Beer usually gets the short end of the stick when it comes to getting respect. While wine and hard liquor usually get the luxe treatment, from packaging in fancy bottles to slow, reverent consumption, beer usually gets portioned into flimsy cans and drunk with a nonchalant swig. This is changing, though, as brewers are producing a growing number of premium beers that demand more appreciative imbibing. While a lot of these brews follow in the footsteps of Europe's great beer traditions, there are also up-and-coming brewers breaking the rules and pushing boundaries. Along with all these sincere artisans, of course, there are always the posers who want to make a buck by surfing a rising trend but whose products aren't quite worth the hype. We've come up with a short list of beers that cost a good bit but are actually worth trying.
Before we go there, though, it would be good to have a look at the basics of what makes these beers special, so let's go through what you need to pay attention to:
For draft pours, this is something the bartender has a lot of control over, but fresh out of the bottle, you want to see a full, thick head as a sign of a proper old-school brew. The bubbles will help to bring out the aroma, which will vary greatly depending on what the brewer wants to emphasize: the grassy citrus notes of hops or the sweet caramel odor of malt.
This depends partly on the grain and malt content. An oatmeal stout's texture can be viscous, almost slick, while beers that use inexpensive grains like rice and corn have a thin, light body.
Color and Clarity
While heft and color go together often, it's not always the case that a light-colored beer translates to a light mouthfeel while a dark one will be heavy. A cloudy beer signals an unfiltered brew, which can help add texture and allow the beer to improve in the bottle.
A pewter stein might sound like the ideal container for a classic brew, but clear glass allows you to appreciate the finer points of what you're drinking. A stemmed glass will allow you to appreciate your beer while keeping your hands from changing the temperature.
With all that, let's have a look at the brews that deserve this kind of attention.
Crown Ambassador Reserve
Aged in French oak for a year, this beer is pitched as an alternative to wine, and they don't let you forget it: from its numbered champagne bottle packaging and its vintage release, to its $90 price, its rich, full-bodied mouthfeel, this lager is all about luxury. On top of all this, if you aren't able to buy it on release, which is a challenge given the 8,000 bottles each batch is limited to, you'll have to pay two to three times the original price in order to sample this brew.
Samuel Adams' Utopias
This beer is made from all-natural ingredients and subjected to a precise aging process that sees the brew aged in sherry, brandy, cognac, bourbon, and scotch casks for up to 18 years, At $150, this claims the distinction of being America's most expensive beer. It's also extraordinarily strong at 24-27% ABV, causing it to be banned in 13 states because of old ABV laws.
Pabst Blue Ribbon (China)
Pabst Blue Ribbon costs an eye-popping $44 per bottle in China, but not because of some quirk of customs or taxation: the Chinese version of Pabst was designed to compete with higher-end wines and brandies, so it has little in common with the American version aside from its name: it's made from German caramel malts, aged in uncharred American whiskey barrels, and is sold in a fancy glass bottle. It isn't available outside of China.
Brandon Peters is an entrepreneur, writer, and lover of the good life. He'll taste just about anything at least once.