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The Race To Beer With 50% Alcohol By Volume 297

Posted by samzenpus
from the good-stiff-12-pack dept.
ElectricSteve writes "Most of the world's beer has between 4% and 6% alcohol by volume (ABV). The strength of beer achieved by traditional fermentation brewing methods has limits, but a well-crafted beer that is repeatedly 'freeze distilled' can achieve exquisite qualities and much higher alcohol concentrations. An escalation in the use of this relatively new methodology over the last 12 months has seen man's favorite beverage suddenly move into the 40+% ABV realm of spirits such as gin, rum, brandy, whiskey, and vodka, creating a new category of extreme beer. The world's strongest beer was 27% ABV, but amidst an informal contest to claim the title of the world's strongest beer, the top beer has jumped in strength dramatically. This week Gizmag spoke to the brewers at the center of the escalating competition. New contestants are gathering, and the race is now on to break 50% alcohol by volume."

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The Race To Beer With 50% Alcohol By Volume

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  • After a hard days work, we know what high frequency traders drink...

    • by FreonTrip (694097)
      Along with high-frequency traders, include lawyers, people in the arts, and geologists. I've yet to encounter other career paths that result in so many high-functioning alcoholics.
    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      The computers are drinking beer now? We're certainly doomed.
    • A vitamin rich sludge to help their skin maintain its healthy slime. But what does that have to do with beer?

    • by _merlin (160982)

      I work in the high-frequency trading business. Our office fridge contains:

      • Little Creatures Pale Ale
      • Peroni
      • Stella Artois
      • Cascade Premium Lager
  • by cavis (1283146) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @09:21AM (#32430440)
    If this tastes like crap, then no one will buy it... well, except for frat boys and the local street people.
    • Yes. Because no one drinks Whiskey, or Rye. Try drinking that stuff, straight up no junk. Tell me how awesome it tastes. Then ask if it sells.

    • by eln (21727)
      If you drink beer for the taste, rather than to get drunk, then you will not enjoy really high alcohol beers at all. Good beer has a lot of complex and subtle flavors in it, and at a certain point the taste of the alcohol itself starts to overwhelm all of them. IPAs are generally in the 7-9% range, and in my experience that's about as high as you can go before you really start to taste the alcohol itself.

      On the other hand, the fact that the essentially tasteless but cheap macrobrews are so popular lead
  • erm ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Stooshie (993666) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @09:22AM (#32430448) Journal
    We have had distilled beer in Scotland for years now. We call it, erm let me think ... oh yes, whisky!
  • Hooch (Score:4, Informative)

    by BrokenHalo (565198) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @09:23AM (#32430468)
    Beer at 50% ABV is called whisky.
  • by Chrisq (894406)
    Is this really beer?
    I find it hard to believe that this could be brewed naturally, i.e. using yeast to ferment the liquor. I find it hard to believe that a yeast can live in 50% alcohol, 27% was really pushing the limits.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ogive17 (691899)
      If it's freeze distilled, I don't see why they can't do it. All they are doing is brewing a normal beer, then removing some of the water.
    • by Verdatum (1257828) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @09:30AM (#32430554)
      If you freeze distill it, then it stops being beer in my book. If you freeze distill hard cider, it's not "extreme cider", it's friggin' applejack.
      • by Ogive17 (691899)
        Don't they freeze distill "ice" beers (like Ice House), just not to the extent of reaching 50% alcohol. I just assumed "cold filtering" was basically the same process which seems to be common.
      • by hweimer (709734) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @10:39AM (#32431560) Homepage

        If you freeze distill it, then it stops being beer in my book.

        Same here, but unfortunately the EU has forced us here in Germany to lower our standards so that people may call it "beer" even if it hasn't been made according to the Reinheitsgebot [wikipedia.org]. In fact, such beverages have been around for quite some time under the name Bierschnaps.

        Oh, and if you're interest in fancy drinks, you should try to get a Kehlenschneider. 80% ABV and 400,000 Scoville units. Which means you won't even notice the alcohol in it.

    • Except for the addition of hops and the lack of aging in a suitable barrel, this high alcohol content beer is ... wait for it ... whiskey.

      Maximum alcohol content via fermentation alone is on the order of 10-15%, after which the yeast tend to die. Higher concentrations are achieved by distillation.

