Friday 30 May 2014

Armageddon For Brewmeister

Brewing is huge in Scotland, both in terms of popularity and the sheer number of breweries producing some truly wonderful beers. We're blessed in many ways, with enormous tracts of ideal land for growing barley and a plentiful supply of crystal clear water combined with mineral geology that is second only to Burton Upon Trent's legendary supply.  The industry has a worldwide reputation which is close to that of our whisky industry.

The business has changed over the years - the post-WWII period were dark times, and the industry went into decline, but over the last few decades many new breweries have sprung up, from the (literally!) archaeological origins of the Williams Bros, through the more traditional such as Stewart's and Harviestoun, and even tiny little one-man bands like Barney's, working from a little room in the centre of Edinburgh.

And, of course, there's the big bad punks of the world, Brewdog.  This relative newcomer have caused a bit of a stir with their anarchic marketing and PR, taxidermy bottles and experiments at the edge of what can be called "brewing", producing mouth-puckeringly bitter IPAs, annoying their critics with super-low-ABV beers that still taste of something, and most notably getting into an arms race to produce the "world's strongest beer" by using freeze-distillation to remove most of the water, leaving behind "beers" which are in excess of 50% alcohol.

And now to Brewmeister, who are trying do do almost exactly the same thing.  Same "anarchic" marketing, same fringe-brewing techniques, and a couple of beers claiming to be 60%+.

Only there's a huge problem.  Brewdog know what they're doing.  Brewmeister...well the kindest thing I can say is that they're incompetent.

After suspicions were raised by many people who had tried Brewmeister's Armageddon, a self-style 65% ABV "strongest beer in the world", the man behind the excellent Beercast blog teamed up with Edinburgh craft beer pub The Hanging Bat and had a few tests run, on both Armageddon and Brewmeister's follow-up beer, Snake Venom.  The results (to the nearest percentage point) are horrific.

Claimed ABV: 65%
Tested bottle: 23%

Snake Venom
Claimed ABV: 67.5%
Tested bottle: 41%

 Rich's full blog post on the matter can be found on his Beercast site and is well worth a read.

There's so many problems here it's difficult to know where to start. Firstly there's the fact that declaring the alcohol content of drinks is mandatory, and you have to be accurate to within a percentage point.  Get this wrong and you not only face legal action, but your customers (which for a brewery includes pubs and off-licences) could end up in court themselves.  It happened to a friend of mine with a bottle of vodka that had been adulterated, the court ruled that the only defence was testing each drink with a hygrometer, which no pub has ever done and is completely impractical.

Secondly it reveals, at best, a shocking lack of control in their brewing and freeze-distillation process.  It could have been done intentionally, but I have seen no evidence of this.

Thirdly, a complete lack of control shows that this isn't experimental brewing to push the limits of the science, it's what respected US beer blogger Garrett Oliver calls "clown brewing" - simply an attempt to garner publicity through shock value.  This is from a company who's stated intention is to "deliver you to drunksville", a concept that is firmly rejected by every other Scottish brewery, no only because it breaks alcohol marketing laws but also because it's tacky, stupid and is counter to just about every principle brewers pride themselves on.  You can't taste beer properly if you're utterly smashed.

Would you believe it can get worse?  It gets worse.

 Brewmeister have replied to some of these issues in a few paragraphs in the middle of a bigger blog post.  Their implied solution to the problem?  Adding industrial ethanol.

Seriously, if their beers aren't up to ABV after brewing and then freeze-distilling then their first suggested solution isn't changing the label on the bottle, but pouring in neat alcohol.

They seem cagey on whether they've ever actually done this, but the very idea is farcical.  If you do that it's not beer anymore, it's hardly even an alcopop.  It's just industrial alcohol flavoured with an overly-expensive malt extract, and frankly that sounds foul.

 It's not brewing.  It's not even clown-brewing, it's just...well, I don't know what it is, but they need to hand their reputations in and try not to let the jugs of alcohol hit them on the arse on the way out.  They're doing unimaginable harm to the Scottish brewing industry by simply existing and the sooner they fall by the wayside the better.

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