It’s a great time to be a beer drinker. There are so many craft beer options available that it can be hard to choose which one you want. Of course, it’s easy to reach for one of the mainstream beers. But, when you’ve had a long day at the office and you’re looking for something more than the big beer brands can offer, it certainly pays to know your options for craft varieties. The craft beer scene in America has exploded in popularity over the last few years, and more craft brews are available than ever. So, to help you narrow down your choices, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of the best craft beers.
The good news is drinking beer, at least moderately, might just help you stay healthy. According to a recent study conducted by NOVA University in Lisbon, the hops in beer help with your gut health, making your body better at staving off diseases and infections. The benefits come from polyphenols — plant compounds found in hops, barley, and yeast. For those who don’t drink alcohol, there’s still good news: even non-alcoholic beer appears to have the same benefits.
Beer isn’t just good for your gut health. Another study finds that beer can also be good for your brain. That’s right, a study found that the hops in beer are effective at preventing harmful proteins from building in your brain – a major contributor to Alzheimer’s disease. The Tettnang hop is used in many types of lagers and light ales and, according to researchers in Italy, was the most effective at preventing Alzheimer’s-causing protein buildups in your brain—all the more reason to enjoy an ice cold brew or two after a long day at the office.
The world of craft beer is a vibrant tapestry of bold flavors, innovative styles, and passionate brewers. It’s a far cry from the mass-produced monotony of the past, offering a symphony of taste that celebrates the art and science of brewing. But before you dive into the best craft beers, let’s delve into the fascinating process that transforms simple ingredients into liquid gold.
How Is Craft Beer Made?
The journey of a craft beer begins with malting, where barley and other grains are germinated to unlock their natural sugars. These sugars are then extracted during mashing, creating a sweet liquid wort. The wort is boiled with hops, those fragrant flowers that contribute bitterness, aroma, and preservation. This hop-infused wort then undergoes fermentation, where yeast transforms the sugars into alcohol and CO2, giving beer its characteristic character. Finally, the beer is conditioned, allowing the flavors to mature and meld before it reaches your glass.
Types of Craft Beer:
The beauty of craft beer lies in its diversity. From crisp, refreshing lagers to hoppy IPAs bursting with citrus, there’s a style for every palate. Here’s a glimpse into the vast landscape:
- Lagers: Crisp, clean, and refreshing, lagers are brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast at cold temperatures. Pilsners, Helles, and Dunkel are some popular lager styles.
- Ales: Fermented with top-fermenting yeast at warmer temperatures, ales offer a wider range of flavors and aromas. Pale ales, IPAs, stouts, and porters are some well-known examples.
- Sours: These tart and refreshing beers are produced using lactic acid bacteria, resulting in unique flavors like lemon, grapefruit, and funk.
- Barrel-aged beers: Aged in oak barrels previously used for whiskey, wine, or bourbon, these beers acquire complex flavors and aromas.
So, which are the best craft beers? StudyFinds did the research, consulting nine beer and foodie review sites in an effort to bring you a consensus list of the best craft beers. Our list comprises the seven most frequently listed beers from across these sites. Think the reviewers missed a great craft beer? Do you know of a hidden gem in the craft beer space that you’d like to share with the world? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
➡️ How Our “Best Of The Best” Lists Are Created
StudyFinds’ “Best of the Best” articles are put together with the idea of taking the work out of common consumer research. Ever find yourself searching for a product or service on Google and reading multiple reviews to find items listed across many of them? Our Best of the Best lists are created with that process in mind, with each item ranked by how frequently it appears on expert reviews or lists. With Best of the Best, you are getting consensus picks — making them truly the best of the best!
The List: Best Craft Beers, According to Experts
The top spot on the list of the best craft beers belongs to Sierra Nevada Brewing and its their famous pale ale. Sierra Nevada is perhaps the most successful craft brewing company in America and its pale ale is a real winner in the craft beer scene. “Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale really must be something if it was first brewed in 1980 and yet still maintaining its honor as one of the country’s best-selling beers year after year. And it is. This humble little recipe not only helped define the signature citrusy flavor of American IPAs, but it also helped propel the now-behemoth Sierra Nevada, a brand currently worth an estimated $1 billion. To this day, the pale ale is brewed using the original recipe of lots of whole-cone Cascade hops and 100% two-row malt,” writes Craft Beer Me.
