The beer scene is endlessly expanding. We at VinePair consider it an honor and privilege to sample different beers from breweries worldwide in our efforts to stay on top of the vast expanse of emerging breweries, established powerhouses, and cult labels.
This year, we analyzed countless empty glasses, bottles and growlers in hopes of narrowing down our seemingly limitless tasting notes to nominate the 50 best beers of 2017. We spoke to respected beer writers we trust, putting our heads together and casting wide nets to identify favorites.
Good beer comes from good breweries. As a result, in order to compile a wide-ranging list that speaks to the breadth of America’s brewing scene, we decided to prioritize diversity and nominate a maximum of one beer per brewery.
Many will agree with our list, many more will disagree. One thing is certain: These are the 50 best beers VinePair drank this year.Spontaneously fermented by wild Maine yeast in a shallow pan, or coolship, Allagash’s Coolship series is a beer we come back to again and again. Souring bacteria (the good kind) interact with the wort, drawing out the best flavors the pilsner malt and raw wheat have to offer. After fermenting and aging in French oak wine barrels for two years, raspberries are thrown into the mix. The end result is a transformative, lightly sour beer with dark fruit balanced by oak notes and a dry finish. It’s a sour that won’t pucker your face up, and it’s our top beer of 2017.
When you frequently taste new and different types of beers, it’s easy for things to start to blur. (It’s a good problem, we know.) New flavors become harder and harder to find, though, and surprises are rare. To that end, Huss Brewing’s Koffee Kölsch is a breath of fresh air. It’s light and life-changing for those who claim to dislike coffee beer, with an espresso quality that blends into the beer better than fruit juice into a smoothie. A kölsch seems like an unassuming medium for such bold flavors, yet it works beautifully here.
Everyone has different preferences and perceptions when it comes to pilsners. But if you don’t like Suarez Family Brewery’s Palatine Pils, then you probably just don’t like beer. The unfiltered, German-style pilsner is the epitome of American pilsners. It represents the full circle of American craft beer graduating from huge, flavor-blasting IPAs to perfected, elegant simplicity. It’s the French omelette of beer: simple, satisfying, and seemingly impossible to improve.
When it made this beer in 2012, Westbrook was one of the first breweries to go all in on goses. It’s still one of the most iconic examples of what pure goses can be in the modern era of craft beer. While the flavored Key Lime Pie Gose from Westbrook is a favorite of many VinePair editors, the classic iteration is damn near impossible to beat.
This beer can be hard to find, but it’s worth the search. Dark, rich vanilla flavors with a lingering finish elevate this beyond your average imperial stout. Our ultimate goal with this beer, however, is to buy a couple, lay them down for a few years, and have one every year to watch the beer grow and develop. Either way, it’s impossible to be disappointed by the World Wide Stout.
This big, hazy, New England-style double IPA stands out in a crowded field of upstart NEIPAs. The Portland, Maine, brewery can make you change your mind about what a NEIPA should taste like. It’s thick, juicy, aromatic and fruity. It’s beer, yes; but it’s also a meal unto itself. If you’re anything like us, you won’t be able help but keep on drinking it — and you’ll be craving it for months after you crush the last can.
Colorado’s first brewpub, Wynkoop Brewing Company was founded in Denver in 1988, and is one of America’s original craft breweries, but it’s not afraid to take chances on flavor. The Cucular Proliferation is a gose made with Hawaiian black sea salt and tens of pounds of fresh cucumber. It’s a beer so good that the first time we tried it at the Great American Beer Festival, we went to the brewery for a couple of full pints.
Hoponius Union is a lager that’s treated like an ale — an India Pale Ale, specifically. Dubbed an “Imperial Pale Lager,” the award-winning brew combines light lager drinkability with aggressive, West Coast IPA-style hopping, and offers both tropical fruit and citrusy notes.
Those who say you cannot improve on a good thing have probably not tasted Mikkeller’s Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse. Blueberry notes provide just the right touch of fruit, and the off-dry, mineral tartness elevates the already-good Berliner Weisse to everything a person could want in a fruited sour.
The flavor of juniper in alcohol is usually identifiable in gin. But Left Hand makes a strong case that it should be in saison. In Saison au Genievre, the juniper is a refreshing bit of tart spice that complements the natural, earthy feel of farmhouse beers. It packs a punch with a healthy level of alcohol, yet stays easy-drinking (possibly too easy-drinking? You be the judge.).
A lot of attention is paid to Other Half’s hazy double IPAs — and for good reason. The brewery is one of the best New England-style IPA producers in New York. But hoppy, hazy numbers are not all it does. Cream Get The Honey has an oat grain base, is hopped up with Mosaic, and then perfected with orange-blossom honey from the state of New York. It’s sweet without being syrupy, hoppy without being overpowering, and juicy without being thick.
Transmitter is one of New York City’s smaller breweries, but its creative Belgian- and farmhouse-style beers consistently punch above their weight class. The brewery specializes in Belgian- and farmhouse-style beers, and every beer is bursting with floral and orange flavors. Coriander and a dusting of hop notes round the beer out, and make it endlessly enjoyable.
