17 Of The Most Sought-After Craft Beers In America, And How To Find Them

02/18/2015 03:37 pm ET | Updated Feb 18, 2015
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

For a certain type of craft beer geek (hop-loving, competitive and possibly residing in California), this time of year means one thing: Pliny the Younger. The legendary Russian River Brewing Co. releases its most acclaimed beer -- a more intense version of its flagship Pliny the Elder -- at the beginning of every February. And every year, thousands of aficionados drive to Santa Rosa, California, to wait in line for hours to get a taste of what they consider to be one of the finest IPAs on the planet.

That sounds a little crazy. And it is. But it's not unique. In fact, well over a dozen limited-edition American craft beers attract similar levels of devotion. All of these beers make regular appearances on lists of the best beers in America. So they're delicious, without a doubt.

But in order to instigate the kind of mass fervor that leads people to line up for hours, or plan a special trip to a brewery in the middle of Indiana, a beer has to be more than good. It has to be rare. None are quite as hard to find as, say, a bottle of 15-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. But in each case, demand far outstrips supply -- even though these beers often cost as much as fine wines. Breweries have responded to this excess demand in a variety of ways, making it difficult to figure out how to get your hands on some of the most acclaimed beers in America.

That's where HuffPost Taste comes in. Here are 17 of the most sought after beers in America -- and how you can find them yourself. One final note: Some of the explanations mention that the beer in question is available at any good store that sells beer by that same brewery. If you're not familiar with that brewery, and aren't sure whether you can buy it in your state, the best place to check is the wonderful site SeekABrew, which tracks breweries' distribution across the country.

  • Russian River Pliny The Younger
    Justin Sullivan via Getty Images
  • What It Is: A stronger, hoppier version of Russian River's flagship Pliny the Elder IPA -- and probably the most famous limited-edition beer in America.

    Where It's From: Russian River Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa, California

    When To Get It: February

    How To Get It: The bulk of the draft-only beer is sold at Russian River Brewery in the first couple weekends of February every year; beer lovers are known to line up for many, many hours to get some. A bit of the beer is also distributed to Russian River's top bar clients throughout the state in February -- but there, too, it usually runs out at light speed.
  • Firestone Walker Parabola
    Firestone Walker
  • What It Is: The most acclaimed of the various limited-run beers made by Southern California's Firestone Walker Brewing -- and, like so many of the other beers on this list, an Imperial Stout. This one, though, features an astonishing, barleywine-like 14 percent ABV.

    Where It's From: Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in Paso Robles, California

    When To Get It: March

    How To Get It: Parabola usually makes it available, in limited quantities, to many of the stores and bars that sell Firestone Walker. Keep an eye out for stores that sell other limited-release Firestone Walker beers, such as Sucaba and the brewery's Anniversary ales, as those will be the ones most likely to get Parabola as well.
  • Cigar City Huhnahpu's
    Cigar City
  • What It Is: An Imperial Stout aged with a variety of spices and flavorings, including two types of hot chili peppers.

    Where It's From: Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida

    When To Get It: Mid-March

    How To Get It: Cigar City sells all (or almost all) of its yearly production of Hunahpu's at the brewery at its annual Hunahpu's Day in mid-March. Last year, so many people showed up to the event, and so many of them walked away empty-handed and upset, that Cigar City announced it would no longer be holding the event. But in January, brewery owner Joey Rednor reversed course, and announced that he would hold it again this year on March 15. Expect extremely large crowds.
  • Founders KBS
    Founders
  • What It Is: KBS stands for Kentucky Breakfast Stout -- a bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial Stout that packs a whopping 11.2 percent ABV.

    Where It's From: Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan

    When To Get It: March and April

    How To Get It: 2015 will be the second year in which Founders releases a portion of its beloved KBS throughout its hometown of Grand Rapids during a special KBS Week, March 9-14. Bottles and kegs of KBS will also go out to good Founders customers across the country starting on March 30.
  • Three Floyds Dark Lord
    Three Floyds
  • What It Is: A gigantic Russian Imperial Stout brewed with vanilla, molasses and, since 2014, Dark Matter coffee. (Before last year, they used coffee from Intelligentsia instead.)

