Thursday, 21 July 2016

Big Ale: Sink the Bismarck

I believe that it is something of a rite of passage that anyone who is pootling about talking about ale, in my case being a beer-bore, has to try something bonkers from Brewdog at least once. The ale of choice is usually the rarely brewed and surprisingly hard to locate Sink the Bismarck both because of it's ridiculous 41% ABV and the over-the-top nature of its production in an ice cream factory following a friendly spat with a German brewery over who could brew the most ridiculous, sorry, the strongest ale. My wife and enabler, Willow, kindly bought me a bottle from the proceeds of her own fantabulous career (no, seriously, I'm not jealous) in writing and so it came to pass that I, too, could pass into the halls of those idiots that have tried this ale and lived.

I have to say that I was very much looking forward to this and had gathered together many people to try it with me over the course of a few days, meaning much mooching around and sharing tiny glasses with other people and refusing to divulge the 41% ABV until after they'd tasted it because I am a mean-spirited and cruel individual Hell-bent on making people cough. Or something. Also, just look at that bottle: who doesn't feel like they want to try that when they see the wrapping?

It's a triple IPA just jam-packed with hops and hop oils because Brewdog are legitimately insane and it looks like something out of the 1970s. All of these points make it an ale worth trying even before you get to the actual ale itself. So, be honest, would you like to know more? Of course you would, follow me please, keep your hands and feet in the car at all times and ensure you have fastened all the safety devices securely!

Fear my workplace!

I was quite surprised at how hard this was to open, though this may be more a reflection on the fact that I am something of a physical pansy (though I've always preferred flowers one can eat) and lack upper body strength, and was still more surprised by the definite 'pop' of carbonation when I finally managed it. A curl of purest white CO2 emerged from the neck almost immediately and, in moments, the pungent and heady aroma of IPA had filled the small room where I had some workmates assembled. I have to say, that aroma was very nice indeed, it held great promise and you could even detect the bed of malt atop which sat the hops high and proud. In short, it smelt very much like a standard delicious IPA. The only real difference was that, unlike normal, I wasn't leaning in to take a proper sniff, I was stood about three metres away. Then came the pour, revealing a deep copper liquid that poured in a manner reminiscent of Molotov Cocktail (see here) and settled nicely with even bubbles gracing it. There was a sparkling of a head though this rapidly disappeared and left the skein of fermentation alone. In many ways it looked like one would expect an IPA to look, but for the fact I was using a cut glass sherry glass and pouring an amount more usually associated with brandy and vodka.

It moved well, left legs like a fine wine, and for all the world behaved like an IPA should behave, with the kind of hoppy bouquet that one would expect from, well, an IPA. The moment of truth was upon me and, in the heat of the morning, I tasted it. At first the aroma continues to the tongue, a tantalising moment of hop and malt explosion heralding a wave of refreshing IPA, before the whole thing gets blown up by a deterrent launched from a remote nuclear submarine somewhere in the Arctic. The surface temperature reaches something like the corona of a small star and the whole thing blasts a path to the back of the throat as that totally mentile 41% ABV does the dirty. However, there is a strange thing with all of this, there, on the edges almost untouched by the chaotic flames that lick the edges of the epicenter, apparently left behind by the catastrophic blast, there is the faint memory of those hop oils down the sides of the mouth. The syrupy mouthfeel awash with the complex interplay of maybe two or three hop types (one of which is surely chinook) and then it is gone, carried by the blastwave to the fortnight firestorm that will burn on forever.

Except that it doesn't. Not at all. Very quickly that explosion fades into the background, a warmth spreads down the back of the throat toward the stomach, a patch remaining at the top of the chest, and those hops come back to life spreading back to the front of the mouth. Some lip-smacking happens, almost involuntarily, but there is the ghost of that IPA. It hangs around, haunts the teeth for a bit, and lingers like the lead singer of the Cranberries - at once perfectly suited to the surroundings but oddly out of step with what one would expect from a mainstream music act. There's the malt, the hops doing the wave effect one has in good IPAs, and that malt is sweet and strong thus providing the perfect accompaniment to the bitterness of the hops. It swirls and eddies, like smoke caught in the updraft of a pillar of flame, and then slowly recedes on a timetable one would associate more with tectonic plate movement than the scudding of clouds overhead in a high wind.

One colleague put it this way: the memory of the taste is almost better than the taste itself. I think I know what they mean. To have it is to wish for more, though the obvious strength and the heavy explosion does rather give one pause. Willow was also appreciative of the brew. At first I thought that she was dead against it but then she mellowed and promptly poured a second shot glass to have more. I suspect that we will ration what we have left for a while yet because this is surprisingly drinkable. I say 'surprisingly' and, really, I shouldn't. This is Brewdog and, though they are completely mad, they do know how to make a strong ale that remains, totally, an ale.

This is best enjoyed in the evening and in the cold. It is definitely a winter warmer, though having said that, you could also argue that it would work well in the heat of summer and a heatwave as a means of ignoring the sweltering nature of the environment. As one melts one can reflect on the complexity of the hops and the strange effect of the ABV on the overall brew.

In short, and in case you can't tell, I rate this brew highly. It is amazing. I don't often use superlatives like that, it's not in my normal vocabulary, but it is simply amazing. It really shouldn't work. It really ought to be a bonkers one-off brew that you blow money on and then laugh about how wasteful it was. But it isn't. I'm tempted to buy another with some of my marking money, I'm tempted to get several bottles and have them around for when company calls. I want to buy a drinks cabinet just to store them. If you get a chance, do yourself a favour and try some of this. It's brilliant.


  1. Well I can honestly say I'm surprised at how good that sounds. I think they brought out an even heavier ABV beer called the End of History served in a stuffed squirrel.

    1. Yeah, I'd read some dodgy reviews - but I suspect many people aim for the strength, as I'm sipping small amounts I think I can avoid the burn.

      And that End of History sounds interesting. Probably not widely available if in a stuffed squirrel though!

  2. Here it is:

    1. Wow, they are mad. Alas, no longer available. But thanks for the link!