Beer is usually the least potent of alcoholic beverages. Table wine typically ranges from about 11% to 14% alcohol by volume (meaning the portion that is pure alcohol). Most spirits – vodka, gin, rum, various whiskies, etc. – weigh in between 35% and 50%. Beer, on the other hand, is a comparative lightweight. The average ABV of the popular brands is 4.5%, and some beers are weaker (Kirin Light, for instance, is a mere 3.2%).
During the process of fermentation, the interaction of yeast and sugar produces alcohol and C02 (the carbonation). Brewers have various ways of controlling the alcohol level, and they can make beer containing almost none or quite a bit. So-called alcohol-free beer actually contains some alcohol, but you’d have to look pretty hard to find it. By definition, it measures less than 0.05% ABV. (Here are 25 things you might not know about non-alcoholic beer.)
On the other end of the spectrum, brewers can also coax the alcohol in their beers into climbing up to 10% or more, and sometimes higher. There’s a limit, though, because when the alcohol gets too strong – usually around 14% or 15% – it kills off the yeast and fermentation stops.
Brewers are resourceful folk, though, and at least since the beginning of this century, some have been developing ways to increase beer’s alcoholic punch beyond what the realities of fermentation will allow. Super-strong yeasts can withstand a higher degree of alcohol and keep the process going, for one thing, but there’s also freezing. Water freezes at a higher temperature than alcohol, so when beer is chilled way down, the water turns to ice, which can be removed, leaving the beer less diluted.
In 2010, a Belgian brewery called De Struise fine-tuned the freezing process to produce a beer with an alcohol level of 26%. Other breweries took notice, and the race was on – all the way up (at least for now) to a beer with an ABV of 67.5%, higher than that of almost all hard liquor.
To compile a list of the world’s strongest beers, 24/7 Tempo reviewed listings, ratings, and articles on Beer Advocate, Untappd, RateBeer, Beer and Brewing,Draft Magazine, Beer Crush, and HiConsumption. Only beers measuring above 16% ABV were included (with the exception of one whose ABV varies between 15% and 20%, usually hovering around 18%).
Compiling a list like this is tricky, because craft brewers tend to make specialty beers in tiny quantities, and some appear once and then disappear into legend. ABVs don’t necessarily remain constant from one bottling to the next, either. And there are new ones appearing all the time. This list may well be incomplete, then, but at the time of writing, all the beers here appear to be in current production – though they will almost certainly be difficult to find.
It’s also important to remember that the world’s strongest beers, especially those on this list, may not taste much like what you expect beer to taste like. They lose carbonation as they grow in ABV and are often sweet but also harsh. They can also be deceptively dangerous, and you’d be hard-pressed (and ill-advised) to drink a whole bottle of most of these – and you certainly wouldn’t want to drive or, as they say, operate heavy machinery if you did. (If you’re looking for something lighter to quaff, consider one of the top-rated local beers from every state and D.C.)
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