It was not long ago – in many of our lifetimes – when the beverage of beer was primarily marketed solely by prominent national and international companies all selling one similar style of beer. In the United States specifically, experts believed that by the turn of the Century, just three massive beer companies would dominate America, each selling light American lagers—the result of years of consolidation after American Prohibition.
Elsewhere in the world, many countries retained their traditional beer cultures, but these, too, risk being lost to consolidation and the mass appeal of light lager.
As the beer scape in North America could not have looked bleaker, a few individuals in different areas of the US and Canada were working on what would spark a nascent revolution to bring flavor back to American beer and to re-ignite interest in classic ales and lagers from Europe.
These pioneers didn’t know what they were doing at the time. Still, their curiosity for beer with flavor helped to spark the craft beer revolution, which not only helped save American beer but helped to energize the great brewing countries making classic beers and inspire the creation of new, flavorful, and innovative beer even further.
Today, craft beer has arrived.
Craft beer is no longer the little engine that could go up against the big boys – some of them are the big boys! And in turn, the big boys have worked hard to emulate the little guys. The result is that the world now enjoys more variety and flavor in beer beverages than ever.
We salute the craft beer pioneers who helped change the beverage of beer for the better. And want to share our picks for some of the most pivotal, historical, and delicious beers. We present to you the list of best craft beers ever! Dun-dun-duuuuuuuuun! Too much? Here’s the twist: These beers aren’t cellared in history books; they are all still enjoyed today in 2023!
So, grab a beer and enjoy our list.
Best Overall: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Type: American Pale Ale | ABV: 5.6% | Calories: 175
The craft beer that changed the world – or at least American beer culture. Still, the archetype for American Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada pale ale, can’t be replaced.
Best Craft Lager: Yuengling
Type: lager etc | ABV: 4.5% | Calories: 141
The US’s oldest operating brewery makes this cult favorite American lager. Packaged in a green bottle, Yuengling continues to command a following and a substantial part of American beer history. Find it everywhere East of the Mississippi.
Best Craft Pale Ale: Oskar Blues Brewery Dales Pale Ale
Type: American Pale Ale | ABV: 6.5% | Calories: 200
In all honesty, Dales was not the first canned craft beer, but it was the one that proved that craft beer was perfect for the packaging decision. Dales is bigger, maltier, and more bitter than Sierra Nevada pale ale.
Best IPA: Bell’s Brewery Two-Hearted Ale
Type: American IPA | ABV: 7% | Calories: 212
In a world where craft beers are expected to be aggressively hopped with tons of hop varieties, Bell’s two-hearted bucks the trend with balance and the use of a single hop, the fruity Centennial hop. The brewery’s restraint has earned it the honor of being one of the most popular beers in craft beer.
Best Hazy IPA: The Alchemist Heady Topper
Type: New England IPA | ABV: 8% | Calories: 320
The archetypal Hazy IPA, Heady Topper, is the measuring stick of quality and how far craft brewers have strayed on the style. Drink Heady Topper alongside any other so-called NE IPA and see that the OG is quite bitter. It’s a well-made English-style IPA with American hops. Somewhere, the virtues of Heady Topper got lost in translation, and now we’re stuck with sweet-ish hop water masquerading as IPA. Oh, well. We can still search out the original when we get nostalgic.
Best West Coast IPA: Russian River Brewing Company Blind Pig
Type: West Coast IPA | ABV: 6.5% | Calories: 188
Dry, crisp, hoppy, and bitter. Bling Pig is precisely how an American IPA is meant to taste. While many lose their mind about Russian River Pliny the Elder or their sour program, Bling Pig remains an American icon.
Best Stout: Left Hand Brewing Company Milk Stout
Type: Cream Stout/ Milk Stout | ABV: 6% | Calories: 210
Smooth and roasty with a hint of sweetness. Left Hand Milk Stout is a lovely beer that has captured the hearts of countless beer fans – present company included. Many may prefer the Nitro version, but I feel the carbonation masks what is a truly tasty beer. Try them both together to see for yourself.
Best Summer: Alaskan Brewing Company Summer Ale
Type: German-style Kolsch | ABV: 5.3% | Calories: 158
Summertime calls for light, crisp beers, beers that are perfect with light snacks outdoors and to slake the thirst on a hot day. Days are long during Alaskan summers, so you need a beer like Alaskan Summer Ale that you won’t get tired of. The well-balanced hybrid ale is at home on a porch or with a platter of freshly dug clams.
Best Fruit Beer: Ballast Point Brewing Company Grapefruit Sculpin
Type: Fruited IPA | ABV: 7% | Calories: 200
Ballast Point is one of many firsts. The first to sell out for a billion dollars. And the first to be sold back from Big Beer. They might not have been the first to add fruit to an IPA, but the grapefruit version of their award-winning sculpin IPA changed craft beer forever.
Best Wheat: Allagash Brewing Company White
Type: Belgian-style Witbier | ABV: 5.2%| Calories: 160
Fruit and spice and everything nice is what Allagash White is all about. This classic American craft beer continues to wow beer fans and bag awards at the World Beer Cup or Great American Beer Festival. It’s as delicious today as it was when it was first brewed and is still the ultimate companion to a crab boil or lobster roll.
