Thanks to the bittersweet exploits of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, bucket lists are all the craze these days. Here at Thrillist, we have a longstanding rule that every bucket should be full of cold, delicious beer.
So once again, we've compiled a list of beers every beer lover should try before stumbling off this mortal coil and into the big brewpub in the sky. You won't find any repeats from last year's list. Instead, you'll find a collection of essential American beers, ranging from lawnmower to craft to deep-cut snob favorites. And since no list is ever complete, feel free to hit the comments section and tell us what else we need to try.
Golden ale, 8%
Michigan’s confusingly not-pumpkin heavy brewery offers up a great take on the Belgian golden ale, but amped up with barrel-aging and bottle conditioning, which means it gets better if it sits in the bottle -- if you can wait.
Imperial pale ale, 8%
Greensboro Bend, VT
As part of their Ancestral series, Hill Farmstead named this beer after their founder's great grandfather, drawing water from the well at his old home. But, more importantly, Abner’s water makes for a damn fine pale.
Neo-Berliner Weisse, 4.5%
Like a lot of Dogfish beers, little about Festina Peche is expected. It’s peachy, yes. It’s made with peach concentrate. But it’s not what anyone would call a fruity beer, and avoids having straightforward peachy sweetness. Instead, it’s an incredible flavor that’s tart and spritz and bitter all at once. Basically, every time you’ve sat outside on a porch in late August and started sweating and wanted a beer that had flavor and was refreshing and you could drink not to excess but almost, well, this is that beer. But maybe better.
Hoppy pilsner, 5.3%
Paso Robles, CA
Oftentimes, the lighter the beer, the lighter the hops punch. Except when Firestone Walker does a pilsner, which strikes a great balance between German tradition and American hops obsession.
American IPA, 6.2%
The IPA that made Minnesota famous is an angry yet delightful dose of hops (with a welcome malt backbone) in tallboy form.
American lager, 5%
Not the Silver Bullet. The Banquet. Best enjoyed with a Sam Elliott movie.
American strong ale, 7.2%
Frankly, if you were one of the best beers from one of America's best breweries, you'd probably be a little cocky too.
Smoked American brown ale, 10.4%
Normally, bourbon barrel-aged beers are made by brewers who scored some oak from a distiller. James E. Pepper flips the script, since they’re Kentucky distillers who decided to make beer. Unsurprisingly, this brown -- made in partnership with Beltway Brewing -- tastes strongly of the rye barrels in which it's aged. This is a wonderful thing.
Somewhere in the Black Hills of South Dakota (Spearfish, actually) -- home of Rocky Raccoon, Al Swearengen, Sturgis, and Wall Drug -- Crow Peak’s quietly brewing up some of middle America’s best beer. Their IPA is no exception. And somehow, it tastes even better during a midsummer hail storm.
Pay tribute to the Beastie Boys with a little OJ, a little Olde English, and a lot of pretending that they didn’t claim that License to Ill was supposed to be a parody of drinking malt liquor and acting like an asshole.
American pale ale, 6.2%
When you have a name this great and a beer that's actually better, you really have something, and man, Three Floyds has something with this bright, hoppy, superbly drinkable pale ale. There's a reason it tends to disappear by the caseload whenever the brewery has it in stock, which isn't nearly as often as nearby Chicago and Indiana residents would like.
Pumpkin ale, 7.5%
Stevens Point, WI
When fall rolls around, we love a good pumpkin beer as much as we love a slice of pumpkin pie. As luck would have it, this pumpkin beer tastes just like pumpkin pie. That, friends, is the circle of life.
It doesn’t matter if you’re paying for a 25oz can that gives you precisely one extra ounce of refreshing American-brewed macro lager than is in those tallboys at the gas station outside the stadium or if it’s a 12oz plastic-cup pour of a cask-aged ale. What matters is that you’re drinking a beer, watching a sporting event, and you have the right to complain about both that event and that beer price, before buying another $14 beer and starting the process over. God bless America.
San Diego, CA
Sculpin is already basically IPA perfection, but the citrus punch in this variant takes it to transcendental places.
White Salmon, WA
Canned beer and camping go together like camping and mosquito bites on your nethers. And sometimes, you need a canned beer that bridges the gap between fizzy yellow and craft. This Washington brewer does just that.
Triple IPA, 10.25%
Santa Rosa, CA
The Elder is a wonderful beer, but the Younger -- a triple IPA once called the best beer in the world -- has its own religion. People camp out for its release. It’s not bottled, so during the two weeks of its release, kegs are tracked with the vigor of Nicolas Cage looking for clues in the Declaration of Independence. It’s worth the effort.
