In my previous job as the editor of a national beer magazine (R.I.P.), I was part of the staff that put together the magazine’s Top 25 Beers Of The Year list. The only criteria was that eligible beers had to have been released or imported to the U.S. for the first time that year. It was a Herculean task, and it generated no small amount of controversy every year. I thought we did as thorough a job tasting beers as any mortal beings could, but we always heard from those readers who were shocked that we hadn’t included their favorites. There’s nothing beer people love more than arguing a “best beers” list.
All this is to say that I have great sympathy for people who put together those lists, and little patience for those who do them poorly. Each year, I look forward to the American Homebrewers Assocation’s “Best Beers In America” list, which polls the AHA’s national membership about the best beers and breweries in America. Every year, it’s a solid ranking of some of the most beloved and exemplary beers in America—fads, trends, and glitter beers be damned. That makes sense, given that homebrewers are generally some of the best-informed drinkers when it comes to what quality beer tastes like (many of the AHA’s members are also certified beer judges). They know how hard it is to make good beer, so they’re usually great judges of a commercial beer’s merits.
The top 5 beers this year are:
- Bell’s Brewery Two Hearted Ale
- Russian River Brewing Co. Pliny the Elder
- Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Pale Ale
- Founders Brewing Co. KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)
- The Alchemist Heady Topper
We could argue these picks are hop-heavy, but any of them could reasonably be held up as a paragon of American brewing. Likewise, the Top 5 breweries as voted by AHA members form a damn-near-inarguable Mount Rushmore of American beer:
- Bell’s Brewer, Comstock, Michigan
- Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Russian River Brewing Co., Santa Rosa and Windsor, California
- Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, California and Mills River, North Carolina
- Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, Delaware
Again, perhaps a little geographically skewed toward Michigan and California, but nary a bad pick among them. (Click here to read the full Top 10s.) It’s a refreshing list that I look forward to every year, and I’m heartened to see that some of America’s stalwart craft breweries are still appreciated for their commitment to consistent, quality beer. Next year though, let’s see some lagers on the list, eh?