It’s rare that I jump into the fray on “hot news” where the blogosphere is concerned.  Put simply, everything that needs to be said has generally already been said on a given topic.  However, certain writing will occasionally raise my ire to such a degree that it simply merits a response.  So, I’ll capitulate from being ensconced in my ivory tower by coming down and opening myself to critical comments by defending a craft brewer.  Who would of thought anyone would actually have to do that?

As you have no doubt heard, BrewDog has now made the world’s strongest beer at 32% ABV.  Of course, if naysayers would have it, it’s not technically beer at all.  More on that in a moment.  My real problem is not with intelligent dialogue on the topic, it is with dismissive and percile logic used on posts like the one that has elicited my response. The amount of assumptions and lack of thorough intelligence is singularly lopsided as far as this gent is concerned.  Roger Protz is apparently the world’s leading beer authority and a very intelligent fellow, but what he wrote will not do and is not enough to convince anybody who is not already of his disposition.  If you are going to attempt to destroy the merits of what someone has accomplished, at least do it in a thoroughgoing manner.  This brings me to what I’m going to do now: I’m fighting fire with fire.

Roger Protz has written about BrewDog’s latest beer, denigrating its reputation and calling the brewers bonkers, calling it not a beer at all, etc.  Here is one of my assumptions: the reason he thinks it’s not a beer may something to do with the fact that he’s a CAMRA member (nothing against CAMRA).  Okay, I’m not going to leave it there.

Why Bother at All?

As a pre-curser to what I’m going to say, I want to state that building a good argument takes time.  My father taught me (rightly) at an early age that if you are going to do something, it’s only worth doing if it’s done right.  Argumentation is much the same way.  A short post, which is written only to put something up and appeal only to those who agree with you is okay if you are not being contrary.  If you are, then more effort is required.

I could have written the same post that Protz did in ten minutes.  Why?  Because it is dismissive and amateurishly un-thorough for someone who has written 17 books.  Make me a believer is all I’m saying.  As a result, I can only address what he has written in his post, even though I know that there is much more to what he had to say than meets the eye.  Unfortunately, the article is what it is, and I’m addressing that.

Assumptions and Insults:

First, I want to talking about his assumptions and the insults that he uses to build his argument. The first point (if it can be called that) Protz makes is that BrewDog has an over-inflated ego and naked ambition.  I’ll dignify the comment even if it isn’t worth it.

Who argues this way?  Starting an argument with an insult seems a bit like two children on the playground.  Name calling?  That’s how you’re addressing BrewDog’s latest beer?  Oh!  They’re doing it because of ego and ambition…I guess that is enough to destroy their achievement.  Oddly enough, Protz’s argument is somewhat of an inclusio in this respect (namely, he starts and ends with this same concept of mudslinging).  Not only so, but they’ve surpassed/outdone (to use American parlance) their former ego-mania, a.k.a., you thought they were ego-maniacs before.  Obviously, Protz believes that other people also already make this assumption and that he is preaching to the choir, so to speak.

One could employ the same sort of rationale that Protz does and call writing 17 books, etc., as nakedly ambitious.  Of course, one would be wrong in this assumption; I believe it’s passion that drives him.  Could the same not be true of BrewDog?  Maybe it’s an ego-maniac who assumes that he doesn’t have to “make a case” because of his great reputation as an authority on beer.

Let’s assume that BrewDog is ambitious and ego-maniacal.  So what?  What does this have to do with the achievement?  The assumption seems to be that since they are ego-maniacs, this discounts what they’ve accomplished.  Is ambition to succeed an inherently bad thing?  If so, does this necessitate that someone is also an ego-manic?  Defiance, maybe…but doesn’t that seem to be the point behind the name?  (More on that in a second…)

My point is that name calling does nothing but fortify people who already share the same disposition, partially because they share the same myopathy.  I was really hoping for BrewDog to send out a response along the lines of “I’m rubber, you’re glue” to really heat up this profound debate.  Instead, they merely relegate themselves to the likes of quoting John Locke (major figure for American democratic ideology) on their site.

Next, BrewDog chose, deliberately, according to Protz, to launch the beer on the day that Parliament was reviewing laws that were specifically applicable to 32% “beer.”  First off, I was unaware that there are “non-deliberate” ways of choosing.  Do we really need to know that a choice is deliberate?

Protz’s ostensible point is that he sees the move as intentionally defiant.  Which is it?  Are they defiant by releasing this beer or are they ego-maniacs?  Maybe he believes that it’s simply a case where the ego-mania is substantiated by the act.  I think it’s not defiance he sees at work, but rather ego-mania because he seems to miss the point of the name entirely.

