Last Sunday I did something I swore I’d never do: I waited more than 10 minutes in line to buy a single bottle of beer. I hate myself for breaking the vow and wasting the time, but that’s what happens when you realize you need the Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale for a holiday beer story at the exact same instant every other person in your time zone needs peanut butter filled pretzels and/or mediocre produce.
Of course my time isn’t any more valuable than the next beer blogger’s, which is to say those minutes have already been quite easily recouped by not shaving or wearing clothes with buttons or zippers, but the Trader Joe’s fiasco takes some of the shine off my Black Friday line-avoidance feat just two days prior.
Goose Island releases their Bourbon County Stout line the day after Thanksgiving every year, and in some places it’s really hard to get. Beer Twitter was full of pictures of Chicagoans waiting in tents for an entire rainy night. It’s not quite such an ordeal where I live, but I still made sure to get to the beer store within a half hour of first call Friday morning, just in case.
The place was mobbed, but manageably so, and several days later there are still dozens of bottles of the base-model offering. The rarer variants went quickly, though; if you’ve ever been to a beer release in the glorious Northeast, then you already know that the last case of Bourbon County Coffee Stout was snatched up by a pushy dude in a Dorito-dusted Hill Farmstead sweatshirt who bullied it out of a store employee unsure of the bottle limit policy. I mean, that’s just the way it goes around here, so no hard feelings (jerk).
At $11 for a 500-millileter (16.9-ounce) bottle, BCS is by no means cheap, but it’s not out of line with the barrel-aged competition. It’s fashionable in some circles to disdain Goose Island now that it’s owned by AB-InBev, and people whose taste buds are hard-wired to appreciate rarity over quality are surely disappointed that it’s no longer nearly impossible to track down a bottle of BCS. But if you’re in it for the beer rather than for the adventure or the back story, then it’s hard to find a better bourbon barrel aged imperial stout.
One of beer’s many advantages over whiskey and wine is that it’s relatively affordable, even at the top end. It can still be jarring to drop double-digits on a beverage that has long been associated with thrifty drinking, but you really owe yourself a bottle of the extra-good stuff every now and then. Next time you deserve a splurge, consider one of these 13 high-class brewskis.
Deschutes The Stoic (Approximate Price $17 For 22oz Bottle)
This 10.9-percent ABV Belgian-style quadruple ale is partially aged in both Pinot Noir and rye whiskey barrels, adding spicy black pepper and sweet vanilla notes to the rich caramel, dark fruit, and yeast esters. The addition of pomegranate molasses makes this unlike any other quad you’ll try.
Boulevard Saison-Brett ($16 For 750mL Bottle)
This beautiful beer is what happens when Boulevard introduces the wild yeast strain brettanomyces into the bottle-conditioning process of their beloved Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale. Light citrus and stone fruit notes balance the brett funk in this perfect introduction to wild yeast.
Allagash Farm to Face ($15 For 375mL Bottle)
A pale ale soured by pediococcus and lactobacillus bacteria and then aged with peaches, Farm to Face is worth the price to anyone looking to experience the ideal blend of sweet fruit and tart funk.
Samuel Adams Utopias ($199 For 750mL Bottle)
Look, I got a free sample. So did every other ethically malleable beer blogger. That’s the only circumstances under which I’d ever be able to touch this stuff. BUT, if you are filthy rich or otherwise able to cross Utopias’s path, I highly recommend doing so. At 28 percent alcohol-by-volume, it’s a nearly unclassifiable beast that we might as well call a triple imperial barleywine. This year’s edition is a blend of extensively aged beers finished in white wine, port, Madeira, bourbon, Cognac and Armagnac barrels. It’s bonkers and delicious, drinking more like a brandy than a beer, with notes of toasted nuts, dark fruit, leather, tobacco, and bread freshly baked in the kitchen of an 11-bedroom mansion on a cliff overlooking the sea on an island so exclusive I’m not allowed to type the name out loud.
Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA ($14 For 750mL Bottle)
The recipe starts by combining Dogfish Head’s iconic 60 and 90 Minute IPAs and then dry-hopping the blend and adding maple syrup. Sound weird? Sure it does, it’s an expensive Dogfish Head beer! But this one works superbly, with the resulting beer tasting exactly as you think it might, except better.
Firestone Walker XIX ($25 For 22oz Bottle)
Every year, Firestone Walker suckers some Paso Robles-area winemakers into putting together a special blend of their barrel-aged beers. This year they were instructed to lay off the hops, so the 19th anniversary edition is a dark, terrifying, and utterly fantastic blend of Parabola imperial stout, Sticky Monkee Quad, Bravo Imperial Brown Ale, and Velvet Merkin Oatmeal Stout. This one was also a free sample, but I intend to buy at least a couple bottles with my own wife’s own hard-earned dollars.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout ($11 For 500mL Bottle)
Friends, I am not super fond of paying 65 an ounce for an Anheuser-Busch product. I do not want Goose Island BCS to be better than the barrel-aged imperial stout from the outstanding brewery 8 blocks from the castle whence I blog. But it is. Let’s move on.
Westvleteren XII (Many Many Bitcoins On The Beer Darkweb)
This Belgian Quad is probably the most sought-after beer in the world. Other trophies-of-the-day come and go, but there’s always a robust black market for Westy 12. So if your local underground economy supports this kind of thing, please get a bottle and tell me what it tastes like.
St. Bernardus Abt 12 ($12 For 750mL Bottle)
But maybe you’re sane, or otherwise constricted. In that case I suggest you forgo the Westvleteren and opt instead for its more accessible Trappist cousin, St. Bernardus Abt 12, which is said to taste quite similar. The flavor’s got nuts and brown sugar and plums and caramel and raisins. Not bad!
Founder’s Blushing Mon ($17 For 750mL Bottle)
I lucked into making the Monk’s acquaintance at a Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout event last year. I have nothing bad to say about the legendary KBS, but I found the raspberry-laden Blushing Monk to be the best beer in that particular show. At 9.2-percent ABV, it’s deceptively strong, with sweet raspberry, Belgian yeast, light caramel, and biscuit flavors leading to an ever-so-slightly tart finish.
Almanac Dogpatch Sour ($12 For 375mL Bottle)
San Francisco’s sour specialists use Rainier cherries and sourdough yeast in this red wine barrel-aged delight inspired by the Flanders red tradition. It’s complex and balanced, with sweet and sour notes combining with the oak to produce a multifaceted superstar.
Bell’s Best Brown (5-Liter Can For $24)
We all need more brown ale in our lives, and Bell’s fall seasonal is one of the best, with rich, lightly roasted caramel and chocolate backed up by just enough of a resinous hop kick. And the best part is that they sell it in 5 liter mini-kegs, a great format too often sullied by inferior beer. What’s more celebratory than a 169-ounce can of beer?
Bissell Brothers Swish ($102 For A Case Of 16-Ounce Cans)
You hear a lot about the “Vermont IPA” style these days, and for good reason; the hazy, hoppy, citrusy, tropical, juicy-fruity style made famous by Alchemist’s Heady Topper is proliferating in breweries throughout New England and beyond; my favorite happens to be from Maine. Bissell Brothers’ year-round pale ale, Substance, is also a fine way to treat yourself, but I’m not sure you can spend a better, longer-lasting hundred-and-two beer bucks than investing in a full case of their limited-release 8-percent ABV Swish.