I won’t mince words: beer is good. But too many people settle for the lame lagers pitched to them by large breweries, unaware of just how good a beer can really be. For the uninitiated and the knowledgeable alike, this list of 11 craft beers will add some great brews to your bucket list, though you may have to travel a bit to try them all out.
The name for this Minneapolis brewery comes from the all too common anger that comes from not being able to find a good beer. But as the bottom half of its logo clearly shows, all it takes to stop being surly, is a Surly. The beer, served in cans to keep light from spoiling the goods, is in high demand, but so far the brewery has limited its distribution to Minnesota, frustrating those like yours truly, who have left the state and this wonderful brew behind. The flagship of the Surly line is the Furious, an American India Pale All that’s heavy on the hops, with a hint of grapefruit.
Once a great center of brewing, Brooklyn is surging back, thanks to the brewery named for the New York City borough. Lagers tend to be overshadowed by showier, more flavor-packed beers; this one has no wild ingredients or tongue-busting hops, just a hint of caramel. So why is it on the list? Because it’s simple, drinkable and delicious. (And maybe partially because I live just a few minutes from the Williamsburg brewery.)
If you can handle the hops, the aptly-named Hercules Double IPA, cooked up by the folks at the Great Divide Brewing in Colorado, is the beer for you. It won the gold medal at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2007 and the silver the two years after that. Great Divide recommends trying the Hercules with grilled fish tacos or an aged Dutch cheese, but it goes especially well with even more Hercules Double IPA.
Produced by the brewery named for the change to the Constitution that brought beer back into the lives of law-abiding citizens, the Hop Crisis is inspired by another dark time in American history. According to 21st Amendment, when hop prices skyrocketed a few years ago, the brewery reacted by producing a beer with as many hops as they could pack in. The Imperial IPA comes from San Francisco, and features escapees from Alcatraz prison on the can.
Another midwest outfit that doesn’t distribute outside its state, Wisconsin’s New Glarus makes a beer I’ve rerouted road trips to get my hands on. Daniel and Deb Carey run the small brewery in the town of New Glarus, and produce simple but delicious beers. The star and best-seller of the lineup is the Spotted Cow, a farmhouse ale sweetened with corn.
Long Island-based Blue Point Brewing Company offers 19 microbrews, but the RastafaRye Ale stands out. The deep copper rye is made with hops from the West Coast, and comes with a kick of philanthropy you don’t often get from drinking beer. A portion of each sale is donated to They Often Cry Outreach, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of underprivileged children in the Caribbean. It’s good to your taste buds, too, with a touch of citrus and what a reviewer on BeerAdvocate.com called a “sweet, birthday cake malt character.”
I’m not much for wheat ales, but Indiana brewery Three Floyds has won me over with the Gumballhead. Perhaps the perfect summer beer, the oddly named brew (after a comic book cat) features grapefruit, lemon zest, marmalade and peach. The upside of the relatively low 5.5% ABV is that you can enjoy a few of these before you need to worry about slowing down.
Dogfish Head has appeared on our pages for helping Google brew its own beer, but I’m sure they prefer their legacy be their fleet of nearly 50 craft beers. The 90 Minute is the first made with the Delaware brewery’s continuous hopping method, leading the way to the 60, 120 and 75 Minute IPAs, none of which quite match what Esquire magazine called ”perhaps the best IPA in America.”
Jim and Jason Abel founded Two Brothers Brewing Company in 1996, and it was only a matter of time before they named a beer for the Biblical sons of Adam and Eve. The Cane and Ebel has a malty body with plenty of rye, earning an “exceptional” rating of 94/100 from the pro reviewers at BeerAdvocate.com. Using Thai palm sugar, the Ebel brothers have concocted a terrific brew, and “that’s no sin,” they say.
Simply but, Brewery Ommegang’s Three Philosophers is a wonderful beer. Two percent of the quadruple ale is Liefmans Kriek, a Belgian cherry ale. Unlike a lot of the beers on this list, this Ommegang is sweet, not bitter, with flavors of molasses, brown sugar, dark fruits, brandied raisins and chocolate. A word of advice: grab some now. Ommegang says that a proposed fracking operation near its Cooperstown, New York brewery could spoil the local water supply, and the beer along with it.
Scott Vaccaro brewed his first batch of beer as a high school senior, a path that soon led him to open his own brewery. Good thing he did. The Smoked Porter has an unusual smoky flavor and is black in color. This is a brew best saved for winter time or chilly nights while camping; even served cold, it will warm you up.