Last night Greg and I attended DuClaw Brewing Co.’s release of their Belgian Hybrid, Colossus. Par for the course, it was quite busy and wall-to-wall with people eagerly awaiting the tap to start flowing. After the usual short, comical video interlude the snifters with the coveted liquid were distributed. We both enjoyed the Colossus. Heavy, full mouthfeel, somewhat sweet, raisin and plum flavors. Some alcoholic warmth but not hot or fusel. It’s even been recently listed at #7 in a Top 10 of the World’s Strongest Beers. I could do this again, although it looks like we’ll have to wait at least 2 more years due to production demands.
Making a 21% beer without freeze distillation requires tactics that aren’t employed when brewing a 5% Pale Ale. It requires resources that impact production of other beers in the brewery and risk increased amounts of capital should the batch fail. High alcohol levels become toxic to yeast, osmotic pressure of the sugars in the wort are inhospitable to yeast, and the hygroscopic nature of sugar (especially in high quantities) is an assault on the yeast’s health; let alone the quantity of yeast needed to ferment that amount of wort sugar. This is a feat that commonly ends in hot, fusel rocket fuel flavors and aromas and/or cloying sweetness from the yeast pooping out when an attempt is made to brew a 10, 11, or 12% beer. To make a beer devoid of those flaws at such a high alcohol level is nothing short of ingenious.
But why make such a high alcohol beer? The obvious answer is “why not?” We’re not talking about some sweetened high-alcohol novelty that comes in a can (4 Loco and Crunk Juice come to mind) that is primarily aimed at facilitating abuse. We’re talking about a relax, kick back and sip it in front of a fire kind of beer. It is as much a showcase of the brewer’s creativity as it is a display of their technical prowess. Freeze distillation is another method of increasing alcohol content and is said by many to have originated with the creation of Eisbock by German brewers. Today it’s still employed, particularly as a primary tactic by the notorious Scotland brewery BrewDog. Although it requires a different set of tactics and technical considerations and challenges, it’s not the same as creating such a high alcohol beer by traditional fermentation methods.
So grab your snifter and use it for something other than Brandy. And don’t go anywhere for a while.
and just in case you weren’t there, here’s the release video for Colossus!