And they should know!
Determining the best beers in America is not an easy undertaking. The country has over 6,300 breweries, and even if they all only made one beer (spoiler alert, they make a lot more!) putting them in any sort of order would still be a herculean task. But America is also a democracy, so one sensible way to create a best beer list is to poll people who know and love beer — like homebrewers.
Every year, that’s exactly what Zymurgy, the official magazine of the American Homebrewers Association does, asking the organization’s 46,000 members to submit a list of no more than five of their favorite commercially-available U.S. beers and then compiling the results. This system is far from perfect: It has a major bias towards beers that are widely available, or at least widely known, which in a beer scene that is now so locally-focused is a somewhat unfortunate slant to have. However, at the very least, this annual list shows which popular beers are still in favor with the beer geek crowd.
For 2018, topping the list for the second year in a row is Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. Last year, the Michigan brewery’s signature American-style IPA swiped the top spot from the legendary Californian double IPA Russian River Pliny the Elder, which once again finished second this year after holding the top spot from 2009 to 2016.
“When I think about the elements that Bell’s shares with the passionate homebrewing community, the values that rise to the top include creativity, a meticulous attention to detail, and the joy of sharing thoughtfully crafted beers with friends,” John Mallett, Bell’s director of operations, said in a statement. “To be recognized for excellence by people who truly understand all that goes into creating and delivering quality beers and experiences to our communities is a huge honor. These values are true drivers for us all.”
Meanwhile, though the top ten beers all jostled for order, seven entries were the same as 2017. Two Hearted Ale and Pliny the Elder were followed by The Alchemist Heady Topper (last year’s #6), Bell’s Hopslam (up one place from #5), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (a new appearance for a classic beer), Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout (also new), Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (last year’s #6), Three Floyds Zombie Dust (previously #4), Founders Breakfast Stout (last year’s #3), and, in a tie for tenth, WeldWerks Juicy Bits and Founders All Day IPA, both new to the list.
However, beyond the best individual beers, Zymurgy also spotlights the breweries with the “top-ranked beer portfolios,” essentially ranking them by how many of their beers made the complete list. Since the best beers skew towards larger craft brewers anyway, this separate list further captures which producers are really making a wide range of solid brews. Coming in at number one this year was Stone Brewing (33 beers), followed by Firestone Walker Brewing Co. (29 beers), New Belgium Brewing (24 beers), Founders Brewing Co. (24 beers), Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (23 beers), Avery Brewing Co. (22 beers), Hill Farmstead Brewery (22 beers), Boulevard Brewing Co. (20 beers), Trillium Brewing Co. (20 beers), Bell’s Brewery (19 beers, Deschutes Brewery (19 beers), Odell Brewing (19 beers), Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (19 beers), The Bruery (19 beers), and Three Floyds Brewing (19 beers).
In the end, the best beer for you is the beer you like best, but Zymurgy provides a nice annual look at which beers and breweries continue to hold drinkers’ attention.