One of the main problems in brewing extreme beers is that it goes completely over the head of your primary market. The two examples that I touched on last time are Brew Dog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin and the Hart & Thistle breweries Hop Mess Monster. Tactical Nuclear Penguin weighs in at 32% alcohol. The Hop Mess Monster is a comparatively reasonable 11% alcohol, but it’s one of the hoppiest beers in the world when you take into account the 533 theoretical IBUs.
The brewers clearly have goals that make sense to them. But to the public, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I suspect that for most people anything over 7% alcohol is probably a new experience, and even seasoned beer drinkers may never have tried a Triple IPA. These are obviously not products for the mass market. For many people the point of drinking a beer is to allow oneself to unwind at the end of the day, possibly in the company of people at down at the pub. Neither of these beers are designed for that. One of my acquaintances from Halifax managed to get through two pints of the Hop Mess Monster at the brew pub. According to him, driving home was not an option; walking to the bathroom was difficult.
So, if these beers aren’t targeted at the majority of the market, what is the point? This is a question which floats around over on the Hart & Thistle blog from time to time. I’m actually going to quote the owner of Hart & Thistle, who makes a very eloquent point and then sort of loses the thread and compares the brewer to a renaissance artist:
Brewing beer is an ART form, whether it is practiced at the basement/kitchen level, the mini garage level, the micro, macro or where ever, it’s an ART form practiced by people dedicated to making amazing liquid out of water malt yeast and yes hops….glorious hops. At the Hart we serve excellent beer from amazing breweries….this affords us the luxury of having fun with our production. So Anon, when you ask ” what is the point?” you are making it…. produce beer that is thought provoking, interesting extreme…..tasty…not to everyone’s taste but that’s not the point….everyone else is making beer for the masses – we dont need to. When you say “seems like a waste of good hops to me.”…. I wonder if you would think Michaelangelo used too much paint?….. Greg has my full support to continue to challenge tastes and play at his ART….we all win in the end.
ART! ART, I TELL YOU!
It’s a completely reasonable argument. If chefs can be artists, then it makes sense to assume that brewers can also be artists. It’s even a point of discussion that I’m relatively comfortable with given my previous arguments on experiential sense memory. If the brewer thinks it’s worth doing, it’s probably worth doing. The strangest part is that since everyone’s palate is different, the brewer is probably not going to be asked about specific ingredients if he or she creates something on the scale of Guernica. Let’s just cede the point that they’re doing it because they feel that it’s necessary to do it: It’s like climbing Everest, or listening to Insane Clown Posse. This is an instance where the “Because it’s there” argument works (like magnets).
But there’s an ulterior motive as well: Hype. The news that your brewery is creating something on this scale is instant publicity. Hop Mess Monster is whispered about in bars and commented on in beer circles. I know more people who are looking forward to Tactical Nuclear Penguin than the next Michael Bay movie premiere.
Incidentally, here’s what Michael Bay’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin would sound like.
It’s one of those rare occasions where the brewers are actually able to satisfy the demand amongst their most stalwart supporters for something new and different. I’ll prove it to you: Consider whether there’s any way at all to get through a 330ml bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin without nearly catastrophic personal damage. You can’t really drink it all by yourself. It’s certainly not summer picnic fare. It’s not something you can bring out when a guest casually mentions that they’d like a beer. It’s the kind of thing that has to be enjoyed amongst people who can appreciate it. A 32% beer is not going to change anybody’s mind if they’re not already into the concept. They’re going to ask something like “why would you do this” and then there’s a 30 minute conversation that you didn’t want to have.
No, these are fringe beers; the kind of thing that you’re practically obliged to share. No one is going to like you if you tell them you tried it on the weekend and they realize that they weren’t invited. It’s an experiential touchstone. These are the kind of beers that bring people together and then make them go home in taxis. And maybe that’s a kind of art. Maybe the publicity is deserved. It’s hard to say.
One thing is for certain. The fact that there is now a market, regardless of its size, that appreciates the fact that brewers have license to attempt these wild departures from the norm is definitely something that will benefit all beer drinkers in the long term.