      • by afidel (530433)
        Nope, Utopias achieves it's high content via fermentation alone, it combines extremely high initial gravity with a particularly strong strain of yeast.
        • Yes, The guys at Samuel Adams have done something special there... I believe they also age their premium stuff in barrels, not unlike whiskey. It's atypical though.
    • by Joce640k (829181)

      Ummmm .... in the second sentence of the summary it says 'freeze distilled'. It's not like you actually had to go and read an article or anything.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dargaud (518470)
        So that's the 2nd most ancient method to produce alcohol in the world... The first one being: take some juice, let it ferment, drink (applies to wine, beer, honey-wine, etc). The next step is to take that fermented juice on a cold winter night, let some of it freeze (the water part), throw the ice away and repeat until the alcohol concentration is high enough for your taste. Word of warning: it usually produces a bad taste as a lot of stuff (aldehydes, amides, etc) that are better off either evaporated or l
    • Real beer is not in the "Distilled class". To high percentages of alcohol would kill the fermentation organisms. That is why alcoholic substances are distilled after the fermentation to obtain higher alcohol percentages.

      Like beer, fermented grain is the basis for Whiskey. So, as others pointed out, "distilled beer" is not a wrong term for Whiskey.

      • Real beer is not in the "Distilled class". To high percentages of alcohol would kill the fermentation organisms. That is why alcoholic substances are distilled after the fermentation to obtain higher alcohol percentages.

        Like beer, fermented grain is the basis for Whiskey. So, as others pointed out, "distilled beer" is not a wrong term for Whiskey.

        OK, to be really picky... fermented grain is the basis for ale. Beer is ale flavoured with hops. Whisky is not flavoured with hops, and is therefore distilled ale, not distilled beer. So we still don't have a name for distilled beer, unless you call it 'hop flavoured whisky'.

        Redants'R'Us

    • by pz (113803)

      Is this really beer?

      I find it hard to believe that this could be brewed naturally, i.e. using yeast to ferment the liquor. I find it hard to believe that a yeast can live in 50% alcohol, 27% was really pushing the limits.

      How is this marked insightful when it is nothing but ignorant? The poster could not possibly have read the article because if they had, they would realize that it isn't beer straight out of the fermenter, but rather beer processed to extract and therefore concentrate the alcohol and most everything else. The interesting part is that freezing the beer to extract water is hard: you need to chill the beer to just the right temperature for just the right amount of time so that the ice crystals are just the ri

  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @09:27AM (#32430502)

    I like beer. I like drinking beer. I like drinking a variety of beers. I don't like being falling down drunk. This race for higher alcohol content seems pointless and just limits the amount you can enjoy in one sitting.

    • by HopefulIntern (1759406) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @09:34AM (#32430630)
      Agreed. I was saddened when I came back to my home country of Norway a few years ago to discover no shops sells so-called "light beers" anymore. (For you Americans, a light beer in Europe means lower alcohol, about 1-2%, not fewer calories). I always enjoyed these beers because I could pound one when I came home from work and it would be delicious without giving me any impairment. (Before anyone mentions alcohol free beer, I have tried many and never liked them.)

      This seems strange to me, making beer so strong. What are they trying to achieve with this? A 50% beer means you can only have a few measures of it before you will get sick. Where is the enjoyment? A pint of cold, crisp draught surely beats a shot of this stuff?
      • by i.r.id10t (595143)

        Have you tried Kaliber by Guinness? It is a NA that is actually like a real beer...

      • Before I quit drinking I could drink 1 liter of 40% alcohol Vodka or Whiskey without passing out. Sometimes I could drink almost 2 liters but that would always result in a blackout. Even after drinking 1 liter I was still able to walk around and do stuff without stumbling, and obviously I can remember being that drunk. The most notable difference is that I probably slurred my speech after .75 liters. I presume this high alcohol beer is for people with that level of tolerance. 1 pint will get people like tha
      • by captainpanic (1173915) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @11:17AM (#32432072)

        This seems strange to me, making beer so strong. What are they trying to achieve with this? A 50% beer means you can only have a few measures of it before you will get sick. Where is the enjoyment? A pint of cold, crisp draught surely beats a shot of this stuff?

        It's the same reason some people wait half a day, then strap themselves into a jet powered bomb on wheels to do a quarter mile really really fast.
        It's not the most practical or the most comfortable way of traveling... but I guess it's just really really cool.

        I can completely understand why they make this beer.

        However, I would not understand why someone would drink more than a shot glass of it though. I fully agree that there are few (perhaps none at all) drinks that are better than a simple cold normal beer. And the best part of a simple cold normal beer is that you can have more than one. Yay.

    • by ciaohound (118419)

      I spent a year in Europe 23 years ago, and I always liked EKU 28, which was billed as the "strongest beer in the world." Kind of sweet, malty, with hints of cherry (not cherry-flavored, of course.) It's not widely available in the states, but now one can find Belgian triples and doppelbocks and other stronger brews, and I really like those too. The goal to reach 50 percent alcohol seems kind of artificial, like a running race that is 26.2 miles long. I guess the point is to push the limits, and maybe be

    • by gsslay (807818) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @10:01AM (#32431016)

      Exactly. The quality and enjoyability of the beer is not determined by the percentage of alcohol. If this kind of mindless "mines bigger than yours" appeals to you then why not buy a bottle of 100% distilled medical alcohol and pour it straight down your throat?