Sierra Nevada has definitely outgrown the “craft” beer industry as it’s now regarded as one of the biggest breweries in America. Still, this company’s dedication to craft beer remains the same as the day it was founded.
“Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is truly the stuff of legends, a pioneering beer that gradually introduced American consumers to the wonders of a pleasantly bitter, clean and fresh ale that calls to mind the Western mountains of Sierra Nevada’s home. It’s the definition of an ‘anytime’ beer in our book, easy to imbibe alongside holiday meals, ready to cool you down after a hot spring or summer day, and available just about anywhere great beer is sold,” furthers Spy.
You’ll find people drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale all around the world, at all times of the year. This craft beer is smooth, flavorful, and leaves you wanting just one more sip.
“The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is among the largest craft breweries in the country (third to be exact). In fact, many people see it on the shelves so often they don’t realize it’s a craft brewery. Much of the brewery’s success is due to their flagship, the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. As far as American pale ales go, this is as classic as you can get. Sierra Nevada boasts a smooth, easy sip that makes it a great entry into the world of pale ales. The aspect of the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that appeals to its fans the most is its strong hops. This produces the characteristic sharp taste at the end of each sip that’s classic for pale ales,” adds Quicktap.
Russian River Brewing has been crafting some of the top beers in America for the past 15 years and it shows. “Russian River’s Pliny the Elder is a legendary double IPA that showcases the depth of flavor in hops. Brewed by Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing, who created the double IPA style, Pliny the Elder brings out the full flavor of hops, not just the bitterness. Beer experts still consider Pliny the Elder to be a top contender in its style, even after facing fierce competition over the last 15 years,” explains Homebrew Academy.
The story behind Russian River Brewing is intriguing and helps differentiate this company from others like it. “Originally opened in 1997 by Korbel Champagne, the brewery was purchased by its former brewmaster, Vinnie Cilurzo, and his wife in 2002 and moved to Santa Rosa a couple of years later. Making the move along with them was the quintessential west coast DIPA, Pliny the Elder – which is widely regarded as the first-ever Double IPA. Within a few short years this dry, piney, perfectly bitter beer had moved to all the top beer ranking lists around the world including holding the title of ‘Best Beer in America’ for an astounding eight years,” adds Beer Connoisseur.
It’s hard to imagine that a champagne producer also owned a craft brewery but they did. Thankfully, Vinnie Cilurzo bought the small brewery and transformed it into one of the most recognizable craft breweries in California. “Few beers are as legendary as Pliny the Elder — a delicious double IPA from Vinnie Cilurzo, the brewer credited with inventing the style. Cilurzo says his first attempt was in 1995, when he whipped up a beer called Inaugural Ale to celebrate the first anniversary of his own Blind Pig Brewing,” furthers Food and Wine.
The third spot on the list of the top craft beers goes to Allagash White by Allagash Brewing. Allagash White is a Belgian-style wheat beer, or witbier as it is known, and offers one of the best-tasting craft beers you’ll find.
“For a quarter-century, the Portland, Maine brewery’s Belgian-inspired witbier has been America’s standard-bearer for the style… The seafood-friendly beer is spiced with coriander and orange peel, and the slight heaviness on the palate really allows the complex spiciness of the yeast character to shine,” explains Liquor.
Wheat beer is brewed with malted wheat as opposed to barley, and that’s what gives Allagash White its unique flavor and aroma. A lot of wheat beers are characterized by creamy, cloudy color and contain notes of banana, toffee, and clove.
“Every great craft beer starts with a great story, like Allagash founder Rob Todd building his own brewing system by hand in a Portland, Maine warehouse back in the ’90s. Todd’s initial efforts to sell Allagash White, a curiously cloudy wheat ale featuring coriander, were unsuccessful and frowned upon, and it took the region and the drinking public some time to catch on. Now, Allagash White is one of the most beloved beers on the market among suds enthusiasts, balancing orange peel and coriander flavors with a refreshing finish,” writes Spy.
