Best beer

Some of the best beers in the world (according to aficionados) are also among the rarest beers in the world.

Yesterday I was listening to the excellent Loud Numbers podcast by Miriam Quick and Duncan Geere. The podcast is about data sonification – like data visualisation, but instead of representing data in pictures they represent it in sound. In the episode they created music from the characteristics of different beers – body, bitterness, sweetness, and so on – as quantified by a professional beer taster (a “cicerone”). I recommend the episode, which has the perfect title “Tasting Notes.”

Anyway, the cicerone mentioned their personal favourite beer: the Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder. And that reminded me of another beer made by the same company, known (appropriately enough) as Pliny the Younger.

Pliny the Younger is an event beer. It is released once a year, for two weeks. You can only get it at the brewery’s own pubs in Santa Rosa and Windsor, California. And this beer is absurdly popular. People travel for days and queue for hours to get a taste of Piny the Younger. It is a legend, and no doubt the tight restrictions on its availability just enhance its reputation.

There is another equally rare beer in Europe: Westvleteren 12. It’s one of a range of beers brewed by monks of a Trappist abbey in Belgium. They only sell enough to keep the abbey solvent – typically only 60,000 cases a year. (In comparison, a major beer like Heineken sells nearly six thousand times as much per annum.)

The Westvleteren beers are only available at the doors of the abbey or in the visitor’s centre opposite. You have to book ahead, sometimes months in advance, and you have to promise not to resell the beer. As you can imagine, this inevitably leads to a black market for this legendary and rare brew, and an enormous reputation as one of the best beers in the world.

I have tasted neither Pliny the Younger nor Westvleteren 12. The best beer I’ve ever tasted was called Black Tokyo Horizon. It was a collaboration between Scottish brewers BrewDog, Norwegian Nøgne Ø, and Danish Mikkeller, and it was glorious.

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