Plato hit the nail on the head with his observation that it was a wise man who invented beer. From the umqombothi of South Africa to the sahti of Finland, beer in all its forms has been part of human culture for thousands of years. Yet beer has its extreme side too, and time has seen the creation of many unusual brews. Here are a few of the biggest and best in the world of beer:

Strongest beer

To most beer drinkers, a brew with an alcohol by volume content of over 8% is not something to be taken lightly, although some of the finer stouts are often near the 10% ABV mark. However, 2014 saw Scottish company Brewmeister launch its Snake Venom beer, which has an unprecedented alcohol content of 68%. Coming equipped with a warning label on the bottle, they recommended that those brave enough to drink it should consume it in small measures, like a liqueur.

Bitterest beer

Part of the appeal of some beers is their bitterness, and different brews have differing levels to suit individual palates. If you’re looking for something unusual on the bitterness scale – measured in International Bittering Units (IBU) – then try Alpha Fornication, brewed by the Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery in Ontario, Canada. Priding themselves on brewing ‘some of the highest-rated, most unconventional beers in Canada,’ Alpha Fornication is the bitterest beer in the world, rated at a tongue tingling 2500 IBU. For comparison, American light lagers score around 6-7 IBU, while a malty beer like a stout will usually have an IBU rating of around 30. A hoppy beer like an IPA will have an IBU rating in the region of 45-75 with a few scoring above 100. Anything above 75 IBU is generally known as a double IPA.

Oddest beer

Chicha beer – a traditional Peruvian corn-based brew that dates back to the Inca period – has earned its place at the top of our list in this category because one of its main ingredients is human saliva. To create chicha, the corn must be chewed and moistened before it is added to the mixture. It may sound bizarre, but it’s worth remembering that the enzymes in our mouth are designed to begin fermentation, and speed up the process.

Oldest (safely ingestible) beer

There is a long track record of removing alcoholic beverages from shipwrecks, with recent examples being the raising of Champagne from the wreck of the Titanic, and the highly-prized single malt bottles of scotch whisky from the SS Politician, which sank off the Scottish island of Eriskay. The oldest drinkable beer, however, must be that which was raised from a Finnish shipwreck dating back to the 1800s. When the wreck was discovered, so was the beer, and following analysis by scientists, was recreated in a laboratory. The original beer was still drinkable though, and was unsurprisingly described as having burnt notes and an old, slightly acidic taste.

Most expensive bottle of beer

When money is no object, then it’s often the case that things take an interesting turn. This happened with the world’s most expensive bottle of beer – a 1937 vintage bottle of Lowenbrau that was salved from the wreck of the airship Hindenburg after its crash at Lakehurst, New Jersey, in the United States in May that year. Six bottles were found after the fire, and this one sold for a cool US$16,000 at auction in 2009.

Largest glass of beer

They say small is beautiful, but that wasn’t the case in 2014, when the world’s largest glass of beer was poured at the Fleece Countryside Inn, in Yorkshire, England. Comprising 3,664 pints, the glass was created to celebrate the fact that the Tour de France visited the county that year. Each pint represented a kilometer in the race. The chosen tipple was Stod Fold’s Gold ale, which was later decanted from the mammoth vessel and sold at the roadside to thirsty spectators.


A version of this story was first published on on 2 October 2015