How much alcohol is that? Well, a typical wine is about 13 percent, while sherry and port run from 15 to 20 percent. In other words, Hess explains, “These are beers made for sipping.”
On Saturday November 13, River North will release a set of four barrel-aged beers that are among the highest-alcohol offerings the brewery has ever produced. The baby of the bunch, Father Time, a barleywine, is 15.8 percent, while The Last Guardian, a barrel-aged Belgian golden ale, is 18.9 percent. The other two are Shadowman, a 16.9 percent barrel-age, and God Complex, an 18.7 percent Belgian quad.
"We like pushing the limits on things," Hess says. "So the thought behind it was to launch an extreme version of high-ABV beers, and the next logical step was to put them in barrels."
“Your average beer drinker may be a little bit confused by these,” Hess acknowledges, especially since most beers are between 4 and 7 percent ABV. “So you have to let people taste them and make up their own minds. … We have a following of people who really enjoy those beers.”
Although the beers, which come in 12.7-ounce bottles, can be enjoyed now, they are also meant to be aged for up to ten years. A full set of four costs $64; they are available for pre-order now.
High-alcohol beers aren’t new. Barleywines have been brewed in England for at least a hundred years, while Belgian strong ales and abbey-style quads date back even further. In Colorado, Avery Brewing was one of the first craft breweries to push the limits on styles and ABV in 1998 when it produced its first batch of Hog Heaven Barleywine. The brewery followed up with a series of even bigger beers, some flirting with 20 percent ABV, before discontinuing all of them all in 2016 and changing directions.
Surging past the 15 percent mark is much more uncommon, however. The only other brewery to do this on a regular basis is Burns Family Artisan Ales, a nano-producer whose owners, Wayne Burns and Laura Worley, are particularly fond of bombshell brews. Some examples have included Auld Lang Syne, a 16.5 percent brandy-barrel-aged barleywine; Solar Eclipse, an 18.8 percent Russian imperial stout aged in whiskey barrels; and Warsled of Valhalla, a 20.15 percent triple-barrel-aged stout.
River North and Burns have collaborated on beers in the past, though not on high-ABV ones. But Hess says that "pushing the limits" in the future is "probably our next step." He also promises to release a triple-barrel-aged stout above 20 percent ABV at River North's tenth-anniversary party next year.
"These beers are definitely helping Uber's business model," he adds with a laugh.