The world of craft beer has always been characterized by its unrelenting pursuit of innovation. It’s an industry in which increasing competition has valued a sense of novelty above all else, initiating a fight to be first at something in order to stand apart from the crowd. For some breweries, this may simply be an effort to create the best-tasting beer possible, but for others, more objective metrics are the best way to be distinguished. And one that’s resulted in some particularly fierce rivalries is the right to the title of the “world’s strongest beer.”
In fact, it’s this such accolade that spawned an arms race between Germany’s Schorschbräu Brewery and Scotland’s BrewDog back in the early oughts. For once the latter had brewed its ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin’ and laid claim to a seat atop the throne, it was only a matter of time before the Germans responded in kind. What resulted was an intense contest in which each party brought its booziest brew to the table, continuously one-upping each other in the hopes that someone would eventually retire. Of course, the days of such high-octane offerings are largely behind us; drinkers are now primarily concerned with enjoying light craft beers and reaping the benefits of their meager calorie counts. But that’s not to say that the strong stuff is gone for good. Rather, in an effort to cater to your appetite for high-ABV brews, we’ve rounded up a list of the 12 strongest beers available. Read on to find out — just be sure to proceed with caution.
Schneider Aventinus Eisbock
Just because Schneider’s Aventinus Eisbock is the lowest-ABV option on our list, doesn’t mean that you should discount it as some weakling wheat beer. On the contrary, for though the alcohol content “only” clocks in at 12%, the brew’s special freezer maturation process ensures that it still packs quite the punch. Smooth in mouthfeel and heavy in body, it offers a palate packed with dark and fruity flavors, including banana, raisin, molasses, brown sugar, as well as caramel. As tempting as it may be to pair it with starchy meals, we’d recommend you go for something more savory like sausage, or even a sweet dessert such as dark chocolate.
De Struise Black Damnation IX Beggar’s Art
This Belgian Royal Stout from the De Struise microbrewery was aged in Ardberg whisky barrels for two years, so you best believe that it’s a strong sipper. Pouring a deep, dark black in color with a light, creamy head, it’s smoky on the nose, peaty through the palate, and delightfully bittersweet in the finish because of the lingering notes of chocolate, dark fruit, and spice. It’s worth noting that in spite of its 18% ABV, Black Damnation is surprisingly easy to enjoy without being overpowering. In other words, it’s best to watch yourself, or else this boozy brew could catch you unawares.
Style: Imperial Stout
DogFish Head 120 Minute IPA
DogFish Head offers a 60, a 90, and a 120 Minute IPA, and the latter is (naturally) the strongest of the bunch. Clocking in at anywhere from 15-20% depending on the batch, it’s a brew that’s sure to satisfy hopheads because of its high-alpha American hop content and bitter 120-IBU flavor profile. Moreover, due to the extra time spent in the boiling process, DogFish’s offering makes for a unique experience compared to other IPAs. With its dark golden pour, peculiar piney aroma, and medium-heavy body, 120 Minute IPA is sure to change your perception of just how complex an off-the-shelf beer can be.
Avery Brewing Rumpkin Barrel-Aged Pumpkin Ale
Okay, so at $13-plus for a single 12oz bottle, Avery Brewing’s Rumpkin is definitely a bit of an indulgence. However, the good news is that this is a beer that’s actually worth the premium you’re paying — it’s easily one of the best pumpkin ales you can buy. At 16.3% ABV, you definitely catch the rum-aging on the nose, but thanks to the delicious, pie-flavored palate, thick, candy-like mouthfeel, and sweet finish, it’s barely even noticeable in the taste. Perfect for cold autumn days, you can scoop this one up annually in limited, rolling releases from August through October.
Style: Pumpkin Ale
Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout
Each year, Goose Island brews a grip of different seasonal imperial stouts as part of its barrel-aged Bourbon County lineup. Whilst any one of them would be more than qualified to make this list, we felt that the Brand Stout acted as the best representation of what you could expect; after all, it’s the OG. For the latest iteration, Goose Island aged the brew in a mix of bourbon barrels from several different undisclosed distilleries, giving it a complex tasting experience loaded with fudgey flavors and complemented by notes of vanilla and caramel. So, even though it’s an extremely dark (read: pitch-black) pour with a strong whiskey scent, it’s a beer that only gets better as it warms up, meaning chances are pretty good that it’ll have you reaching for more.
Style: Imperial Stout
Evil Twin Molotov Cocktail
Although Evil Twin makes a “Heavy” version of its Molotov Cocktail — adding another 5% ABV — the beer’s limited availability means that it can be pretty tricky to find in stores. That being said, the standard brew that we’ve featured here is much more than the next best thing, as the juicy texture and spicy heat ensure that it’s a big, full-bodied option heaped with hoppy taste. Of course, because of the high alcohol content and generous use of hops, it’s distinctively bitter on the nose and through the palate. But if you can stick with it long enough to enjoy the finish, it’s sure to please with notes of orange peel, pine resin, and malty pumpernickel. Hopheads look no further — this one should be on your list of must-try beers.
