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When $5 for a beer is actually a bargain

If you told your grandfather that you paid $5 for a 12-ounce bottle of beer, he'd probably have a hearty chuckle as he ripped the foil tab off a can of Stroh's. But times have changed, and many beers carry a heavy price tag. While most can be had for less than half of what you paid, there are a few beers out there that not only demand more money for the pleasure of sampling them — they deserve it.

Beers in this price range typically offer a little something extra: a higher-than-usual alcohol content, a special or unusual brewing process, flavorful and rare ingredients, or simply a cool story to go with them. Hey, at $20 a four-pack, you deserve a little extra bang for your buck. Here are a few pricey — but worthwhile — beers.

Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron ($4.99 at ABC Fine Wine and Spirits). Those nuts at Dogfish Head built a 10,000-gallon aging vessel from aromatic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood and put a high-gravity brown ale in it. The result is a truly exceptional — and complex — beer with just a touch of the exotic wood it was aged in, as well as hints of caramelized fruit and vanilla. You can sometimes find this on draft, but at 12 percent ABV and with relatively low carbonation, this is best sipped slowly at home at cellar temperature (about 55 degrees F).

Brouwerij Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne ($5.09 at Shep's Food Mart in St. Petersburg). The diminutive 11.2-ounce bottle's label features a work of classical art, fitting for the beer contained within. This Flanders red ale comprises a blend of fresh, young beer and beer that's been aged 18 months in oak casks. An initial acidic kick is balanced by a rich sweetness underneath, the product of a grain bill consisting entirely of roasted malts. Flavor notes include plum, raisin and well-aged balsamic vinegar. The latter details may be off-putting to casual beer drinkers, but the rest will be amazed by this extremely unique and fine beer.

Batemans Mocha Beer ($4.99 at Rally's Fourth Street in St. Petersburg). Like many U.K. beers, this coffee-and-chocolate ale comes bigger in volume, at 16.9 ounces. A beer like this serves the same purpose as a quality dessert wine; it's not a go-to brew for all occasions, but it makes for a nice, rich treat. Unlike some similar brews, the sweetness of the chocolate is balanced by a mild hop bite in the back, and the coffee isn't at all overpowering. A strong toffee flavor is present, especially in the nose. Low carbonation and relatively low acidity make this extremely smooth and drinkable.

Rogue XS Imperial IPA ($4.99 at Rally's Fourth Street). Those used to seeing this beer in a large, ceramic bottle will be surprised by its new 7-ounce format. The beer is as big as its bottle is little, though, with a dense floral aroma and bright citrus hops dominating the palate. This is the quintessential West Coast IPA — big, bold, and earthy.

Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah ($4.99 at ABC Fine Wine and Spirits). Well, it was only a matter of time before someone made a chili beer that utilizes the notorious Bhut Jolokia pepper — better known as the dreaded ghost pepper, the hottest pepper in the world at over 400 times the heat of Tabasco sauce. The beer contains a blend of five other chilies, giving it a surprisingly fresh pepper taste before immediately erupting into an absolute firestorm in your mouth. I'm not kidding, this is really hot. Make sure some friends are on hand to share, because finishing 12 ounces of this stuff on your own may have some negative repercussions. Mercifully, however, the burn dissipates at a fairly rapid rate.

When $5 for a beer is actually a bargain 05/03/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 4:31am]

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