The Mtbr Best Beer Guide

Buyer's Guides

Hardcore enthusiasts like bigger beers, often preferring something with higher ABV or barrel-aged for added complexity. Seasonal releases and rarity play into the game, and while the beers below may be hard to find, they are definitely worth the hunt.

Russian River Pliny the Younger

A world-class Imperial IPA whose reputation is only exceeded by its taste, this beer is released once a year (usually early Feb.) by Russian River brewery in Santa Rosa, CA. Since it’s draft-only, you may be lucky enough to try it at your local brewery when it’s released, but your best bet is to make the pilgrimage and stand in line to try it at the brewery itself. 11% ABV is completely hidden in this beer, which is a deliciously dangerous mix of smooth, substantial malt and a pine, grapefruit and tropical fruit hops. Perfectly balanced and rarely matched, Younger sets the standard for triple IPAs. (Notable alternatives: Hill Farmstead Ephraim, Boneyard Notorious, Alpine Exponential Hoppiness or Three Floyds Permanent Funeral.)

Cantillon Fou Foune

The pinnacle of fruit Lambics, Fou Foune strikes a balance between sweet apricot jam, wild yeast funk, a spicy backbone and a dry, mouth-puckering sour finish. Brewed by Brasserie Cantillon in Brussels, Belgium, Fou Foune is a seasonal beer that comes in at 5% ABV. What’s surprising about this fantastic beer is that it’s spontaneously fermented with wild yeast; after the brewing process is completed, the unfermented beer (wort) is left to rest in large, open-air cooling tanks (coolships) until environmental yeast and souring bacteria fall into the beer and begin the fermentation process. The fermenting beer is then left to rest in oak barrels for 2 years to age and develop a deliciously sour and funky profile before the brewers add 1,200 kgs of Bordeaux-grown Bergeron Apricots to the barrels. This beer is available at the Cantillon brewery and occasionally sees distribution in the United States, although supplies are extremely limited. (Notable alternatives: Anything Cantillon, Allagash Coolship series, Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek or Upland Lambics.)

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout
Josh Martino is trying the sampler at Half Moon Bay Brewing, CA.

Currently available in multiple varieties (including regular, Coffee, Backyard Rye and Coconut Proprietor’s Reserve), Goose Island’s Bourbon County line of imperial stouts are part of the largest (and one of the oldest) barrel aging programs in the country. Based in Chicago, IL, Goose Island brews its Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS) at a whopping 14.5% ABV. Chocolate, vanilla, caramel, charred oak and rich bourbon flavor are imparted as this beer spends 8 to 12 months aging in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels. Imagine taking campfire-roasted s’mores and dunking the corner in a warm glass of bourbon – that’s what it’s like to drink this beer. The brewers at Goose Island like to experiment with the BCBS line, currently offering a version with coffee roasted from Chicago-local Intelligensia Coffee and one aged in Templeton Rye barrels with fresh mulberries, marionberries and boysenberries added. Their current most sought-after (and smallest batch) edition of BCBS is the Proprietor’s Reserve which was also aged in Templeton Rye barrels with large amounts of toasted coconut added. BCBS and some of its variants will see national distribution, although supplies are limited and will sell out quickly. Older versions that are no longer produced (Rare, Cherry Rye or Vanilla) have become very desirable and are still drinking incredibly well. (Notable alternatives: The Bruery Black Tuesday, Alesmith Barrel Aged Speedway, Founders Kentucky Breakfast, Cigar City Hunaphu or Deschutes Abyss.)

Westvleteren 12 (XII)

Often referred to as “the best beer in the world”, Westvleteren 12 is a Belgian Quadrupel brewed by monks at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in northwest Belgium. Nicknamed “Westy 12,” the 10.2% ABV beer is brewed in small batches and until recently was only available for purchase at the brewery itself (the beer came in wooden crates). Recent monastery renovations have pushed the monks to sell the beer in limited distribution around Belgium and it even made a one-time appearance in the United States courtesy of a partnership between the abbey and US-based distributor Shelton Brothers. Westy 12 features flavors of rich figs, raisins, dark cherries, a malty caramel backbone, brandy, rum and brown sugar. It’s bottle-conditioned and ages very well, mellowing out the alcohol-heavy finish and blending all of the fruity characteristics. This is a very hard beer to find in the US, but it’s still available via online vendors and shipped from Belgium. A definite “must-try” for any enthusiast who appreciates the complexities of strong Belgian dark ales steeped in history. (Notable alternatives: St. Bernadus Abt 12, Trappistes Rochefort 12, De Struise Pannepot, Boulevard The Sixth Glass or Ommegang Three Philosophers.)

Pelican Pub & Brewery Mother of All Storms

Nestled on the picturesque Oregon coast in the small town of Pacific City, Pelican Pub and Brewery produces one of the most sought-after beers in the country. Every year this brewery produces a limited batch of Mother of All Storms (MoAS), an English Barleywine aged in bourbon barrels and topping out at 14% ABV. MoAS is a multiple-award winner (available in bottles) that is delicious fresh or with a few years of age. It’s a rich, complex gem with flavors of toasted malt, caramel, coffee, vanilla, tobacoo, spice and oak, showing a depth rarely matched in the arena of BA Barleywines. As an annual release, most of the bottles are sold directly at the pub, although some may see limited distribution throughout the Pacific Northwest. The annual release of MoAS is a great reason to go visit the rugged, beautiful Oregon coastline, one of the few places in the world where pristine beauty meets unparalleled beer. (Notable alternatives: Goose Island Bourbon County Barleywine, Firestone Walker Sucaba, Weyerbacher Insanity, Kuhnhenn Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine or Midnight Sun Arctic Devil.)

