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Why do we call these beers High Octane?

Posted 10:48 PM by

High Octane Fuel vs High Octane Beer

Or:  What exactly are we going to be tasting at this event downtown tomorrow evening?


If we’re going to refer to the beers we drink as “High Octane”, let’s talk a little bit about what that means.  Since high octane typically is used when referring to fuel (I guess beer is a kind of fuel)

The Wikipedia description for high octane fuel says:  the“Octane rating or octane number is a standard measure of the performance of a motor or aviation fuel. The higher the octane number, the more compression the fuel can withstand before detonating. In broad terms, fuels with a higher octane rating are used in high-compression engines that generally have higher performance. In contrast, fuels with lower octane numbers are ideal for diesel engines.”  Higher octane fuels take more energy to start the combustion process, which means that the energy extracted from the fuel is much higher too.

Well, when it comes to beer, high octane refers to higher gravity beers (ones that have an alcohol by volume, or ABV, over 8%.  Although there are ones now that go as high as 65%, the highest currently on record).  High octane can also mean a beer that has a sweetener or caffeine added. 

A beer is referred to as “high gravity” based on the size of the gap between the original gravity (how much sugar is in the beer before fermentation) and the final gravity (how much sugar is left over after fermentation is complete).  Which makes sense, since sugar=alcohol in fermented beverage. 

Beer styles are pretty strictly defined by the gravity of the brew.  It factors pretty heavily into what flavors are going to be dominant in the beer.  A lower final gravity indicates a dry or crisp flavor, while a higher final gravity indicates a sweet or malty flavor.

Higher octane beers have the ability to boost your blood alcohol level more efficiently and faster than standard beers.  Thus making you squiffier faster.  Highly efficient fuel meets highly efficient beer, which is why we started calling high gravity beers “high octane”.  The two are pretty much designed to be a more efficient liquid.

Better brewing through science has led to new brewing techniqes, boosting these numbers even higher than before.  12% used to be impressive, but there are beers now that could be dubbed the “Jet” fuel of the beer world (as high as 65%!).

Some examples we’ve seen here at Kahn’s include the Samuel Adams Utopias (29% ABV), Mikkeller Big Worst Barley Wine (18.5% ABV), and Mikkeller Black (17.5% ABV).  Don’t be afraid, these beers are delicious.  Like I said earlier, higher gravity means sweeter and maltier flavor.  Based on what we know now about their gravity, you can assume that any beer reaching that level will like a fine liqueur or port.

So there you go, hopefully you learned something today about the boozy beer you like to drink.  Now let’s all tip our hats and raise our glasses to the masters of the brew, and those high gravity beers we all know and love.  If you haven’t already been enjoying some of these beers you should start soon.  In my opinion the best way to start would be by attending our High Octane beer tasting, tomorrow 6-8pm at Kahn’s Downtown.


See you there, Proust!



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