    Where It's From: Three Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster, Indiana

    When To Get It: Late April

    How To Get It: Dark Lord, like Hunahpu's, is available only one day a year at the brewery: Dark Lord Day. It's the most venerable of these special release days, and is always thronged with beer fans from around the country.
  • Perennial Artisan Ales Barrel-Aged Abraxas
    Perennial Artisan Ale
  • What It Is: An extra-strong (11 percent ABV!) Imperial Stout aged for an entire year in rye whiskey barrels with spices reminiscent of Mexican hot chocolate.

    Where It's From: Perennial Artisan Ales in St. Louis

    When To Get It: June

    How To Get It: Perennial releases its most acclaimed beer once a year, in June, at the brewery -- and they have a fairly complicated system for allocating it. Local residents are given a head-start at making reservations, and out-of-towners can enter their names into an online lottery for a chance to get a bottle. Each person who gets a ticket, through either means, is allowed to buy just two bottles for a whopping $30 each.
  • Surly Darkness
    Surly
  • What It Is: A Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels.

    Where It's From: Surly Brewing Co. in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota

    When To Get It: October or November

    How To Get It: Surly hosts an annual release party called "Darkness Day," at which it sells bottles of its most sought-after beer. Fans have been known to camp out overnight to ensure they get a bottle. But some of the bottles always make it to stores that sell other types of Surly beer, most of which are in Minnesota.
  • The Bruery Weekday Stouts
    The Bruery
  • What It Is: A series of rich Imperial Stouts named after the days of the week, including various flavorings. The first was Black Tuesday; the others, including Mocha Wednesday and Grey Monday, are variations of that one.

    Where It's From: The Bruery in Placentia, California

    When To Get It: October, mostly, but also at various other times of year

    How To Get It: You basically have two options: You can try to snag one of the limited memberships in The Bruery's Reserve Society, which guarantees an annual allocation of Black Tuesday and/or another Weekday Beer. Or you can enter an online raffle for a chance to buy one when they're released in October.
  • Alesmith Barrel-Aged Beers
    Alesmith
  • What It Is: Extra-decadent versions of Alesmith's already luxurious beers, aged (often with additional flavorings, like expensive Kopi Luwak coffee beans) in oak barrels for several months.

    Where It's From: Alesmith Brewing Company in San Diego

    When To Get It: November

    How To Get It: Alesmith used to sell its barrel-aged beers at a one-day event like Dark Lord Day or Hunahpu's Day, but the logistics of dealing with hundreds of people became overwhelming. Now, the brewery sells the right to buy bottles of the beer online -- and then anyone who snags a ticket has to come to the brewery to pick up their beer.
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout
    Steve Jennings via Getty Images
  • What It Is: A powerful, sweet Imperial Stout brewed in used bourbon barrels, sometimes with flavorings such as coffee and vanilla added to the mix.

    Where It's From: Goose Island Beer Company in Chicago

    When To Get It: November

    How To Get It: Goose Island (which is owned, much to the chagrin of craft beer purists, by Anheuser-Busch) releases its best-known beer across the country in November. Certain bars and beer stores in major cities will usually host major parties, with lines out the door, the day of the release. But if you search hard enough, you can often find bottles of BCBS at excellent beer stores for weeks or even months after the initial release.
  • Deschutes The Abyss
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • What It Is: An inky-black stout brewed with licorice and molasses, a third of which is aged in oak barrels. It's known for growing in complexity as it ages in the bottle, so aficionados often save their bottles of Abyss for years on end.

    Where It's From: Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon

    When To Get It: It's released every year in November, but Deschutes has recently ramped up production enough that you can still sometimes find it months later.

    How To Get It: Many stores and bars that serve Deschutes will get a few bottles in stock, so just keep an eye out in the fall and you should be able to find one.
  • Bell's Black Note Stout
    Bell's
  • What It Is: A classic, dark stout aged in bourbon barrels for several months.

