Big Beer Review: TACTICAL NUCLEAR PENGUIN

With all the chatter on beer blogs lately about Sam Adams Utopias, which is ridiculously expensive and has an abv of over 25%, I thought I’d share a much more unique tasting experience with an even stronger beer.

If you’ve been following Drink Matron since the beginning, you’ll know that I have kind of an unhealthy obsession with the Scottish brewery, BrewDog. I’m particularly drawn to them because their repertoire includes the first and third strongest beers in the world, which they’ve held onto through a combination of determination, humor and extreme competitiveness.

Well, if you all know that, Adrian knows that times about 50. I think he finds my obsession adorable and weird. But he also finds it awesome. So, for Christmas, my fantastic, wonderful partner in crime decided to order me one bottle each of both Tactical Nuclear Penguin (#3) and Sink the Bismarck (#1) all the way from the Scottish countryside.

So of course, we have to taste them, right? Right. But these are special beers, beers we can’t just sit down and slug one random night. First off, they’re expensive to buy and ship here. Second, they’re higher in alcohol than any beer I’ve ever had, so they must be drunk slowly, and with all the care in the world. And they most definitely cannot be tasted in the same night. Why? I dunno. Cuz we didn’t.

And so, we begin with Tactical Nuclear Penguin.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin (TNP)

Made from a 10% abv imperial stout aged 8 months in an Isle of Arran whisky cask and 8 months in an Islay cask, and then processed for 21 days through freeze distillation, Tactical Nuclear Penguin was, for a short time, the world’s strongest beer at 32% abv. According to BrewDog, “This is an extremely strong beer, it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.” I trust their judgement, so that’s exactly what we did.

For some reason, I thought using snifters would be an excellent idea. I’ll get back to why it was not, later.

So, after a long prep period of me essentially laying tribute to the bottle and taking countless pictures, I finally opened it and poured about three ounces in each glass.

There was very little head, which we expected, and the color of the beer was a dark reddish brown that Adrian described as looking a lot like cola. The legs were quite strong , giving us the impression that the beer was quite thick.

Off the nose I smelled cocoa beans and dirt. It made me think of creme de cocoa liqueur. It’s quite potent and burns the nose like a strong whiskey, but despite the extreme stench I almost like how sweet and creamy it smells.

Adrian didn’t find it very aromatic, said it reminded him of a permanent marker or rotting vegetation. He said, “You can tell it’s going to be strong. Since most of taste is based on smell and I clearly don’t like the way it smells, I’m a bit scared to drink this.”

But he did. And so did I.

My immediate reaction was that the taste was so sour and overwhelming that I couldn’t determine the flavor.

Adrian felt similar, saying that the sharp sour taste makes you want to spit it out when you start drinking it. He also mentioned that there was something off about the taste, almost like over-ripe fruit.

Once we made it through the initial taste, however, we both found the aftertaste to be quite pleasing, leaving a bit of a coffee candy taste in our mouths.

The problem; however, is that despite that aftertaste, you have to start again the next time. Every drink is as shocking as the first, making it impossible to get used to. Using snifters was a terrible idea, because the strong scents kept overcrowding our senses. We thought that might be why we were finding the taste so off-putting, so we switched glasses. Unfortunately, while we finally had relief for the nose, it offered little relief in taste.

What it really was about TNP is that despite it being a beer, it tastes and smells nothing like one. It is much more similar to whiskey, and thus should be treated so. It’s meant to be sipped, and by sipped I mean it took us at least an hour each to finish our three ounces, and not by choice. If you drink fast, this beer will teach you how to drink slowly. I promise. On an up note, if you like sipping strong whiskey, this is definitely the beer for you.

Overall, I could not drink TNP on a regular basis, or really ever again. I like to enjoy my beer, not suffer through it, and that’s exactly what happened here. I kept praying for the end.

That being said, it was quite an experience. Not many people in the U.S. have had the opportunity to try TNP, and it was worth every second of that horrible horrible hour.

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