Men often view beer the same way they view sex: As long as you’re getting as much as you want, everything is okay. But what’s the point of a large quantity of anything if you’re not also getting high quality? Fine beers, like gorgeous women, should be savored and enjoyed for their unique characteristics.
In the spirit of searching out something more sophisticated to drink, we polled some of the nation’s beer experts to come up with a list of the 10 best microbrews in America. While it’s an impossible task to list all the deserving beers being made today in the thousands of small breweries spread across America, this inventory of distinctive brews should provide you with a good starting point. Unlike gorgeous women, no good brew is ever out of your league.
1. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company – Chico, California
First concocted in 1980 — in a makeshift brewery built with leftover parts lifted from a soft drink bottler — Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of the early successes of the American craft brewing movement. The heavily hopped-up brew is considered one of the best due to its rich, malty character (it earned more votes from our panel than any other brew). It may be the most well-known of the “indie beers,” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste great.
2. Prima Pils
Victory Brewing Company – Downingtown, Pennsylvania
Anyone enamored of the clean taste of a watered-down, mass-produced domestic beer needs to break a few man laws and get a six-pack of Prima Pils. Brewed with Saaz hops by German-trained brewmasters, this exemplar of the Czech-born Plzen style of beer is slightly spicy with a refreshing finish. Brews like this are the reason pilsner is the most consumed type of beer in the world. That, and fraternity parties.
3. Ommegang Abbey Ale
Brewery Ommegang – Cooperstown, New York
As microbrews become big business in the United States and drinkers expand their horizons, Belgium has emerged as beer’s Bourdeaux, home to a rich history of legendary Trappist ales made by monks. New York’s Brewery Ommegang transported the tradition to American shores with its first and most popular brew, this delicious, aromatic Abbey Ale. In 2003, famed Belgian brewery Duvel bought out Ommegang. Talk about a vote of confidence.
4. Boont Amber Ale
Anderson Valley Brewing Company – Boonville, California
Anderson Valley Brewing exudes an earthy, laid-back Northern California vibe. It claims to be the only brewery with a disc golf course on the brewery grounds, and if you play, make sure not to hit any of the company’s shire horses when you tee off. Perhaps that spirit explains the easygoing flavor of Boont Amber Ale, a reddish-brown brew with caramel flavors. A six-pack of this ale may just be the second-most effective way to chill out in rural California.
5. Sierra Nevada Porter
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company – Chico, California
Chico rides again with this rich, brown porter. Chocolate, coffee and malt flavors combine for a slightly heavy, but satisfying, pint. Made in copper kettles that are still overseen by original owner Ken Grossman, this porter is another example of why Sierra Nevada has become a high-volume microbrewery that doesn’t sacrifice quality.
6. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
Brooklyn Brewery – Brooklyn, New York
Like dessert in a glass, this luscious brew may not be the best choice for a pre-game party. But it’s a rich after-dinner drink, especially during the winter months, the only season when this stout is sold. This sounds like the kind of beer your five-year-old self would make up; Take a sip and see how smart that kid really was.
7. Tröegenator Double Bock
Tröegs Brewing Company – Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
This heady brew delivers the heftiness its Teutonic-sounding, heavy metal name suggests. Hand-crafted by two brothers, the strong lager won a bronze medal at the 2006 World Beer Cup. Supposedly, the double bock style was often brewed by monks, who subsisted on the rich drink during prolonged fasts. Drink enough of this stuff, and surely some fantastic visions aren’t far behind.
Samuel Adams – Boston, Massachusetts
Nothing gets our patriotic blood stirring like good American beer, especially a kick-ass variety that packs 25 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Sam Adams started its own beer arms race in 1994 with the Triple Bock (18 percent ABV), gradually working its way up to this amber-colored bomb in 2003, officially recognized by the Guinness Book as the strongest commercially available beer. Flavored with a variety of malted barleys and a touch of maple syrup, Utopias is aged in a combination of scotch, bourbon, port and cognac barrels. Packed in a replica of a copper kettle, this stuff provides a potent, sweet and spicy kick. Brewed in small, limited-edition batches every few years — the 2005 edition can be found with some dogged searching until the new 2007 variety comes out — it’s a pricy, but satisfying, proposition.
9. Smoked Porter
Alaskan Brewing Company -Juneau, Alaska
If you live in the lower 48 it’s a safe bet you haven’t sampled the sublime beers of the Alaskan Brewing Company, partially made with water from nearby glaciers. When we were sent a six-pack, the brewery had to rush to get the package on the last ferry leaving the city. We’re glad they made the cut-off, because this smoked style of brewing — known as “rauchbier” in Germany — is a historical relic worth resurrecting. Malts smoked with alder wood are used to make this robust and earthy beer, released in limited edition vintages each year. It’s fine straight out of the bottle, but also matures into a more complex beer over time, like a fine wine.
10. Mirror Pond Pale Ale
Deschutes Brewery – Bend, Oregon
Made with floral Cascade hops, this pale ale is named after a picturesque pond within walking distance of the brewery. It’s cute imagery, but not exactly inaccurate, considering the smooth, hoppy flavor exuded by this beer. After a few bottles, you may believe that quaint body of water in Oregon just might be a brewmaster’s version of Walden Pond.