Breweries across the world are competing for the title of world’s highest alcohol beer with one reaching an astounding 65 percent alcohol by volume. Most often these special brews are one-time efforts by Scottish and German breweries to achieve the record. Usually these record-setting beers are made by freezing and re-freezing the beer, simply removing the water and thereby increasing the ABV. Most brewers turn their noses up at this process and describe it as “not really brewing.”
The world’s strongest brewed beer, which does not resort to freezing, is Samuel Adams Utopias made by the Boston Beer Company. Utopias was first brewed in 2002 with a 24 percent ABV. Successive vintages have increased the alcohol levels. The October 2013 release hits an amazing 28 percent ABV. Each vintage is a blend of different, aged beers resulting in port, sherry, or cognac-like flavors completely unlike any other brewed beer. If you didn’t know it is a beer, you wouldn’t know it is a beer. Utopias is limited to a production of about 15,000 bottles with a suggested retail price of $199 per 25.4 ounce bottle. A few Utopias bottles are available in the mid-Atlantic area.
It is quite difficult to brew a beer over 10-12 percent ABV because the standard brewers yeasts perish at these high alcohol levels. To raise the alcohol content brewers often use other yeasts, including champagne yeast which can tolerate alcohol levels of about 17 percent. Beyond this level, surviving yeasts must be cultivated from successive brewings and fed with a varied sugar regimen.
Dogfish’s World Wide Stout, currently brewed at 15-20 percent ABV, achieved a pinnacle of 23 percent in 2002. It reached this auspicious level during a friendly competition with Boston Beer to brew the strongest American beer. Subsequently World Wide Stout was dialed back to achieve a better stout profile. Dogfish also brews Fort, a 15-18 percent ABV fruit beer and the highest alcohol fruit beer being produced; the 15-20 percent ABV 120 Minute IPA, and Olde School Barleywine at 13-16 percent ABV.
Another brewery known for its strong beers that are available in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is Avery Brewing of Boulder, Co. Its lineup includes the Demons of Ale series with The Beast at 16 percent ABV, Samael’s Oak Aged Ale at 16 percent ABV and Mephistopheles at 15 percent ABV.
Another locally available strong beer that once was the strongest beer in the world at 14 percent ABV is Samichlaus double bock, now brewed by the Schloss Eggenberg Brewery in Vorchdorf, Austria, but originally brewed by the Hürlimann Brewery in Zürich, Switzerland starting in 1979. This beer is brewed on one day a year, Dec. 6 — Saint Nicholas Day — and aged for ten months at the brewery prior to being bottled.
120 Minute IPA — 120 has a moderate grapefruit rind nose. The medium sugary sweet front melds into a medium sweet malt middle with notes of apricot and grapefruit-rind flavored hops. All continue in the finish. An alcoholic warmth nudges to the front in the aftertaste. 120 is sweet throughout, giving the yeasts sugars to work with, and is admirably balanced between its malt and alcohol. Ratings: 8.5/9.5.
Samael’s Ale — A two year old version, described as an English strong ale, has a complex malt, vanilla, caramel and sugar aroma. The light sweet malt and vanilla front is followed by a middle displaying mixed tropical fruits including mango, vanilla, a slight increase in caramel, and touches of roast and alcohol. The caramel increases a pinch in the finish. In the aftertaste there is a subdued alcoholic warmth as the caramel and vanilla continue. Ratings: 8/8. A fresh bottle scored only a modicum lower at: 7.5/7.5.
Samichlaus Bier — Samichlaus has an alluring bouquet of sweetness, apricot, and alcohol. It yields a thick mouthfeel with a syrupy sweet brandy-like front. The middle adds nuances of apricot and alcohol with the latter increasing to medium in the finish and staying in the aftertaste as the sweetness and alcohol linger. With well-integrated alcohol, this fresh Samichlaus is deliciously not strident. Ratings: 8.5/8.5.
Utopias — The young, 2013 Utopias tastes more like a cognac than a beer. It begins with a complex aroma of sugary molasses, figs and bread. The front evokes muted figs, alcohol and bread, leading into a middle displaying an increase in alcohol to medium, with the figs also growing to medium and traces of plum and toffee. An added molasses-like sweetness enters in the finish as does some vanilla. The aftertaste continues the figs, plum, toffee, vanilla, and alcohol as the molasses sweetness fades. Ratings: 8.5/8.5.