The contest for the world’s strongest beer

For many beer fans, the strong-beer season marks the most important time of the year. But beyond joining in the merry, boozy strong-beer festivities, aficionados can explore a few brews with alcohol contents similar to those of spirits. In an exciting contest to be crowned “the world’s strongest beer,” a Franconian brew currently holds the top spot. 

The colder months of the year are when stronger malt brews come into their own. Their production draws on age-old traditions. Legend has it that long ago monks, who were fond of a tipple, invented these full-flavored potent drinks bearing such descriptive names as Salvator, Anniversator, and Maximator, to name just a few. Most of these malt bombshells are bock beers, which are more substantial than lagers, pilsner, and the like; with such a high alcohol content, they even provide a modicum of warmth for those who drink them.

The current leader of the pack: a bock beer from Franconia

In the international world of beer there are, however, brews with alcohol levels that would even knock the socks off the most hardened beer delivery driver. A prime example is the honey-sweet Schorschbock 57 from Schorschbräu in Franconia. It has a lip-smacking alcohol level of 57%, which makes it the world’s strongest beer. What kind of production process is involved? Water-containing crystals are removed from the beer using special freezing processes, leaving behind a high-percentage, almost-oily essence with typical beer flavors. Beer drinkers have often asked whether it’s actually a beer. Schorschbräu Managing Director and Master Brewer Georg Tscheuschner has this short answer: “It’s all about broadening our understanding of beer.”

Tscheuschner has specialized in highly aromatic alcoholic bombshells that adhere to the German purity law, with his first-ever extreme beer containing 31%. But then the master brewer got some stiff competition and one of the most thrilling contests the beer scene has even experienced started to unfold: The Scottish brewery BrewDog launched a brew with 32% alcohol and called it Tactical Nuclear Penguin. Schorschbräu responded by brewing a beer that hit the 40% mark. The highlanders countered with Sink the Bismarck, an India Pale Ale (IPA) with 41%. The Scots specifically chose this name in reference to the German battleship that was shot and sank off their coast long ago. However, Tscheuschner wasn’t prepared to raise the white flag in this Franconian-Scottish “beer battle.” His next bock beer topped off at 43%. BrewDog quickly and successfully retaliated with its 55% End of History. Everyone thought the battle for the world’s strongest beer was finally over; however, the Schorschbräu 57 was released and broke all previous records. Ever since then, Tscheuschner has been the undisputed world champion.

Mixing in alcohol to create the strongest beer: a swindle or creativity?

Even international brewers tried to outdo the iconic Franconian brewery. But researchers discovered in analyses that, for example, Snake Venom from Brewmeister in Scotland, which packs a massive 67.5% alcohol punch, had been blended with pure alcohol. Even attempts from brewers in Belgium seemed to involve a bit of jiggery pokery. The Belgian Brouwerij ‘t Koelschip reportedly stirred raw whiskey distilled in-house into its 70% strong Mystery Beer. The ideas seem endless. It will be exciting to see what brewers around the world will come up with in the future to get their hands on the title of the world’s strongest beer. Until then, Georg Tscheuschner can sit back and relax for a while.

Not enough superlatives? These are the most amazing records in the world of beer.

Mareike Hasenbeck

Mareike Hasenbeck is a freelance journalist with her own craft beer blog (Feiner Hopfen), she is also a beer sommelier and an international expert for beer sensory certified by the DLG (German Agricultural Society).