I've spoken before about the dopey extreme sports mentality that can occasionally creep into the American craft beer scene, causing brewers to give their beers really stupid names and adorn their bottles with really stupid labels. Ballast Point, a highly regarded San Diego brewery that's most known for their very, very good but fairly basic Sculpin IPA, falls into both of those traps with a beer called Tongue Buckler, whose label depicts a pirate holding a bloody sword in one hand and, yes, a human tongue in the other. It will be difficult, but you'd be wise to try and ignore all of this.
Tongue Buckler is classified as an Imperial Red Ale, so it's essentially a jacked up version of a standard amber ale, something like Bear Republic's Red Rocket Ale, Ithaca Beer Company's Cascazilla (another ridiculous name), or, even though it's not available in New York, despite being one of the most popular craft beers in the country, New Belgium's Fat Tire. These beers are characterized by their deep red appearance, their thick off-white (bordering on khaki-colored) head, a pronounced focus on toasted malts and just a hint of fruity hops. They generally fall somewhere between 5% and 7% alcohol by volume—hearty, yes, but nothing crazy.
Tongue Buckler, though, is well on the other side of crazy, coming in at 10% ABV and somewhere around 107 IBUs. Like its younger siblings, it pours a really nice, dark red. In the nose, it's all toasted malts and caramel with the slightest hint of booziness to remind you what you're getting into. On the tongue, there's a huge amount of vaguely tropical fruit-like bitterness, but it's offset immediately by the abundance of rich malt characteristics: caramel is at the forefront, with some sweet breadiness coming into play as well. The first sip may offer a bit of alcohol burn, but from there it goes down remarkably easy, considering its overall heft.
I've heard it said that this beer should also age really well, that as the hops fade and the malts develop, it would turn into something more like a barleywine. Regardless, when fresh it's an extremely well made beer that attains a level of complexity that belies its extreme nature and presentation.
Tongue Buckler is available in 22oz bottles for $10 at various Brooklyn bottle shops.