    Where It's From: Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan

    When To Get It: Winter

    How To Get It: For a long time, Bell's sold its most laureled beer only in 500 milliliter bottles, but they've been available in four-packs of 12 oz. bottles since January 2013. Many stores that sell other types of Bell's beer will have some Black Note when it's released in the wintertime.
  • The Lost Abbey Cable Car Ale
    The Lost Abbey
  • What It Is: A funky barrel-aged American wild ale that many think is the best beer made by highly acclaimed brewery The Lost Abbey.

    Where It's From: The Lost Abbey in San Marcos, California

    When To Get It: Winter

    How To Get It: The Lost Abbey brews Cable Car exclusively for Toronado Pub, which has locations in San Francisco and San Diego. The Lost Abbey usually sends the two bars just one batch a year, which they sell until it runs out. This year, it arrived in February, but it's smart to check Toronado's website to see if they have it in stock. Until last year, they would sell some of the beer in bottles to-go, but when scalpers started flipping them for hundreds of dollars, Toronado started selling it exclusively for on-premise consumption.
  • Jester King Barrel-Aged Fruit Refermentations
    Jester King
  • What It Is: Jester King Brewery has become famous for its wild ales and sour beers. A few times a year, they make extra-special versions by putting barrel-aged sour beers back into barrels with extra yeast, bacteria and beautiful fresh fruit, to make sour, lively barrel-aged fruit refermentations. The first and still most famous among them is Atrial Rubicite, which features hundreds of pounds of fresh raspberries from Washington state.

    Where It's From: Jester King Brewery in Austin, Texas

    When To Get It: Various times of year

    How To Get It: All these beers are sold only at Jester King Brewery in Austin, both on draft and in bottles. They're not released on any particular timetable -- just when the brewers can get their hands on the right fruit -- but the brewery always announces releases ahead of time on its blog and social media accounts.
  • Upland Sours
    Upland
  • What It Is: An annual series of complex sour beers aged in various types of oak barrels, many featuring exotic fruits.

    Where It's From: Upland Brewing Co. in Bloomington, Indiana

    When To Get It: Various times of year

    How To Get It: Several times a year, Upland conducts an online lottery for the chance to buy its revered Sour beers. Lucky winners can pick their beer up at several shops around Indiana.
  • Maine Beer Company Dinner
    Maine Beer Company
  • What It Is: A super-hoppy Double IPA from one of the best-loved breweries in the Northeast; it's basically a souped-up, limited-edition version of the Lunch IPA they brew throughout the year.

    Where It's From: Maine Beer Company in Freeport, Maine

    When To Get It: About four times a year; the brewery announces upcoming releases on its Instagram account.

    How To Get It: Maine Beer Company brews about four small batches of Dinner a year, and sells them exclusively at the brewery in 500 milliliter bottles. Hundreds of people have been known to line up -- and even camp out overnight -- to snag a taste. The next release will be in April.
  • The Alchemist Heady Topper
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • What It Is: A sublimely balanced double IPA that's long been ranked the best beer in the world on Beer Advocate. It's insanely good. One sip delivers successive waves of all the types of flavors that are associated with hops: rose, raspberry, thyme, grapefruit, cannabis-like must, steely bitterness.

    Where It's From: The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont

    When To Get It: All year long

    How To Get It: Heady Topper is one of just two beers brewed by The Alchemist, and they make it all year long. So unlike the rest of the beers on this list, it's not limited by time -- just space. You can only find it in Vermont. The Alchemist used to sell it at its brewery, but its popularity caused so many logistical hassles that they were forced to close the brewery to the public in November 2013. There are plans to open a new retail location, but until then, the best place to try is one of the locations listed on The Alchemist website; each gets an allocation on a specific day of the week. Heady Topper has also been known to pop up on the beer menus of other restaurants throughout the state. If you can't make it to Vermont, and are tempted to buy some Heady Topper on the black market, beware: Police have started to crack down on illegal scalping of this wonderful beer.