I’m grossly unfamiliar with English culture and politics.  Is it possible that Roger Protz is even more so? How does he miss the point of BrewDog’s latest beer’s name?  By way of dismissive insult, he essentially accuses them of smoking some of the good stuff to come up with this name, implying that they are pot-headed miscreants.  This does two things.  The association of alcohol/alcoholism (the real unspoken narrative within which this article is written) gives the spurious impression that to side with these, “the wild buckaroos” (an apparent insult via American attitudes), is to side with pot-headed booze hounds…yes, the BrewDog pun is intentional.  Rubbish!  Stuff-and-nonsense! Bullocks!  See, I can do it, too.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin is as intentional in its name as it is in its release date.  How is it that he either misses or doesn’t take this into account?  The “tactical nuke” appears to be aimed directly at the ridiculousness of the British Parliamentary procedure as it relates to legislation against beer.  Since when has protest been equated with nonsense?  I suppose Protz didn’t consider this simply because nonsense seems to be his modus operandi…there is an insult worth making.  Like I’ve said, most of this is not worth really dignifying, but I suppose I’m a little petty.  Now to the beer itself.

It’s not beer at all?  According to Protz, brewer’s yeast can only go to 12 or 13 degrees.  He can’t mean Plato; I know he simply can’t mean that.  I’m assuming, an inference I have to attribute either to language barrier or lack of information about his usage, that he must be talking about percentage alcohol.  Maybe there is a law in England that I don’t know that restricts calling something a beer if it’s over 13 degrees Plato…but I can only assume that he must mean alcohol percentage.  Still, this is incomprehensible to me.

At home, on my crude brewing equipment, I’ve attained 14% ABV with ease.  I used Trappist Yeast and added no nutrients to my brew.  Also, I used ambient air, which is far less soluble than pure oxygen. Thus, I had none of the advantages that, say, a brewer has.  Is he seriously trying to tell me that I simply imagined this?  There is a difference between theory/what you read and practice.

Let’s assume for one minute, as crazy as it sounds, that breweries can exceed what I’ve done.  For instance, let’s say I didn’t use the world’s most alcohol tolerant yeast (in fact, I didn’t).  Some brewer’s yeasts are capable of, let’s say, 15 or 16% in terms of thresholds.  Let’s further assume that yeast rousing, nutrient addition, oxygen solubility and brewer expertise play significant factors.  Based on this, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to assume that a brewer could achieve 17 or 18%.  In fact, White Labs makes a super ale yeast, ironically from England, that will ferment up to 25%.

Since BrewDog’s info is proprietary, it’s hard to know how they do it.  What I do know is that it’s ale yeast.  Who knows what someone might achieve through the use of ale yeast?  Point is that the water is a bit muddy in this respect.  Whatever the case may be, what Protz said is unfounded.  So, let’s say the lower end that might be achieved is 17-18% and the high end is 25-26%.  Now it’s starting to appear plausible.

That’s only X amount, you might say.  Either way, when it comes down to it, BrewDog could not have gotten their beer all the way to 32% ABV by simply brewing it, hence the need for freezing/freeze distilling/eisbocking, call it what you will.

It is entirely possible to gain another 2-5% ABV by freezing beer.  Alcohol, especially higher levels, takes longer (and lower temps) to freeze than water.  Essentially, taking the water out once it is frozen raises viscosity, ABV, and concentrates (a very important word) the alcohol to higher levels.  Who is going to argue that taking water out makes it less of beer?  Isn’t it water to alcohol ratios (sugar being included here) that make a beer stronger or weaker?  If one argues that eisbock isn’t beer (I’m not saying that this is what Protz is doing), then what is?  Tell me the magical percentage of water one must have to make something a legitimate beer.  If you can’t, then don’t detract.  Saying that doing this procedure somehow makes it less of a beer is ludicrous. Maybe fruit juice concentrate is not actually juice until water is added.  How about we add water to BrewDog’s beer?  Can we call it beer then?

Alcohol fortification seems to be the most legitimate sticking point on which to hang one’s hat.  They did pick up alcohol from those barrels of whiskey (which is made of grains, water, and yeast by the way).  So, I guess you might not call it a beer based on that.  Problem is that we call all sorts of barrel-aged beers by that name all the time.  To be consistent, we ought to avoid calling all of them beers in the proper sense of the word.  It seems to me that this semantic problem really comes in when you start the discussion about the world’s strongest beer–then we become particular about what to call it.  I guess we could call it the world’s strongest barrel-aged beer.  Would that appease?  Probably not.

(It’s interesting to note that the real difference between distilling and eisbocking is simply one of ethanol purity.  In eisbock making, the ethanol stays in the original substance and the water is removed.  In distilling only the ethanol is captured, leaving the rest behind.)

The whole discussion seems moot on several points, namely, calling the Tactical Nuclear Penguin beer.  The only sense that it is not beer is the couple of percent ABV from the barrels.  So, what should be the denouement?  BrewDog makes the world’s strongest beer that is 90% beer, 70% of that being regular beer, 20% being eisbock beer, and 10% being added ethanol?  Whatever you might call their creation, I call it beer.

(Thanks for sticking with this article, I felt the expatiation was a necessity, because the beeriness of this beer is in dispute.)

My question to Mr. Protz is, how do you know they used champagne yeast or wine yeast?  I don’t. Perhaps you have the code to this Nuclear program.  Here is yet another assumption that this beer simply can’t beer based on the definitions by which Protz is playing.

