In the past few years, attention-seeking breweries like Sam Adams, Scotland's BrewDog and Germany's Schorschbock have been engaged in a battle over who could make the highest-alcohol beers in the world -- turning out concoctions that weighed in at 40, 50 and even 60 percent alcohol by volume. But back in 2003, two brewers at Grand Lake Brewing in Grand County whipped up a batch of something they called Holy Grail. Made with 100 percent pale malt (with no other sugars added), then aged for eight months in rum barrels, it clocked in at 20 percent ABV.
"I don't know what to call it," says Grand Lake head brewer Eric Kohl, who helped make the beer in 2003. "It is definitely a beer, because we used beer ingredients and it was made in a brewery. But it tastes like a tawny port or a tawny port crossed with a liqueur."
And despite the high-alcohol arms race, Holy Grail still ranks among the 25 highest ABV beers in the world, according to the people who keep track of these sorts of things (including Beer Universe and Beer Info).
Most of that beer has long since sold -- at $65 for a roughly fifteen-ounce bottle -- but last week, the brewery discovered a case of Holy Grail hidden in the cooler, and brewery owner Karen Wood is hoping to sell it either at the brewery or by shipping it.
"It's like drinking brandy, sweet and very strong," she says. "It's like Sam Adams Utopias, but we don't like to compare it, because we think ours is better."
Holy Grail is uncarbonated and comes in a sixteen-ounce, Grolsch-style flip-top bottle; Kohl says it should be sipped like an aperitif or a cordial.
He and the brewery's original managing partner got the idea for the beer after attending a seminar about yeasts that were designed to ferment high-alcohol beers.
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Sam Adams may have started the extreme-beer trend in 2003 by producing several high-alcohol beers, the biggest of which, Utopias, was around 23 percent ABV.
Two years ago, BrewDog stepped in with a 32 percent ABV Tactical Nuclear Penguin and was followed by Germany's Schorschbock, which turned out a 40 percent ABV beer. Brewdog upped the ante again with Sink the Bismarck, a 41 percent ABV quadruple IPA, and The End of History, a 55 percent ABV beer served in a bottle packed inside a taxidermied squirrel. But that wasn't the end of it. Shortly thereafter, the Dutch brewery 't Koelschip created a 60 percent ABV brew called Start the Future.