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  • Pilsner
    Radeberger
  • Pilsner is one of the youngest beer styles in the world; it's a clean and simple pale lager and one of the more popular beer varieties. It was originally brewed in Plzen, Czechoslovakia in 1842 using the regions distinctive Noble Saaz hops. Flavor Profile: Strong hops, softer malt, fragrant, and pleasurably bitter flavors. Recommended Pilsners: Radeberger Pilsner Urquell Warsteiner
  • Wheat Beer
    Hoegaarden
  • Wheat beer is reminiscent of the first brewed beers. They're a mixture of barley and wheat grains, have a low to nonexistent hops presence, cloudy appearance, and often prominent yeast flavor. The yeast used is a specialized ale yeast used only in wheat beers and contributes much of the aroma and flavor of the brew. Flavor Profile: The flavor ranges greatly depending on wheat styles, but they're typically light in flavor, making them great summer beers. Recommended Wheat Beers: Hoegaarden Allagash White Harpoon's UFO Hefeweizen
  • Brown Ale
    New Castle
  • True to its name, brown ale is a dark amber color. It's a very old style beer, whose history dates back to unhopped ales. In the 18th century, brown ales were lightly hopped and brewed from 100 percent brown malt -- which is how they got their distinctive color, but today the term brown ale incorporates many different kinds of brews. Flavor Profile: Brown ales have a higher level of malt, which makes it more earthy and less bitter. Flavors vary from sweet, to slightly hoppy, to earthy and malty. Recommended Brown Ales: New Castle Brown Ale Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale
  • Pale Ale
    Anchor Brewing Company
  • Pale ale is one of the world's most popular beer styles. It was invented thanks to innovation in brewing technology where they discovered a method to gently roast the barley. It's made with the use of pale malt. Flavor Profile: In the UK, this brew has a strong malty and woody flavor. In the U.S., the hops are ramped up during brewing, making it a spicy beer. Recommended Pale Ales: Anchor Brewing Company Liberty Ale Sierra Nevada pale ale Duvel
  • India Pale Ale (IPA)
  • During the 1700s, when English troops lived in India the typical pale ale brew most Englishmen drank would spoil before the ship reached the Indian shores. In order to prolong the beers shelf life, brewers added more hops (a natural preservative), and hence the origin of a now very popular beer. Flavor Profile: A strong hoppy flavor, with a slightly bitter taste. Recommended IPAs: Brooklyn East India IPA Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
  • Double IPAs
    Flying Dog Ales
  • Double IPAs are also called "Imperial" IPAs. These beers have even more hops added to them than traditional IPAs, sometimes double to triple the amount. To balance the strong hoppy taste, more malt is also added which makes this beer a strong one. Flavor Profile: Due to its doubling up on hops and malts, this brew has strong, fruity, hoppy notes and deep malty undertones. Recommended Double IPAs: Lagunita Maximus Double Dog Double Pale Ale
  • Bock
    Anchor Brewing Company
  • Bock beer is stronger than your typical lager and has a more robust malt character. In the Medieval days, German monasteries would brew strong beers, such as this one, for sustenance during their Lenten fasts. Flavor Profile: Rich and malty with a slight hint of hops bitterness. Recommended Bocks: Michelob Amber Bock Anchor Bock Beer Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock
  • Porter
    Stone Brewing Co.
  • Porters are very dark, almost opaque. They consist of roasted malts or roasted barley, and are typically brewed with slow fermenting yeast. Flavor Profile: Mild with notes of roasted grains, chocolate and toffee and none of the harsh notes of stout. Recommended Porter: Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter Alaskan Smoked Porter Smoked Porter
  • Stout
    Samuel Smith
  • Stouts have an unclear history, yet it's strongly held by many that they derive from porters. They're made with black unmalted barley which contributes to most of the color and flavor characteristics common in all stouts. The head of stout should be thick and is usually tan to brown. Flavor Profile: Heavily roasted flavor. Should have hints of coffee, chocolate, licorice, and molasses with no apparent hops flavor. Recommended Stouts: Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout Pike Stout Extra Stout
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