5 Rare Beers You'll Never Get to Try

...and how you can prove me wrong

It’s 3:30 in the morning, 40 degrees, and pouring rain in a small, coastal New England city. My buddy and I are sitting in nylon folding chairs, wearing trash bags for raincoats and clutching umbrellas with cold, white knuckles. I nod off and my umbrella tips, allowing a stream of cold rainwater from an overflowing gutter to course down my neck, soaking the last plot of dry real estate on my clothing.

The driver of a passing car might assume we are waiting for concert tickets or the release of the latest revolutionary Apple gizmo. But were they to ask, they would learn that the answer is much simpler than that — we’re here for a glass of beer.

Yes, there are beers in the world worthy of such trials. They’re sometimes referred to as "white whales" in the beer community, and their rarity can drive many of us to extreme measures. Camping out in line in the rain, for example, or journeying to a Trappist monastery, or driving for days to a festival celebrating the perennial release of a legendary recipe. Are the beers worth it? Well, that’s subjective. But regardless, the pursuit and adulation of these beers is as much an appreciation of the care, attention, and skill that the brewers pour into them as it is for the final product.

And with that, here are five that you’ll probably never get to taste (unless you really, really want to). One quick note: I must confess that I have only had one of the beers listed below, so any other descriptions are heresay... for now, at least.

 

Westvleteren 12

Why you'll never try it: “Westy 12,” as it is affectionately known, is the granddaddy of them all. Created at what is one of only seven Trappist monasteries in the world still making beer, it is perhaps the most sought-after brew in active production. This fruity, spicy Belgian Quadrupel presents a centuries-refined balance of spiciness and phenols with rich malty notes of slight chocolate and caramel. I’ve seen one bottle of it in my life, brought forth from a cupboard momentarily by the host of a beer tasting, who then quickly returned it to its dark home. His paranoia over having revealed such a treasure before our covetous, thirsty eyes was palpable.

How to prove me wrong: Westy 12 is only available at the monastery itself, only in 6-packs, and only at certain unannounced times of year. So you could easily plan your trip to Belgium, drive through the countryside, and show up at their shop, only to find that the 12 isn’t available. And even if you do manage to get some, you still have to either stow it in your luggage or ship it home.

 

Three Floyds Dark Lord

Why you'll never try it: Dark Lord is a Russian Imperial Stout that is released annually by Three Floyds Brewing Company, a rising yet well-established star in the craft beer world. They’re located in Munster, Ind., just a short drive south from Chicago. A rich, dank alcohol-laced imperial stout, Dark Lord boasts the full range of the style's characteristics — dark fruits, chocolate, coffee, and a molasses-like sweetness. In recent years, some variations have been produced, including barrel-aged and vanilla-infused versions. You won’t find it in any store, and those who have acquired bottles have a habit of locking them away for years to allow the beer to age and mature.

How to prove me wrong: Dark Lord Day is an annual festival on the grounds of the Three Floyds brewery and is your best chance at securing a sip of the elusive brew. By purchasing a “Golden Ticket” beforehand, you are guaranteed the right to buy a predetermined number of bottles. Smuggle them home in your trunk and don’t go overboard with the Darth Vader asthmatic-breathing jokes during the drive.

The Bruery Black Tuesday

Why you'll never try it: The Bruery is a young heavyweight in the brewing scene based out of Placentia, Calif. Their Black Tuesday brew is a relative newcomer to the community of whales, an American Imperial Stout aged for over a year in bourbon barrels which clocks in at a liver-shriveling 18.2% ABV (the alcohol, as with many perennials, tends to fluctuate). Since the brewery has only been open since 2008, just two releases exist (2009 and 2010), but you can rest assured that it will be back this year. If you want it on draft, they serve it in their tasting room and at occasional special events. If you want it in a bottle, well, that takes some work.

How to prove me wrong: If you want a bottle of Black Tuesday, you can join The Bruery Reserve Society which gives members who pay an annual fee the right to purchase any of The Bruery’s special releases in advance of the general public. The hoi polloi, on the other hand, can only purchase bottles online once a year and pick them up at the annual release party at the brewery. In 2010, 250 tickets were available and they sold out almost immediately, so stay on your toes this year…

 

Russian River Pliny the Younger

Why you'll never try it: Pliny the Younger is a little less rare than the other beers listed here and is the cousin of the brewery's fine year-round double IPA, Pliny the Elder. Dry hopped four times, this triple IPA has a huge piney, resinous hop profile that has given it legendary status among beer geeks. They do distribute the beer to certain markets throughout the nation — I’ve heard tales of it popping up in bars in Philly — but wherever Pliny roams, the queues follow.

How to prove me wrong: Russian River has experimented with various strategies for releasing the beer, but as of this year, you can’t get it in bottles or growlers. As noted, it does pop up puckishly in bars throughout the country, but getting your 10-ounce pour can turn into a frustrating whack-a-mole of a journey, as the kegs kick quickly. Your best chance at sipping some of the hoppy nectar is probably to show up at their brewpub in early February (not a bad prospect in northern California).

 

Portsmouth Brewery Kate the Great

Why you'll never try it: Kate the Great is one of the most sought-after rare American beers. This Russian Imperial Stout is one of the pinnacles of the style, with a viscous, oily mouthfeel and a high wire balance of chocolate, booze-soaked raisins, warming alcohol, roasted coffee, and earthy black bread. Portsmouth Brewery releases Kate once a year, and throngs of people are always there to welcome her arrival outside of their Portsmouth, N.H., brewpub. This year, the doors opened at 11:00 a.m. and the exceptional brew was gone by the evening.

How to prove me wrong: This year, Portsmouth Brewery released 10,000 $2 scratch-off tickets, 900 of which gave the bearer the right to purchase one of available bottles for $15. The other way to sip Kate is to do what I did and show up in front of the brewery in the middle of the night before the release. (But to be honest, the early hour is not necessary — everyone in line at 11 a.m. was served.) That said, there’s nothing like being the first (OK, third) person to enter an empty brewpub, hunkering down at the bar, and then getting to shake the hand of one of the genius brewers responsible for the rare beer. You sample and consider whether the drive and the hours waiting in the soaking rain were really worth it. Here’s my last tip: It is totally worth it.

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