The Best Gimmicks in Beer
As Jeff Goldberg noted the other day, the Scottish brewery BrewDog recently debuted a 55 percent alcohol-by-volume beer, cheekily naming it The End of History—after Francis Fukuyama's famous book, of course—and declaring it the world's most alcoholic brew. And at $780 a bottle, it's among the world's most expensive. Oh, and it comes stuffed inside a squirrel or stoat. Oh, and the brewery's other beers have names like Punk Monk, Trashy Blonde, and How to Disappear Completely.
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It all sounds like a stunt. And it sort of is. But BrewDog isn't. Founded in 2007 by two 20-something friends, Martin Dickie and James Watt, it's already Scotland's largest independent brewery and easily one of the best in Europe. For such a young outfit, their beers are already widely available in the United States, probably because they ape the stylings of American craft breweries, turning out IPAs, barrel-aged stouts, and imperial ales.
Dickie and Watt, like Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione in Delaware, are priests in the temple of extreme beer. Last December, they decided to dip into their Scottish heritage and brew beers at whisky strength, upwards of 40 percent ABV. By chilling the beer to 70 below zero for three weeks in an ice cream factory, then skimming off the ice crystals (leaving behind the alcohol, which freezes at a lower temperature than water), they were able to slowly raise the alcohol content far above what normal brewing can achieve. The result was Tactical Nuclear Penguin, an imperial stout clocking in at 32 percent. They even made a funny little promo video. (Okay, it's funnier if you're kind of a beer geek, but my wife laughed. It might be the Scottish accents.)
What came next was a marketer's dream: a challenge from the Germans. A few months after BrewDog dropped Tactical Nuclear Penguin, Schorschbräu, a small brewery in central Germany known for producing ridiculously high-alcohol beers, released Schorschbock, a 40 percent ABV beer.
BrewDog, already at work on a follow-up beer at 41 percent, rushed it into release with the name Sink the Bismarck!, complete with another funny video, this time involving liberal use of the term "sausage-munchers."
It was war. (Even though Scorschbräu's head brewer, Georg Tscheuschner, refuses to use military lingo when discussing BrewDog; after all, he said in a radio interview, he's German, and "the world won't understand.") Earlier this year Schorschbräu responded with Schorschbock 43, which in turn begat The End of History. (And, yet again, a funny video. This one's seriously funny. I promise.)
The result has been an explosion in media coverage for BrewDog. A Google search for the name returns at least twice as many hits as one for any other craft brewery—an admittedly imprecise metric, but the results aren't even close. And clustered at the top are page after page of articles and blog entries about The End of History—even the New York Times Book Review's Paper Cuts blog had a comment. The End of History is obviously a gimmick; Dickie and Watt only made a dozen bottles. But it's a brilliant one.