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"From mowing the lawn to fine dining, the refreshing pilsner hits the spot anytime."
Best Sour Ale: New Belgium Brewing Company La Folie at minibardelivery.com
"A widely distributed sour ale that’s a great introduction to the category."
Best Pale Ale: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Pale Ale at drizly.com
"One of the world’s most balanced beers."
"It smells like grapefruit and is designed for good times."
Best Stout: Modern Times Beer Black House at totalwine.com
"The coffee-infused beer is a darkly delicious delight."
Best Wheat Beer: Allagash Brewing Company White at drizly.com
"Quite possibly the perfect beer, the aromatic and easy-drinking White is a true crowd-pleaser."
Best Low-Calorie/Low-Carb Beer: Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales Slightly Mighty Lo-Cal IPA at drizly.com
"Who says IPAs need to be heavy? Slightly Mighty’s flavor punches far above its calorie count."
Best Nonalcoholic Beer: Athletic Brewing Company Run Wild IPA at drizly.com
"No booze? No problem. The aromatic Run Wild IPA tastes just like the real thing."
The beer world is mighty mobbed these days, with more than 8,000 breweries in America and counting. The country is arguably in a golden age of beer, but with unparalleled selection comes plenty of confusion. Scores of new beers debut every week, a tidal wave of IPAs, stouts, and pilsners flooding the country’s liquor and grocery stores.
Fishing for a great-tasting beer can be tricky. Is it delicious? A disappointment? To help sort through the highly crowded coolers, we tapped an array of experts to select the top IPAs, stouts, pilsners, wheat beers, and more. Here are eight great beers to help make your next happy hour even happier.
Best Pilsner: Oskar Blues Brewery Mama’s Little Yella Pils
Pilsners are the world’s most popular beer style, and for good reason: They marry massive refreshment to moderate alcohol, creating the perfect beer when you want to have more than one. Of late in America, craft brewers have reembraced the pilsner and started churning out flavorful versions that are far more than fizzy booze water. Aaron Gore, certified Cicerone (beer expert) and the founder of Fresh Pitch Beverage Consulting, favors Oskar Blues’ widely available Mama’s Little Yella Pils, calling it “one of the best American interpretations of a truly classic style.”
He notes that Czech Saaz hops provide a snappy, peppery bitterness without being overpowering, while crackery malts make it interesting and complex. The pilsner is a “great beer for any occasion, from mowing the lawn to a five-course dinner, and everything in between,” he says.
Best Sour Ale: New Belgium Brewing Company La Folie
New Belgium is one of the country’s preeminent producers of barrel-matured sour ales, which derive their multifaceted flavors and acidity from a custom microbial blend. One of the first American-made sour ales is La Folie, a sour brown ale that spends up to three years aging in massive oak vessels called foeders before it’s packaged in an elegant bottle corked and caged like Champagne.
“It’s also one of the easiest sours to find, not to mention one of the finest beers produced,” says Em Sauter, an advanced Cicerone and the founder and cartoonist behind Pints and Panels. “The beer has an intense cherry flavor and is the perfect beer to give as a gift for someone new to sour beers.”
Best Pale Ale: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Pale Ale
Founded in 1980, Sierra Nevada is a founding father of America’s craft beer movement, carving a flavorful path followed by today’s inventive breweries. For four decades, the brewery’s flagship Pale Ale has been the “quintessential American craft beer,” Gore says. “It set the tone not only for the American pale ale style but for the entire industry. Bright notes of grapefruit and pine lead the way into a lightly toasty body, before finishing crisp and clean. It's one of the world’s most balanced beers.
Best IPA: Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted Ale
Too many IPAs are unbalanced wrecks—too bitter, too sweet, the alcohol burn hot enough to light a campfire. Two Hearted Ale is none of the above. The Michigan brewery’s flagship sits squarely at 7 percent ABV—strong but not overly so, with an agreeable malt sweetness and a bewitching scent supplied by American-grown Centennial hops.
Expect a fragrance of just-cut grapefruit mixed with a touch of pine trees, freshly enticing from first sip to final swig. Fun fact: The beer is named after a famous Michigan trout river, and its origins trace back to a 1993 homebrew experiment from several Bell’s employees.
Best Stout: Modern Times Beer Black House
Fans of coffee and beer will find lots to love about Black House, the dark crown jewel from San Diego’s Modern Times. The Southern California brewery roasts the coffee—a mix of Ethiopian and Sumatran beans—used to make this luscious oatmeal stout that, in the brewery’s words, “tastes like a chocolate-covered espresso bean, only drier and more like beer.”
Megan Reynolds, a certified beer sommelier and the owner of the beer-focused R&R Taproom in Woodstock, New York, appreciates the beer’s “satisfying roasty bitterness and perfect amount of coffee. At about 5 percent ABV, it’s not just a sipper for winter but great year-round.”
Best Wheat Beer: Allagash Brewing Company White
Every expert agreed: The Portland, Maine, brewery’s Belgian-style white ale, hazily refreshing and spiced with coriander and Curaçao orange peel, is the ultimate wheat beer. Allagash White is “almost a universal crowd-pleaser,” says Reynolds, who calls the peppery, citrusy beer “summer in a bottle.”
But the beer is also great for year-round imbibing. “It may be one of the most perfect beers ever created, as it’s just so intensely satisfying in all seasons,” Sauter says. “When I’m in a bar and I see Allagash White, I’ll order it.” White is also wonderful at the dinner table, too, “perfect for fish, salads, or chicken,” Gore says.
Best Low-Calorie/Low-Carb Beer: Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales Slightly Mighty Lo-Cal IPA
For years, drinking beer while watching your waistline meant reaching for light lagers low in calories and taste. Of late, though, craft breweries have begun cracking the low-cal code to create more flavorful offerings. Gore likes Dogfish Head’s hazy Slightly Mighty, which relies on monk fruit to build body and contribute a touch of sweetness.
“Ringing in at only 95 calories, this beer punches way above its weight,” Gore says. “With huge tropical fruit notes from the hops, it is deceptively flavorful for a beer that has fewer calories than some hard seltzers. If you are looking to slim down, or just live a little leaner, this is the perfect way to be healthier without missing out.”
Best Nonalcoholic Beer: Athletic Brewing Company Run Wild IPA
Both Gore and Sauter agree that Connecticut-based Athletic Brewing makes America’s best nonalcoholic beer, lacking booze while delivering massive flavor. “In nonalcoholic beer, oftentimes it is as hard to hide what isn’t there as much as it is to hide what is,” Gore says. “Athletic Brewing has mastered the art of making flavorful, full-bodied beer that feels every bit as satisfying as traditional brews.”
Sauter likes the aromatic Run Wild IPA, not waiting until happy hour to crack a can. “Their IPA has a wonderful bouquet of hops and great flavor,” she says. “I find myself reaching for a Run Wild during the day, especially at lunchtime.”
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Joshua M. Bernstein, the author of this piece, knows beer. He's penned five books on the subject, as well as articles for The New York Times, Wine Enthusiast, Men’s Journal, and Imbibe. He interviewed three beer experts for this article.