I used to be a bit of a beer snob, but even at my height I was never the snobbiest nor the most knowledgeable person around. I don’t brew my own beer. I don’t spend all of my money searching for that one special beer. And I don’t study the intricacies of it. It was mo re enjoyment than obsession.
But I do love a good beer and I know a decent amount about it, to the point that I know what I like and can have reasonably intelligent conversations about it, back when we used to gather around a table and have conversations.
In April of 2015, For The Win (a vertical of USA Today), published an article listing “The 25 Beers You Need to Try Before You Die.” There are variations of this list all over, so I had read it when it first came out, but didn’t think much of it. Then, I stumbled across it again and I thought why not take the Double Dare physical challenge and try to see how many of them I could track down.
It was a quest that began in September, 2015.
Note: this post has been updated since first being published.
Before we go any further, please be aware of a few things:
- There are some beers, namely Orval, that I believe are glaring omissions. What can you do? Any list like this will have to make some hard choices and there will never be a consensus. Just be aware that this is far from the definitive list (since one is impossible by nature), but you need to choose a list if you’re going to do something like this, so I chose this one. As the writer of the For the Win article explained, “This isn’t an infallible list.”
- To that point, I had nothing to do with the list. The author was Mike Foss, so any complaints should be directed his way
- Finally, this was always a passive endeavor. It was never going to consume my life. I’m not a beer hunter. I don’t have the time, money, energy, or inclination to go crazy over such things. I’m not going to spend thousands of dollars to check these beers off my list. I did a little bit of legwork (the BeerMenus app was very helpful), but I have a family and responsibilities, so this was just a silly hobby in which I indulged. I was never under any delusions of achieving all twenty-five and, frankly, I’m stunned at how long I kept at it. In fact, here is a great piece about the lunacy of waiting in line and paying hundreds of dollars for beer that actually references three beers on this list to illustrate the point.
Now that all of that is out of the way, let’s get to it. Below is the list from For The Win. As I conquered them, I crossed them off the list, took a photo, and added my own notes in italics.
How close to all twenty-five did I get? Let’s see…
1. Permanent Funeral IPA – 3 Floyds
American Double/Imperial IPA (ABV 10.5%)
- Tasted: October 15, 2020
- Notes: After years of this beer eluding me, I was able to find it at a beer store in Fort Lee, NJ, just before the George Washington Bridge. It was hidden, protected, and I had to ask for it. I’m happy I did, not only for this endeavor, but because it’s a damn good beer. It’s 10.5%, but tastes and feels like much less. It has a beautiful orange hue and manages to be smooth while being filled with hops that bite. It’s a difficult balancing act, but it manages to do it, which is probably why it has a 100 rating on Beer Advocate.
2. Kentucky Breakfast Stout – Founders
American Double/Imperial Stout (ABV 11.2%)
- Tasted: April 9, 2016
- Notes: Powerful, but smooth. Strong, but not thick or heavy like most stouts. A perfect blend of coffee, chocolate, vanilla, milk and alcohol, it it the best coffee stout I’ve ever tasted.
3. Pliny the Younger – Russian River
American Double/Imperial IPA (ABV 11%)
- Tasted: March 6, 2012
- Notes: This is a bit of a cheat since I tried it three years before the list I’m using was even created, but I had it and there’s no guarantee I’ll ever have it again. It was amazing, the perfect balance between strength and taste without sacrificing either. As of the start of this quest, it is the best beer I had ever had.
4. Old Numbskull – AleSmith
American Barleywine (ABV 11%)
- Tasted: June 4, 2016
- Notes: The amber color disguises the immediately strong taste that is undercut with some bitterness; More flavors emerge as it warms
5. Heady Topper – Alchemist
American Double/Imperial IPA (ABV 8%)
- Tasted: October 22, 2016
- Notes: Flavorful, powerful, but still smooth, it is one of the two best IPAs I’ve ever tasted (the other being Younger). It is recommended to drink it straight from the can, so I did, but I would have liked to have seen it in a glass.
6. Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout – Goose Island
American Double/Imperial Stout (ABV 13.4%)
- Tasted: November 11, 2016
- Notes: First taste packs a punch. The bourbon is not really my vibe, but it is a well-balanced mix of flavors with a full body. One is more than enough.
7. Sorachi Ace – Brooklyn
Saison/Farmhouse Ale (ABV 7.2%)
- Tasted: September 22, 2015
- Notes: Light and smooth. An almost perfect saison.
8. Sam Adams Utopias – Boston Beer Company
American Strong Ale (ABV 29%)
- Tasted: N/A
- Notes: I had not been aware of Utopias until I read a Gizmodo article back in 2013. I actually had multiple chances to buy a bottle of Utopias, but I couldn’t spend $250 on a single beer. There are some bars in New York that sell glasses of it for $30 – $50 and I was willing to do that, but the opportunity never arose.
9. Imperial Russian Stout – Stone
Russian Imperial Stout (ABV 10.6%)
- Tasted: September 25, 2015
- Notes: Stouts are my least favorite beers. I don’t really dig them. For this, I paired it with chili and while it certainly was not a struggle to finish, it was not enjoyable. It was remarkably well made (obviously) and I found it to be better than most stouts, but it’s still not my flavor.
10. St. Bernardus Abt 12 – St. Bernardus
Quadrupel (ABV 10%)
- Tasted: September 19, 2015
- Notes: An excellent beer that I found a bit thick at first, but still delicious. It tasted better as I drank it (as it warmed). I had this after a long, exhausting day, so I’m not sure I was in the right state of mind to fully appreciate it.
11. The Abyss – DeSchutes
American Double/Imperial Stout (ABV 11%)
- Tasted: June 8, 2016
- Notes: Dark in complexion, but smooth in taste, this is a smoky beer with bourbon undertones that was good, but left a slight aftertaste that was unwelcome. Still, I spent a summer in Portland, Oregon, and the easy accessibility to DeSchutes is one of the things I miss most.