Orange peel and coriander make for an interesting pair in Allagash White. The citrus flavor of the orange combined with the coriander makes Allagash White great for pairing with typical New England seafood dishes such as shrimp and lobster.
“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,” furthers Time Out.
Next up on the list of the best craft beers is Heady Topper by The Alchemist Brewing. The Alchemist produces a wide range of excellent craft beers and Heady Topper is one of the most popular beers this craft brewery offers.
“The Alchemist’s Heady Topper double IPA is a true game-changer in the world of American craft beer. With a stellar rating of 100, this Imperial IPA is known for its crisp, unfiltered flavor and its impact on the New England IPA style. The Alchemist Heady Topper has played a significant role in putting the East Coast on the map as a world-class craft beer region. Today, Heady Topper remains a highly sought-after beer among enthusiasts,” explains Homebrew Academy.
IPA stands for India Pale Ale and the double IPA from The Alchemist is characterized by extra hops and malt. The extra malt offers the yeast more sugar to create the alcohol and it ultimately gives you a stronger beer.
“If you’re a huge fan of hops, you need this beer on your bucket list. Heady Topper is a double IPA from The Alchemist Brewery in Vermont. In its early days, The Alchemist was a pub. They were brewing Heady Topper but only serving it on tap rather than bottling it and selling it to go. When the pub flooded in 2011, the owners decided to focus more on the brewing side of their business. Since then, Heady Topper has been gaining popularity at a rapid speed. Its unique formula makes it ideal for drinking from a can rather than on draught,” adds Quicktap.
Heady Topper is beyond popular amongst craft beer enthusiasts and it’s considered one of the quintessential New England IPAs on the market today. “The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, along with Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, became the beers to seek out and drink at least once in a beer drinker’s life. Heady Topper’s line continues directly into the massive surge and popularity of New England IPAs,” writes The Manual.
The story behind Anchor Brewing Company is an inspiration to brewers around the world and its Anchor Steam beer is truly one of the top craft brews you’ll find. “Many beer scholars hold that the modern American craft beer movement began in 1965. That was the year Fritz Maytag bought a majority stake in Anchor Brewing, saving the San Francisco brewery, founded in 1896, from bankruptcy. Upon his purchase, Maytag rethought everything about the company including its flagship Anchor Steam beer, which was notable for a unique brewing process that uses lager yeast at warmer temperatures in open-air fermenters,” explains Food and Wine.
If Fritz Maytag’s name looks familiar to you, that’s because his family’s name is synonymous with Maytag brand kitchen appliances. Like most craft beers in America, Anchor Steam developed a local following in San Francisco before gaining national recognition as one of the top craft brews in the country.
“Fritz Maytag rightfully holds a place in American craft beer history. In 1965, he purchased the failing Anchor Brewing Company, the last remaining brewer of the uniquely American California Common beer called Anchor Steam. With investments in production and cleanliness, Fritz had begun a small revolution and turned the tides on the rapid decline of U.S. breweries. Anchor Steam slowly developed a loyal following in San Francisco, eventually gaining national attention becoming the first microbrewery with additions like Porter, IPA and Barleywine,” furthers Beer Connoisseur.
Anchor Steam wasn’t available in bottles until the early ‘70s. Since then, Anchor Steam has been one of the most popular craft beers in America and it’s considered one of those brews that beer enthusiasts have to try at least once.
“Established in 1896, Anchor Brewing probably doesn’t seem like a logical fit in the modern craft beer world. However, when Fritz Maytag, an appliance company heir, bought the brewery in 1965, he saved a brewery on the brink of closing. Batches were small, but the 1971 bottle introduction of Anchor Steam was transformative. The ensuing beer innovation would drive many more breweries to open in the following years. Anchor Steam alone is among the most important craft beers,” writes The Manual.
