By Billy Zavorskas
This Saturday marks the second anniversary of Billy’s Beer Blog. To mark the occasion, I’ve decided to do an updated version of my Ultimate Case. While I’m keeping two of my three rules from a year ago – no retired beers and a limit of one beer per brewery – I’m dropping the ban on extreme beers of 20% or more. I’m also expanding my Ultimate Case from 24 beers to 30, thus eliminating the need for an Honorable Mention 6-Pack.
And so, without further adieu, is my Ultimate Case The Sequel. It’s been a fun filled and exhaustive journey to put together a list of 30 beers from the countless number of brews that I have enjoyed. I hope that you enjoy reading this post as much as I have enjoyed preparing it.
AleSmith Speedway Stout; AleSmith Brewing Co.; San Diego, CA; Imperial Stout; ABV: 12.0; This DIPA is nothing less than superlative. It’s a full-bodied beer that pours a jet black color, with big notes of coffee in the nose and taste. The latter is balanced by milk chocolate, dark fruit, and roasted malt with a hint of caramel at the finish. Speedway is quite smooth from start to finish, and amazingly the alcohol content of 12% isn’t that noticeable. This stout will definitely send your taste buds racing!
Bell’s HopSlam Ale; Bell’s Brewery, Inc.; Kalamazoo, MI; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 10.0. An absolute hop bomb! The uber hoppy presence is well balanced by sweet malt and a taste of honey. Truly one of the best IPAs out there.
Blue Point Old Howling Bastard; Blue Point Brewing Co.; Patchogue, NY; Barley Wine; ABV: 10.0. This superb barley wine is amber in color and well balanced. Big notes of sweet caramel are complimented by bready malt, citrusy fruit, and piny hops. Old Howling Bastard goes down smoothly, and the 10% alcohol content is well hidden. In many ways, it reminds me of a classic West Coast barley wine.
Brooklyn Sorachi Ace; Brooklyn Brewery; Brooklyn, NY; Saison / Farmhouse Ale; ABV: 7.6. A superb saison from the acclaimed brewery. Golden in color, with the Japanese Sorachi hops balanced by notes of citrusy fruit, sweet malt, and peppery spices. Refreshing from start to finish.
Captain Lawrence Cuvee De Castleton; Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.; Pleasantville, NY; American Wild Ale; ABV: 8.0. Pours a golden orange color, with considerable notes of Brettanomyces yeast and Muscat grapes complimented by malted barley. Cuvee De Castleton has a buttery Chardonnay like character from being aged in French oak barrels.
Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Brandy Barrel Aged; Cigar City Brewing; Tampa, FL; Russian Imperial Stout; ABV: 11.5. Created from their Marshall Zhukov’s Imperial Stout, it’s jet black in color, with big notes of expresso and dark chocolate balanced by roasted malt, vanilla beans, and peppery spices. There’s a nice brandy backbone from the barrel aging. One of the best imperial stouts on the planet.
Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge; Brouwerij Bockor N.V.; Bellegem-Kortrijk, Belgium; Flanders Red Ale; ABV: 9.0. A truly outstanding Belgium sour ale, and one of my new favorites. If ever there was a 9% ABV beer that could be considered a session beer, then this is the closest thing to it! A beautiful crimson color with an array of tart cherries in both the nose and taste. The latter is complimented by a nice oaky finish.
Deschutes Mirror Mirror Barleywine Vintage 2009; Deschutes Brewery; Bend, OR; Barley Wine; ABV: 11.0. Quite simply an outstanding barley wine and part of Deschutes Reserve Series. Aged in oak barrels, Mirror Mirror is actually a doubled up version of their Mirror Pond Pale Ale. It pours a dark amber color and there’s notes of sweet caramel and vanilla in the nose. There’s a lot going on in the taste, as the sweet caramel and vanilla are complimented by dark fruit and Cascade hops, with a bourbon like backbone from the oak barrels. Mirror Mirror has a warming, almost candy like feel to it as well, and goes down quite smoothly for a beer with an 11% alcohol content.
Dogfish Bitches Brew; Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Milton, DE; Russian Imperial Stout; ABV: 9.0. Named to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis’ jazz fusion album Bitches Brew. It’s as smooth as the late jazz legend, and pours a jet black color. There’s notes of honey and dark chocolate complimented by dark fruit, roasted malt, and gesho root with a hint of smokiness at the finish. While I liked it on tap, I found that drinking Bitches Brew from the bottle, slightly chilled, captured the true essence of this stout.
Flying Dog Raging Bitch; Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD; Belgian India Pale Ale; ABV: 8.3. Another excellent ale from the former Colorado, and now Maryland based, brewery. As mentioned in previous posts, Belgian IPAs have become a trend in the last year or two, and Raging Bitch takes its place among the better ones. It pours a light amber color, with notes of citrusy fruit such as bananas and grapefruit in the nose and taste. The latter is complimented by honey, sweet malt, and piny hops with a slight bitterness at the finish. Raging Bitch is as smooth as it is complex, so the 8.3% alcohol content isn’t very noticeable.