If that isn’t enough, he goes on to talk about the issue of sensibility (now he’s using sense…interesting).  He quotes James Watts as saying that BrewDog is pushing the boundaries, an interesting admission in the face of Mr. Protz’s argumentation over the fact that this isn’t a beer, or at least not a conventional one.  In an attempt to turn the phase on its head, Protz once again, boringly so, appeals to his trusty insulting insinuations: “Indeed, and it’s also pushing beyond breaking point what sensible beer writers and connoisseurs will take from this bunch of ego-maniacs.”

Is that so?  A.k.a., if you don’t agree with me, you are not a sensible beer writer or connoisseur.  Since he is a recognized authority, he must be right.  Classic argument from authority fallacy stuff at work here.  I suppose some of us simply aren’t sensible, then.  What else is one to conclude from this fellow?  Furthermore, the presumption that he is speaking on behalf of all “sensible” beer connoisseurs and writers goes beyond hilarity.  Who sounds like the ego-maniac now?

Finally, we get to the pith and marrow of what Mr. Protz is really about: “Those of us who attempt to paint an image of beer as a fine drink enjoyed in moderation by sensible people have the ground cut from beneath our feet by BrewDog, which just plays in to the hands of the yellow press, ever anxious to give beer a bad name.”

I see.  Now it’s about the good name of beer.  I didn’t realize that we should always act based on perception.  Status quo is the name of the game, my good little soldiers.  The implication of the first line is that BrewDog is attempting to paint a low brow drink to be swilled down.  Protz is apparently part of the good guy grouping whereas BrewDog falls into the bad guy camp.  Again with the implication that sensible people wouldn’t drink a beer like this.  So, BrewDog is cutting the ground from beneath the feet of the beer saviors, are they?  Hogwash.  How so?  Who says people have to drink this beer excessively or in an isolated manner?  Who says those purchasing the bottle are, or must of necessity, be drinking it excessively?  This same sort of logic would probably have Scotch consumed only from airplane size bottles.

So, the “yellow press” is ever anxious to give beer a bad name?  Isn’t this an interesting self-defeating statement?  Think about it.  If they are ever anxious to give beer a bad name, doesn’t it follow that they will ever find ways to do it?  I’m sure they really talk up the merit of 3.8% beers, don’t they?  The point is that those who look for something to degrade about beer will find it, no matter what beer is in view.  It’s more interesting to me that Mr. Protz joins in on the head hunting.

Now he justifies himself by saying that it is not the norm for him to agree with the Alcohol Concern.  That may be true, but it is not re-assuring because it’s a slippery slope, partly because I’m now wondering what is the cutoff of good sense, as far as Mr. Protz is concerned.  Can I drink a beer that is below the 30% threshhold?  How about 20%?  The last thing I want to do is to appear un-sensible.

I’ve already mentioned Protz’s inclusio of insult, but it is worth noting that Protz once again appeals to his trusty weapon to deal with the issue at hand.  He quotes Jack Law as basically saying those guys act like babies.  Very compelling stuff, Mr. Protz.  Then comes the remainder of Mr. Law’s argument, which Protz endorses, namely, “He added that the fact that the beer, priced at £30 a bottle, had achieved a new record was not admirable. ‘It’s a product with a lot of alcohol in it, that’s all. To dress it up as anything else is cynical.’”

What shall we call Scotch, since we are taking on new ideas about what is legitimate for certain alcohol thresholds?  I don’t feel cynical when I call a strong beer a beer, do you?  Frankly, there are few people here whose attitudes seem cynical, and they can be found in Protz’s article.  By the way, it’s interesting to note that in the U.K., beer is taxed based on alcohol percentages and not a flat barrel rate like in the U.S., so who might be to blame so far as the price is concerned?

So, what is this stuff all about?  Ostensibly, there are some major drinking problems in the U.K. and Scotland in particular.  Because of this, there has been a lot of lobbying and parlimentary hullaballoo over the topic.  Given that the government is now deciding for the people what is too strong a beer or a drink, BrewDog seems to have challenged the notion up to its threshold.  I suppose the previous challenge wasn’t enough.  Honestly, are beer drinkers going to pay $60 for a bottle of beer just to get drunk?  Are beer lovers really the problem?  My guess is that the answer to that question is no.

I want to state without equivocation that what I’ve written is not a personal attack on Mr. Protz.  He is a well respected member of the beer community.  However, sloppy and dismissive writing and logic are always of paramount concern to me when I read such nonsense.  My article is not so much an argument against Protz as it is an ardent defense of BrewDog and craft brewing in general.  Plus, I figure that my ardent defense of this particular beer might ingratiate us to BrewDog enough for them to send a couple bottles my way.  If they can’t ship it here, they can fly me there.  I’m okay with that.

In all seriousness, if you’ve read this article and know how to get one of these beers my way, I’d love to taste it.  I’m always keenly interested in beers like these.  Why?  Because while it is true that good craft beer is made from grains, water, yeast and hops, it is also made of that all-natural ingredient of adventurous iconoclasm–a fact my Protz has seemed to have forgot.