The resurgence of high-alcohol beers

It seemed that ultra-high alcohol beer was on the way out. Drinkers were becoming more focused on session beers designed to be consumed en masse without causing serious inebriation. Others focused on rebuilding old recipes or creating the most unique flavor combinations possible. Looks like the “big buzz” beer isn’t gone yet and might be making a resurgence at a nearby liquor store. Even the big boys are getting in on the act now, and it has nothing to do with “winter warmers.”

it’s a mixed bag

It has been an interesting year for beer sales around the world. While the market has actually grown by more than 2%, the demand has not increased. The growth appears to be coming from developing countries finally entering the market, rather than renewed interest within already developed countries. For big brewers, this is a problem, especially for Bud, which has experienced a long, slow decline in popularity (much to the joy of craft beer lovers). Not that anyone wants to see the “King” fail, but it’s nice to know that craft beer has had such a big impact on people’s drinking choices.

Bud has actually lost a lot of ground recently, falling 9% in terms of retail sales in 2012 alone, and that’s not taking into account the cumulative losses the brewery has experienced over the past decade or so. However, things could be changing for Bud as they take a cue from the craft brewers and try to turn the tables.

The company’s most successful beers to date include the relatively new Platinum line, which is their ultra-premium beer. Now, they’re adding another premium option to the list: Black Crown got the green light and should be in the hands of beer drinkers in 2013. Black Crown is a definite take-off on the craft beer seen, where high-alcohol beer is brewed. they have been around for a long time.

Now, don’t think this is going to be an ultra-high octane beer. Bud can’t have the sense for that. Rather, it will be around 6% ABV, in contrast to the 5% ABV that regular Budweiser offers. It will offer a few other distinctions, too: The beechwood aging and a different finish will set it apart from the watery fare the brewery is best known for. That said, Bud isn’t alone in seeing higher ABV as a key to better sales and it remains to be seen if this will be enough to reignite interest in brewery offerings.

Brewmeister brewery kicks off Armageddon

Scotland’s Brewmeister Brewery (a country that has a history of extreme beers anyway), has announced the debut of the world’s strongest beer. The company’s new Armageddon beer stands out above the competition in terms of alcohol content: it boasts 65% alcohol. Brewed with “frozen fermentation,” which leaves the strongest alcohol content behind, the beer will sell for around $52 a bottle (yes, a bottle). Sales to the US are only available through the company’s website, so you won’t be able to pick up a bottle locally, no matter how vast the selection is at your preferred vendor.

Brewmeister isn’t the first Scottish brewery to create a beer that will get you drunk in a split second. BrewDog made international headlines with their super strong beer served on a dead animal (stoats and squirrels). Called the “End of History,” this beer helped fuel a global trend for ultra-strong beer, and Brewmeister could do the same.

Dethroned Sam Adams still packs a punch

Of course, we can’t forget the king of all craft breweries in the US: Sam Adams regularly puts out a super strong beer called Utopia (actually a range of beers, released every two years). This year marks the beer’s 10th anniversary, and Sam Adams has released his selection a year earlier than normal to celebrate the occasion.

At 29% abv, it lags far behind Armageddon in terms of alcohol content, but costs a bit more per bottle. That’s not to say it won’t be an incredibly popular thought (and the fact that it’s available in the US is definitely a plus). If you want one of these limited-edition concoctions, you’re going to have to act really fast (and get really lucky to boot). Sam Adams is only releasing fewer than 15,000 bottles, each of which has a suggested retail price of $190.

New Belgium is on the spot

New Belgium’s Lips of Faith beer offerings have been praised across the country, and will also be coming out with a new high-octane pairing in late 2012. Working with Brewery Vivant (out of Michigan), the two options are Biere de Garde and Imperial Coffee Chocolate Stout. The former is available at 9% ABV, and the stout is 10%, both of which are quite high (although nothing in the Utopias or Armageddon range).

Why the new focus on high-octane beers?

With session beers gaining so much popularity lately, it’s understandable that the reasoning behind new strong beers is a bit confusing. Actually, it’s likely part of a trend to be seen in the brewing world for some time to come. As session beers predominate, those looking for something stronger will gravitate towards options like the ones mentioned above. As they tire of massive alcohol beers, the popularity of session beers will rise once again.

One thing beer lovers can really look forward to today is that both high-alcohol and low-alcohol varieties will be widely available from a wide range of breweries, including large brewing companies and craft brewers. Variety is what the beer world really needs: a break from the big, beer-controlled world of yore, and that’s exactly what’s happening.

Whether you prefer fin de mundo stouts, ultra reserve offerings, or something that packs a decent punch with plenty of flavor and character, there are more options than you might think.

poto beer,
Dustin Canestorp

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