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Tasting Tactical Nuclear Penguin

I had a special treat today that was completely unexpected. One of the beers that my friend Phil Lowry — who owns Beer Merchants — brought along to the surprise birthday party for Rodger Davis (Triple Rock brewer) was BrewDog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin. I’ll have more about Rodger’s party on Tuesday, his actual birthday. For now, I’ll concentrate on the BrewDog beer. I had been very keen to try it ever since I’d read about it.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin, on the left, in its paper bag wrapper. In addition to the brown paper, it was also bound around the neck with a simple string, tied.

Removing the wrapper, we poured it into small glasses for sharing. It was nearly black in color with very little carbonation or head. It was not thick or viscous at all like an imperial stout, unsurprisingly, and also appeared thin and wasn’t opaque by a long shot. Swirling the beer produced nice lacing inside the glass. I’d read the nose was smokey, but it seemed more peaty to me, on the order of an Islay whisky. That was the overriding aroma, though underlying that was more subtle soy, a surprising sweetness and chocolate and toffee malt. And there was a bit of heat; hot alcohol, though not as much as I expected.

The peat character continues into the flavor profile, with plenty more going on, too, happily. Most surprising is that the alcohol heat doesn’t seem out of place (which it definitely did in the Paradox — Penguin’s base beer — I had at The Rake earlier this year) but works with the other flavors. Caramel and chocolate notes along with a treacly sweetness, licorice and a meaty saltiness, which combined for a very different, but thoroughly enjoyable, beer. It all came together well.

Though the two are very different, it’s hard to not compare it with Samuel Adams Utopias, since both made their reputations, at least in part, because of their extreme strength. I think the Utopias is more complex and a little more smooth, but not by much. The Penguin had much stronger flavors that lingered not only long afterward but even after I’d had other beers. Driving home, the peatiness was still with me. I say that as a plus. The beer really stays with you.

My overall reaction is that the beer did live up to its hype. I can’t say much about the price, admittedly high, but given its scarcity and what it took to create it, I can’t say it’s unreasonable. But as for the taste, it truly is extraordinary, like nothing else I’ve ever had in a beer.

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