Yup, you read that title correctly. We here at Aleheads are fairly (Read: Incredibly) pretentious when it comes to our beers so it’s no surprise when the likes of Blue Moon and Miller Lite fail to make our Top 10 lists. When a beer like Sierra Nevada Bigfoot can’t make a list though, that’s saying something. Today we’re looking at beers that clock in at or above a whopping 12% ABV so crazy strong Barleywines like The Bigfoot, Brooklyn’s Monster, and Victory’s Old Horizontal can’t even come into discussion (Sadly “Low” 9.6 %, 10.8% and 11% alcohol respectively). If you like booze, and I know you do, then I’m sure you’ll love these high-octane brews as much as I do.
Small disclaimer, don’t go crazy and try to sample all of these beers in one session. I sure as hell don’t care about your health or general wellbeing, it’s just that these beers are really hard to make and after a couple of glasses you won’t be tasting anything more than booze and/or your own vomit. I’m not saying that it’s overly difficult to create a beer with a high ABV, what I’m saying is that it’s extremely hard to make a beer with a high ABV that still tastes good. High gravity is the result of lots and lots of sugary fermentables, which need to be balanced out with either lots of hops, roasted barley, wood aging, or any other technique that’s thought up by really smart brewers. And that my friends is why I love these booze-bombs. If you can make a beer that’s 3 to 4 times stronger than a Budweiser and still make it taste like “Beer” then you’re doing something that I could never dream of.
I chose 12% ABV for this list for two simple reasons. First, I couldn’t do a 15%+ list because it gets very boring very quickly. Sir Magnus Skullsplitter commented that he’d love to see my top beers over 15% ABV so he’d have a bucket list, but the 12% list makes more sense for that. Second, 12% seems to be the cutoff where beers delve into more of an “Extreme” profile. As I said, it’s not easy to make a high gravity beer that still tastes good and 12% seems to be where most brewers are left in the dust. It should be obvious, but you won’t find Pilsners and Wheat Beers on this list although I’d love to see a brewer that can stretch those styles into high ABV brews. For this list, we’re looking at heavier styles like Barleywines, Imperial IPA’s, Imperial Stouts, Russian Imperial Stouts, Belgian Strong Dark Ales, Triples, and Quads. You’ll notice some names from our Best Barleywine, Best Imperial IPA, and Best Imperial Stout lists but there’s a few brews that are first-timers. The reason that some of these beers didn’t make the Top 10 lists of a particular style lies solely in the drinkability factor. As is often the case with high gravity brews, the attraction comes from the “Wow” factor as much as the overall flavor of the beer. The beer still needs to taste amazing, but a bit of leeway is given to how well they actually nail the style.
As always, there’s a few notable omissions. Sam Adams Utopias,Millennium, Triple Bock, etc. are all really cool and a great concept in brewing, but at some point I think a beer stops exhibiting the characteristics of what we all consider beer. Those don’t make my list. Dark Lord? Sure, I bet it’s great and at 15% ABV it certainly fits the criteria, but I know I’ll never get to drink it without paying too much on eBay so no point in including it here. Plus, if I haven’t drank the beer it can’t make my list. One minor tweak to this list is that I’ve allowed myself to include multiple selections from a single brewery. Lets be honest, there’s not too many breweries that make great high gravity beers so it’s crazy to leave off an excellent example just because that brewery happens to be really good at what they do.
So here it is – The Top 10 Beers in America Over 12% ABV
10. Avery The Beast Grand Cru (16.21% ABV) – A nod to Brother Barley’s affinity for the Belgian Strong Dark Ale. The first time I tried this beer a friend described it as “Hot and Sweaty”, which I think was a compliment. At 16%+ ABV this one will burn your face off but rock you slowly to sleep with a sweet finish.
9. Founders Devil Dancer (12% ABV) – This Imperial IPA from my favorite brewery doesn’t disappoint and it’s fairly well-balanced for 112 IBU’s (I guess as balanced as you can be anyway). Reminded me a lot of the Dogfish 120 minute IPA, which is surprising being that this one comes in at just 2/3 the alcohol of that heady beast.
8. Great Divide Barrel Aged Yeti (12.2% ABV) – As always, anything from Great Divide that has “Yeti” in the name is probably pretty good. What I like about this Russian Imperial Stout is the fruit-forward notes that permeate an almost entirely black brew. One of the most drinkable brews on this list
7. Victory V-12 (12% ABV) – Slouch Sixpack showed a rare appearance on the interwebs with a nice write-up of this fine Belgian Quad (Click that pretty link to the left to find out more)
6. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (13% ABV) – Coming to you in three delicious flavors – Regular, Vanilla, and Coffee! I opt for just the straight version of this beauty since vanilla and coffee notes are the defining traits anyway. Probably not the best Imperial Stout around but when you look at list like this I think it fits in just fine.
5. The Bruery Black Tuesday (19.5% ABV) – Strong? Yeah, you might say that. This Imperial Stout from everyone’s new favorite brewery (You are everyone, right?) is so black, so full of bourbon and espresso, that it should be listed next to the best vintage Ports at any steakhouse. Drinkability is low, but it’s almost 20% ABV! It should be sipped, savored, and maybe repeated one or two more times. Gimmick? Nope.
4. Avery Mephistopheles Stout (16.86% ABV) – Another Imperial Stout for the list, another great brew from Avery. Black as night, lots of dark fruit throughout. I had this sampling a couple of nights ago and had to look up online to see what the ABV was (Bottle was already out in the recycling). I would have guessed it was strong, but almost 17% ABV? The alcohol is there, but it’s exceptionally hidden in this brew which makes it dangerously drinkable.
3. Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra (18% ABV) – When I think of high gravity beers, the first brewery that comes to mind is Dogfish Head. They were setting records with ABV back when that actually used to mean something, but the record-setting beers were also crazy good. This is basically their Raison D’Etra turned up 18. Tons of alcohol mixed in with currant, dates, raisins, and round caramel finish.
2. Port Brewing Older Viscosity (12.1% ABV) – I don’t think you’ll ever meet an Alehead that doesn’t hold Port’s 10% ABV Old Viscosity in the highest of praises. Old Viscosity, meet Older Viscosity. At 12.1% ABV, this insanely drinkable heavyweight is dark, roasty, full malt backbone with an ink black presence that scares the crap out of me. What I like about the Older Viscosity compared to the regular version is the over-the-top creaminess and a slight syrupy mouthfeel that gets balanced out by subtle carbonation. Great example of an Imperial Stout.
1. Dogfish Head World Wide Stout (18% ABV) – As I said, Dogfish does high gravity beers better than anyone in the business. Sure, they push the limit more often than most and I shy away from pretty much anything new, but the World Wide Stout shows the greatness that Dogfish is capable of. What I love about this beer is that it’s the strongest regularly produced beer in the world, meaning it’s not a gimmick but rather a true, marketable product. For once I won’t describe anything on this brew because you have to taste it to believe it. It’s just that good and it’s a must have for any booze hungry Alehead.
And there you have it. I hope to see some criticism, as one would expect this list to be full of Imperial IPA’s and Barleywines (Sorry Dogfish Old School, only so much room for you guys). If you’ve got something to add, then by all means add it in the comments. And if you work for BrewDog, maybe you can take this list to heart and tone back your booze-a-thon just a tad. You can make great high gravity beers and still kill brain cells, just use a little restraint like these guys.