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The best things in life aren't generally free, but some of them are usually pretty affordable. Beer, for example, tends to be one of life's little luxuries – a deliciously hopped indulgence that men and women can enjoy regardless of their place on the corporate ladder. But, as with all things, there are exceptions. Some brewers dream up limited edition suds that range from expensive splurges to ones with mind-bendingly brutal price tags that only a hedge fund manager or CEO could imagine paying for, let alone actually cracking open.
These rare bottles are available in limited quantities, which isn't particularly surprising. But what is a little shocking in some cases is what makes them expensive. Some beers are barrel-aged for seemingly excessive amounts of time, defying the convention that fresh beer is good beer and old beer is digestive distress waiting to happen. Others feature bizarre bottles or unconventional brewing techniques that make them stand out among the crowd. And still others use unique ingredients that drive up the price and pedigree of the beer to levels heretofore unknown.
However they earn their supposed value, they're bottles that the average man will never have the chance to wash down a handful of pretzels or accompany a Packers game with. So dare to dream of these bottles. Maybe someday one will find its way into the hands of mortal men – and that man could be you.
Sam Adams Utopias – Cask aged and blended from batches of beer spending time in everything from Portuguese muscatel finishing casks to bourbon, sherry, Cognac and brandy barrels, this is a beer with a pedigree. The brew is a strong one at 27 percent ABV, allowing it to age without getting skunked. At these levels, beer comes across more like a liqueur and this one is no exception, with a rich maple syrup undertone and a boozy warmth that's rare among beers. The creamy texture and molasses and fig aftertastes make it even more distinctive and intriguing. At $150 or more per bottle, it's definitely an expensive taste to cultivate, but one of those intriguing snifter shaped bottles lasts a while – making it somewhat easier to justify.
Carlsberg Vintage 3 – The third and final in a series of super premium beers, Vintage 3 was brewed under the watchful eye of Jacobsen Brewery brewmaster Morten Ibsen. Working with six other brewers, Ibsen put together a tasty limited run of 1,000 bottles. The beer, aged in French Côte d’Or oak barrels, is surprisingly sweet, coming across closer to a dessert wine than a typical beer. And at $348 per bottle when it was released, it better be something special. And since bottles like this are rarely ever opened, each one is labeled with the work of one of six artists who were commissioned to do the label art, which is supposed to depict the “...story of what Carlsberg City may look like someday.” According to Ibsen, the beer “tastes as wonderful as the angels sing.” Given the price, it better.
Brewdog The End of History – Few men can claim to have drank beer from a squirrel carcass. Fewer still can say they sipped a beer that weighs in at 55 percent ABV. Those happy few are the ones who opened their wallets to the tune of nearly $800 for the privilege of being one of 12 people to own a bottle of The End of History. Brewdog is a U.K brewer known for pushing the boundaries of beer, and The End of History is the culmination of their art. At 110 proof, it reads more like a fine whiskey and is designed to be sipped and savored, not quaffed or guzzled. The beer offers up some serious heat on a par with a rye whiskey, but under there, for those who can handle the heat, is a complex spirit flavored with juniper and nettles and an impressive citrus flavor. Plus, it's jammed inside a squirrel – reason enough to want one even if you never plan to crack the seal.
Antarctic Nail Ale – Nail Brewing is an Australian brewer with a commitment to environmental responsibility. In fact, the founder's own brother is a crew member on the Sea Shepherd – the controversial eco-crusaders featured on the Animal Planet show “Whale Wars.” To support his brother's cause, Nail Brewing's founder, John Smallwood, brewed up a special ale to benefit the cause. The Sea Shepherd brought back ice from the Antarctic to use as the base for a 30 bottle run of Nail Ale. These 30 bottles sold at auction for hefty prices, with the first bottle going for $800. It's not surprising that someone out there would be willing to pony up that kind of money given the cause and how difficult it was to procure the ingredients. That said, even Smallwood admits the ice is a gimmick, though it's a gimmick that's “for the whales.”