file photo by Alex Boerner
The Big Bang for the teeming scene of craft breweries carpeting North Carolina occurred in 2005, when then-governor Mike Easley signed the “Pop the Cap” bill into law. It raised the state's limit on alcohol by volume for beer from 6 percent to 15 percent. Countless drinkers agree that's a good thing.
Still, it could be better. A recent video on Huffington Post
about the twelve states that ban Sam Adams limited-edition Utopias beer (at 28 percent ABV) reminded us as much. As the craft brewing industry continues to create higher-alcohol beers, caps such as North Carolina's shut out an ever-expanding list of beers. In the case of Utopias, a barrel-aged brew that comes with a $200 price tag, North Carolina will miss out—legally—on the 13,000 retail bottles, which the company describes as “reminiscent of a rich vintage Port, old Cognac, or fine sherry with notes of dark fruit, subtle sweetness, and a deep rich malty smoothness.” (It's also banned in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington.)
For comparison's sake, some states impose a 3.2 percent cap on beer sold at groceries and gas stations but place higher limits on beers sold in liquor stores. Louisiana stays on brand with a laissez-faire approach that allows spirits of any ABV, be they liquor or beer, to be sold in groceries, drug stores, convenience stores, and the like. The ABV limit for beer in New Hampshire and South Dakota is 14 percent, while it's 17.5 percent in South Carolina. West Virginia has a limit of 12 percent. Texas doesn't cap its beer but requires additional permits to sell booze greater than 15.1 percent, so some retailers decide doing so isn't worth the additional paperwork.
Thanks to some European breweries that engaged in a measuring contest, there are now beers with ridiculously high ABV ratings. In 2009, Scotland's BrewDog released Tactical Nuclear Penguin
, a beer with 32 percent ABV. Three months later, Germany's Schorschbräu said “Excuse me” and whipped out a Schorschbock
at 40 percent. BrewDog responded with Sink the Bismarck!
, with 41 percent ABV. (Brewdog also later released Armageddon
with a claim of 65 percent ABV. That was eventually revealed to be incorrect.)
Below are a few notable high-ABV beers that exceed the state's limit. They are a treat to drink, if you can get your hands on them.
Dogfish Head Brewing has two that surpass the 15 percent cap: World Wide Stout
and 120 Minute IPA
. Both of those were personal favorites when my house was only fifteen minutes from a Dogfish restaurant. The World Wide Stout is a robust, barley-filled 18 percent ABV brew that only gets better with age. In recent batches of the 120 Minute IPA, the ABV has been toned down a tad, but it still lands in the 15-to-20- percent range with each release. Regardless of the ABV, it's a glass of hoppy, copper-colored bliss.
At 16 percent ABV, Avery Brewing's Tweak
is a bourbon-barrel-aged coffee stout clocking in just above the N.C. cap. The annual winter seasonal is a tastier choice than Avery's Rumpkin
, a 17.5 percent ABV fall seasonal pumped full of pumpkin spice and aged in rum barrels. It's a big beer with hints of chocolate, oak, and more.
The Bruery has created a number of fairly high-alcohol brews worth a pour (or two). One is its anniversary release, Poterie
, a 16.8 percent ABV brew with notes of toffee, vanilla, and caramel. Even better is the 19.6 ABV Chocolate Rain
, an imperial stout redolent of chocolate, vanilla, and bourbon. It truly is worth crossing state lines to find.
Evil Twin Brewing's aptly named Molotov Heavy
is an Imperial IPA boasting an 18 percent ABV that's heavy both in alcohol and hoppiness. Duclaw Brewing's Colossus
has been brewed once every few years—2006, 2011, and 2014—and fans of it are hoping it will spring forth again soon. Despite a 17.3 ABV, it has a surprising sweetness to it, with hints of apples.
Think of these as potential souvenirs worth leaving a little extra space in your travel bag for the next time you go out of state.