IPAs to Oktoberfest: The best beer of every type
In 1956, archaeologists working in northern Israel’s Raqefet Cave—once home to the Natufian people (13,050–7,550 B.C.)—stumbled upon an astonishing discovery: 13,000-year-old fermented gruel. Archaeologists had found prehistoric evidence of beer before: Remnants of ancient brewing have surfaced in China, Mesopotamia, and North Africa; but this was the oldest. And it was the oldest to a great extent. The beer residue found in Raqefet Cave precedes other archaeological evidence by at least 6,000 years.
For as long as humans have farmed cereals like wheat, barley, and rice, humans have fermented at least some of it into beer. The Mesopotamians produced beer from bread and documented its ritual consumption on stone tablets. Ancient Egyptians, who recorded the world’s first beer recipe on papyrus scrolls, drank it during religious ceremonies. The Nubian culture in the central Nile River Valley used beer as an antibiotic. In 2,100 B.C., Babylonian King Hammurabi enshrined regulations for tavern keepers and brewers in his famous Code of Hammurabi. Beer became so inextricably linked to the ancient grain-growing civilizations of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa that the Greek writer Sophocles (450 B.C.) considered beer, alongside vegetables, meat, and bread, to be a vital component of a healthy diet. (In an era when the average Greek lived about 35 years, Sophocles, it should be noted, lived to the ripe old age of 90.)
Fast forward many eons and beer production is now an exacting science comprising complex flavor profiles, exotic additives, carefully measured formulas, and humongous sterilized stainless-steel vats. Gone is the thick, syrupy brew favored by Germanic tribes and disdained by Ancient Romans. Instead, breweries nowadays turn out flavorful, easy-drinking beers. Long evolved from the Natufians fermented gruel, modern beer satisfies a range of tastes for a global market.
Beer styles are distinguished by three key factors: color (pale to dark), hoppy bitterness (0 to 100 International Bitterness Units), and alcohol content (3% to 20% Alcohol By Volume). From classic to cultured bacteria, Stacker identified 35 different styles and used BeerAdvocate’s sweeping database of craft brews to determine the best individual beers among them. Beers had to have at least 100 user votes to be considered, and the user rating is out of five. The ratings and rankings are accurate as of August 2019.
From Canada to Belgium, read on to find the best beers of every style, then go out and make old Sophocles proud.
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- Beer: Eureka w/ Citra
- Brewery: Tree House Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.28
On the low end of the international-bitterness-units (IBU) and alcohol-by-volume (ABV) scale, a blonde ale is light and drinkable, golden in appearance, and pairs well with a sunny summer day. The Eureka w/ Citra, from Massachusetts-based Tree House Brewing, adds a citrus twist to the mix, earning accolades from reviewers who call it “refreshing” with a “mild tropical fruit nose.”
- Beer: Ann
- Brewery: Hill Farmstead Brewery
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.67
Traditionally a summer treat brewed in simple Belgian farmhouses, the golden-hued and medium-low in bitterness Belgian Saison is brewed year-round now. ABV varies greatly among Saisons, but the wine-barrel-aged Ann from Hill Farmstead Brewery packs a punch at 6.5%, which has reviewers praising it as “super flavorful” and “exceptional.”
- Beer: Moment of Clarity
- Brewery: Tree House Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.57
Once on the verge of extinction, the creamy and sweet milk stout originated in 19th-century England when blue-collar workers added whole milk to their lunchtime stout porters. Milk stouts trend toward the medium-high end of the ABV scale and Tree House Brewing’s Moment of Clarity is no exception at 7.7%. Reviewers cite its “perfectly balanced chocolate, coffee, & maple” flavors and a “beautiful pour... inky black and oily with 1.5 fingers of brownish head.”
- Beer: Cafe y Churro
- Brewery: Carton Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.44
Bright yellow, mildly bitter, and low in ABV, cream ales are extremely drinkable beers that can use ale or lager yeasts. Cafe y Churro looks like a traditional cream ale but upends the conventional formula with a robust 12% ABV and notes of coffee, vanilla, and cream.
- Beer: Pliny the Younger
- Brewery: Russian River Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.75
On the high end of both the IBU and ABV scales, imperial IPAs appear reddish to yellowish and are the strongest, hoppiest version of an IPA. Pliny the Younger, from Northern California’s Russian River Brewery, sits lower on the ABV scale at 10.25% but elicits much love from reviewers who report “flavors of pine, resin, citrus, herbal and earthy” and an overall experience that was “so smooth and so intense.”
- Beer: Rye on Rye on Rye
- Brewery: Boulevard Brewing Co.
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.34
Varying greatly in color and ABV, ryes typically fall on the medium-low end of the bitterness spectrum and appear darker and redder the more rye is used. To be considered a rye beer, enough of the namesake ingredient must be evident in the appearance and taste. Boulevard Brewing’s Rye on Rye on Rye is aged twice in rye-whiskey barrels and promises considerable impairment at 14% ABV.
- Beer: The Rusty Nail
- Brewery: Fremont Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.57
Very dark and medium-low in IBU and ABV, oatmeal stouts are smoky and oily, often evoking hints of caramel, coffee, and chocolate. The Rusty Nail adheres to the traditional flavor by using smoked barley but ups the ABV ante at 14.5%.
- Beer: Nightmare on Brett
- Brewery: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.39
Named after Brettanomyces yeast that lends it a leathery, phenolic, and acidic character, Brett beers are all over the place on the ABV, color, and IBU scales. They are often mistaken for sours. The Nightmare on Brett is super dark in color, sits at 7.7% ABV, and has prompted reviewers to note it’s “a real bourbon treat on the nose” and “very memorable.”
- Beer: East Coast Common Lager
- Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.08
Brewed with lager yeast but fermented like an ale, the California Common is a pale orange-brown, hits right in the middle of the ABV and IBU scales, and was pioneered by San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Brewing. The East Coast Common pays tribute to its American heritage until right after the fermentation process when Smuttynose brewmasters shock the batch with dry hops.
- Beer: Sprang
- Brewery: Trillium Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.27
Invented in Cologne, Germany as an easy-drinking springtime beer, Kolsch comes in a golden-straw color, reaches medium-low on the IBU and ABV spectrums, and straddles the divide between lagers and ales. Trillium Brewing’s Sprang hews closely to this heritage with a low ABV of 4.9%, minimal bitterness, and a refreshing and fruity character. But a lower fermentation temperature leaves a hazy appearance, a unique quality in the world of ordinarily crisp and clear Kolsch beers.2018 All rights reserved.