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We’ve been known to drink a beer or two when the happy hour strikes, and that’s probably an understatement. Call it one of life’s great pleasures in our book. The world of beer is quite literally a world unto its own, with styles and breweries spanning the globe, but never forget the best American beers right here in our backyard (figuratively and, perhaps if you’re lucky, only steps away from your house).
Kramer: “Oh yeah, I’ve been known to drink a beer or two, but then again, I’ve been known to do a lot of things.”
— Seinfeld Quotes (@seinlanguage) April 21, 2018
The ante is upped even further on the most momentous day for beer drinkers in the U.S. of A — National Beer Day, which is held each year on April 7. Now, National Beer Day isn’t exactly a Hallmark holiday. It is, however, the day the Cullen-Harrison Act was signed into law, reversing Prohibition. To put it lightly, that’s a big deal (and it was celebrated with many an ice-cold brew back in the day). Don’t get us wrong: We don’t need all that much reason to crack open one of our favorite IPA beers or pour up one of the best light beers either, but having a day dedicated solely to the suds we love is worthy cause for celebration.
There’s also something special about sticking close to home when sipping on your beer of choice. There’s plenty of history in the States regarding iconic beer, no doubt about it. The best American beers owe a debt of gratitude to our hops-focused neighbors across the pond, but for many of us, that introduction to fresh, high-quality beer started right at home, with domestic beers aplenty.
Let’s be clear, there are plenty of macro lagers made Stateside, but we’re focused on U.S. breweries with a bit more nuance and substance (for the most part). You’ve had enough Bud Light over the years, after all. Toast any day of the week or year with our picks for the best American beers.
1. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
BEST AMERICAN BEER OVERALL
It’s not the first time we’ve sung the praises of Sierra Nevada’s classic Pale Ale, and it won’t be the last. It’s a genuinely pioneering American beer, introduced to the market at a time when hops weren’t all that widely found, and when beer drinkers were used to budget, big-time beers heavy on foam and low on flavor. Founder Ken Grossman and company changed all of that, and this brew is still as reliable, flavorful and fresh as it gets. Keep it on hand if you want to introduce someone to the world of hoppy American beers without going overboard.
2. Anchor Brewing Anchor Steam
BEST CLASSIC AMERICAN BEER
It’s impossible to tell the story of American beer without talking about another brewing revolutionary, Fritz Maytag, who revived California’s Anchor Brewing and made its Anchor Steam beer another downright classic. You can ask for it by name without ever having to pore over a beer menu, but it’s even better to keep this California Common beer close at hand in your beer fridge. The famed brewery’s branding might have changed over the years, but that classic quality is still there. Toasted malt comes through in both flavor and aroma, so it’s more substantial on your palette than a big-box lager, but still reasonably easy to imbibe: It clocks in at 4.9 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
3. Bell’s Oberon
MUST-BUY AMERICAN BEER
Sure, every beer on this list is a “must-buy” if you want variety, flavor and an all-American touch in your beer fridge, but Oberon is particularly special. It’s a beer that comes around but once a year, so it’s worth searching far and wide. It’s certainly worth picking some up online if you can’t visit the memorabilia-packed confines of the brewery itself in Kalamazoo, Mich. This wheat ale is a spring and summertime favorite, best enjoyed with a juicy orange slice. It’s a fine sight, and better than a certain mass-market beer you also enjoy with the citrus fruit in your glass, if we do say so ourselves. Snap up a six-pack right now, and savor the joy that is one of the best American beers, period.
4. Brooklyn Lager
BEST AMERICAN LAGER
We know there’s no shortage of competition among brewers to produce lagers big on flavor, made with premium ingredients. Across the past nearly three decades, Brooklyn Brewery changed the game in more ways than one, paving the way for the transformation of the Big Apple into a buzzing craft beer mecca. There are certain blocks in Brooklyn with two or three breweries a mere stone’s throw from one another, but it very likely wouldn’t be possible had founder Steve Hindy not turned a rundown part of Williamsburg into a brewery focused on timeless beers like this Vienna lager you can now find in any beer bar worth its salt. Granted, Brooklyn Brewery beers are now distributed abroad in some parts by Carlsberg Group, but we’re claiming this one as an American beer.
5. Half Acre Pony Pilsner
BEST AMERICAN PILSNER
When shopping for American-nade beers, there are many nuances to consider. However, sometimes, it’s nice to throw all that out the window (at least a little bit). In those times, you want to crack open a can of beer that — as they say — just tastes like beer. Half Acre, perhaps best known for its Daisy Cutter Pale Ale, knows what regular beer drinkers everywhere want, yet they’ve leveled things up a notch with a flavorful take on the classic German pilsner. They’ve used German hops and malts, but they’ve packaged it up in a pleasingly vintage-style can design that looks right at home in your hand and your fridge. We’ll drink to that.
6. Lawson’s Finest Sip of Sunshine
BEST AMERICAN IPA
As with the race to perfect the lager, the competition to brew a great IPA in America — the land of bountiful hops — is an intense and never-ending game of sorts. To be able to do it at scale while staying true to your roots is even more difficult, but Vermont-based Lawson’s Liquids has found a way to hang its hat on a terrific flagship beer. The Sip of Sunshine is a revelation of an IPA and is likely available at your favorite beer store (in addition to the ease of getting a six-pack delivered to your door). It isn’t easy to name just one outstanding IPA, but that hop-packed flavor and bright, fresh intensity shine through (pun intended) with Lawson’s signature brew.
7. Other Half Stacks on Stacks
We said it’s mighty tough to crown just one IPA the best in the country, and while taste is certainly subjective, beers from Other Half have driven IPA-crazed fans into a frenzy over the past half-decade or so. Once a small warehouse space underneath an overpass, Other Half now has locations in Washington D.C. and Rockefeller Center (seriously), all the better to gift your tastebuds with one of your favorite IPAs even more readily. Citra, El Dorado and Mosaic hops do the heavy lifting in this Imperial IPA, delivering intensity and citrus-powered, hop-packed flavor and aroma. This beer is one to be enjoyed carefully because it really stacks up at 8.5 percent ABV.
8. Genesee Cream Ale
MOST AFFORDABLE AMERICAN BEER
You know the drill: You step inside a dimly lit dive bar and scan the chalkboard: You’re searching for a cheap, cold beer (and perhaps a shot of whiskey on the side). If you’re lucky, you might come across the renowned cult favorite Genesee Cream Ale. As Genesee themselves say, they wanted to brew a beer “smooth like a lager and crisp like an ale.” They’ve been hitting it out of the park since 1960 with a year-round favorite beloved by factory workers and off-duty bartenders in equal measure. And when we say affordable, we mean it: Snag a 30-rack for under $20 if you and your friends are feeling especially thirsty.
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