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99 Bottles

From IPAs to saisons, we scour the globe to find the best bottled beers in the world.


Story by Imbibe Staff

Photos by Michael Cogliantry


Quick, 10 seconds or less: What’s the best beer in the world?

Not that easy, is it? After all, if you’re any kind of beer enthusiast, you can probably think of a lot of contenders for that title. And then there’s context: The best beer in the world for a night curled up by the fireplace is probably not the best beer in the world to break out at your next barbecue. And that became a central theme in our editorial staff’s conversations as we tried to come up with a list of 99 of our favorite bottled beers for our Sept/Oct issue: Why do we love these beers, and when and how do we prefer to drink them?

As the debate continued, we established a few guidelines. We tended to give preference to beers available year-round over seasonals, on the argument that even the greatest beer isn’t all that enjoyable if you can only find it for a month or two out of the year (though, we included a “seasonal” category and couldn’t resist including a few other seasonals in the mix, which we’ve noted when applicable). In a similar vein, we tried to include beers with fairly wide distribution: Three Floyds Dark Lord Imperial Ale, for instance, is an amazing beer, but raving about a bottle that’s only sold one day a year, and then only at the brewery itself, seems like an exercise in cruelty for any reader who doesn’t happen to live in Munster, Indiana. (Seriously, though, if you get a chance, check it out.)

We also enlisted the help of a bevy of outside beer experts who were kind enough to share their suggestions in our extensive survey (see list below), and we polled our readers for their favorites. Then we tasted … a lot. In the end, we found ourselves amazed by the diversity of flavors and textures that craft brewers around the world are offering, from deep and rich barrel-aged barleywines to clean, crisp saisons. Do the 99 beers on our list (plus one extra choice that we couldn’t resist, even though it breaks all our self-imposed rules) match up with the 99 beers that would be on your list? Maybe not—any list like this is necessarily subjective. But we guarantee that you’ll find options on here that will make you fall in love with beer all over again.


Here’s a sneak peek of 10 of the beers from our list of 100 (note that the beers on our list are unranked and appear in no particular order). For the full list, check out the Sept/Oct 2009 issue of Imbibe.






Beers to Drink with a Burger

It may be one of the world’s most enduring relationships: a hot, juicy burger with a cold, refreshing beer. And the pairing becomes even more satisfying when you find a brew whose aroma and flavors complement, rather than overwhelm, those of the burger. On that note, consider this the matchmaker’s list of brew-and-burger marriages.


Sample Pick: Victory Prima Pils Downingtown, Penn.  5.3% ABV, 12 oz./22 oz.
With its soft gold color and thick white head, this crisp, refreshing pilsner looks friendly and unintimidating. But a massively floral and hoppy aroma with heady yeasty notes lets you know that this is no simple quaffer. Bone-dry with a pronounced hoppy bitterness and a cleansing burst of lemon peel mid-palate, Prima Pils has a sharp edge that can cut through the richest flavors. Pair it with a bacon cheeseburger for pure bliss.



While a lot of great beers are released seasonally these days, we think a true seasonal beer should taste like the time of year for which it was brewed. These beers do just that, matching up perfectly with their time of release by encapsulating the smell, flavors and sense of their respective seasons.


Sample Pick: AleSmith YuleSmith San Diego, Calif.  9.5% ABV, 22 oz.
Brewed twice yearly—as a malty imperial red in the winter and a hoppy double-IPA come summer—YuleSmith is handcrafted by a group of award-winning homebrewers who banded together to create their own microbrewery. SUMMER, WINTER RELEASE


Hop Monsters

Some beers are like the body builders of the brewing world—big, bold and often looking to push the limits of their bravado. And while these beers may not be for the faint of heart, they’ll never fail to make an impact; in fact, they might just inspire more hops-shy beer drinkers to muscle up their palates.


Sample Pick: Avery Maharaja Boulder, Colo. 10.69% ABV, 22 oz.
Dark amber in color with a floral and fruity nose of tangerine, apricots and marmalade, this imperial IPA clocks in at a mighty 102 IBUs. Four hops varieties offer big-time bitterness, but the Maharaja also combines a healthy dose of maltiness and a subtly sweet finish. Unfortunately, this beer is a limited release, so you’ll need to stock up while it’s available during the spring and summer months; the good news is that it’s a perfect candidate for cellaring, so if you’ve got a place to store it, you can enjoy it all year long. SPRING, SUMMER RELEASE


Different but good

Sip. Huh. Sip. Whoa, what is that? Sip. Whatever it is, I think I want some more. That’s this category in a nutshell: beers made with unexpected ingredients, or in an unexpected fashion, that make you think twice about what you’re drinking—but keep you coming back for another taste.


Sample Pick: Rogue Juniper Pale Ale Newport, Ore.  5.3% ABV, 22 oz.
At first, this beer presents like a light pale ale—clean, sharp and clear—when all of a sudden, bam, a jolt of juniper berry hits you on the finish. This is the closest a beer will ever come to tasting like a Gin and Tonic, and it’s just as refreshing and crisp.


Small Beers

Sometimes you want something that’s not too overpowering—something you can drink after your workout or during an afternoon of yard work, without being sent straight to bed. These beers all clock in at under 5 percent alcohol by volume but don’t sacrifice taste in order to do so.


