One of the highest rated beers in the world, Toppling Goliath’s Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout, has just been announced for a rare release. Acquiring a bottle, however, isn’t easy. First, you have to enter an online lottery. Second, you have to be one of 1,000 people to win said lottery. Third, you have to travel to the brewery, which is in Iowa, on January 13, 2017. Finally, you must exchange $200 for one 12 oz. bottle of the beer, 2 bottles of another highly rated beer, a couple of pieces of glassware, and a commemorative box.
Now we have not had Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout. We’re sure it’s amazing. But we’re also sure that, unless you live in Iowa and have some solid disposable income, that’s a tall order for one beer. The good news is, not every highly rated beer requires winning a lottery, saving up cash, and taking time off work to acquire. Some of the best beers in the world are sitting on the shelf at the bottle shop down the street from you.
To compose this list we started with BeerAdvocate’s Top 250 Beers. Of those beers, we selected the ones that are distributed on a regular basis to a good number of states. Then, we averaged their scores from BeerAdvocate, Untappd, and Rate Beer to make sure each scored at least a 4 out of 5. What we were left with is a list a of world-class beers that aren’t a headache to acquire. Pick some up, pop some caps, and enjoy!
While we waste weekends hunting whalez, the Belgians kick back and laugh with world-class beer flowing through their damn sink faucets. Belgians have access to tremendous beer from some of the world’s greatest breweries and they enjoy it all without camping out in front of breweries for hours. But you want to know the crazy part? We can too! One of the absolute finest Belgian beers, Trappistes Rochefort 10, sits in shops all the time in the States. The 11.3% Quad (Belgians aren’t known for restraint when it comes to alcohol content) is a bubbly and sweet treat. Think eating fruit and toffee that gets you drunk. Now the average American drinker isn’t dabbling in Quads, but drinking a Trappistes Rochefort 10 is a wonderful segue to another world of beer. Since the thirteenth century, monks have brewed beer at Rochefort Abbey, so they kinda have this whole brewing thing down. Trappistes Rochefort 10 is proof.
With distribution to over 20 states, AleSmith actually has a pretty strong footprint compared to many American breweries. Of all the beers they brew, none is finer than Speedway Stout, which is a year-round brew that finds its way to shelves often enough to place it on this list. In terms of coffee stouts, Speedway Stout is one of the gold standards, whose popularity has lead to the creation of highly sought-after variants. But fear not, you don’t need to hunt down Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout, Hammerhead Speedway Stout, or Kopi Luwak Speedway Stout when the original is incredible and far easier to find. The pitch-black stout packs strong roasted coffee notes, a good bit of chocolate, and a velvety body. The 12% beast has taken home a handful of awards since its inception over a decade ago for good reason. Link
If you live east of the Mississippi, there’s a good chance you can walk into a decent liquor store and walk out with a bottle or two of this gem from Bell’s. Expedition Stout, which is also distributed to select states further west, is a sweet and fruity stout that ages wonderfully. The chocolaty stout will see a lot of its flavors blend together over the years, resulting in a creamy, smooth drinking experience. It is a winter seasonal, meaning you won’t find it in mid-July, which is a good thing since this is about the last thing we’d want to drink at a BBQ. But when the temps dip, this is an absolute stunner. Pick one up this winter and pick one up next winter and enjoy them side-by-side. Link
Style: Russian Imperial Stout / ABV: 10.50% /
Avg. Rating: 4.18
There’s a reason you won’t find many IPAs on this list. Trends have shifted to IPAs with a juicy, citrusy aroma, something often accomplished by dry-hopping a beer with aromatic hops. These beers have a short shelf life and are a challenge for big breweries who put their beers in stores nationwide. While that’s the case, Sculpin is an exception. Ballast Point, who distributes, at least in some capacity, to almost the entire country, brews one of the most legendary IPAs in all the land. Sculpin, which was originally named Northstar IPA when it was first released in 2005, is our go-to IPA when shelves are bare. It packs orange and grapefruit notes and is so well balanced. Link
Founders KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) will be a pain to acquire. Founders CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout) will give you a migraine just trying to figure out what beers you’d have to part with to trade for a bottle (hint: at ton, seeing as how it hasn’t been bottled in years). Founders Breakfast Stout, on the other hand, requires little more than a stroll to a decent shop. Founders has full distribution to over 25 states, which means a few bottles of their award-winning stout aren’t far from your pad. Brewed with oats, chocolate, and coffee, Breakfast Stout is the kind of rich, warming brew you can drink from a mug with some pancakes. Hell, we won’t judge. The flaked oats add a creamy mouthfeel to the flavorful stout, which doesn’t rely on barrel-aging to offer depth. Link
Style: Imperial Stout / ABV: 8.30% /
Avg. Rating: 4.27
Since opening its doors in 1996, Stone has produced a ton of good beers. You don’t become one of the 15 largest breweries in the country without a product people want. While their career is littered with winners, Stone Imperial Russian Stout still holds a special place in our hearts. The hefty stout, which hits shelves in March and April, has been around for almost as long as Stone has. Loaded with dark chocolate notes and a dose of vanilla, it’s a sweet and bitter treat. We recommend aging the beer a few years to allow those chocolate notes to pop a bit more, but it’s fantastic fresh. If you only turn to Stone for hop monsters, you really need to stop passing this one by. Link
Style: Russian Imperial Stout / ABV: 10.60% /
Avg. Rating: 4.2
We’ve mentioned the St. Bernardus Abt 12 story before, so we’re not going to rehash the whole thing, but the gist of it is, St. Bernardus Abt 12 is almost identical to one of the most sought-after beers in the world, Westvleteren 12. But while a Westy will require you to take a trip to the Belgian countryside, a bottle of St. Bernardus Abt 12 will just require a trip to your local bottle shop. The Quad is a 10% treat loaded with dark fruits, caramel, and a fizzy body. Look, a trip to Belgium to drink your way around the country is highly recommend, but with St. Bernardus Abt 12 and Trappistes Rochefort 10 available to you stateside, you already have access to some of the best Belgium has to offer.
There are some big time breweries we trust to put out stellar beer after stellar beer. You’ll find a couple of them on this list. Ballast Point is absolutely one of them. Their second beer on this list, and a staple in the CM fridge, is Victory at Sea, the brewery’s vanilla and coffee porter. Look, we’re suckers for vanilla, but too often it turns a beer into a sweet mess. Victory at Sea is vanilla done right. The coffee is upfront and the vanilla is subtle and complementary. The year-round brew has recently spawned variants—peppermint and coconut—that we’re excited to try, but we’d imagine they won’t be able to touch the original. Link
Style: American Porter / ABV: 10% /
Avg. Rating: 4.17
Okay, so Two Hearted Ale didn’t make BeerAdvocate’s Top 250. We’re still putting it on here because a) it’s delicious, and b) its ratings warrant an inclusion. The IPA is brewed with 100% Centennial hops and offers a faint piney and grapefruity aroma. A solid malt backbone gives the beer some heft and balances everything out. It’s far from a citrus-forward Northeast IPA, but it’s something those beers often are not: wonderfully balanced. It’s a throwback IPA whose availability is a blessing to all of us. Link