There were four primary reasons for this slightly out of character beer selection.

One, I was barbequing dinner that night and 500ml cans reduce the number of trips to the fridge and therefore reduce the probability of me setting the garden on fire.

Two, I had not seen Carlsberg Elephant on the shelves for a while and it seemed an opportunity to reacquaint myself with a globally famous brand.

Three, Carlsberg Elephant was for a considerable while the strongest commercially available beer in New Zealand. I wanted to see how it stands up next to the new wave of strong craft beers.

Four, it had a picture of an elephant on the label and I think elephants are really quite neat. [1]

Unsurprisingly,the Carlsberg Elephant was thin and one-dimensional when compared to strong craft beers such as Renaissance Stonecutter, Epic Hop Zombie or 8 Wired iStout. However, compared to, say, Lion Red or Waikato Draught you could see why previous generations of Kiwi drinkers may have gotten a little bit excited by the appearance of a few elephants. [2]

The strength of beer is a subject of interest to many people. A frequently asked question at tasting events is “what is the strongest beer that you have tried?” Most seemed surprised that beer can get up over 10%, far less the casual “41% Alcohol by Volume” which is my answer.

It is also true. BrewDog’s Sink the Bismarck Imperial IPA weighs in at 41% alcohol and is undoubtedly one of the strongest brews ever made. It is also still tastes like beer, a claim that not all beer with monstrous ABVs can claim.

For example, Sam Adams Utopias tends to taste like a sticky liqueur. The first time I tried it was at a beer awards dinners and most guests took a couple of sips then poured it over their ice cream as a hugely expensive sauce. Malthouse still has a couple of (empty) Utopias bottles on the shelves. Not only are the bottles visually impressive (they are shaped like a brewing kettle) but even years after they were emptied there is still a distinct nose of plums, spice and sherry.

Now, I firmly believe every serious beer drinker should try BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin at least once in their life. Sure, it is very strong (32%) but the name alone will provide an amusing beer story for the rest of a lifetime. I have used Tactical Nuclear Penguin at a tasting as a bridge between Scottish beers and Scotch whisky as it has elements of both. It was an inspired concept but it turned out people preferred beers that taste like beer and whiskies that taste like Scotch. There was no real need to muddy the concept as Mr Penguin does.

Sink the Bismarck, to my delight, tastes like an IPA – a very good IPA which happens to be 41% alcohol. It is currently available at Malthouse and even I would recommend sharing it with friends. If you are unable to source friends willing to brave this extraordinary beer, I can make myself available for a more than reasonable fee.

BrewDog has been a good friend of Malthouse for a long time. In part it is because both are high quality organisations serving discerning beer drinkers which are each headed by handsome, charismatic and occasionally quite mad Scotsmen.

Malthouse has quite the selection of BrewDog beers available now. While BrewDog beers have been reaching our shores for some years, the latest shipments have reached Wellington by a new and improved route. Phil and Melissa from Beertique are now bringing in BrewDog which has been cold-transported all the way from the brewery itself. The Beertique credo is laudable and really does make a difference in the glass:

“Beer is renowned for being a temperamental traveller but here at Beertique we do everything in our power to ensure it tastes as good as it did when it left the brewery.  We work closely alongside brewers, suppliers and freight providers that share our passion to guarantee quality is maintained and the beer arrives fresh.”

At the time of writing, the BrewDog selection at Malthouse includes:

Punk IPA – a drinkable “post-modern” pale ale

Jack Hammer IPA – 7.2% and theoretically 200+ IBUs [3]

Alice Porter – A seasonal porter brewed to a new recipe

Electric India 2014 Hoppy Saison – A blend of the classic Belgian Saison and hoppy American Pale Ale styles

Paradox Compass Box – A huge 15% Imperial Stout aged in Compass Box Great King Street whisky barrels for 221 days before bottling

Cocoa Psycho Russian Imperial Stout – This 10% Imperial Stout “borrows from the voluptuary decadence of 18th Century Russia, with its extravagantly smooth blend of crushed coffee beans, cacao nibs and dark malts” [4]

Clown King Barley Wine – Barley Wine meets heavily hopped Imperial Pale Ale and the result is a jaw dropping 12% Barley Wine like no other

Abstrakt 18 – An 11.8% Imperial Brown Ale, aged for two years and with added berries

And of course Sink the Bismarck IIPA (41%) which you know all about already having read this far. [5]

As for the Mother Teresa connection alluded to in the title of this blog, I really cannot do the story justice in a single blog post. Check out the link below to find the BrewDog version of how a flippant answer about their philanthropic works to a business excellence award ceremony got utterly lost in translation and the former Romanian President asked one of the founders “Why you sleep with Mother Teresa?” [6]

The next date on the Malthouse beer calendar is the biggest one of the year. The 8th Annual Malthouse West Coast IPA Challenge begins at noon on 17 July 2015 and it sees some of New Zealand’s best brewers unleash special IPAs on a rapturous Malthouse crowd. The brewers are competing to win the prized Golden Gumboots trophy but the real winners are the consumers who get to try all the ales. There will be more details about this glorious event over the next two weeks but a Facebook event page is up and nearly 200 people have already indicated they will be attending.

Next time, we drink to Canada. Happy Canada Day to all my moose-kissing, Shatner spawning, Bieber denying, poutine eating, hockey fighting friends. Particular thanks to Don Redmond from the Brew Ha Ha Blog for the selection of Canadian beers and ice hockey shirt, and to his beer mule Stevil St Evil who carried them all the way from Canuckistan to Wellywood.

[1] My hierarchy of beloved animals reads: Sloth, Hippopotamus, Brisbane Bronco, Panda with a Folding Steel Chair then Elephant.

[2] In unguarded moments, I still tend to refer to elephants as “lempies.” “Lempy” is the name of much loved stuffed toy I received shortly after being born and which still sits proudly in my study next to an old public speaking trophy and an empty bottle of whisky signed by then-Prime Minister Jenny Shipley. I am a complicated creature.

[3] This may be just hoppy enough for me.

[4] “Voluptuary Decadence” would be an excellent name for a rock band.

[5] Unless you are just skimming to see if you are mentioned. Yeah – you know who you are.

[6] Scottish rabble rousers speaking to an aging Romanian President as translated by German Eurocrats. What could possibly go wrong? If your answer is “pretty much everything” you will enjoy this story as much I did. However, no one will ever like this story as much as Colin the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor does…

Neil Miller
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