Founders Breakfast Stout; Founders Brewing Co.; Grand Rapids, MI; Imperial Stout; ABV: 8.3. FBS pours a deep chocolate color, with humongous notes of chocolate and expresso coffee balanced by oatmeal and sweet malt. If you’re a fan of all things chocolate and/or java, this is the stout for you. The alcohol presence is definitely noticeable, so FBS won’t sneak up on you. It’s certainly a beer to be savored.
Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2009; Fuller Smith & Turner PLC; London, England (UK); Old Ale; ABV: 8.5. A classic English old ale, brewed annually in limited batches. Amber in color, Vintage Ale 2009 has well balanced notes of caramel, dark fruit, brown sugar, and spicy hops with a brandy like feel in the backbone. This ale is full-bodied, yet silky smooth from start to finish.
Goose Island Juliet; Goose Island Beer Co.; Chicago, IL; American Wild Ale; ABV: 6.7. Truly deserves its world class ranking. Aged in cabernet barrels with blackberries, Juliet is ruby in color and hits you right off the bat with a big vinegar nose. The rosé wine like quality is prevalent throughout this ale, with the blackberry notes complimented by sour cherries and sweet caramel malt with a dry woody finish. The silky smooth Juliet pays homage to the classic Belgian sour ales, and “parting is such sweet sorrow” once the last sip has been taken.
Green Flash Le Freak; Green Flash Brewing Co.; Vista, CA; Belgian India Pale Ale; ABV: 9.2. A blend of the brewery’s excellent Trippel and Imperial IPA into a silky smooth full-bodied ale. The color is burnt orange, and the nose is very floral with hints of citrusy fruit and yeast. The taste has a definite presence of banana, as well as other citrusy fruit, complimented by honey, spices, and big piny hops with a slightly bitter finish.
Hair of the Dog Adam; Hair of the Dog Brewing Co.; Portland, OR; Old Ale; ABV: 10.0. Brewed in the historic Adambier style of Germany, Adam is a superb full-bodied old ale. The first beer brewed by Hair of the Dog, it’s jet black in color and has rich notes of chocolate and tart fruit in the nose and taste, with the latter complimented by caramel malt, spices, and light hops, with a woody feeling in the backbone. Adam is velvety smooth, but also quite robust, so the 10% ABV isn’t going to sneak up on you.
Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 40; Harviestoun Brewery Ltd.; Alva Clackmannanshire, Scotland (UK); Old Ale; ABV: 8.0. Yet another outstanding offering from the brewery’s Special Reserve series. Ola Dubh means “Black Oil” and this old ale, aged in Highland Park 40 Year whiskey casks, is based on Harviestoun Old Engine Oil. Jet black in color, 40 has big Scotch whiskey notes in the nose and initial taste, complimented by hints of dark chocolate and sweet malt with a vanilla oakiness at the finish. An extremely well balanced beer, 40 is as rich and smooth as it is complex, and I believe that it’s the best offering in the series.
Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA; Ninkasi Brewing Co.; Eugene, OR; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 8.8. Like its namesake, this ale really packs a punch! Tricerahops pours a rich amber color, and there’s big notes of hops in the nose. The full-bodied taste is an array of piny and citrusy hops, complimented by sweet caramel malt and honey with a nice dry finish. Tricerahops is smooth from start to finish, and the alcohol content of nearly 9% is well hidden.
Russian River Consecration; Russian River Brewing Co.; Santa Rosa, CA; American Wild Ale; ABV: 10.0. One sip of this superb ale was enough to make me believe brother! Consecration is aged in American Oak Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. The wine presence comes across quite clearly in the initial taste, complimented by an array of notes such as Brettanomyces yeast, currants, sweet malt, and tart fruit with a crisp clean finish. It more than holds its own with the classic Belgian farmhouse ales, and the alcohol content of 10% isn’t that noticeable. Needless to say, Consecration is a wonderfully complex and eclectic ale.
Samuel Adams Utopias (2009); Boston Beer Company; Boston, MA; American Strong Ale; ABV: 27.0. The 2009 edition is definitely something special. Caramel in color with big notes of sweet caramel, vanilla spices, and an oaky cognac like backbone. Utopias has a nice candy like feel to it and is very warming.
Schneider Aventinus; Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn; Kelheim, Germany; Weizenbock; ABV: 8.2. A robust yet smooth, full-bodied bock that truly deserves its reputation as one of the world’s best beers. Named after Johannes Aventinus, a noted Bavarian historian and writer from the late Middle Ages, it pours a dark ruby brown color and there are notes of sweet malt and spices in the nose. The sweet malt and spices jump out in the taste as well, complimented by hints of banana, dark chocolate, vanilla, and wheat with light floral hops at the finish. There’s a lot going on in Aventinus, and the sweet candy backbone makes it a truly enjoyable bock.