Next: Josh Martino’s Top 5 Beers for the Hophead »

About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.

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  • Mike says:

    I like the Stone Enjoy by and the Ninkasi Tricera Hop. Cute pick of all the boys in the tub.

  • HEMIjer says:

    Devils Backbone brewery in VA is a great bike supporter and has an eight point IPA worth trying ood stuff. Always can go to the old reliable which you have to keep stocked in the garage for post ride clean up, Sierra Nevada Torpedo.

  • JB says:

    The AA comment in one of the photo captions is probably wrong. That said, I’m not offended.

  • klurejr says:

    Why is this Josh’s list and the about the author is says Francois???

    • Mtbr says:


      Francis is the one who the entire compilation article is “published by” so it automatically shows his bio at the bottom on every page. There’s an “Editor’s Note” at the beginning of Josh’s guide and an intro on the first page about who our other beer reviewers are for this article. This article has guides written by Francis, Josh and Peter. Sorry for the confusion!

  • Kevin Woodward says:

    Hop Venom FTW! Nice to see 831 on the radar, too.

  • Thomas says:

    I’m from belgium if you like belgian beer you should most def try
    My top 5
    - Grimbergen (Optimo Bruno)
    - Sint Bernardus (abt 12)
    - Kasteelbier (tripple)
    - Westmalle (tripple)
    - Samaranth Urtel

    • Alex says:

      I loved Grimbergen Optimo Bruno when I had it in Amsterdam, but sadly I don’t think it makes it over to the States.

      I would add to that list Chimay White and Tripel Karmeliet – my top 3 Tripels along with Westmalle – and La Trappe Quad.

  • Bearcat Sandor says:

    For those of us who must go gluten-free because of celiac disease or other reasons, i heartily recommend Green’s “Endeavor” beer. They don’t replace the hops with rice flour or some other thing they just filter the hell out of it so it’s safe for us. It’s picey but it tastes like a Guinness and enables me to enjoy a beer once in a while. They also have a blond variety too. Check ‘em out:

  • roger says:

    You don’t know jack about beers! Lagunitas is undrikable, Pliny is over rated! Good thing not everyone has your taste buds!

  • DMFT says:

    What!!?? No mention (until now) of…………..
    Lost Coast – Indica IPA
    Green Flash Brewing – Green Bullet or Palate Wrecker
    Deschutes – Hop Henge Experimental IPA
    Drakes – Hopocalypse or Aromacoma

    Or possibly the most underated brewery & true OG’s
    Mendocino Brewing Co. – Talon

    Ok. The list is now more-complete. Rant-Over!

    Happy Holiday’s Ya’ll!!

  • M. Meteer says:

    I live and ride in South Korea. I find that the best beers are those that you brew yourself! My ‘brew club’ of five brew 5 gallons per week of tastie ales, porters, and stouts.

  • Wilks says:

    I just stumbled on this I think DHF 90 and Southern Tier 2X IPA’s are much better than Sculpin. Not sure why there are so many sculpin fans.

  • Crotchety Old Man says:

    Very nice list put together. Thanks! Now I have some new ones to hunt down. I feign at any mention of any Ninkasi beers. Not a fan one bit. But I agree with lots here about La Cumbre. I wish we got that as well as Santa Fe’s Happy Camper IPA in the Northwet.

    By this point in time Pliny has run its course. It’s overpriced and been overtaken. I’ll take Hop Venom any day rather than pay for the aura of Pliny. Not saying it sucks. There’s just stiff competition in the IIPA realm. That Deschutes Fresh Squeezed is really really tasty as well.

  • J. Green says:

    Ithaca Brewing’s Flower Power, Ithaca, N.Y. Always load up on the way to Windham.

  • Sheryl says:

    oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils with a Ten Fidy topper…

  • Madpixl says:

    Even the Heady Topper boys were said they were thrilled with Ghandi Bot at a race in Vt this summer… But you have to know someone to even get it ouside the brewery… so im not surpised you overlooked it.

  • ndinh says:

    ‘Don’t be a douche’ is right. There are way too many Mr. opinionated I know the best beer-beer geek everywhere I go nowadays. There are tons of great beers and just because you don’t like a certain beer or style doesn’t make it ‘over rated or bad’…i.e. Roger from above. Grow up buddy and keep an open mind and keep it fun.

  • Pope says:

    Come on down to Oklahoma and try some Coop Ale. Several different brews–Native Amber, Horny Toad, Spare Rib, DNR…they’re all good!

  • Shawn says:

    You mean, no Bud? Haha! The Goose Isalnd Bourbon Stout is the best stuff made!

  • Jon says:

    I’m from Philippines, the best beer in the country is San Mig Light

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