Friday 26 March 2010

BrewDog Nanny State v0.5

I hated BrewDog’s first version of Nanny State (but then I think everything BrewDog do is either loved or hated - there's no middle ground any more), the 1.1% stupidly-hopped imperial mild. I liked the idea - a low ABV brew that still tastes recogniseable as a beer – it just tasted like over-stewed hop tea. I don’t think many others liked it either and BrewDog tweaked the recipe and brought out a 0.5% version with toned-down hops (though using a list which reads like lupulin erotica: Centennial, Amarillo, Columbus, Cascade and Simcoe and dry-hopped with Centennial and Amarillo). Still liking the idea and wanting it to work, I bought a couple of bottles of the new batch.

It pours a russet, fiery-ember colour with a thick, lacing foam. The nose explodes with brutal hops, charred at the edges, roasted citrus, a subtle berry sweetness. The nose shocks and delights to begin but the more I drink the more I pick out the over-done flavours, the burnt rubber, the singed tropical fruit. It’s more intriguing than inviting, a kind of dig-around-and-see-what-you-find aroma. It’s relatively thin in the mouth, as you’d expect, but for 0.5% it’s very impressive. There’s very little sweetness, a dry astringency and some nuttiness then the hops arrive with less grace than a pissed-off tap-dancing rhino. It blasts in and explodes, rasping, hot, super-dry. You need to drink some more to ease the hop burn but the sweetness isn’t there and those hops just pile-drive back through again, an onslaught of saliva-sapping bitterness. It’s not a great beer yet the whole time it’s strangely intriguing, like looking at a pretty pre-op.

The 0.5% brew is better than the 1.1% version but that bitterness is just a real killer (and I tend to like the hoppy beers, dontcha know). The £1.79 per bottle price tag (plus postage on top) is also just too much when I can buy Punk for £1 a bottle – I like at least a little bang for my buck. I would like more breweries to make good low ABV beers. BrewDog’s Edge is superb at 2.7% beer and Thornbridge have just brewed The Light, a 2.9% beer, so there are a few examples out there, but I think there’s space for more. Anyone else interested in low alcohol beer (so long as it's nice and tastes like actual, real beer)?

As an aside, I was drinking this while cooking a chilli-hot Quorn and vegetable curry, which, when you think about it, is probably the food equivalent of Nanny State.


  1. I know from experience that getting body and sweetness into a beer with low abv is difficult. Adding fewer hops is easy though!

    Being "insanely hopped" is one thing. Being undrinkably hopped is another. I was looking forward to trying this but it sounds like it falls into the same trap as the original. Sometimes less is more!

  2. It seems that the average abv for beer is about 4.5 to 5% so I would welcome lower abv beers. Finding a good tasting session beer can be quite difficult now.

    Although Nanny State at 0.5% is just daft, I think I would prefer to go and get a Fendeman's Ginger Beer to drink.

  3. Badger made a 2.5% beer that I tried last summer which I liked and still tasted like beer. I can't speak for All Grain brewing but kit brewers can brew a low abv beer pretty easily. In fact I've brewed two by mistake. :)

    In particular I made an Imperial Stout to 3.8%, low for a beer of this type I'm sure you'll agree. It still retained the silky mouthfeel of a beer of that type. Assuming I haven't drunk it all, I'll bring you round one when next we meet.

  4. There are some interesting contenders in Sweden too. Ölands brewery brews a lot under the 3.5% limit that would mean sales only through the state shops. And Dugges, in Göteborg, famed for their strog ales, also have a splendid 2.8% bottled pale ale.

  5. I know it's a definite challenge to a brewer, to make a truly 'beer-like' beer that has body and balance at a low ABV, but I really hope someone on these Isles is up to the challenge. I appreciate all styles and strengths of beer, but if I know it will be a long 'session' and quaffability is more important than taking time to savour (like, when at a lively houseparty or an extended social gathering down the pub), I would really love to find lower ABV beers that really make me WANT to drink them - so they're not a poor second choice to the rest of what's available.

    It seems less easy these days to find lower strength interesting beers - it feels like ABVs are constantly pushing the 5% mark, when I see new beers appearing from breweries I'm already a fan of.

    I'll certainly be giving the new Nanny State a go out of curiosity, but I'm keener to try Edge (which I'll probably never get hold off in Brum!) or Thornbridge's The Light - have high hopes one of these these will provide a balanced ale I could happily quaff all night!

  6. Personally I would love to see craft brewers making non-alcoholic beers that actually taste like beer. Pure and simple selfishness here, as I am limited on what I can drink at the moment due to blood thinners, I could then drink craft beer until the cows come home. As it is, Fentiman's Shandy will have to do, other than illicit 3 pint nights.

  7. It can't be done, there's a reason why all those US microbrews are 5.5% plus: American hops taste awful in low gravity brews unless a very light hand is used. English and European hops do better, with their gentler, earthy & floral character. The balancing act becomes even finer at the low levels of alcohol.

    It's a challenge brewing a good low alcohol beer, it requires arguably more skill than brewing a high gravity IPA. Throwing in bucketloads of Chinook is a lazy way of doing it.

  8. We run The Alcohol-Free Shop and we've been trying to encourage brewers to produce a good beer at less than 0.5% ABV for a few years but no one has ever been interested. Responses have ranged from, well, no response at all to outright rudeness (with, to be fair, the very occasional polite but not really very helpful reply). But we get requests from customers all the time for a UK produced "real ale". A great mild or stout would go down a treat. A lot of our customers are former regular drinks who now can't drink (many are on medication, for instance). We sell lots of European beers, but nothing at all from the UK/Ireland (well, except for Kaliber...) Is anyone prepared to produce one? We've got the customers if you have the beer. And if you don't take the piss with the name, we might be able to do business together!