In a competitive industry, beer marketers have been pushed to be creative and unique. This has led to some of the most memorable advertisements in modern marketing history, as well as some very interesting beer names like Supplication (wouldn’t it take a Californian company to make you feel guilty about not liking beer!), Duck Duck Gooze (made by The Lost Abbey brewery, also Californian), Permanent Funeral (out of Munster, Indiana), Mother of All Storms (Oregon), Exponential Hoppiness (this had to be California!), and Big Bad Baptist (out of Salt Lake City, Utah!). The name that may be the biggest triumph – because it’s even likely to get a beer-hater wanting to drink a tall, cold one – is Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate; this is a Russian Imperial Stout made by the Foothills Brewing Company in North Carolina. If it tastes like chocolate, and one hopes it does, that’s bound to appeal to the masses.
Beer Advocate is an online site that needs no explanation. This membership-based site with more than 360,000 users worldwide took data from millions of user ratings – not hand-picked, but random, they stress – and entered the data into a formula to come up with an objective rating system of more types of beers than one even knew existed (WR stands for “weighted rank”). To keep things manageable, their website shares only the top 250 beers, as rated by their users. We’re sharing their pretty definitive top 10.
What do you like in a beer? Do you like the frothy head, the chilled, amber liquid rushing across your taste buds and cooling your throat, or perhaps the bitter of a dark beer, a filling meal in itself? Whether amber, pale ale, a red or a stout, there is something for everyone who loves this time-honored drink. Those of us who aren’t fans of this time-honoured drink are often forced to watch beer-lovers practically sigh with contentment as they take that first gulp. It seems more than just thirst-quenching on hot days; for those who love beer no matter its shape, size or color, the drink is a passion. What are the top 10 beers as rated by Beer Advocate’s 360,000+ users? Get your taste buds (and your wallets) ready!
10. Parabola: 4.58 (3496 votes)
This beer from Paso Robles, California was first released in 2011. It’s made by the Firestone Walker Brewing Co. One wonders if it has made it so high on the list for its flavor or rather because, unlike beers by larger American breweries, the alcohol content is very high, at 13% ABV (alcohol by volume), on par with the alcohol content of a wine. Parabola is a dark beer made in the style of a Russian Imperial Stout and is aged for eight to twelve months in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels from the 1990s. The company advertises the beer as having hints of bourbon, tobacco and espresso as well as “American oak.”
9. Double Sunshine IPA: 4.59 (1228 votes)
Lawson’s Finest Liquids, a brewery in Warren, Vermont, makes this popular India pale ale style beer. The label on the bottle says, “Straight from the Green Mountains to your head,” and credits the beer’s “juicy, tropical fruit flavors” and “bright herbal aromas” to the copiousness of U.S. grown hops in the drink. Double Sunshine IPA is so popular, for instance, that when it is sold at a Montpelier farmer’s market, ahead-of-time advertising warns consumers not to drive from hours away as stock is limited, and only two bottles will be sold per person. It must be ambrosia!
8. Trappist Westvleteren XII: 4.6 (3938 votes)
This Belgian ale from Brouwerij Westvleteren is made by Trappist monks at the Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren abbey. The order, founded in La Trappe, France, holds the tenet that monks must be self-supporting. As a result, Trappists have been brewing and selling their wares since the Middle Ages. Time-tested! No wonder this beer is eighth out of 250. The monks, very strict in their way of life, are also strict when it comes to sharing their product. Instructions on the abbey’s website notify potential buyers to phone at an approved time, make an appointment for purchase, and note that one car may not pick up two orders within 60 days!
7. Bourbon Barrel-Aged Vanilla Bean Dark Lord : 4.61 (693 votes)
The website for the brewery that makes this incredibly long-named beer has a landing page that looks like it is straight from Pirates of the Caribbean. The brewery, Three Floyds Brewing Co., is based in Munster, Indiana. It sports beers with names like Robert the Bruce, Dreadnaught, Behemoth and Blackheart, among others. Dark Lord, as it is called in its shortened form, is advertised as a “demonic, Russian Style Imperial Stout” brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla and “intelligentsia.” Exclusivity seems to be the mark of a really good beer; you have to be organized and tenacious to drink this beer that’s available just one day per year at the brewery, on “Dark Lord Day” in April.