Style: Triple IPA
American Solera Chet
American Solera’s Chet Imperial Stout is another beer that you’ll have to keep your eye out for, as it’s not one you’re likely to find gathering dust on store shelves. And it’s for good reason. Brewed with chocolate, it pours a rich brown with a thick, almost opaque texture. While you might be inclined to think that it’d be overly sweet because of its candied ingredients, the warmth of the coffee and the maltiness of the palate mean that it’s actually quite subtle, and even sippable considering its 13% ABV. Add to that a medium body and a silky smooth mouthfeel, and you have a stout that’s sure to appeal to drinkers of all kinds.
Style: Imperial Stout
Baladin Esprit De Noel
In addition to being one of the driving forces behind the current Italian craft beer kick, Baladin is also credited with the invention of the Teku tasting glass, so it’s safe to say that the Piozzo-based brewery is well-steeped with experimental initiative. When it comes to the Esprit De Noel, this means that you’re getting an oak-aged, freezer-distilled brew that weighs in at a hearty 40% ABV. A bright straw-yellow in color, it first surprises you with its smoothness, after which it follows things up with a pleasant palate punctuated by notes of woody char and subtle chocolate. It’s a bit on the pricey side at $32 for a 500mL bottle, but the unique flavors and stunning presentation ensure that it’s worth every penny.
The Bruery Dentelle
The Bruery is another outfit that makes any number of strong, great-tasting beers. However, unless you buy into their three-tiered membership model, your choices will be limited to those that are available for the general public. Luckily, Dentelle makes for an excellent high-ABV beer even despite its non-exclusive status. Aged in bourbon barrels using the Spanish solera blending method, it combines several different anniversary ales for a diverse flavor profile layered with complexity. As you’d expect, it offers a distinctive whiskey-like taste, balancing lighter notes of toffee and vanilla with dark fruit and characteristic cask-finished oakiness.
Style: Old Ale
Brewmeister Snake Venom
Ever since it first hit the shelves back in 2013, Brewmeister’s Snake Venom has reigned as the undisputed world’s strongest beer. And here’s the thing — at 67.5% ABV, it’s not just boozy by brewing standards; it’s also more alcoholic than most liquors on the market. For those drinkers who are daring enough to try Brewmeister’s offering (it actually comes with a warning label) know that your bravery will be well-rewarded. Best enjoyed in small 35ml (1.2oz) shots, it’s far smoother than you’d be inclined to think, and it even offers subtle flavors of fruit, nuts, and spice because of the smoked peat malt and champagne yeasts used in its fermentation.
Three Floyds Dark Lord Day Russian Imperial Stout
If you want to get your hands on this Russian Imperial Stout from Three Floyds, you’ll have to attend the annual Dark Lord Day festival in Indiana — it’s the only time of year that the titular brew is available. Thankfully, Dark Lord is a beer that more than lives up to the hype, as each vintage combines a supple mouthfeel with a well-rounded flavor profile and a richness unlike anything else on the market. Widely regarded as a ‘whale’ amongst beer collectors, you can either hunt for a bottle on the classifieds or purchase a ticket and pick some up for yourself. $170 might sound steep, but it’s a small price to pay when you consider that it gets you four regular bottles, a random exclusive expression, as well as some Three Floyds swag along with a ticket for entry.
Style: Imperial Stout
Samuel Adams Utopias
Samuel Adams’s Utopias is one of the most highly sought-after seasonal beers in craft brewing, with demand only exacerbated by the biennial release schedule, eye-catching bottle design, and exorbitant $210 asking price. What’s more, each vintage is a true grail of an expression, combining a blend of batches, age statements, as well as maturation methods to deliver a drinking experience that’s completely unto its own. For the latest iteration of Utopias, Samuel Adams incorporated 24-year blends, Scandanavian Aquavit barrels, and a first-time Moscat finish.
Style: Strong Ale
Close But No Cigar
While we would have liked to include BrewDog amongst the beers listed above, a lack of availability meant that we had to relegate it to the status of an honorable mention.
BrewDog Strength In Numbers
Strength In Numbers is the product of a collaboration between two once-rivals in the world of craft beer: Schorschbräu Brewery and BrewDog. Having spent over a decade waging a war for the world’s strongest beer, the pair decided to finally settle their differences and extend an olive branch in the form of this massive 57.8% ABV Bock. Brewed using the traditional Eisbock method, it was frozen and de-iced before being blended with BrewDog’s whiskey-aged ‘Death or Glory.’ Given that only a handful of 40ml bottles went up for sale, it sold out within just a few hours of being announced.
The 10 Best Non-Alcoholic Beers
Phew. After all that high-ABV talk, we wouldn’t blame you if you’re feeling a little bit lightheaded. So, if you’re looking for something a bit more responsible, head on over to our guide to the best non-alcoholic beers. Don’t knock ’em till you try ’em — you’ll be surprised just how great an NA brew can be.