There's no shortage of articles, comment threads, and bar talk out there about the most hyped, hardest to find, most highly rated, all-around "best" beers out there.
And sure, they're great brews. We're not gonna tell you that Heady Topper or Three Floyds Dark Lord aren't delicious. Same goes for any number of extra strength, hopped-up, limited release, barrel aged, or wax sealed beers that are widely considered the best on the planet.
Problem is, they're so hard to get ahold of that the vast majority of beer drinkers will never get a shot at trying them. They're great, and well worth seeking out if you've got the time and inclination to travel or trade for them, but the best beer is the stuff that you can actually drink, not just see photos of on Instagram.
So in that spirit, here are some of the best widely-available brews that pack huge, layered flavor and don't require an arm and a leg to get ahold of. They're not all available everywhere — even the biggest craft breweries still have limits to their distribution — and it's not an exhaustive list, given that there are too many amazing brews out there to count. But it's a safe bet that you'll be able to find at least some of these at your local shop, and that they'll blow your taste buds away.
St. Bernadus Abt 12
You might have heard of the mythical Westvleteren XII. It's a Belgian quad brewed by Trappist monks in a remote Belgian monastery that’s regularly ranked as the top-rated beer in the world. Well, St. Bernadus Abt 12 is basically the exact same beer — except for the fact that you can actually get ahold of this one.
After WWII, the Trappist monks of St. Sixtus (that's the monastery where Westvleteren XII is made) wanted to outsource their production. They decided to grant a production license to a nearby brewery, and the monastery's brewmaster brought along the monks' recipes and unique yeast strain.
For nearly 50 years, that brewery made the very same beer as what the monks (who continued to brew for their own personal stash) made nearby, but in 1992 the original license expired. The brewery changed their brand name to St. Bernadus, but the beer is still the exact same, and is surprisingly easy to find. It's got a deeply rich, strongly sweet, malt-driven Belgian flavor with dark plum and caramel notes, plus a big kick of booziness from the 10% ABV.
Ballast Point Sculpin
Highly rated IPAs can be especially tough to get ahold of, since their burst of hoppy flavor depends on freshness. After a month or two, the complex hop notes start to fade and you're no longer experiencing the beer at its very best, so highly coveted versions are snatched up as soon as possible. Ballast Point, though, hits a perfect balance of wide distribution and bursting hop flavor that's on par with any of the country's top rated hoppy beers.
The flavor is jammed full of floral and citrus notes, with an especially strong burst of grapefruit layered into the super smooth caramel-y body. There's no overwhelming bitterness or harshness — just lots and lots of bright, sweet hop flavor.
Rodenbach Grand Cru
Flanders Red Ale
Sour beers are especially covetable among the diehard craft beer community. But the most covetable batches, either from masterful and storied Belgian breweries or small American ones with cult followings, are all but impossible to find.
Rodenbach, though, will likely be on the shelves at any self-respecting bottle shop. The Belgian brewery where it's made was founded in 1821, and the history-rich oak vats they still use to this day for aging and souring their brews are nearly 200 years old. The finished beer is a blend of aged and fresh batches for a just-right sourness, richly layered dark fruit flavors, and a tannic oakiness. We prefer the Grand Cru, which uses a higher concentration of aged beer, but the regular version is also fantastic.
Unibroue La Fin Du Monde
Don't let the pale gold color of this one fool you. It packs a boozy, 9% ABV punch and intense fruit and spice flavors.
It's been brewed in Quebec since '94, and has earned a well-deserved reputation as a shining example of the Belgian tripel style. In fact, it's been awarded more medals and accolades than any other Canadian beer. Despite all the critical acclaim, though, it's terrifically easy to find.
The yeast adds a bready base along with the pale, sweet malts. On top of that, you'll get notes of banana, coriander, and tropical berries, with a champagne-like carbonation and dry finish.
Founders' insanely-coveted, barrel-aged, coffee-and-chocolate-infused KBS and CBS stouts are delicious. They also sell out immediately at their annual release, so if you don't manage to get ahold of a bottle as soon as they hit shelves, you're out of luck.
Their porter doesn't draw the same amount of hype, but is available year-round and every bit as good. It pours a silky, opaque black with a tan head, and radiates chocolate and caramel malt aromas. Start sipping and you'll get a wave of rich, roasty dark chocolate flavor with a twinge of plum sweetness.
Stone Imperial Russian Stout
Russian Imperial Stout
There was a time when this beer only lasted a day on bottle shop shelves. Back in the mid '00s, there weren't nearly as many cult-status breweries and white whale beers. Stone and their intensely boozy, ultra flavorful stout, though, were in the top tier. Bottles were snatched up and kegs were kicked as soon as they were delivered to shops and bars as people clamored to get ahold of some.
Now, ten years later, Stone has grown their production and distribution, so getting a bottle of this is as simple as stopping at most any beer store.
It's a monster of a beer: 10.6% ABV and overflowing with rich stout flavors. Roasted coffee, burnt toffee, deep chocolate malts, and dark toast notes jump around the inky black body, and the high alcohol content is hidden well.