      Woohoo! It's a hundred percent! You can't get bigger! You win! Now bring over the stomach pumps.

      The same macho BS that goes on about curry strengths. People competitively eat the strongest curry they can get hold off, to the point of it knocking your taste buds into a coma. Well done. Now you can't taste anything and you're oozing curry paste from every duct and pore you possess. You win.

    • I hate beer. I hate drinking beer. I hate the taste of beer. The only reason I drink is socially and that is to loosen me up so I'm not a wallflower. I'd *prefer* to just drink shots of Tequila because it does a better job, quicker, without making me feel bloated like beer does, but for some reason at neighborhood gatherings nobody really breaks out the "hard" alcohol, the just sit around like pansies drinking Bud Lite and Miller Lite... horse piss IMHO.

      • by xs650 (741277)
        "but for some reason at neighborhood gatherings nobody really breaks out the "hard" alcohol, the just sit around like pansies drinking Bud Lite and Miller Lite... horse piss IMHO."

        I've never tasted horse piss, so I'll have to take your word for it.
    • by Kozz (7764)

      Indeed. Compare this silly race to the apparent contest of "whose beer can be the hoppiest?". Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Traditional IPAs are hoppy enough, but then you get Bell's Two-Hearted Ale (which I do like), then Hopalicious (New Glarus, I think) and others. They get kind of crazy.

  • Legal warning: IANAL, but I understand that freeze distillation is illegal in some jurisdictions.
    • by jbeaupre (752124)
      Distilling spirits is illegal. Distilling alternative fuels is legal.
  • It's distilled ... you can make it as strong as you like, no magic needed.

  • by SIGBUS (8236)

    One problem with freeze distillation is that it doesn't get rid of methanol. How are they getting around this problem?

    • Re:Methanol (Score:4, Funny)

      by Rogerborg (306625) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @09:48AM (#32430808) Homepage

      One problem with freeze distillation is that it doesn't get rid of methanol. How are they getting around this problem?

      Putting "Not for human consumption" on the bottles?

      • by sean.peters (568334) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @11:14AM (#32432020) Homepage
        ... there's practically no methanol produced in the process of fermentation. For it to be produced at all, there needs to be some pectin [wikipedia.org] present, and that wouldn't normally be found in beer. A bigger problem is the presence of fusel alcohols [wikipedia.org]. These higher order alcohols are removed to a greater or lesser degree during the process of heat distilling, but remain with the distillate in freeze distilling. They can add off flavors to the product, and some believe they are contributors to hangover symptoms, although some studies apparently dispute this.

        Methanol in Prohibition-era hootch was present as an adulterant - in other words, it was deliberately added to bathtub gin because it was cheap, and the producers didn't particularly care about their customers' health. Much like melamine was added to various Chinese products to make them appear more protein-rich.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jbeaupre (752124)
      You mean the same methanol that was in the normal beer to begin with?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        You mean the same methanol that was in the normal beer to begin with?

        But in far lower concentrations. i.e. 1 pint of normal beer would contain far less methanol than 1 pint of distilled beer.

    • by hcpxvi (773888)
      One reason for actual home distilling being illegal is the fire risk. At least freeze distillation doesn't do that. I imagine that a double-strength hangover is bad, but less bad than a large air/vapour explosion. Mind you, without having tried it, I expect that the results of freeze distilling would taste neither pleasant, nor like beer.
      • by dwye (1127395)

        > One reason for actual home distilling being illegal is the fire risk.

        And the possibility of making commercial quantities that evade the taxing authorities has NOTHING to do with it. Everyone knows that the military response to the Whiskey Rebellion, in Washington's term as POTUS, was to vigorously enforce fire safety regulations.

    • by P-Nuts (592605)

      Does it matter? If you start off with beer which wouldn't make you go blind, then remove some of the water, there isn't going to be more methanol in it than you started off with.

    • They are supposedly starting with ordinary, fit-to-drink beer. Therefore there wasn't any methanol to begin with, and thus they don't have to worry about getting rid of it.

    • ... not very much methanol is actually produced in the process of fermentation. Typically, methanol formation requires the presence of pectin [wikipedia.org], which wouldn't normally be found in wort, and even then, very little is formed. A bigger issue is the formation of fusel alcohols [wikipedia.org], which are removed in the process of heat distilling, but remain with the distillate in freeze distilling. These higher order alcohols can produce off flavors in the product, and some believe them to be contributors to hangover symptoms, a

  • As a brewer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Purity Of Essence (1007601) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @09:35AM (#32430636)

    As a brewer, distillation offends my sensibilities if you keep calling it beer.