Sample Pick: Anchor Steam San Francisco, Calif.  4.9% ABV, 12 oz./22 oz.
The flagship ale of one of the granddaddies of the American craft beer movement, this coppery-gold quaffer offers strong floral notes, some mild malty sweetness and a crisp bitterness that pairs beautifully with barbecued chicken.


Beers to serve to your friend who claims to be a beer snob

You know the type: The friend who turns up his nose at every bar’s beer list and who brings over bottles from his collection when you invite him to dinner (not that you’re complaining about that). Next time he stops by, turn the tables by pouring one of these intricate and intriguing brews—but beware, from then on, he might decide to show up empty-handed.


Sample Pick: Pliny the Elder Santa Rosa, Calif.  8% ABV, 500 ml.
Named after the naturalist who designated hops’ botanical name nearly two millennia ago, this sunflower-gold IPA from Russian River Brewing has a fluffy, cloud-white head and is complex but well balanced. The pine-needle aroma gives way to a strong floral bouquet and an assertive bitterness. Pack Pliny the Elder in a picnic basket to sip alongside salumi and cheese in the park, or serve it at a backyard barbecue with short ribs. LIMITED DISTRIBUTION


Beers to drink with dessert

Generally, when people thinking of pairing beer with food, they think of barbecue or burgers—i.e., “pub grub.” But plenty of beers have the richness and roundness to complement sweets. Try one of the suggested pairings below, and you might find yourself leaving that bottle of Port on the shelf the next time dessert comes out.


Sample Pick: New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale Fort Collins, Colo.  5.6% ABV, 12 oz./22 oz.
A black ale might suggest something strong and heavy, but 1554 is surprisingly light-bodied. Even so, it manages to offer loads of toasty goodness with flavors of chocolate, malt and coffee, followed by a smooth, velvety finish. Heavenly with chocolate cake or coffee ice cream

organic Beers

There was a time when you had to be happy to find any organic beer—whether it was good or not was almost beside the point. These days, though, a growing number of breweries are getting certified organic, or producing a select number of organic brews in addition to their standard lineup. With competition has come an increase in quality, making this category more exciting than ever.


Sample Pick: Georg Schneider’s Wiesen Edel-Weisse Kelheim, Germany  6.2% ABV, 500 ml.
Both its peachy-beige opacity and its rich aroma of sweet rolls and summer flowers tell you this beer is unfiltered, while the almost mead-like flavor and creamy mouthfeel make it a general crowd-pleaser; anyone will appreciate those notes of sweet orange blossom and ripe pear.


barrel-aged Beers

Like a fine whiskey, barrel-aged beers are nuanced and complex with refined flavors that offer subtle hints of the wood in which they were aged. Spending anywhere from weeks to months in barrels that may have previously held whiskey, bourbon or even sherry, the beers on this list demonstrate how wood-aging mellows their hops and malt tones while marrying creamy notes of chocolate and vanilla to soft traces of wood.


Sample Pick: Deschutes The Abyss Bend, Ore. 11% ABV, 22 oz.
Dark and alluring with flavors of roasted cocoa beans, licorice and molasses, this limited-edition imperial stout will age beautifully with a few years in the cellar. SPECIAL RELEASE

Beers to cellar

In general, fresher is better when it comes to beer. However, some beers can actually benefit from aging—generally, beers that are cask- or bottle-conditioned, or that have a high alcohol content. Often, what began as the beer’s primary flavor—be it smoke or fruit or chocolate—tends to mellow out, allowing secondary flavors to blossom. The beers on this list become more complex as they age. Try tasting one fresh and another one a year later—it’s like tasting a whole new beer!


Sample Pick: Chimay Grande Réserve Scourmont Abbey, Belgium  9% ABV, 750 ml.
This Trappist classic is a warm, hazy sienna color in the glass, with a creamy head. An aroma of raisin bread transforms on the palate into a brûléed bread pudding. This is a burly beer that promises to mellow nicely with age.


Special Thanks to Our Contributing Experts

Jason and Julie Atallah (Bruisin' Ales, Asheville, NC); Joshua M. Bernstein (Imbibe writer, NYC); Jay Brooks (Brookston Beer Bulletin, Marin, CA); Lucy Burningham (Imbibe writer, Portland, OR); Greg Engert (Rustico, Alexandria, VA); Joshua Hunt (Beer Run, Charlottesville, VA); Sam Merritt (Civilization of Beer, NYC); Randy Mosher (Tasting Beer author, Chicago); Jonathan Myerow (Tria, Philadelphia); E. Christian Pappanicholas (Resto Restaurant, NYC); Sarah Pederson (Saraveza, Portland, OR); Justin Philips (Beer Table, NYC); Michael Roper (Hopleaf, Chicago); Keith Schlabs (Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, Addison, TX); Daphne Scholz (Bierkraft, Brooklyn, NY); Gary Sink (Beveridge Place Pub, Seattle); Adem Tepedelen (Imbibe writer, Victoria, BC); Craig Wathen (City Beer Store, San Francisco)




For the other 90 beers on our list, check out the Sept/Oct 2009 issue. And as a bonus, check out our list of 10 of the best bottled beers brewed in unexpected places and 10 of the best craft beers in a can.



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