Your typical run of the mill lager is 5% alcohol-by-volume. Grab yourself an ale, and 5.5-6% is the usual. Move on up the ladder to Belgian dubbels, Strong Ales (e.g. Arrogant Bastard), and malt liqour, where 7-8% is more typical. Then you get to your imperials: Double IPAs, Russian stouts, and Belgian trippels and quads, which weigh in around 10 or 11%. And that's pretty much as alcoholic as beer gets.
Which is why--despite the $12 for a 12 oz bottle--I could not possibly pass up Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA, weighing in at an ostentateous, unbelievable, and thoroughly unncessary 21% ABV.
How do you get so much alcohol in a beer? You develop a special strain of extra-resilient yeast and feed it generous quantities of sugar. As a result, the 120 Minute is sweet--really sweet. Despite all the hops they throw at it, this beer is not really all that bitter. It's sugary and carmelly and finishes with a little bit of orange zest of all things. All the hops really manage to do is take the edge of the sweetness, which is crucial because otherwise it would probably have a pretty gross aftertaste. It's also a little bit syrupy. You can taste the alcohol, but it's nowhere near as bad as I expected. Considering the fact that this beer has more alcohol than certain hard liquors, that's pretty remarkable.
I guess I have to give Dogfish credit for boldly going where no beer has gone before. But having been there once, I doubt I'll be back. 120 Minute is an impressive specimen of alcoholic engineering, but taste-wise it just doesn't offer much. It's kind of absurd that one of these little bottles has almost as much alcohol as a pitcher of Coors Light, but--all things considered--I'll take the pitcher.