    • As a brewer you are surely aware of ice bock? It's always a question how far you want to take the method. Ice bock is definitely to be classified as beer, albeit having undergone one freezing step. If it is beer under the Bavarian "Reinheitsgebot" - it IS beer!
  • 100 proof beer is like someone consolidating one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer into a single drink.

  • I hope the US Govt. doesn't feel the need to ban such a beer from reaching the citizens. Limits on %'s that different alcohols can be sold at is just stupid in my book.

    • US Government: No...
      State Government: Probably...

      I can see the stories about teens getting killed just because they thought they were normal beers.

    • by dwye (1127395)

      There are two problems with your hope. First, most alcohol regulation occurs at the state level. Second, since I have had 151 proof rum for years and have seen vodkas over 190 proof, the problem is not that it is banned, but that it is taxed more as the alcohol level increases (unless denatured, aka poisoned).

  • I always thought distilled beer was called malt liquor. No?

  • by Anon-Admin (443764) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @09:53AM (#32430904) Homepage Journal

    Yeast limits the fermentation of sugars to alcohol. Once you get up around 17% to 20% ABV the yeast begin to die off. This is the natural limit of alcohol in beer. To distill the beer and increase the alcohol is to turn it into a distilled liquor and remove it from the realm of beer which is a fermented liquor.

    Through selective breading or genetic manipulation of the yeast we may some day get a yeast that can produce more than the 17% to 20% but that is not the case today.

    I found the article a bit misleading. If you distill it, it is a distilled liquor not a beer. This is like saying you made a beer from grapes, lol, it is not beer it is wine. lol

    • by Cheeko (165493)

      Actually the limit is around 27% but just takes special yeast.

      The Sam Adam's Utopias are made this way (no distillation). They simply took the hardiest yeast from repeated generations to get a strain that had extremely high alcohol survivability. This allowed them to reach 27%. That being said, there will always be a limit before the yeast dies off. The only way to push the ABV is distillation, which in my mind, really isn't beer. Beer by definition is a fermented not a distilled drink.

  • As if it needs to taste any worse. (Would you like a mixer for that beer?)

    This coming, of course, from an already non-beer-fan. :)

  • proposed name: idleidle

  • I thought Long Trail Double Bag was pretty stiff at 7.2%. I can't see why you would call this beer. That would be like calling brandy "extreme wine" - sure you could do that but why?

  • Instead of going through all this rigamarole with the freeze distilling and whatnot, wouldn't it be easier just to add more alcohol, like in fortified wines?
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Some people don't think that beer with hop extract in it is really beer. So beer with added alcohol is certainly not beer to a whole market of people who will actually spend an absurd amount of money to buy a beer. For instance I have a couple of $11.50 22oz bottles and one $22 bottle aging in my booze cupboard and that's small potaters. Most beers don't age well, you need high alcohol and hop-essence content. That's what IPA is from; India Pale Ales were highly hopped so that they would keep and also still

  • OK, so you distill wine, it becomes brandy. You distill beer - a beverage made by yeast-fermenting malt sugars fortified with hops (and without said hops, it's not beer, it's basically a barleywine) - and what to call it?
  • A long time ago, way back in history,
    when all there was to drink was nothin but cups of tea.
    Along came a man by the name of Charlie Mops,
    and he invented a wonderful drink and he made it out of hops.

    He must have been an admiral a sultan or a king,
    and to his praises we shall always sing.
    Look what he has done for us he's filled us up with cheer!
    Lord bless Charlie Mops, the man who invented beer beer beer
    tiddly beer beer beer.

    The Curtis bar, the James' Pub, the Hole in the Wall as well
    one thing you can be sure

  • by gregor-e (136142) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @12:31PM (#32433368) Homepage
    Freeze-distillation consists of partially freezing beer then removing the ice, which has more water than alcohol. Each time a bit of ice is tossed, fractionally more alcohol is left behind. They repeat this process until the liquid fraction is as strong as they care for. Of course, alcohol isn't the only thing that gets left out of the ice when it forms. You get to keep all of the other crap the yeast poop out in addition to alcohol. Stuff like methanol, acetone, isopropyl and iso-amyl alcohol. These are called congeners, and they're responsible for a good percentage of your hangover. A proper still will let you selectively include or leave out these congeners. But freeze distillation keeps them all. Concentrates them. Makes their flavor and after-effects more intense for each fluid ounce you drink. Kind of pointless, in my opinion.

    Now, genetic engineering of a yeast that can tolerate higher alcohol concentration without producing a lot of congeners - that would be something worth doing.

  • by g0bshiTe (596213) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @02:11PM (#32435010)
    There does appear to be a "Weapons grade lager"...
  • Suuure (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yukk (638002) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @08:41PM (#32439514)
    One article in idle about beer and suddenly Idle is the coolest place in town.
    Not a single Idle is pants post in sight !

    You're all drunken hypocrites :)

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