Beer is one of the most important beverages on the planet, brewed since the dawn of modern human civilization, and the diversity of beer in our world is reaching truly astronomical proportions. In this list, we tackle the American craft beer scene, making it a bit easier to understand by giving you 25 rare and special brews that any beer lover would be happy to quaff. Some of these American craft beers are so popular that they sell out in mere hours of their release. Some are so far beyond what most of us think of when we imagine beer that they seem like an entirely new beverage. Some have a high ABV (Alcohol by Volume), such as the Quadrupel Ale fermented over Pinot Noir oak chips, and some have a high IBU (International Bitterness Units: the measure of how hoppy/bitter a beer is), such as the licorice and anise flavored stout which drinks like a Double IPA (India Pale Ale).
Since it is impossible to truly rank beers as everyone has a different preference – some love porters while some hate their rich creaminess and opt for the more bitter IPA – the beers on this list have been organized (mostly) randomly. You can have no doubt, though, that these are some of the best craft beers in the world. Raise a glass and say cheers to these 25 American Craft Beers You’ll Immediately Want To Try.
Kentucky Breakfast Stout
Though Founders Brewing Company is well-known for its All Day IPA and Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale, their Kentucky Breakfast Stout is the craft beer which really deserves a place on our list. This stout beer combines the flavors of coffee, cocoa, and vanilla and is aged for an entire year in used bourbon barrels stored in former gypsum mines under the city of Grand Rapids.
Duck Duck Gooze
Though sour beers are comparatively rare to find in Belgium, they are extremely rare to find in the United States. Brewed in the Belgian Gueuze style of blending old and young Lambic beers before putting them to ferment a second time, The Lost Abbey’s Duck Duck Gooze has hints of leather and Brettanomyces: a tasty strain of yeast. If you like sour beers, prepare early – Duck Duck Gooze is only released once every three years.
For as much as the Boston Beer Company claims to be a craft brewer, they’re pretty massive, brewing over 4.1 million US barrels worth of beer annually. Despite their size, they haven’t lost their innovative, craft brewer edge. Their Utopias brand is one of the most awesome, amazing, ground-shattering, everything-you-ever-wanted types of beers. A blend of multiple barrel-aged beers, some almost 20 years old, Utopias is further aged in scotch, bourbon, port, and cognac casks after a bit of maple syrup has been added. It’s difficult to describe in words what kind of flavors come out of it. Make the choice for yourself, but watch out – one iconic brew kettle-like bottle can cost you up to $200.
When beer lovers think of good beers, they think of Ommegang Brewery in New York State. Their Three Philosophers beer is one of the most delectable beers on our list, made by blending 98% Ommegang Quadrupel Ale with 2% of a Kriek: a Belgian cherry ale. The flavor and aroma is rich, full of molasses, brown sugar, dark fruits, chocolate, and brandied raisins. This beer ages especially well as its hints of sherry and port intensify with time.
Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout
Cigar City Brewing Co. has been making a name for itself in the Floridian and national beer scenes ever since it opened its doors. Though all of their beers are top notch, the Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout holds an extra special spot in infamy. Named for the Mayan Hun Hunahpu who was killed by the dark lords of the underworld after which his body turned into a cacao tree, Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout is an 11% ABV beer with hints of chocolate and espresso and touches of vanilla, cinnamon, tobacco, and chili.
While most people (Grinches not included) enjoy the onset of the winter holiday season, beer drinkers especially rejoice with Tröegs Independent Brewing’s Mad Elf. The ruby red beer is high in alcohol but brings forward beautifully contrasting flavors such as raw honey, cocoa, and ripened cherries while allowing festive people to delight in its cinnamon, clove, and allspice notes for the nose.
Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA
Most people have probably never heard of a Black IPA. That hasn’t stopped Firestone Walker Brewing Company from bringing it to market all across California and beyond. Made by using malted rye, the beer tastes like an IPA but has a rich, dark black color to it. Double dry-hopping with two different hops gives the beer its highly bitter taste, great with a lusciously heavy meal.
Portland, Maine’s Allagash Brewing Company is one of the most renowned craft brewers in the country. It’s no surprise then that they would put out a beer so wonderfully diverse as Curieux. The Belgian-style Tripel is aged for only eight weeks in used Jim Beam barrels to pick up some strong bourbon flavor which complements its vanilla, tobacco, and coconut tinges.
Bourbon County Brand Stout
Receiving a full 100/100 rating from Beer Advocate, Bourbon County Brand Stout was one of the first serious stouts on the market. Since its original release, this tasty craft beer has spawned multiple siblings, including coffee, rye, and barleywine variations. The beer has flavors of caramel, chocolate, vanilla, smoke, and charred oak and is described by its brewer, Goose Island, as “a liquid as dark and dense as a black hole.”
Ask anyone if they’ve had a pilsner, and it’s a pretty sure fire bet they have, which is a shame because most of the mass-produced pilsners in the U.S. are watered-down, lackluster beers only good enough for college parties and tailgates. True pilsners date back to Pilsner Urquell, first brewed in the city of Plzeň in modern-day Czech Republic. Victory Brewing Company aims to bring some respect back to the variety with Prima Pils: a German-malt, Czech and German whole flower hopped beer which gives the drinker a frothy head and a dry finish.
Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Stout
Some people just can’t start the day without their morning cup of coffee. For the person who needs their morning cuppa AND some booze before 9 A.M., there’s Terrapin’s Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Stout. (Though the 9.4% ABV beer will likely bring your morning productivity to a standstill.) The brewery sources coffee beans from Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Zimbabwe before roasting them and mixing them into the stout. Rumor has it cinnamon rolls also work their way in from time-to-time.
Pliny the Elder
Various people think the legendary Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder is the finest IPA in the world – and they might be right. This Double IPA craft beer is intensely bitter, using four kinds of hops and named after the man who created the botanical name for hops before dying in Vesuvius’s 79 A.D. eruption – Pliny the Elder.
One of the strangest beers on our list in both style and name, La Folie is also one of the tastiest. La Folie is a sour brown ale from legendary Fort Collins craft brewers New Belgium Brewing Co., highly regarded for running a sustainable brewing operation. (Check out their webpage for info on how they do it.) This sour beer is aged for one to three years in massive oak barrels twice the size of an adult man, emerging with prominent flavors of green apple, cherry, and plum skin.
In German folklore, Mephistopheles is a demon indebted to serve the Devil. In beer folklore, Mephistopheles is one of the most sought after craft beers in the country. Produced by Boulder, Colorado’s Avery Brewing Co., this stout acts more like an IPA with an ABV of 15% and an IBU matching any Double IPA. The beer has hints of licorice and smells of anise and chocolate-covered cherries and rum-soaked fruit.
Serendipity Happy Accident
When a severe drought hit the good people of Wisconsin, New Glarus Brewing was left without the proper fruits they used to brew their beer. In an act of desperation, the brewery mixed what few cherries they could find with the more plentiful apple and cranberry harvests. The result was Serendipity Happy Accident Fruit Ale: a mélange of northern fruits which makes for a delightfully sour ale. (Pictured is New Glarus’ Belgian Red, a beer packed with a pound of cherries per bottle.)
While many Europeans (especially Germans) often follow strict, old-fashioned brewing laws, California’s The Bruery cast the laws to the wind with reckless abandon. To make their Sans Pagaie, meaning “without a paddle,” they brew a golden ale before adding sour cherries and putting them in old oak wine barrels. The craft beer absorbs the vanilla and coconut flavors of the barrel while developing a simultaneously tart and bitter flavor from the cherries. While the beer has fallen out of production, you may still be able to find a bottle or two lying around.
Perennial Artisan Ales from St. Louis, Missouri is no stranger to pushing beer into uncharted territory, and their Abraxas Imperial Stout keeps to this trend. The ingredient list reads like a decadent dessert – with ancho chilis, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks, the chocolate stout is packed with flavors which perfectly suit winter drinking.
With a brewery name like Wild Heaven, the beer has to be good, right? Such is the case for the Georgian brewery’s Eschaton: a Belgian style Quadrupel Ale coming in at 10.5% ABV. Pairing as well with lamb and stinky cheese as any strong red wine, Eschaton is aged on Pinot Noir oak chips to give it a more earthy, spicy, decadent flavor.
Dark Lord by Munster, Indiana’s Three Floyd’s Brewing Co. is one of the most complex beers on the planet. The stout beer is thick and viscous, putting many off due to its overwhelmingly powerful flavor. But with a cigar in hand, or enjoying it like a glass of Scotch, Dark Lord is one of the best craft beers around.
Heady Topper has one of the most loyal followings of any craft beer on our list and is sometimes called “America’s Most Coveted Beer.” The Double IPA has been rated the fifth best beer in the world and always sells out within minutes of its release. Laced with hints of citrus and pine, the hoppy beer is so popular that its brewery, The Alchemist, had to close their retail shop due to overwhelming traffic in the area around release dates.
Maple Bacon Coffee Porter
If this list seems to be heavily focused on dark beers – it is. Porters and stouts are damn good beers, and they can often be easy to experiment with as they can handle bolder flavors. We introduce the king of porter blending: Funky Buddha Brewery’s Maple Bacon Coffee Porter. Combining three of life’s most succulent and craze-inducing flavors, this special release beer has a thick and creamy mouth feel with tinges of smoke and salted chocolate which dance on the tongue. After each sip, the sticky maple syrup sticks around on your taste buds waiting for the next sip.
Saltwater Intrusion Gose
Though a relatively recent entry onto the beer stage, First Magnitude has already been racking up awards and medals in its home state of Florida. One of the rarest beer styles to find in the United States, the Gose is a light in color-and-body wheat ale. First Magnitude’s version of this sour beer, the Saltwater Intrusion Gose, is known for its lemony tartness, produced by lactobacillus bacteria, and its slight saltiness. As if the merger of sour, tart, wheaty, and salty weren’t enough of a flavor punch, the brewery adds coriander to give the craft beer a slightly floral yet spiced kick. Though they only opened four years ago, First Magnitude is going strong with 15 of their own beers on tap at the brewhouse and another seven due for release in the near future.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a brewery more creative than Jester King Brewery in Austin, Texas. Their Buddha’s Brew is an unfiltered and unpasteurized beer which spends months souring in oak barrels. Once it’s ready, Buddha’s Brew is mixed with live kombucha as it’s bottled, creating a sour wheat beer which is both incredibly healthy and incredibly delicious. Jester King is known for their wacky beer and experimentative recipes. Check out their website for more, such as a beer aged in old tequila casks for 11 months or a brew made with peppercorns, anise seed, and lemon juice.