Beer is so many things—perfect for both every day and special occasions, it’s light and dark, rich and robust, and sour and sweet. With the ongoing rise of craft beer, it’s also proliferating like never before, which can make it challenging to find the best brew.
From light beers to stout beers, there are also a wide variety of suds to choose from. “There are so many impressive beers out there, and it’s fun to navigate the different styles and regional strengths; why limit yourself to one genre?” says Jeff Moses, a career brewer and craft bottle house pioneer, who has also taken part in assembling beers for his award-winning Monterey Bay Beer Festival and San Francisco Holiday Beer Festival.
So, fill your favorite beer glass with our picks of the best beers to drink.
Schneider Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock
Innovative, daring, and dark-brewed, the Aventinus, a type of ale beer, comes from the oldest wheat beer brewery in Bavaria, Germany. Like many of the world’s best inventions, it started as a mistake: until the 1940s, this beer was shipped in containers lacking temperature regulation, thus partially freezing during shipment and resulting in a more concentrated, intense beer. Six generations of family ownership later, Hans Peter Drexler, brewmaster of Schneider brewery, heard the tale and drew inspiration to recreate it.
This version of the Aventinus Eisbock evokes sweet banana and plum flavors flanked by clove, toffee, and raisin notes, carried along by a luxurious, almost-sticky mouth feel. Moses calls it “the devil’s juice” for its seductive flavor profile, as well as “an amazing accomplishment.”
Estrella Inedit is a barley-and-wheat-based extra lager from Spain’s Damm Brewery. Ferran Adrià, a Michelin-starred chef, collaborated with his sommeliers and Damm’s master brewers on this supremely food-friendly concoction that cleverly combines a malted-barley pilsner and ale-style wheat beer.
The result is a light-bodied, coriander-and-orange-peel-accented lager that’s clean and creamy with a touch of fruity sweetness and spice. “Inedit is a beer for dining,” says Adrià. “We saw there was a gap to fill when eating.”
A high-grade craft IPA that’s also light on carbs, Lagunitas’ DayTime IPA boasts full flavor with a very modest 3g of carbs and 98 calories. It checks an impressive amount of desired boxes: easy-drinking, hoppy, balanced, and bursting with citrus and tropical fruit. This California-based ale also has a low, 4 percent ABV, making it the ideal, fresh summer beer.
With 1,000 years of practice, Germany’s Weihenstaphaner is one of the oldest existing breweries today, and its golden wheat beer might be its flagship. A dream pairing for an old-school Bavarian veal sausage and cheese (though versatile enough to pair with seafood), the Hefe Weissbier has claimed a chest full of international awards. It enjoys full-bodied flavors of banana with a touch of clove without sacrificing smoothness or refreshment.
Inspired by techniques used in cooking soup, this Dogfish Head debut introduced “continual hopping” in 2001, or adding hops consistently while brewing rather than just at the start—changing the craft game and giving way to the hoppy beer revolution that continues today.
This craft beer is an imperial IPA with a big but complicated symphony of layered hop flavors that are potent with citrus and pine, yet doesn’t wash away the malt foundation. Dogfish deserves credit for tasty creativity across its spectrum of inventions, but this is its crowning achievement.
Inspired by poppies of Flanders Field in Belgium, this Belgian-style sour beer is brewed from a brown ale base (Lost Abbey’s Dawn Patrol), blended with lager (Amigo Lager), and aged in oak barrels for more than a year. Lost Abbey brewers like to say, “this beer is not for the faint of heart.”
Along with aromas of tart cherries and cinnamon complexities, the ale exudes an unexpected flavor of stone fruit that’s intense, yet also round and soft. “It has come to define the American sour beer market,” says Moses. “The Red Poppy took over as the benchmark for where sour is going.”
Its base beer, the Velvet Merlin, is a luxurious coconut, roasted espresso, and dark chocolate blend that’s already creamy on its own. When that Velvet Merlin is brewed with milk sugar, its creators equate it to “adding cream to your dark-roasted coffee.” Even more, the nitro process makes it smoother.
With a slew of great craft beers available on the market, Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale is one of the best. Bell’s craft pioneers hail from Kalamazoo, Mich., where Larry Bell started a homebrew supply store in 1983 and, two years later, followed with his first commercial beer from a 15-gallon soup pot. Its finest modern-day descendent is a 7 percent, hop-heavy American-style IPA filled with pure pine, soft floral, and juicy grapefruit flavors, a striking nose (owed to Bell’s house yeast), and a superbly dry, yet lingering finish.
The Czech Republic, the birthplace of pilsner and home of the largest per-person intake of beer, is the proper place to find the world’s best lager. Just outside of Prague lies the city of Pilzen, where Josef Groll crafted the first lager of its kind in 1842. The original recipe remains in use (and closely guarded), with all of its tedious triple decoction and parallel brewing.
Still, the hard work and secrecy are worth the effort. The original pilsner is the very definition of bright, crisp, and balanced—across sweet, hops, malt, and carbonation.
St. Bernardus’ signature Quadrupel-style beer, a traditional abbey ale brewed in Trappist monk style, is strong (with a 10.5 percent ABV), yet smooth. Rich dark notes of raisins, plum, and cherry resonate, along with toasty and biscuit malt sweetness balanced with Noble hops bitterness. “Old-school, flavorful, naturally fermented, perfectly balanced, malty,” says Moses. “It’s what other dark beers aspire to be.”
With its iconic owl logo, Hitachino’s brew is the pride of Japan-based Kiuchi Brewery, which has been in the brewing industry for over eight generations, starting with sake in 1823. The Nest White Ale Witbier ferments with wheat malt and shines with elements of nutmeg, coriander, and citrus zest. The result is fresh and balanced, with a crisp, orange-hinted complexity.
Mexico is the world’s largest producer of beer, with a surprisingly deep catalog of international styles. The best among them is Modelo Negra, a Munich-style Dunkel lager. The nose presents caramel and soft hops, plus delicate and dark malt. The deep amber color carries a nice harmony of sweet and bitter notes. And, at 5.4 percent ABV, it’s not too lean but maintains a light body that complements the toasted chocolate flavors. Salud.
After a career’s worth of trying the nerdiest, most exotic, flavorful beers, Ethan Fixell, certified beer cicerone and longtime adult beverage writer, said he’d come to the realization that, when looking for a beer, he just wanted a good old-fashioned, adjunct domestic lager.
The best of those is Miller High Life, the self-proclaimed champagne of beers, with its simple, satisfying, light, and crisp golden-pilsner flavor profile. There’s a reason it’s a favorite among bartenders. Pro tip: get them in 7-ounce pony bottles so they never get warm.
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