Sierra Nevada Grand Cru; Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.; Chico, CA; American Strong Ale; ABV: 9.2. Brewed as part of Sierra Nevada’s 30th Anniversary Series, Grand Cru is a blend of their Oak Aged Bigfoot, Celebration Ale, and Pale Ale. Amber in color with notes of citrus and piny hops complimented by caramel malt with a nice bourbon kick from the barrel aging.
Southern Tier Oak Aged Unearthly; Southern Tier Brewing Co.; Lakewood, NY; Imperial India Pale Ale; ABV: 11.0). As great as the original Unearthly is, this DIPA takes it to the next level. It pours a deep amber color and the nose has big notes of piny hops and oakiness. Both are reflected in the taste as well, balanced by sweet caramel and a woody bourbon backbone. Oak Aged Unearthly is silky smooth for an beer of its potency, and you’ll want to savor it slowly to truly appreciate this ale.
St. Bernardus Abt 12; Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV; Watou, Belgium; Quadrupel; ABV: 10.5. A wonderfully complex balance of spices, ripe fruit, & sweet malt. The definitive gold standard of Belgium quads, and one of the world’s best beers period.
St. Feuillien Cuvée de Noël; Brasserie St. Feuillien; Le Roeulx, Belgium; Belgian Strong Dark Ale; ABV: 9.0. Mahogany in color, Cuvée de Noël has rich notes of caramel and roasted malt balanced by an array of spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. This velvety winter ale has a nutty feel to it, and is quite spicy as well.
Terrapin Side Project #9 The Dark Side ; Terrapin Beer Co.; Athens, GA; Belgium Style Imperial Stout; ABV: 8.5. An exceptional imperial stout. It pours a jet black color and has notes of chocolate and roasted malt balanced by dark fruit, molasses, and a spicy smokiness at the finish. The Dark Side is fermented with Trappist ale yeast, which actually gives it the feeling of a Belgian strong ale. The taste is as rich as it is smooth, and the 8.5% alcohol content is well concealed.
The Bruery Coton; The Bruery; Placentia, CA; Old Ale; ABV: 14.5. As smooth as it is complex, Coton takes its place alongside among the world’s best old ales. This chocolate colored ale has notes of dark fruit such as cherries and raisins complimented by caramel, vanilla spices, and a bourbon feel in the backbone. Coton reminds me of the now retired DuClaw Repent, one of my favorite all-time Belgiums, in that the alcohol content isn’t too noticeable for a beer in the 14-15% range. It’s easy to order a second pint of this deliciously eclectic ale.
Town Hall Masala Mama IPA; Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery; Minneapolis, MN; India Pale Ale; ABV: 5.9. This world class IPA pours a deep mahogany color, with big notes of Cascade hops in the nose and taste. The latter is complimented by citrusy fruit and toffee, with the sweet malt backbone apparent at the end. This IPA is silky smooth from start to finish, and with an alcohol content of just under 6%, is quite easy to drink. Masala Mama would make an excellent session beer for hop-heads, and non hop-heads, alike.
Traquair 2020; Traquair House Brewery Lld; Peeblesshire, Scotland (UK); Barley Wine; ABV: 10.0. This sublime barley wine was brewed in a limited release of 9600 bottles to honor the first decade of the 21st century, and to be consumed before the end of the second decade. This ale is nothing short of outstanding, and takes its place among my favorite all-time barley wines. Deep chestnut in color, 2020 has pronounced notes of sweet caramel and dark fruit in the nose and initial taste, followed by hints of brown sugar, honey, and vanilla spices with a smooth creamy finish. 2020 is a very well balanced beer, and the alcohol content of 10% is extremely well hidden.
Verhaeghe Duchesse De Bourgogne (Brouwerij Verhaeghe; Vichte, Belgium; Flanders Red Ale; ABV: 6.2). This may very well be the best sour ale I have ever had. Named for medieval duchess Mary of Burgundy, it pours a deep chestnut brown color with notes of tart fruit, notably cherries, and dark malt. Since this ale is aged in oak conditioned casks, Duchesse has a red wine like feeling to it. The array of sweet and sour flavors are perfectly balanced throughout this ale, and it’s velvety smooth from start to finish.
Westvleteren 12; Westvleteren Abdij St. Sixtus; Westvleteren, Belgium; Quadrupel; ABV: 10.2. This is the ale that Beer Advocate, BeerPal, Rate Beer, and many others consider The World’s Best Beer. In addition to ranking at or near the top of most beer lists, Westvleteren 12 is also one of the rarest beers in the world and not that easy to find. This Belgian quad is quite possibly the most complex beer that I have ever had. Westvleteren 12 pours a rich chestnut color, and there are light notes of caramel and dark fruit in the nose. The flavors are a delicious array of caramel malt, dark fruit, and spices with a hint of sweet fruit in the very smooth finish. Everything about this beer is in perfect balance, and there’s a nice warming sensation with each sip. Westvleteren 12, in fact, actually gets better as it’s allowed to sit and be savored.