Best Imperial Stout: Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Type: Imperial Stout | ABV: ~13% | Calories: ~400
This brewery may not be craft by definition, but no one can deny Goose for creating one of the most delicious and innovative beer styles in craft beer. Big, complex, and chocolatey, BCS is still the best example of a style and has inspired a generation of beer nerds to wait in lines on cold November mornings – even if it’s not technically a true craft beer.
Best Porter: Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter
Type: American Porter | ABV: 5.5% | Calories: 192
Smooth, dry, and roasty. Man, I wish porters were more popular these days. Today, they’re tough to find. They’re even more challenging to find brewed well. But we can always fall back on Black Butte and dream of more porters in the future.
Best Gose: Dogfish Seaquench Ale
Type: Hybrid Ale | ABV: 4.9% | Calories: 140
Gose should taste like beer and Lemon Gatorade got together and had a baby. It should not be overly salty but smooth and refreshing. Most breweries then add a ton of junk to balance the fact they overdid it with the salt. Not Dogfish, their Seaquench Ale is perfectly balanced and refreshing.
Best Non-Alcoholic: Lagunitas Hoppy Refresher
Type: Hop Water | ABV: 0 | Calories: 0
NA beers have come a long way. Sober and sober-curious consumers have put NA beers on the map, and technology has improved many of the beers’ quality. That said, something is still missing in the flavor – dare I say, alcohol?
Hop water is a far better value, refreshing, hoppy, and booze-free, without the off-balanced flavor of other NA offerings. Lagunitas’ Hoppy Refresher gets it.
Craft Beer FAQs
What Defines a “Craft” Beer?
Well, that’s kind of the problem. There is no definitive definition of craft beer. The Brewers Association, a trade body that represents small and independent craft brewers, backed away from defining craft beer when they first tried to define what a craft brewer is. The group knew that it would be innately difficult to define what craft beer was because there were so many different perspectives on the subject from fiercely independent brewers.
Additionally, the BA only felt the need to identify American brewers with their definition, thus leaving the growing number of brewers throughout the world who were a part of the movement out of the equation. In reality, the BA only really needed the definition to identify American brewers who weren’t the three biggest US beer producers at the time: Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. A feat that, over time, became practically impossible to police or keep track of.
For a long time, the BA’s definition of a craft brewer was a US brewer who was small, independent, and traditional.
Small: less that 6 Million Barrels of beer produced annually.
Independent: Not owned by those referred to the big three at the time, Bud, Miller, and Coors (or any international brewers).
Traditional: made primarily all-malt beers without adjunct like corn and rice, a hallmark of the light lagers that the big three made.
The last pillar, “traditional” created increased pain for the BA over time as the stigma of using adjuncts faded and their members decided they much like brewing adjunct lagers. Thus, the traditional pillar changed to a much easier feat of simply having a government issued license to brew.
If you have gotten to this point and still are not sure what the definition of craft beer is, now you see why the BA has avoided the task altogether in lieu of defining American craft brewers, which is still really convoluted and definitely changes on a whim depending on what their largest voting member class sees as the next business opportunity.
Are All Craft Beers by Independent Breweries?
No. Despite efforts to influence beer consumers in to believing that craft beer – which isn’t defined, but – only brewed by craft brewers, which are small, independent, and err, filled out some paper work many many a true craft beer lover still recognize their favorite beers as craft beers even though the brewery who created them either was purchased by large brewery or never was small and independent to begin with.
The BA even went so far as to create a Independent craft brewers seal to help consumers identify beer from independent craft brewers. Today, you can find the clip-artsy upside-down bottle on most package beer from US small brewers. However, the seal has not been effective in keeping craft brewers from selling to large multi-national beer giants, nor has it created a noticeable shift in buyer habits.
So, it is correct to say that all independent brewers make craft beer, but not all craft beer is made by independent brewers. For example, many know that Anheuser-Busch InBev owns Goose Island, yet they still clamor around the holidays for Goose’s Bourbon County Stout Variants. By the same token, Blue Moon boldly calls itself the largest craft beer maker in the country despite the fact that they have always been wholly owned by Molson-Coors or Coors before they merged.
What’s the Most Popular Craft Beer?
India Pale Ale of IPA is the most popular type of craft beer. Whether its West Coast IPA is dry and bitter or soft and fruity Northeastern Hazy IPAs, craft beer enthusiasts can’t get enough hop-forward IPAs. IPAs are characterized as strong ales, generally 6 to 7 percent ABV, with pronounced hop character. Despite its name, the beer was not developed in India, nor was it specifically designed to survive the voyage from England to colonial India.
The contemporary popularity of IPA is thanks to the craft beer revolution, known for riffing off classic styles that – like the traditional English IPA – had fallen out of favor with beer lovers. Craft brewers utilized New World hops and aggressive hop schedules to push the boundaries of the style, taking it in various directions like Black IPAs, White IPAs, Double, triple, and session IPAs, and even sour IPAs.
Today, the hazy IPA commands the most consumer attention. Style ditches the bracing bitterness for a celebration of hop aroma and flavor brought on by aggressive late dry-hopping. No matter the variation, IPA remains the poster beer for craft beer innovation and experimentation.
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