A craft beer comes from small, independent, and traditional brewers producing less than six million barrels of beer each year. Since the time of John Mitchell’s first craft brewery in 1982, America’s love of craft beer has grown. Today there are almost 5,000 craft breweries in operation or in development, and that number is growing. Compare that to eight in 1980, 537 in 1994, and 2,800 in 2013. While this list is in no way exhaustive, it does feature our favorites or what we currently consider the best craft beers. Of course, we reserve the right to change our minds as more great craft beer keeps coming!
With a rough-around-the-edges appeal, Surly Brewing Company from Twin Cities, Minnesota, has a full range of great beers, but the stand out is their Darkness. The philosophy of the company is to “Make great beer. Have fun. Give a damn about your community. Be independent.” They nail it with this one. They describe Darkness as a “massive Russian Imperial Stout” that “brings waves of flavors; chocolate, cherries, raisins, coffee, and toffee, finishing with a non-traditional dose of aroma hops.” It has been considered one of the best non-barrel-aged stouts in the country, and we agree.
Alchemist Heady Topper
Considered one of Food & Wine’s most important American craft beers ever brewed, Alchemist’s Heady Topper is their signature double IPA. This is the beer that put the east coast into the craft beer game that had been dominated by the west coast for many years. Alchemist only brews the Heady Topper at their Waterbury, Vermont brewery which isn’t open to the public. They distribute it within a 25-mile radius including a portion that is available for sales and tasting at their Stowe brewery.
Goose Island IPA
One that’s a bit more accessible than the Heady Topper, the Goose Island IPA is more readily available at multiple places around the country. While it’s an IPA, it’s not too heavy which broadens its appeal for a wider range of beer drinkers – not just the fanatics. Good Island describes the IPA as “a hop lover’s dream with a fruity aroma, set off by a dry malt middle, and long hop finish.”
Utah Sage Saison
Epic Brewing Company has created an epic Saison they describe as follows:
Three out of the four ingredients in Simon and Garfunkel’s third album make this Belgian-style farmhouse ale a perfect golden beverage with festive herbal notes.
One of those ingredients that seems out of the ordinary is sage. While we’re not used to seeing it as a component in beer today, at one point in time (hundreds of years ago), its use was commonplace.
Mythical White Grand Reserve
The beer movement in Montana is alive and flourishing. Bozeman’s Big Hole Brewing is one of the leaders of that movement as they’ve been crafting beer for almost 20 years. They use “pure Montana water from the Yellowstone watershed” and “Montana barley and hops sourced from the Pacific North West.” Their Mythical White Grand Reserve is a complex blend of those ingredients and is a rich, full-bodied, intensely aromatic strong golden ale.
With the continued burgeoning of the craft beer industry, there is no shortage of excellent beer. While these are our five leaders today, you never know when we’ll encounter one we love even more. What is your favorite craft beer? If you’re not a beer lover, perhaps you’ll want to try our pick for the best single malt whiskey.