When it comes to good beer, it’s all about the hops.
Hops—the flowers of a vine in the same family as marijuana—are chock full of unique flavor compounds, making them a critical ingredient to brewing high-quality, unique-tasting beer. While hops are probably best known for their ability to make beers bitter, beer makers can use different varieties of hops and different beer brewing techniques to imbue beer with a wide range of aromas and flavors. Hops also help to preserve and clarify beer, making them a key component of any quality brew.
Unfortunately hops are becoming increasingly hard to acquire.
What’s the Deal?
Beer is undergoing a revolution. The number of small, craft breweries has exploded over the last 20 years, and there are now more than 2,800 companies making a vast assortment of microbrews. The combined influence of these small companies is even challenging some of the large domestic brands like Budweiser and Miller.
Craft breweries have gained traction in recent decades largely due to a focus on creating brews that are high quality, unique, and tasty, which sets them apart from the big brands. And in the beer world, hops are a key ingredient (literally!) in differentiating a beer from its competition. As a result, not only has demand for hops increased, but many breweries are looking for unique and more expensive types of hops. The combination of these two factors is leading to skyrocketing hop prices—and jeopardizing the ability of some smaller brands to keep producing their brews.
If craft brews go by the wayside, it will be a sad day for beer drinkers. Although craft beers vary widely, there are a few aspects of brewed-with-love beverages that may set them apart from the standard fare. For one thing, many craft breweries pride themselves on the quality of their ingredients. This can include sourcing local ingredients or thinking about the environmental impacts associated with beer production. The diversified offerings of these companies can also provide options for people concerned about allergies or special diets. And beer in general is rich in amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants Wine, Beer, Alcohol and Polyphenols on Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer. Arranz S, Chiva-Blanch G, Valderas-Martínez P, et al. Nutrients, 2012; 4(7): 759-81.
To embrace the benefits of craft brewing, try any of the 16 stellar beers below. And be sure to support the local breweries near you!
16 Craft Beers to Try ASAP
1. 21st Century Amendment Brewing Company—Back in Black
The 21st century witnessed the repeal of prohibition in 1920, making all the wondrous beverages on this list legal. It’s hard to say if anyone living in that decade would have expected this black, British-style IPA, which adds dark malts to a more standard IPA for a smooth finish.
2. Alchemist—Heady Topper
This IPA was designed to show off the superstar qualities of hops, and ended up being ranked as the best beer around. Available only in Vermont, many people go (far) out of their way to get some.
3. Allagash Brewing Company—Allagash White
Some people aren’t into craft beers because many of them are so strong in taste, but the Allagash White proves there's a craft beer for everyone. It showcases a light, fruity taste derived from coriander and orange peel. This beer also makes a delightfully enticing ice cream.
4. Anchor Steam Brewing Company—Anchor Steam
One of the hottest (and potentially healthiest) trends in beer right now is the American Coolship Ale. This type of brewing is unique in that it uses open fermentation methods to foster the communities of microbes that ferment the beer, similar to the process of making kombucha Brewhouse-resident microbiota are responsible for multi-stage fermentation of American coolship ale. Bokulich, NA, Bamforth, CW, Mills, DA. PLoS One, 2012;7(4):e35507. Many of these beers have a distinctively sour taste, but the Anchor Steam is more mild.
5. Back Forty Beer Company—Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale
This beer builds on a medium-bodied brown ale with Alabama wildflower honey. The honey adds a sweet flavor and plenty of antioxidants.
6. Dogfish Head—60-Minute IPA
Dogfish makes a number of beers for hop lovers, aka "hopheads." When this beer is made, hops are added more than 60 times over a 60-minute boil (hence the name). The similarly-named 90-Minute IPA and 120-Minute IPA have even more hoppy flavor due to the longer boil times.
7. Fort Collins Brewery—Major Tom’s American Wheat
This wheat beer is infused with real pomegranates, which add a little bit of sweetness. Pomegranates are also loaded with beneficial antioxidants, so it’s a two-for-one drink.
8. Founders Brewing Company—All-Day IPA
For an IPA that has a good bite without being too bitter, look no further than this brew. The lower alcohol content reduces the number of calories and also the threat of drinking one too many. You really can drink this beer (almost) all day long.
9. Ipswich Ale Company—Celia Saison
Gluten-free friends, you have not been forgotten! This gluten-free beer was designed when the brewer’s wife was diagnosed with Celiac disease. A mix of sorghum syrup, orange peel, and hops creates a flavorful rustic farmhouse ale.
10. New Glarus Brewing Company—Wisconsin Belgian Red
For those who are more wine-inclined, this beverage combines the best of beer and wine into a sparkling glass of deliciousness. Each wine-sized bottle contains more than a pound of cherries, which have been shown to reduce joint and muscle pain.
12. Six Point Brewery—Righteous Ale
Although this brewery is only 10 years old, it traces its roots back to the beginning of civilization, noting that fermentation has been practiced across the world for thousands of years. Their motto, “beer is culture,” not only harkens back to the past, but also gives a shout out to the culture of organisms necessary for fermentation.
13. Smuttynose Brewing Company—Old Brown Dog Ale
Old Brown Dog Ale may be in the running for man’s best friend. Full-bodied and strongly hopped, this award-winning ale is a real classic. Send the folks at Smuttynose a picture of your dog (brown or otherwise) and a short story and they will include a pin-up of your pup on their website.
14. Stone Brewing Company—Smoked Porter
The Smoked Porter is a must-try for its unique flavor (don’t forget to try the chipotle pepper and vanilla variations too). Stone Brewing Company is doing more than making amazing beer: About one-third of the power for the brewery and attached restaurant comes from solar panels, and the leftover brewing grain is repurposed as mulch for on-site gardens.
15. Troeg's Craft Brewery—Troegenator Double Bock
Back in the day, monks used to drink double bocks like this one to satisfy their nutritional needs while fasting (that should tell you something about how filling this brew is!). This nourishing drink has a rich flavor that goes well with or without food.
16. Victory Brewing Company—Wild Devil
The brewers at Victory Brewing Company got a little wild when making this beer. Not only does this IPA come in a wine-sized bottle (all the better for sharing), it uses a wild yeast called Brettanomyces that imparts a unique, funky flavor.