more than 8,000 American beers on tap, there's never been a better time
to drink domestic. We tried them all, so you don't have to. Now, let's
raise a glass to the winners.
America, you could say, was founded on suds. George Washington brewed
a potent porter (making him the first brewmaster general), and the Second
Continental Congress guaranteed troops a daily beer ration. But the
state of the nation's beer has never been better than it is today. Some
1,400 breweries, large and small, now produce more than 8,000 different
brands. The only downside to such alcoholic abundance? It's almost impossible
to taste them all -- which is where we come in. After consulting an
expert panel, we drank enough regional and craft brew to float several
battleships, then narrowed the field to 25 paragons of the brewer's
art. If you can't find one at your local bar, you should find a new
bar -- or contact a friendly beer distributor that can ship to your
state, such as Oregon's Liquid Solutions (liquidsolutions.ws; 503-524-9722)
or Brooklyn's Bierkraft (bierkraft.com; 718-230-7600).
Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale
Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Oregon (deschutesbrewery.com)
BITTERNESS Moderate BODY Medium THE BUZZ It's no surprise that our top
beer comes from Oregon -- with 71 craft breweries, the state has become
the capital of American microbrewing. And Mirror Pond, Deschutes Brewery's
sublime pale ale, is not only the best beer in the state -- it's the
best in the country. The quintessential American pale ale, Mirror Pond
elegantly blends the sweetness of malted barley with the bite of hops
(which add bitterness and aroma). It's refreshing, loaded with strong
hop flavors, and perfectly balanced. Just a few years ago it was available
only in the Pacific Northwest; now it has marched east to the Rockies.
Tomorrow, the world! LAST CALL Mirror Pond contains only tangy, Oregon-grown
Victory Prima Pils
Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, Pennsylvania (victorybeer.com)
BITTERNESS Moderate BODY Light THE BUZZ Budweiser is a pilsner. So is
Victory Prima Pils -- but these beers are about as different as two
pilsners can be. Inspired by pilsner's storied old-world heritage --
the style was first created in the Bohemian town of Pilsen -- Victory's
Prima Pils bucks the American pilsner tradition with a serious bit of
attitude -- most notably its clean, bitter flavor, which comes from
an extra helping of hops (essentially absent from most American pilsners).
Drink Prima Pils ice cold on a hot summer day and you'll see what we
mean. Prima, indeed. LAST CALL "The Victory brewmasters are artists,
and Prima Pils is a masterpiece," declares Daniel Bradford, president
of the Brewers' Association of America.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California (sierra-nevada.com)
BITTERNESS Moderate BODY Medium THE BUZZ You know this beer -- it's
ubiquitous. And we know what you're thinking: "You put it in the
top five? Are you guys drunk?" Listen up: Many breweries on this
list produce only a few thousand barrels a year; Sierra makes 575,000
barrels of delicious, world-class ale...and that takes a special kind
of genius. It's sweet, spicy, and full-bodied, yet it's light enough
that you can knock back more than a few. When you're in a bar and all
they have is the usual mass-produced standards, this should be your
go-to beer. With Sierra Nevada in the world, there's no excuse to ever
drink a bad brew. LAST CALL Sierra, which distributes to all 50 states,
is the largest craft brewery in the U.S.
Capital Brewery Bavarian Lager
Capital Brewery, Middleton, Wisconsin (capital-brewery.com)
BITTERNESS Mild BODY Medium THE BUZZ The Germans brought golden lager-style
beers to the States long ago, and, fortunately for us, there are still
a few brewers adhering to the classic recipes. Capital Brewery's traditional
Bavarian lager is rich with the taste of malted barley, and is a refreshing
summer sipper -- with virtually no bitter aftertaste. LAST CALL Capital's
lager is based on a German style called hell. Note to Mel Gibson: Hell
simply means light in German.
