Caught by the River

Pint by the River – Tactical Nuclear Penguin 32%

23rd March 2010

Last year, Jeff, Andrew and myself sat out on the back stoop of the Dove doing our usual thing – drinking a few pints of foaming nut brown ale while concocting plans of what we could or should attempt next. We’ve always liked talking about beer. Liked drinking it a bit more than that if truth be told. So we thought we’d start a CBTR beer section. An ongoing conversation about ale, if you will. Hopefully it’ll be sporadic yet seasonal, informative yet slightly sozzled. It’ll be a bit like that conversation we had that day in fact.

by Ben McCormick

There are times in life when you put your head down and plough on, never mind the foolishness of the actions you’re about to undertake. Drinking a bottle of Brew Dog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a stout with a name almost as ridiculous as its 32% alcohol by volume content, is one of those times.

Born and raised in Fraserburgh near Aberdeen in 2007, Brew Dog has been knocking out unorthodox ales and lagers ever since. But what started out as a quest to quench thirsts in a more interesting way has seemingly ended up being a crass attempt to grab the headlines. The company is now much more famous for its dick-measuring who’s-got-the-strongest-beer spat with German brewers than it is for the really rather commendable fare it also purveys.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin arrives in a box designed to house 12 bottles, presumably because it’s the equivalent of drinking an entire case. It comes wrapped in brown paper that has a crudely sketched penguin on the side. So far, so wacky. The bottle itself is black with gold labelling, an attempt to appear exclusive unrivalled since Benson & Hedges turned its fag packets gold. ‘Beer for the dedicated’, according to the label notes. A misprint, clearly. This should read ‘certified’.

When first raised to the nose, it gives off a whiff of Armagnac and three-week old composted matter. Certainly a barrier to overcome, but perseverance is key with these things. It’s overwhelmingly strong and massively salty at first. Like drinking liquid anchovy. A slight effervescence without the carbonation you’d find with lager could just as easily be my taste buds melting. It looks like a brandy and tastes like a bad scotch, thanks to having been aged in oak whisky casks for 14 months. But after the initial onslaught, it subsides hugely and begins to actually taste like a rather good stout. Doesn’t last, though, as a huge pair of Calvados jack-boots trample all over your tongue. There’s a suggestion of tequila, along with more than a passing hint of earwax, singed corn, vanilla, ash, coffee and burnt toast. It’s certainly complex.

We nickname it Barmagnac, which renders us useless as we imagine our barman to be a large Tibetan bovine creature, lowing as he serves us. Whatever lowing is. It’s only now the point of this brew dawns on us as we quickly order something more palatable to wash the taste away.

So job done, then, but in a wholly unpleasant way. Expensive sledgehammer to crack an already shelled nut, really.