with "a torpedo of hop bitterness".

But with such high alcohol levels, the poetry of hand-crafted beer - like good poems themselves - are probably best enjoyed a little at a time, in the comfort of a well-worn chair.

Reporter: Tamsin Walker
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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