The sixth spot on the list of the top craft beers belongs to La Folie by New Belgium Brewing. This brewery is widely recognized for its dedication to crafting quality brews and La Folie is a big reason for this company’s success and notoriety.
“A long time ago, sour beer was an oddity in a craft brewery’s catalogue, often popping up as an experimental release. Now, it is deemed essential to any beer bar’s selection. However, the waves to make this happen started way back. For New Belgium Brewing Company, it started in 1997, where they consulted an expert from Old Belgium to craft La Folie, a Flemish Style true sour foeder beer, aged in big oak barrels,” explains Craft Beer Me.
La Folie is classified as a sour beer and, like most craft beers, La Folie has an incredible story behind it. New Belgium Brewing Company did things the right way and sought help from world-renowned craft beer brewers.
“In the past decade, sour beer has gone from esoteric to essential in any serious beer bar’s lineup. So it’s amazing to think that way back in 1997, New Belgium Brewing Company turned to an expert from old Belgium to make a true sour foeder beer right here in the States. That year, with the help of former Rodenbach Brewery brewer Peter Bouckaert, the Colorado brewery introduced La Folie, a Flemish-style brown sour,” furthers Food and Wine.
La Folie is aged in oak barrels to give it a unique flavor and color. La Folie was one of the first sour beers to gain national recognition among craft beer drinkers.
“Speaking of wood-aging beers, New Belgium Brewing is a leader in the U.S. in terms of wood-aged sour beers, an extremely deep category full of complex flavors. Former brewer Peter Bouckaert came from Belgium and brought a wealth of knowledge, including the brown sour ale, La Folie, which has since informed a legion of sour brewers in the U.S.,” writes The Manual.
Two Hearted Ale is an American-style IPA from Michigan with loads of flavor and a ton of notoriety in the craft beer realm. “Michigan seems to be one of those states with breweries galore, and that includes Bell’s Brewery. With two different breweries in The Wolverine State, Bell’s Brewery boasts several well-known beers including the Two Hearted Ale. Two Hearted Ale is an American-style IPA that’s known for being hop-forward. The brew offers an enjoyable fruity aroma and a beautiful golden hue. When it comes down to the taste, though, it’s a classic IPA for IPA fans. In addition to its straightforward flavor, Two Hearted Ale is in the middle of the road with its ABV as well at a healthy 7%,” explains Quicktap.
Bell’s Brewery operates in Comstock and Kalamazoo, Michigan. The brewery’s founder got started brewing beer in a large soup pot and is a big advocate for home brewing.
“Bell’s Two Hearted is still made the way outgoing founder Larry Bell intended, packed with Centennial hops featuring aroma notes of pine and citrus. It’s a beer that’s so great and so iconic, we’re willing to let semantics slide just this once. Seriously, you’ve got to try this beer,” raves Spy.
Two Hearted Ale was first brewed in 1997 and has been one of Bell’s Brewery’s most popular beers ever since. However, Bell’s didn’t make Two Hearted Ale a year-round brew until 2003 and it quickly became one of the best-selling beers on Bell’s extensive list.
“Even though this beer was brewed since 1985, Two Hearted Ale is still a beloved offering of the famous Michigan brewery: Bell’s. Two Hearted Ale is a classic American IPA, featuring American Centennial hops and fruity yeast. The beer pours a hazy deep amber color with so much flavor packed into one refreshing bottle. You’d truly find it hard to stop at just one,” adds Craft Beer Me.
Finding the Best Craft Beers: A Guide for Your Palate
With so many varieties out there, navigating the world of brewing can feel overwhelming. Here are some tips to guide your exploration:
- Read the labels: Look for information about the style, ingredients, and brewing process to understand what’s in the bottle.
- Visit local breweries: Talk to the brewers, sample their offerings, and experience the passion behind their craft.
- Try beer flights: Sample a variety of styles to discover your preferences and expand your palate.
- Join a beer club or community: Connect with other beer enthusiasts, share recommendations, and learn from each other.
- Craft Beer Me
- The Manual
- Food and Wine
- Beer Connoisseur
- Homebrew Academy
- Time Out
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.