12. Choklat – Southern Tier
American Double/Imperial Stout (ABV 10%)
- Tasted: November 12, 2015
- Notes: Smoother than most stouts, it went down very easily. Certainly tasted like chocolate but it was not overdone.
13. Hop, Drop ‘n Roll – NoDa Brewing
American IPA (ABV 7.2%)
- Tasted: October 11, 2020
- Notes: Another regional favorite, I even wrote to the brewery to inquire as to if I could secure some but they informed me that they could not ship to New Jersey, even for such an important, worthwhile cause as this blog. Luckily, a longtime reader/online friend that lives in North Carolina, home of NoDa, said he could secure some for me. I love my readers! As for the actual taste, it’s a smooth IPA with some citrus notes. It’s fine, but far from the best IPA on this list.
14. Witte – Ommegang
Witbier (ABV 5.2%)
- Tasted: October 6, 2015
- Notes: A perfect wheat beer. Smooth, light, but still full of taste.
15. Telegraph Reserve Wheat – Telegraph Brewing
Berliner Weisse (ABV 5%)
- Tasted: N/A
- Notes: A west coast beer – Santa Barbara, specifically – this is another one that doesn’t travel much. I tried ordering it online and made it all the way to checkout before the error message popped up to tell me they could not deliver to me. What a tease.
16. Lagunitas Sucks – Lagunitas
American Double/Imperial IPA (ABV 7.85%)
- Tasted: October 3, 2015
- Notes: For some reason, I hadn’t really paid attention to “Sucks” even though I like all of the Lagunitas beers. What a mistake. This beer smells phenomenal and somehow tastes even better. It’s easily one of my favorites on this list and it’s kind of amazing that a beer this good is so widely available.
17. Sculpin IPA – Ballast Point
American IPA (ABV 7%)
- Tasted: October 3, 2015
- Notes: A very good IPA, but I’m not sure it’s up to the caliber of the other beers on this list. It tastes great, but there isn’t much that differentiates it from a slew of other IPAs that are out there. [Yes, I’ve had the Grapefruit Scuplin as well and while I don’t think it deserves to be on a list such as this one either, it is a perfect warm weather beer.]
18. Allagash Dubbel – Allagash
Dubbel (ABV 7%)
- Tasted: September 27, 2015
- Notes: Batch #114 – Smells great, a wonderful Belgian beer. Being a Dubbel, it is a bit chewier than what I normally would buy, but it was still excellent.
19. Saison – Funkwerks
Saison/Farmhouse Ale (ABV 6.8%)
- Tasted: July 11, 2019
- Notes: A wonderful summer beer, bold with hints of tangerine without being overpowering, I’m not sure it’s any better than any number of saisons I’ve also enjoyed. I also experienced a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste. It was good, but not amazing.
20. The Substance – Bissell Brothers
American IPA (ABV 6.5%)
- Tasted: September 6, 2020
- Notes: Another beer I never thought I’d try, but my wife’s best friend took a trip to Maine and brought me back some goodies, including this. Strong, especially considering the ABV, but certainly not bitter. Very flavorful and smooth. This is another one that lives up to the hype.
21. Enjoy By IPA – Stone
American Double/Imperial IPA (ABV 9.4%)
- Tasted: October 21, 2015
- Notes: Very smooth yet hoppy. Strong but not overbearing. Maybe I’m succumbing to marketing, but it did taste incredibly fresh.
22. Hopslam – Bell’s
American Double/Imperial IPA (ABV 10%)
- Tasted: February 27, 2016
- Notes: I had been chasing Hopslam for a while before I had seen this list. Bell’s was not distributed in New Jersey until recently, but when I would check BeerMenus, it was all over both NYC and Philly, which makes it even more frustrating. It’s worth the hype and the wait. It is super hoppy and strong, but so smooth and (too) easy to go down. It’s nearly as good as Pliny the Younger. My wife happened to be in Philly, so she bought it for me and she said that when she ordered it, one guy at the bar turned to her and said, “That’s the good stuff.” He’s right.
23. Parabola – Firestone Walker
Russian Imperial Stout (ABV 13%)
- Tasted: June 12, 2016
- Notes: A thick, full body with rich aroma, it is extremely powerful – the epitome of a Russian imperial stout (both positively and negatively)
24. 120 Minute IPA – Dogfish Head
American Double/Imperial IPA (ABV 18%)
- Tasted: October 1, 2015
- Notes: I remember having this a long, long time ago, but I only remembered it being extremely hoppy (obviously). This bottle was a 2014 that was stored properly so I drank it at room temperature. It’s a beautiful amber-orange color and while it’s strong – almost like a liquor – it’s also relatively smooth. As it continued to breathe, it became stronger. I took my time with it, appreciating it longer than I do most beers. It was better than I remember (probably due to the proper storing and aging).
25. Trappist Westvleteren XII – Brouwerij Westvleteren
Quadrupel (ABV 10.2%)
- Tasted: N/A
- Notes: From the beginning, I knew I’d never get all 25 because of this one. Widely considered to be the best beer in the world, it is also one of the rarest. There is an online community in which beer fanatics trade this and others but there are a ton of knockoffs and frauds, so it’s difficult to know for sure what you’re getting. This would be the pinnacle of a beer taster’s life. Maybe one day. In the meantime, this 2015 Business Insider piece about the history of the beer and the brewery and the monks that brew it is a great read.
So there it is. Five years, several hundred dollars, and one blog post led to trying
twenty twenty-two of the twenty-five beers I need to try before I die.
80% 88% of me can die.
Christopher Pierznik is a nine-time worst-selling author. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.