You know where to drink it: in raucous beer gardens; perched by the taps at your local specialty beer bar; at home, on your couch, after a big day (or before a big night). And you know when to drink it (almost always). But have you mastered what craft beer you should be drinking? With the craft beer market exploding, choosing your top drop can be like choosing your favorite kid—if you have thousands and thousands of kids. To help, we’ve clinked and guzzled our way through the best breweries in America from New York to Maui—via Alaska—to produce our definitive breakdown of the country’s top craft beers. Order up, and drink like an expert.
America’s best craft beers
Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA is one of the great San Diego brewery’s original brews and some years back the boys decided to experiment with a batch that included some habanero peppers thrown in. The result? An IPA with balanced floral flavors and a habanero kick.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/madichan
This Cooperstown brewery produces regulars and limited editions, many of which could make this list, but the real standout is Ommegang’s Hennepin Farmhouse Saison—it’s full-bodied yet crisp, and spicy yet refreshing. At 7.7 percent ABV it’s a strong one, so drink it up with a decent fillet of salmon.
John Laffler left Chicago’s famous Goose Island brewery and headed out on his own in 2013 to launch Off Color, which turns out extremely well-made beers in hard-to-find styles, like Sahti. One of Off Color’s best beers is Apex Predator, a farmhouse ale that’s dry-hopped, fruity and refreshing. It’s one of the few Off Color beers available year round, and for good reason—this beer is enjoyable no matter the season.
Revolution’s distinctive fist-pumping cans are a staple at Chicago house parties, and none are more prevalent in the summer than Rosa. The light pink beer is tart and refreshing, with herb and flower notes providing a gentle sweetness. Rosa is only sold in the summer and at 5.8 percent ABV, it’s ideal for swigging from an ice-cold can on hot days.
You can’t take a tour of the Craftsman brewery, and its beers are not the easiest to find. Still, when you can track down this Pasadena-based beer, the clouds part and the beer gods sing. Founded in 1995 by Mark Jilg, Craftsman is L.A.’s oldest microbrewery. Jilg is consistently at the forefront of LA’s beer scene, brewing sour beers before they became popular, experimenting with pre-Prohibition lagers—basically doing whatever he damn well pleases. Try the Heavenly Hefe in select bars like Lucky Baldwins and Maximiliano.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Kelly Sims
Leading the way at this Arts District brewery is Angel City’s IPA, a hoppy, flavor-driven brew that hooks you in immediately with its fruity nose. After a bang of malt and citrus, there’s a decent but not overpowering level of bitter hoppiness before a dry finish.
If only most of the country were lucky enough to get Rahr’s beers (most of them don’t even make it outside Fort Worth, let alone Texas). So when you do come and visit them, ensure you taste and then leave with several bottles of the dark coffee and chocolate-driven Snowmageddon Oatmeal Stout, which pays tribute to the great brewery roof collapse of 2010, as depicted on the label.
There’s a bit of a mango-driven fruit bowl going on in this Point Loma, California brew, but it’s well balanced and you'll be forgiven for thinking the Fortunate Islands Wheat is in fact IPA. The best part about this session brew from Modern Times is that it is not IPA, so after five cans your palate won’t be smashed.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Tiny House Brewing
This tropical fruit and hop-driven IPA comes from the folks at the burgeoning Redondo Beach brewing company King Harbor. Expect loads of hops on the nose and the palate (it has an IBU of 85 – that’s International Bittering Units) but a smooth, lingering and unobtrusive finish.
Allagash’s brilliant Maine take on a Belgian wheat beer is loaded with a refined blend of coriander and curaçao orange peel that goes down incredibly smoothly. Best on tap, mainly across the Eastern states, but also good in a bottle nationwide. Wash it down with a Maine lobster roll.
The largest specialty brewer in the Midwest, Boulevard, has been cranking out top quality brews since 1989 and the leader of its stacks is the Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale. The beer is the stuff of legend nationwide, thanks to its fruity nose led by grapefruit and its spicy yet dry finish.
The Alaskan White stands out on the taps because it’s one of the best beer fonts going around—a big white polar bear. You can touch him, he won’t bite. On draft or in the bottle, the Alaskan Brewing Co beer is one of America’s finest witbiers. The brew is made from European and Pacific Northwest hops and you can expect hints of coriander and citrus.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Adam Barhan
Right now right across Fort Worth, Texans are taking to Martin House’s River House Saison, a brew that’s well balanced with floral and citrus notes. Thanks to a bespoke yeast blend created by brewer and cofounder Cody Martin, you’ll find hints of pepper and spices.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Tiny House Brewing
In the ski town of Breckenridge in Colorado, the city’s star brewery is producing one hell of a sexy beer. Breckenridge’s Agave Wheat, a brilliant fusion of agave nectar in an unfiltered wheat ale, blends up two flavors that were always destined to be in harmony.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Garret Voight
Credit to the brains at Deschutes for marrying a witbier with some delicious Cascade hops from the Pacific Northwest. Think a crisp, quenching summer witbier powered up by some serious IBUs. It’s fair to say popular brewer Jake Harper is on the money with this one.
Driven by our favorite Cascade hops, Monday Night’s Eye Patch is so crisp, you have to read the label twice to know you’re drinking an IPA. Expect citrus notes and sweet caramel flavors from a beer that might just be the best IPA to have ever come out of Georgia. A solid example of what to expect from brewer Adam Bishop and the team.
The Black IPA from 21st Amendment might be hard to find across the nation, but that’s part of the thrill when you spy it on a list. Featuring dark and rich malts, the Back in Black, crafted by Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan, goes above your standard American IPA and finishes exceptionally smooth.
The beer of choice for thirsty folk on the islands of Aloha scores bonus points for having one of the best labels in the market—a lady, a lei, a grass skirt and an ice-cold one. Inside the can, the German-style lager isn’t bitter, but is instead dominated by tropical fruits with a dash of honey. Well crafted, it’s a good example of what to expect from the Maui Brewing Co.
This strong Farmhouse Saison continues to storm across the nation, popping up on taps from Brooklyn to Minneapolis. It’s on the strong side (7.6 percent ABV), but thanks to its clean malt flavor and spicy dryness, not overpoweringly so. You can always expect good things from the Washington-grown Sorachi Ace hops—and Brooklyn Brewery—and this is perhaps the best example.
Indianapolis is a sleeper of a city when it comes to brewing in America and the small Fountain Square Brewery is producing some top-class beers. Standing out is the refined, refreshing and well-balanced Hugh Hefe, which smacks you immediately with banana, wheat and cloves. The long, lingering finish rounds it out.