A while back the BBC posted a feature titled “50 things to eat before you die” and I thought at the time that this would make a good topic for beer. So in the spirit of adventure and living life to the fullest, etc. etc., I’m coming up with the 50 beers to drink before you die, in ten weekly installments listing five beers each (in no particular order, other than whatever theme I fit them into).
A fun theme for this week, and entirely subjective: Extreme Beers. This whole “extreme beer” movement thing is interesting, and for the most part, an American trend. It’s a pretty wide-open field, too… I may have to do an Extreme Beer II week. We’ll see.
I think of Samichlaus as “the original extreme beer.” This beer holds the honor of being the world’s strongest lager (a Guinness Book record!) at 14% alcohol by volume, and it’s a vintaged, aged beer brewed once a year, on December 6th, for release the following December for Christmas. (It may not be the world’s strongest lager any more, I don’t know for sure—there are some eisbocks on BeerAdvocate that seem to be stronger.)
I sang its praises a couple of years ago. It’s an excellent beer, and since it was first brewed in 1980, it predates all the other “extremes” by a sizable margin.
BeerAdvocate score: 87/100, 94% approval.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: many of you will hate this beer. But really, it’s hard to get much more extreme than including a hot pepper in every bottle of beer—and it’s not just for effect: this beer is spicy hot—literally!
Love it or hate it (I’m not sure there’s a middle ground), this is one beer you have to try at least once.
BeerAdvocate score: 62/100, 13% approval. Yes, it has mostly poor reviews. What, you thought I’d only recommend the highest-scoring beer?
Right now, if any one brewer embodies “extreme beer,” it’s Dogfish Head. Every other beer they brew these days is an extreme beer of one kind or another, and Sam Calagione has even wrote the book on it.
It was tough to pick any particular Dogfish beer for this, and in fact, I ended up picking two. (See below for the next one.) The first I picked, their 90 Minute IPA, is a classic example of the kind of beer that launched the extreme movement: An Imperial India pale ale. This beer is hopped at something like double the usual amount and is a huge 9% alcohol by volume.
In fact, Dogfish claims on their site that Esquire magazine suggested this was “perhaps the best IPA in America.” If you’re looking for quintessential American extreme beers, this is one to start with.
BeerAdvocate score: 91/100, 98% approval.
This beer is a classic example of how Dogfish has been (re)inventing the notion of extreme beer: not only does it contain exotic ingredients like saffron and Muscat grapes, but it’s based on an ancient beer-like beverage reconstruction (using molecular archaeology) from remains found in a burial chamber supposedly belonging to King Midas himself.
And while I’ve heard of homebrewers experimenting with ancient beer recipes, Dogfish is the first brewery that I know of that brews these ancient beers commercially. It’s tough to have more “extreme cred” than that.
Plus, by most accounts it’s a pretty good ale, too.
BeerAdvocate score: 84/100, 93% approval.
Samuel Adams Utopias
If ever there was a candidate for the Grandaddy of Extreme Beers, it’s Utopias. This ultra-limited-edition, impossible-to-get monster not only runs upward of $100 per bottle, but tops out at 25% alcohol by volume! I’ve seen reviews opining that this doesn’t even qualify as a beer anymore, it’s so over the top.
This is the holy grail of extreme beers, as far as I’m concerned. Even crazier—
Due to legal restrictions, Samuel Adams Utopias™ can not be sold in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia.
BeerAdvocate score: 4.14/5 (retired), 98% approval.