6. Zombie Dust: 4.61 (4974 votes)
Also made by Three Floyds in Munster, a sleepy suburb of Chicago, Zombie Dust is better than the Dark Lord in that it comes in as No. 6, but is also available year round, in limited supply. This brew is touted as an “undead pale ale” that will be one’s “only respite” after the zombie apocalypse, and owners acknowledge the label was created with the help of friends in the comic industry. This is clear from the packaging – the logo looks like a Tim Burton creation.
5. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) : 4.62 (6400 votes)
This Grand Rapids, Michigan brewery has been around since 1997 and claims to be recognized as one of the best breweries in the U.S. due to the fact they do not make beer for the masses, but craft it “for a chosen few…renegades and rebels.” Founders went from near bankruptcy to one of the most in-demand brands by changing their style. Instead of competing with the big boys, they have created an eclectic array of artful beers designated to tease the palate. Their KBS label is available from October through December and is pitched at coffee lovers. It is brewed with bitter, imported chocolate, oats, and Kona and Sumatra coffees, and is described as having “an intense fresh-roasted java [scent], [capped] with a frothy, cinnamon-colored head.”
4. Pliny the Elder: 4.64 (8444 votes)
Santa Rosa, California is home to the Russian River Brewing Co., brewers of Pliny the Elder (and its youthful counterpart, Pliny the Younger), and other labels. Beers range from 4.2 to 10% ABV, sporting names like Happy Hops, Perdition and, Supplication. Three of their highest alcohol-content beers are, from lowest to highest: Damnation, Salvation and Consecration. Pliny the Elder was a Roman author, philosopher and naturalist, circa 50 AD. He and his peers coined the botanical name for hops, hence the shout out in his honor. His namesake beer is appropriately brewed with more than double the amount of hops than the brewery’s usual IPA, and is available year round.
3. Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout: 4.65 (3700 votes)
Goose Island Beer Co., “Chicago’s Craft Beer,” makes this respected label. Next door to the brewery is Chicago’s renowned Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea. Goose Island began partnering with them in 2010. Each year, Intelligentsia provides a different bean to brew with, and so each “vintage” truly is its own. 2013’s bean was Los Inmortales from El Salvador. Each annual run of Bourbon County Coffee Stout contains 13.4% ABV, uses Willamette hops and is midnight-dark in color. The brewery suggests drinking it from a snifter glass and pairing it with a flourless chocolate coffee cake or a Capriole bourbon chocolate torte. Sounds mouth-watering!
2. Pliny the Younger: 4.66 (2043 votes)
In term of history, Pliny the Younger was Pliny the Elder’s nephew who was adopted and educated by his uncle. In terms of the California beer, Pliny the Younger is a limited release pub brew, and is a triple India Pale Ale of golden hue. That’s right, more hops than even the old man, with triple the amount of hops of the Russian River Brewing Company’s traditional IPA. Because of its hop content, it consumes more space, takes more time, and is more expensive to make, so this select beer is available only to pubs in the region on tap, for two weeks per year. If you want to taste it, February is the month when Pliny the Younger is out and about.
1.Heady Topper: 4.71 (5855 votes)
The Waterbury, Vermont brewery The Alchemist brews only Heady Topper, aiming to perfect one beer rather than producing several. They must have come close to perfection, because after being in business for just 11 years, they are considered No. 1 by the majority of voters. Using six types of hops in their proprietary blend, the brewers claim you will taste any or all of tropical fruit, pine, spice and citrus in their IPA. The Alchemist’s alchemists say they use “just enough malt” to give their beer a “backbone,” but not so much as to upstage the hops. Heady Topper’s taste policy includes not hanging onto inventory, but getting it out to market as fast as possible for the freshest, “hoppiest” taste.