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6 beers that pack a 10%-ABV punch

Warning: You might need a nap after drinking these boozy brews.
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Photo by Jess Suworoff

Photo by Jess Suworoff for DRAFT

Why do we have such a fixation on the number 10? Is it because it’s the number of fingers on both hands? The first double-digit number in the Arabic numeral system? Regardless, we cannot escape 10’s proliferation. It’s the base for the decimal system, the number of yards required for a first down and the smallest noncototient (if you already knew what that last one was without looking it up, then you’re probably a mathematician). To honor October’s position as the 10th month, we gathered a sixer of brews that all clock in right around 10% ABV. (We didn’t include Oskar Blues’ delicious TenFidy because, c’mon, that would be too easy).

Upland Teddy Bear Kisses: A sweet nose heavy with a vanilla milkshake aroma wafts up from the dark brown pour of the 10%-ABV Russian imperial stout aged on cacao nibs. A brief hint of roasted barley hides in the background, yet not a trace of booze is detectable. The taste is very sweet, almost as if the beer was brewed with lactose (it’s not, but it is brewed with molasses), before fading into a dry, ashy finish. A bit more malt complexity to pair with the sweetness would be welcome, but this offering from the Bloomington, Indiana, brewery is still quite enjoyable. The booziness is completely hidden except for a mild warmth felt in the chest.

Double Mountain Tahoma Kriek: This golden sour is aged more than a year with Rainier cherries and is released each summer by the Hood River, Oregon, brewery. A pungent tartness paces the aroma with subtler tones of cherries and a grassy yeastiness. Only a light cherry flavor shines through, with bright, sweet orange and peach fruitiness basking in the spotlight before an assertive Brettanomyces tartness takes center stage. A pleasant, fuller mouthfeel helps alleviate the acidity, which creates a prickly texture on the swallow but totally masks that the beer is 10.3% ABV.

Rhinegeist Ink: The 10% imperial stout from the Cincinnati-based brewery is—oddly enough—not as dark in color as its name suggests; rather, it resembles a cup of medium-roast java. Milk chocolate that’s lacking the normal sugariness is the only prominent malt characteristic on the nose, which also features traces of fruit skin (like an apple-pear medley) with a faint roasty aroma and no hint of alcohol. The first sip reveals the same fruit skin tone as the aroma with a moderate coffee roast that concludes in a pleasantly bitter finish. Here, the booze is present without being dominant, leaving a warming effect after the taste has dissipated. Look for this beer come winter.

Great Divide Old Ruffian: The 10.2%-ABV barleywine—winner of multiple GABF medals in the past 10 years—sports a crystal-clear, rich amber pour. There’s no mistaking this boozy beast for any other beer, given its nose, which boasts a boatload of hot alcohol mixed with sticky toffee and a woody hop aroma (it almost smells like a barrel-aged beer). Flavors of sweet caramel and burnt toast intermingle with very earthy hop bitterness and a touch of unsweetened chocolate at the end. Despite its booze-heavy aroma, the alcohol, while definitely still present, is not nearly as strong in the taste.

Avery The Maharaja: The scent of citrusy and piney hops bursts from the dark amber-hued imperial IPA with a sticky caramel malt aroma providing support. That same sweet maltiness pops up first on the sip before juicy orange and grassy alfalfa notes emerge. Any alcohol flavor from the 10.2% ABV is so well hidden that one wouldn’t think the beer was a double IPA in a blind tasting.

Hop Dogma Fides in Fermento: Sweet and roasty latte mingling with an earthy bitterness waft off this imperial stout by Hop Dogma in El Granada, California. The sweet flavor of dusty cocoa powder initially bursts on the palate before quickly flipping to a lingering, bitter roast. As the flavorful beer warms, the two tones merge somewhat to create the sensation that remains after chewing a chocolate-covered espresso bean. None of the 10.3% ABV is present in the taste, making this beer dangerously delicious.

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