In a world where normal is never enough, the need for beer that’s not just different but extreme is all too real. The idea of Extreme Brewing is a newer one, and while the term is somewhat controversial, the idea behind it is one that should be familiar to you.
Extreme Brewing is, in short, the art of brewing beers that push the envelope of traditional brewing and beer culture. Whether we’re talking about high alcohol, crazy ingredients, or a creative take on the traditional brewing process, extreme brewing is only growing in popularity as craft brewers attempt to outdo one another in an often fun and lighthearted “competition” for the top spot of extreme beer.
Here are five things you should know about extreme brewing.
1. Dogfish Head
When talking about extreme beers it’s hard to not start with the brewery that seemingly started the extreme beer party, and that is none other than Dogfish Head Craft Brewery out of Milton, Delaware. Dogfish Head brews some of the most popular and recognizable extreme beers today including their 20% ABV 120 Minute IPA and their equally strong World Wide Stout.
Instead of fighting the new term, the DFH crew have not only embraced it, they’ve built a business around it. Currently, the brewery offers beer brewed with spruce (Pennsylvania Tuxedo), Scrapple (Beer for Breakfast), and the brewpub recently featured beer brewed with kitchen scraps! Along with these, you’ll find multiple beers well over 10% ABV and more extreme-ness than we can list here.
If you love extreme beers, you really have Sam Caligione and Dogfish Head to thank. In fact, they love extreme beers so much, they recently hosted Project Extreme Brewing with beer Advocate.
2. High Alcohol
The most common way to make a beer extreme is to up the ABV, or Alcohol By Volume. Where a typical craft beer comes in around 4-7% ABV, extreme beers often START out at 10% and go from there. The current record holder for strongest beer in the world is Brewmeister with their Snake Venom. This “beer” comes in at 67.5% ABV, and a 9-oz . bottle will run you around $80.
For the most part, you’ll find extreme beers that focus on ABV somewhere in the 12 to 20% ABV range. Beers like the aforementioned Dogfish Head 120 Minute and World Wide Stout come in around 15-20% while Boston Beer and their Sam Adams brand offer Utopias, which comes in around 27% ABV and drinks far more like a port than a beer.
Brewing beer with high ABV is both tough and expensive. The higher alcohol comes from additional sugar that’s turned into alcohol by the yeast, and that sugar comes from greater quantities of grain. This means a high gravity beer can use more than double the grain of a typical craft beer. While yeast makes alcohol, they typically can’t survive in higher concentrations of it for long. That means that as the yeast converts sugar to alcohol, that alcohol collects all around them, and when you’re only going to 7% ABV that isn’t a big deal. When you’re aiming for 10 or more, this can start to be a real problem since you need the yeast to keep working until the end.
Because of this, special yeast strains are needed and a lot of care goes into making sure the brew goes as planned. These are batches you definitely don’t want to dump down the drain.
3. Insane Ingredients
Alcohol isn’t the only way to make a beer extreme. The ingredients used can make a beer truly extreme without making it a booze fest. Take for example the Gruit. This reinventing of a very old beer makes itself extreme by not using any hops in the brewing process. In their place are a variety of botanicals to give this style of beer a truly unique flavor and character.
A beer that has been explored by none other than Dogfish Head is the ancient Central and South American beer known as Chicha. This interesting brew is fermented using corn that’s been chewed by a number of people. This helps to break down the sugars in the corn thanks to it being mashed by teeth and doused with saliva. Chicha is thousands of years old, but today it’s most definitely considered an extreme beer.
4. Super Superlatives
Who wants to try “The third most bitter beer in the world?” If that beer is the third, then that means there’s a number one out there just waiting to be drank and grimaced at. It’s this idea that makes brewers aim for superlative stardom with them extreme beers.
The human tongue has a very difficult time sensing any amount of bitterness over about 80 IBU, or International Bittering Unit. Even so, you’ve almost certainly seen a beer touted as “the most bitter beer in the world” or others that advertise 1,000 IBUs. It’s this idea that makes some beers extreme, as they’re only tasted due to the superlatives added to the description and not so much on quality or even brand loyalty.
The Hoppiest Beer in the World, or as we mentioned above, The Strongest Beer in the World are both shining examples of this. There’s a reason other beers don’t ascend to these peaks in beer flavor and content, and it’s usually a good one that affects taste.
5. Time Makes All the Difference
As with most anything else, what was extreme yesterday is commonplace today. Take for example the idea of beer being over 5% ABV. This is pretty common for us, but there was a time that these “stout” beers were extreme.
Conversely, look back just a few hundred years to the start of the United States. Brewing at that time was primarily done with whatever was most easily grown. That included corn, pumpkins, peas, potatoes, spruce, and whatever else they could manage. Most of these ingredients today would most certainly make a beer extreme, but back then it was just typical brewing.
The point is, time makes all the difference when talking about extreme beer. Many of the extreme trends today will fall by the wayside to make way for newer, more extreme beers while some of these will hang around and make their way into the beer lexicon, only to be forgotten about yet again until revisited and considered extreme once again.
Just ten years ago a barrel-aged beer was something of an oddity and most definitely extreme, but today they’re still somewhat rare, but most definitely not uncommon or extreme in of themselves.
I hope you learned a little about Extreme Beers, and love them or hate them, people seem to love all things extreme, a trend that doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.
Check out the other 5 Things You Should Know posts to learn even more about beer.