There are at least 7,436 breweries operating in America, as of the most recent official count. Assuming each brews five beers—a low estimate—a person could drink a new beer every day for 100 years and still not have consumed them all. Of course, by then, there would likely be more new breweries and new beers, and the Sisyphean task continues.
That’s my way of justifying the fact that a great many delicious beers go under-appreciated in our relentless quest for the new. It is my job to bring you recommendations for notable and delicious beers, which often pushes me to try new beers at the expense of old favorites. If my job didn’t involve tasting beers—and what a sad day that would be—I’d just as often curl up with a tried-and-true stalwart as I’d roll the dice on something I hadn’t tried yet.
I am a nostalgic person and a Catholic-school graduate, so I’m plagued by a gnawing sense of guilt that I’m at times not giving credit where credit is due. There are liquor-store refrigerators full of high-quality, remarkable beer whose names no one is shouting from the rooftops. The list below is my attempt at penance. Because my absolute favorite comments are those in which readers share their desert-island, under-loved beers, please share yours below.
Call it dad beer, call it airport-bar beer, Boston Lager is a versatile domestic lager that I happily revisit every so often. I recently heard that Truly hard seltzer—also owned by Boston Beer Company—outsold the entirety of the company’s beer portfolio. Not a swipe against hard seltzer, but this bummed me out. Boston Lager’s ubiquity and easy-drinking nature might cause some people to think it isn’t high-quality, but I still enjoy its well-executed toasty malt flavor. It’s made even better because I find Boston Lager for sale in places—like airport bars—when a good beer can be tough to come by. By the way, you heard the big Boston Beer Co. news, right?
I’ve pestered numerous people—New Belgium brewers, bartenders, bottle-shop owners—about how infrequently I see this beer in the wild. Not only are dark lagers generally underrepresented on tap lists and on shelves, but New Belgium’s is a smooth, roasty, crowd-pleasing version from a brewery that could theoretically be distributing it around the country. I’ve since found that one grocery store in my town sells this, so I’ve shut up. Somewhat.
I know, Pilsner Urquell is soooo much better in Prague. I know, Pilsner Urquell is soooo much better when you can find a rare, unfiltered keg of it. But even the standard Pilsner Urquell, when consumed fresh, is a delight. I appreciate that Pilsner Urquell, a Czech pilsener, has a lot more personality than mass-produced American pilsners and a bit more roundness than some German lagers. I have a few cans of it in my fridge right now and couldn’t be more excited to drink them.
Yes, this list leaves heavily on lagers, but that’s because 1) I love them and 2) Not enough other people do. Yet. But let’s get an ale in the mix, shall we? Deschutes Obsidian Stout was one of the first stouts I routinely kept an eye out for, and returning to its smooth, Americano-esque flavors years later proved I shouldn’t have let my consumption lapse. Obsidian is especially welcome when I need a break from the barrel-aged, marshmallow, glitter-and-cupcakes stouts, but it’s a treat any time. It proves that stouts can be both complex and nuanced based on their malt bills alone. Imagine!
I’m worried about kids these days. Not because they’re Juuling and eating Tide Pods, but because once they turn 21, I’m not sure any one is introducing them to oh-so-necessary Trappist ales and other Belgian classics. I was lucky to have beer mentors—the two brothers behind Al’s Deli, actually—who plonked me down on a stool at one of Chicago’s best Belgian beer bars mere moments after I became of legal drinking age. Among the required drinking materials was a Belgian tripel called Tripel Karmeliet, a beer I still try to revisit as often as I can. It’s a challenging beer, boozy and spicy and sweet and substantial, but a truly decadent testament to what beer can be. You listening, whippersnappers?!
Oh, surprise, we’re back to lagers. I’ve long thought Summit Brewing doesn’t get its proper kudos—maybe it does in its home state of Minnesota. Then, I Googled the brewery for this article and saw its link preview text reads “the most underrated brewery in America.” I see I’m not alone in my logic. If I was to single out one of Summit’s beers for my personal hall of fame, it would be the brewery’s unfiltered German pilsner. It uses all German ingredients and the lack of filtration leaves the good flavor bits in (technical brew-speak, there). Never change, Summit Keller Pils.
Pretty much all amber ales deserve to be on this list, but I’ll highlight Alaskan Brewing’s specifically as it remains one of the absolute hallmarks of the style. What made amber ales one of the most common brewpub staples in the early days of craft beer—approachability, an even balance of malt and hops, moderate alcohol content—might now make them seem boring. But in an era of extreme flavors, returning to an impeccably brewed and even-keeled Amber reminds me how much delight there is in these stalwart styles. Also, it’s nearly foolproof with food.