Extra Strong Beers - What goes into them?

You’ve seen them in supermarkets, online stores, and perhaps even your local craft beer outlet. The average pilsner and lager you see on an everyday basis mostly clocks in at around 3-5% ABV (alcohol by volume). But every once in a while, you catch a glance of the rare “extra strong” beer. Often bearing fierce hues of red and gold, beer brands such as Kingfisher, Skol Super, Anchor Strong, and Red Horse beer feature a markedly higher ABV at approximately 6.5% - 8%. For example, one of the beers on this list, Skol Super possesses 7.2 ABV. These high alcohol beers often claim to be more “robust” and “full-bodied” than their lower ABV counterparts. 

We don’t deny these claims at all – most of these extra-strong beers tend to fit their name and really hit the spot when you need them to. But how do these beers come to be, especially since most of them have a sibling beer product that possesses a lower ABV? (e.g., Red Horse and San Miguel both come from the same brewery) Do both products go through the same brewing process – only for the brewers to add some form of external alcohol to make the higher ABV product “stronger” post-brewing? Or do they simply undergo different brewing processes? Let’s find out. 

First, it is important for us to understand exactly how ABV is measured. At the very beginning of the brewing process, brewers boil mashed grain in water, which produces a thick, sweet liquid called wort. This wort contains sugar which will be consumed by yeast during the process of fermentation. However, before introducing yeast into the wort, brewers must first measure the original gravity of the wort to determine the amount of sugar within it. Gravity is the relative density of the wort compared to water. 

After this initial measurement, yeast is added to the wort and fermentation begins, allowing the yeast to “consume” its fill of sugar. This process converts the sugar from the malted grain and converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation is also where additional and different forms of sugar can be added to increase the alcohol content and alter the flavour of the beer. Sugars in the forms of brown sugar, honey, palm sugar, or dextrose can be added – each form of sugar lending a distinct taste profile to the beer. The final gravity of the beer is then measured post-fermentation to calculate how much sugar has been converted to alcohol, allowing brewers to calculate the final ABV. 

Outside of the 6.5% - 8% beers that we commonly see, ABV in beers can go up to the high double digits – particularly in competitions among craft brewers. The strong beers we The title of “World’s Strongest Beer” is currently held by Scottish brewery Brewmeister, with the beer Snake Venom. Weighing in at a whopping 67.5% ABV, the Brewmeister Snake Venom uses smoked peat malt and a combination of beer years and champagne yeast to achieve an astonishingly high ABV. Some of these extra strong craft beers even outweigh some harder liquors which possess an average ABV of 40%. Of course, these beers aren’t normally consumed on a daily basis and tend to be brewed purely for the spirit of competition. 

Unfortunately, these beers also tend to be rather exclusive. So, if you’re tempted to give one of these strong beers a try, a good first step would be trying “lighter” strong beers. Red Horse Beer, hailing from the renowned San Miguel Brewery in the Philippines, is a deep-hued lager with a mild sweet profile, followed with an equally bitter kick provided by hops within. In fact, one wouldn’t be faulted to say that Red Horse was brewed for competition as well; Red Horse was the Gold Medal Winner of the Australian International Beer Awards 2015, and a consistent winner in the Monde Selection Awards. 

If you’re itching for something beyond the everyday lager and looking for an ideal entry point into the wide range of stronger beers, look no further than Red Horse Beer. Who knows; these ‘commonplace’ strong beers might just scratch that itch. 😉


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