Imperial stout, 11.2%
Grand Rapids, MI
In Grand Rapids, the release of KBS is a weeklong celebration. And for those who take its name literally, the release also results in a 90% drop in work productivity.
American imperial stout, 9.2%
Fellow Pennsylvanian Ben Franklin, America’s first beer snob, would definitely approve of this Pennsylvania brewery’s rich, incendiary take on the stout. “Beer is proof that God’s up there, and he’s like ‘hey guys, you’re the best,’” Franklin said. We think. Maybe we shouldn’t have had three of these before doling out historical quotes.
Barrel-aged imperial stout, 10.5%
Black Ops is one of those beers that lives up to the hype -- and the hype is very strong. Let’s just call it the Illuminati of the beer world: Brooklyn markets the beer by denying its existence. But the barrel-aged beer is very real, and the brewers manage an undertone of balanced bitterness that offsets the typical, sometimes overpowering chocolatey notes. Which means you’ll want to be like Tom Hanks and find a bottle. It’s worth it.
Imperial stout, 11%
St. Louis, MO
The Midwesterners who have spent years honing their trophy stout-chasing chops on Dark Lord are now willing to move heaven and Earth for a taste of this deeply complex yet startlingly well-balanced brew crafted with cocoa nibs, chiles, vanilla, and cinnamon sticks.
Double IPA, 7.85%
One year, Lagunitas couldn’t make their pain-in-the-ass, cultishly beloved Brown Shugga' because there just wasn’t enough space in their Petaluma brewery. Knowing people would bitch, they preemptively struck with Lagunitas Sucks, which still tastes like liquid booze candy, and makes up for its lower ABV by coming in a 32oz bottle.
Scotch ale, 8.5%
Warning: may render every Scotch ale you encounter afterward disappointing.
American adjunct lager, 4.52%
Los Angeles, CA
In Maryland, Natty Boh’s best paired with some crabs and Old Bay. Everywhere else, it’s best paired with mowing the lawn. It’s also the first beer to come in six-packs. So, thanks Baltimore!
Farmhouse ale, 8%
Hood River, OR
The only thing that could make this unfiltered, wax-sealed beauty taste more authentically Belgian is if it was brewed in an actual farmhouse. Oh, wait, it is -- at the base of Oregon’s Mt. Hood, surrounded by horses and Scottish highland cows.
Imperial oatmeal stout, 9.4%
B.O.R.I.S. is an imperial Russian oatmeal stout from Akron, OH. B.O.R.I.S. is jet-black nectar in a bottle, one of the nation’s best stouts. And B.O.R.I.S., as its name and 9.4% ABV implies, will crush you.
This small but fast-rising Michigan outfit crafts a singular brew that is best described as raspberry chocolate truffle kisses from heaven.
American porter, 5.25%
Winner of the Gold at the World Beer Cup courtesy of three different kinds of hops, and the best porter in Asheville. It's a sneaky bastard, too. You won't realize you've put a few away until you notice your waistline growing.
Barley wine ale, 10%
Santa Fe, NM
Sips like a beer. Packs the flavor and punch of a heavier barley wine. Be careful.
American adjunct lager, 4.74%
Los Angeles, CA
Even if you swear against it, it’s damn near impossible to go your whole life without tasting it. And if you say you hate it and haven’t tasted it, well, you’re worse than the 50,000,000 hipsters who have adopted it as the go-to beer for a night of listening to Sufjan Stevens and talking negatively -- and unironically -- about mainstream tastes.
Dry-hopped barley wine ale, 9.2%
The description of being "dangerously drinkable" is no joke, considering Boulder's elevation makes this quaffable monster go straight to your head.
Golden IPA, 6.4%
Americans love IPAs. Portland does them better than any other city. And Breakside makes perhaps the best. Hell, the GABF says it’s the best in the country. We kind of agree.
Farmhouse ale, 8.5%
Kansas City, MO
Named for a notoriously difficult tank at Boulevard that allowed them to discover this delightfully crisp, funky saison that would go on to become one of the KC outfit’s signature brews. Well played, Tank 7.
Winter warmer, ~5.5%
San Francisco, CA
Of his favorite all-time beer, Thrillist editor Grant Marek gushes, "Every year, Anchor Brewing Company makes a Christmas ale, and every year they use a different recipe, and a different hand-drawn label, and it's only sold November to mid-January, and it still somehow manages to makes you feel like you could piss raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. It's always dark, and full-bodied, and provides more of a liquid polar fleece than a blanket. And come February, without fail, you'll wish you'd stocked up on some for the not-winter."
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