Anchor Steam Beer
Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, California (anchorbrewing.com)
BITTERNESS Moderate BODY Medium THE BUZZ This chameleon of a beer --
it literally tastes different sip to sip -- was first brewed more than
100 years ago in California. Today's brand, resurrected in 1965 -- before
most current microbrewers were out of preschool -- owes its cult status
to a malty flavor that goes well with everything from pizza to filet
mignon. LAST CALL This beer has nothing to do with steam; kegs that
bounced and hissed during delivery spawned the nickname.
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, Delaware (dogfish.com)
BITTERNESS Extreme BODY Full THE BUZZ Guinness, the most popular stout
on the planet, is about 4 percent alcohol -- hey, that's basically light
beer! Dogfish Head's World Wide Stout is 18.8 percent alcohol by volume,
which Dogfish claims makes it the "world's strongest dark beer."
It's ink black, and somewhat sweet, but don't be fooled: It packs a
wallop. And at $8 a bottle, you'll want to drink it slow. LAST CALL
"World Wide Stout is so thick you could use it as motor oil,"
jokes Dogfish president Sam Calagione.
Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
Great Lakes Brewing Company, Cleveland, Ohio (www.greatlakesbrewing.com)
BITTERNESS Extreme BODY Full THE BUZZ Darker than what we think of as
ale, but not as heavy as stout, porter has been popular since the 18th
century, when it was first brewed in London. The Edmund Fitzgerald has
bittersweet chocolate flavors, the ideal foil to heavy foods, like ribs.
LAST CALL This porter takes its name from a ship out of Cleveland that
sank in 1975 in Lake Superior.
Avery the Reverend
Avery Brewing Co., Boulder, Colorado (www.averybrewing.com)
BITTERNESS Moderate BODY Full THE BUZZ Some paths in life are begun
early: Avery Brewing Co. founder Adam Avery claims he was weaned with
a beer-soaked pacifier. That helps explain his uncanny brewing skill.
Avery's finest concoction is the Reverend, a high-octane Belgian-style
"quadrupel" made with candy sugar for extra kick. LAST CALL
"At 10.2 percent alcohol, it just might give you religion,"
says Ray Daniels, author of Designing Great Beers.
Widmer Brothers Brewing Company, Portland, Oregon (www.widmer.com)
BITTERNESS Mild BODY Medium THE BUZZ First, German 101: Hefe means yeast;
weizen means wheat. Brewed with wheat and barley, Widmer's American-style
hef has a citrusy flavor. Add a lemon and voilˆ -- Bavarian iced
tea, by way of Portland. LAST CALL Unfiltered beers, such as Widmer
Hefeweizen, are cloudy because the yeast isn't filtered out.
Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA
Bear Republic Brewing Company, Healdsburg, California (bearrepublic.com)
BITTERNESS Extreme BODY Full THE BUZZ India pale ales were invented
in the late 1700s, when London brewers used huge amounts of hops (a
natural preservative) to help beer withstand the long voyage to far-flung
colonies. Racer 5 is today's uber-IPA, using two different kinds of
exceptionally strong, bitter hops. The result has the aroma of a field
of freshly cut hay. LAST CALL "It smells like a sack of weed!"
proclaims one of our more discerning critics.
the complete list of "The Best American Specialty Beers" pick
up the July 2004 issue.
expert panel: Daniel Bradford, president, Brewers' Association of America;
Julie Johnson Bradford, editor, All About Beer magazine; Dave Brodrick
and Phil Megal, Blind Tiger Ale House, New York City; Alton Brown, host,
Food Network's Good Eats; Paul Gatza, director, Association of Brewers;
Michael Jackson, author of 11 books on beer, including The New World
Guide to Beer; Jerald O'Kennard, director, Beverage Testing Institute/Tastings.com;
Jim Parker, executive director, Oregon Brewers Guild, editor, Zymurgy
and New Brewer magazines; Gregg Smith, historian, author of Beer in
America: The Early Years
Written by: Christian Debenedetti, Seth Fletcher, and Geoff Van Dyke
Photographs by: Charles Masters