Wednesday 2 December 2009

What is Extreme Beer?

I’m interested in extreme beer as a concept. I want to know what it means. I have a lot of questions about it.

Is ‘extreme’ about the ingredients used to give an extremity of experience - strength or bitterness, for example? Is it to do exotic ingredients like fruits or spice? Is barrel-aging a constituent of extreme? Wild yeast? Imperial yeasts? Does it now need to incorporate extra tricks to be extreme – Randall the Enamel Animal, perhaps? Does packaging or the beer name count? What about marketing?

I think the notion of extreme beer is changing. Not long ago a 9% beer would’ve been scoffed at but now it’s scoffed down. Beers which rip your tongue to pieces with hop bitterness are craved rather than feared. Strong beers are cool. Barrel aging is normal. The words Imperial and Double are familiar. I’ve tasted a lot of fruit and spice recently - the different ingredients being used are no longer shocking.

I find the notion of ‘extreme’ difficult to succinctly put down in a few words because my mind is on a rollercoaster of different thoughts: it’s awesome, hit me harder; it’s terrible; it’s so specialist; it’s us vs. them; it’s all too Dionysian (it’s becoming Apollonian); it’s a bastardisation; I want my beers hoppier, darker, crazier; I want my beers easier drinking, lighter, sessionable; I want to see what’s coming next, I want to taste it.

Beer is always changing and moving forward so it’s natural that the outer reaches of its capabilities are explored. But is this a progression of beer? Or is it just too much? Are brewers having to get more creative to satisfy the thirst for extremities? Or do they need to get smarter? What now counts as extreme? Are beers shocking now? And if not then how far will a brewer need to go to shock? Are British beers getting more extreme (not just BrewDog)? And, perhaps most importantly, do you like and drink extreme beer? Whatever that may be.

I got the picture from here. Maybe that’s the next step.


  1. I'll sky dive and drink a pint if u will?

    As for extreme beer, I'd like to think of it leas in terms of strength more in terms of flavours and methods. Like something that is brewed in a far out place by an Amazonian tribe then has to go through some extreme process to get to us, something akin to an Indiana jones film!

  2. Yeah, let's do it!! And I like that version of extreme - the challenge is getting the beer out safely, dodging seemingly impossible numbers of villains, and so on!! :D

  3. It's an interesting one. I can remember back when I was a student in the mid-90s the most 'extreme' beer we ever encountered was probably Theakston's Old Peculier. There were rumours of pubs up in the wilds of Yorkshire that served beer so strong that they would only let you have a half and just the one per customer... but I think the ABV bandied around at the time was still only 10-11%. That sort of thing sounds a bit pedestrian these days, doesn't it?

  4. I think you're having trouble defining extreme beer because it doesn't really mean anything. In many, many areas of culture some things that were once extreme are now the mainstream, and things that were once mainstream have gone out of fashion and retreated to a niche existence. Barrel aging? Was porter extreme beer in its day?

  5. It seems that a lot of traditional types see extreme beer as anything thats not 4% brown and on handpump.