If you’re of the thinking that beer begins and ends with Budweiser, prepare to have blown by the sheer variety of flavor and strength of the weird and wonderful brews that we’ve collected below. After a fair bit of “in-field research” and numerous two-day hangovers, here is our list of the strongest beers and ales around. Enjoy.
10. Hakusekikan Brewery, Japan (Hurricane, 15% ABV)
Wading into deep water straight away, we have this beautiful beer from Japan. Termed a Barley wine, this is a strong ale that is accented by its hard-hitting aroma, with punches of fruit and kicks of pepper and parsley. As often is the case, this barley wine pours “flat” with no head, though it still has its effervescence.
Dark coffee in color, this beer is murky and has a deceptively sweet taste with cinnamon and pear flavors. DO NOT trust this beer though; at 15% ABV it will tempt you to have another, then another – and you’ll go to stand up and realize it has taken control of your legs, literally going out of its way to ensure an unsteady walk home.
9. The Bruery, USA (Chocolate Rain, 19.5% ABV)
A big jump now to a beer that is almost 20% ABV, Chocolate Rain (yes, it is probably named after the song) is an impressive imperial stout, very much like the world-renowned Guinness, but stronger feistier and smoother. It truly does taste of chocolate, with hints of liquorice and vanilla. It pours a darkish brown, and smells kind of like turpentine at first. Once this clears, a weird raisin and vanilla smell punch through.
To get this unique taste, they brew up a batch of another one of their beers, Black Tuesday, and leave it to stoop in a bourbon barrel with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. Barely bubbly, this is probably the best beer on this list, and it makes you sorry to finish the bottle. This is something you would probably break out at Christmas – like a mulled wine.
8. Lijiang Shengli Wine Co, China (Lijiang Yinjiu, 20% ABV)
This beer is as strong as it is old, first brewed over 500 years ago in the Ming dynasty (despite apparently nobody ever taking a picture of the stuff, if Google Image Search strikeout is any indication.) This beer is engrained in local Chinese tradition, and they take it rather seriously. It pours a deep amber with absolutely no hint of a head, and has little or no carbonation. Much like a barley wine, it has fruity notes and tastes deceptively sweet, with a bitterness that lingers long after the beer has gone.
It’s complex and unusual, perhaps due to the process it is made. Rather than hops, it is brewed from special grains, with snow water from the Yulong mountains and a top secret yeast. As with all beers, the yeast is key to the beer’s overall taste and finish – and they have kept particularly quiet about theirs.
7. De Struise Brouwers, Belgium (Five Squared, 25% ABV)
And now for something complete different, and far more nasty. The De Struise brewery in Belgium brewed up this extra-special high-strength ale for charity. Known collectively as a Belgium quad, these types of high beers have been brewed by Trappist monks for centuries.
This limited run came sealed with what seemed like several candles worth of wax, in a gratuitously big bottle, as if they were trying to cause as much damage to head and liver and wallet as possible. It doesn’t taste as strong as it is; with a rich, almost butterscotch taste, this beer is a very damn drinkable beer.
This beer is absolutely recommended if you can find it, but be warned; as part of a limited run, the few bottles that are left will be expensive.
6. Brew Dog, Scotland (Tactical Nuclear Penguin, 32% ABV)
One of the true titans of the beer world, this Scottish imperial stout boasts a percentage that would give most spirits a run for their money. Like many stouts, this beer is an exceedingly dark brown, viscous with coffee and syrupy tasting notes. This beer is aged in whisky barrels, and has adopted a smoky flavor, with hints of dried rich fruits.
The method for achieving a beer with such a brutal ABV is a simple as it is genius: after it had sat in various whisky casks, the boys at Brew Dog sent their first batch off to an ice cream factory, where the brew was frozen. All but the most alcoholic fluid is frozen in the process, and the remaining liquid is drained off and bottled, leaving you with a huge 32% ABV.
5. Schorschbräu, Germany (Schorschbock, 43% ABV)
Talk about a vindictive beer. The wonderful brewers at Schorschbräu were not happy with Brew Dog making a beer stronger than theirs, so they created this short-run brew in retaliation. Known in Germany as an “Eisbock,” and using a similar freeze method, Schorschbock maxes out at 43% ABV. That’s an average whisky strength and, unlike its monochromatic rival, tastes like brandy or scotch.
It pours dead with no head whatsoever, and is a light to darkish brown in color. As you might expect, this brew is thick, oily and, like a good wine, has legs that run down the glass when you swirl it. The taste is strong with caramel notes and woody malt, finishing with a strong sweet bitterness.
4. Brew Dog, Scotland (End Of History, 55% ABV)
The war continues. In retaliation, Brew Dog unleashed “The End Of History” as a repost to their Germanic rivals. Part of a small batch brew, and sporting a £500 price tag, this beer also boasted the title of most expensive beer in the world. Each bottle was uniquely styled, and as eccentric as the brewers who made it.
How eccentric? Well, a simple label would not suffice for such a strong beer, so the boys at Brew Dog did away with them altogether, and instead stuffed each bottle into various taxidermy animals, made from local road kill.
A lot of forethought was put into this, and the patience truly does show – even the beer’s “title” has been thought out, and is an homage to the American philosopher Francis Fukuyama suggesting that this “brew is to beer as democracy is to history.” It also hinted that this would be the last of Brew Dog’s high-strength tipples.
More than a beer, this extremely powerful brew tastes as though it has been left to float in a batch of scotch. The beer itself seems almost an afterthought, though hints of marzipan and raisin come through in the finish: a reminder that, underneath the veneer, this is still a very good and actually quite humble beer.
3. Schorschbräu, Germany (Schorschbock Finis Coronat Opus, 57% ABV)
Perhaps there was a reason that Brew Dog stopped when they did; its eventual unseater is just plain unforgiving, with a Latin name that translates to “the end crowns the work.” This beer is like bitumen: thick, unpalatable, and will probably do something vicious to your insides. It’s a robust Eisbock akin to a fine peaty scotch in how it burns as you drink it. Quite frankly, it offends all five senses, so if you’re into that sort of thing, drink away.
With warming malts and heavy sugary undertones, there’s no head, it is deceptively still for such a vindictive explosion of boozy power. This is not a drink to consume alone, but with friends. If you can lay hands on a bottle, it certainly is an experience.
2. T’koelschip, The Netherlands (Start The Future, 60% ABV)
With the competition between Brew Dog and Schorschbräu over, Dutch brewer T’koelschip stepped into the fracas with its own super-strength behemoth of a beer, an Eisbock named Start The Future. This is a playful dig at the Brew Bog boys’ “The End Of History’. It pours a pallid amber color, with a very strong boozy nose. It’s viscous, with a hint of fruit and a bitter floral hop finish
This is an impressive beer, though once you approach the 60% ABV margin, you begin to sacrifice flavor for pure strength. As an experience, this beer will be remembered fondly, by both you and the poor souls you talked into drinking it.
1. Brewmeister, Scotland (Armageddon, 65% ABV)
This one is just plain scary. An insane new brewery called Brewmeister crafted the aptly-named Armageddon, which rivals the strengths of hard hitting special batch scotch whisky’s such as Edradours’ (65%), and Laphroaig’s Quarter Cask (62%.) It’s somehow both extremely bitter (with the consistency of a weak gravy,) and surprisingly mild, with none of the hard-hitting alcohol taste present in other high-strength beers.
However they achieved such a miracle, Armageddon still clocks in at an absolutely evil 65% APV, and is currently the strongest beer in the world. Until somebody dares break the 70% barrier, that is. And yes, that is a challenge.