Tackling a $180 beer: Tactical Nuclear Penguin

It looks unassuming, but trust us, this sucker packs a punch.

Please don’t judge me. I don’t normally plunk down $180 for a single bottle of beer, but this was a special occasion.

Freakin’ Frog owner Adam Carmer had opened up his special reserve section last December as a holiday gift to his customers, and my eyes went almost immediately to a bottle in a brown paper wrapper with a Sharpie-drawn penguin and “32%” on it.

It was Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a 2009 limited-release, 64-proof beer by Scotland-based Brew Dog. It’s also extremely rare, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I had to have it.

All that remained was to find a group of friends to help me drink it—no way I was tackling this bird on my own. After a few months with the Penguin in my fridge, I enlisted the help of my fellow Weekly staffers, all of whom qualify as both fun-loving and adventurous.

I was careful to provide the proper snacks. Carmer warned me that the Penguin should be served with something ultra-rich—no salt, no spice. So I had a caramel/turtle cheesecake at the ready, as well as some mini chocolate cupcakes. We gathered in my kitchen, some having a “warmup” beer before tackling this beast. Others decided to go in cold. Both camps were a bit apprehensive as the cork was popped. The smell was apparent even before I began pouring it into shot glasses—this was going to be potent.

We nervously toasted “To the Penguin!” and took small, calculated sips. I halfway expected looks of horror, followed by the inevitable spit-take. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the faces mostly registered surprise, then seriousness, as if to really give this one some thought before speaking up.

And speak up my mates did, comparing the brew to soy sauce, mead, liquor and squid ink.

“It’s really staying on the tongue.”

“Wow—that’s beer?”

“I like it—bitter, but a real flat bitterness. Savory, like squid-ink pasta.”

“Not something I’d ever choose for myself, but I’m glad I tried it.”

“It’s like the love child of beer and some sort of liquor.”

“I got thinned-out maple syrup with a coffee grounds aftertaste.”

My personal review: Sweet up front, then intensely smoky, and a bit bitter on the end. This was as potent as I had feared, and the buzz came quickly. It’s an intimidating drink, and some in the group declined a second pour. But everyone seemed to agree: As unique experiences go, this one was pretty unforgettable.

Now if I could just score a bottle of Brew Dog’s The End of History, which clocks in at 110 proof ...

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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