Since its 2015 debut, Citra Sunshine Slacker has been consistently pleasing palates. It’s got an easy-to-love, light, grassy, and citric quality, plus a vaguely addictive hoppy bitterness. And the best part? At 4.5 percent alcohol by volume, you might as well drink as many of these as you can.
Gillian is named for Gillian Anderson, the X-Files star who once worked in Goose Island’s taproom in Chicago. The beer only gets better with age, and finding one from the early 2010s is a moment to be treasured. The taste of the saison is a light seasoning of white pepper and a gentle honey sweetness. It’s dry like a fine wine and has just enough wine-barrel aging to add complexity yet not dominate the entire beer.
In a year filled with goses, sours, and fruited sours, Founders manages to stand out. The Green Zebra is a gose made with watermelon and salt, and if you’ve ever tasted a salted watermelon then you know why the two belong together. It’s lightly sour with cooling watermelon flavor (real watermelon flavor, not Jolly Rancher) and has a balancing, briny quality from just the right amount of salt being added.
My, how the humble pilsner has risen. Threes Brewing’s Vliet Pilsner was voted the best beer in the state of New York in 2017, and it’s easy to see why. It’s clean, balanced, herbal, and stays true to the German style upon which it’s based.
Finding balance between flavor and easy drinking in a light beer can be tough. Peak’s Fresh Cut pilsner is dry-hopped with Chinook, Citra, and Centennial hops that make it citrusy and grassy, as well as crisp and sessionable.
When Kings County Brewers Collective first started in the far reaches of NYC’s Queens in 2016, they created a huge IPA called Dangerous Precedent to make everyone look their way. A mix of Warrior, Mosaic, Cascade, and Azacca hops dominate the beer and continue to turn heads. This beer led the way for KCBC to become the brewery it is today.
In a sea of clumsily citrusy beers, this refreshing cream ale features gentle orange blossom water flavors. It’s the easiest-drinking orange beer there is, with elegant notes of orange and vanilla.
A brilliant exemplar of the wildly adored New England-style IPA category, this cloudy creation from Massachusetts’s Tree House is pure sunshine on the palate. It’s bright and juicy, with lush flavors and aromas of citrus and tropical fruit and hardly any bitterness. To be honest, an orange emoji followed by a fire emoji would be a more-than-sufficient description.
There’s something about having a beer made with hops grown from less than 100 feet away from the brewery that makes it feel special. Bale Breakers’ Bottomcutter IPA is double-hopped with Yakima hops grown on site.
Tangy and funky, yet remarkably food-friendly, this beer is everything you could want from a fruited sour. Made with 100 percent Colorado-grown ingredients, this local label can be tough to find nationwide — but it’s well worth the effort.
Hibiscus gives this sour a calming pink color and gentle herbal quality. One of the best New York-made sour beers, Kim Hibiscus has deep fruit notes and a true beer flavor thanks to SingleCut’s lager yeast.
Blonde ales can be plain. You might even say boring. Green Flash is here to change all that. The beer has hints of orange peel and a gentle malty backbone. It’s a standout in a sea of recently released session beers.
25. Sixpoint Smoothie
Sixpoint’s first, long-awaited take on a New England-style IPA is everything you could want from the category without any of the pretension.
Avery Brewing is famous for its barrel-aged beer, but it does so much more. El Gose is the perfect beer to pair with fried or fishy foods.
Just try to find a bad beer from LIC Beer Project. This Double IPA is hopped with late-addition Galaxy, Mosaic, Belma, and Columbus, and features candied pineapple and orange notes.
Part salty gose, part dry hop, and part lemonade, this is the perfect summer beer. Its salty, sour profile is highly crushable and makes us wonder if it’s possible for something to be too sessionable.
29. Crooked Stave Origins Flanders Red Ale
One of the go-to names in both sour and barrel-aged beer, Crooked Stave’s Flanders Red Ale stands out for its darker, warmer notes. It’s the perfect gateway for people who think they hate sours.
This earthy, hazy, hoppy, juicy, full-bodied beer delivers on all fronts. The hops come in floral and citrusy rather than bitter, and there’s a semi-sweet finish to it. It’s a beer that makes you want to squirrel away as many cans as possible.
31. Samuel Adams Sam ’76
Made with a combination of ale and lager yeast, this new beer combines the former’s full flavors with the crispness of a lager. It will be widely released in 2018, and it will make you feel like a city mouse taking your first breath of fresh country air.
Juice from floral, fruity Viognier grapes is blended with sour beer wort, giving this beer a whole new dimension and the complexity of a wild sour.
For an 8 percent alcohol by volume beer, this IPA has an almost unrealistic drinkability. It pours a hazy pale yellow and has peach, orange, and melon aromas. The Simcoe, Citra, and Simcoe Lupulin dust are the stars in this beer, and they are stars we want to hang out with every day.
A quintessential Belgian saison, this beer is fruity and spicy, elegantly sparkling, and very, very refreshing.
Imperial stouts can be a dime a dozen, but Reformation’s Declaration manages to keep things fresh by staying surprisingly light without losing alcoholic kick.
A super-high-acid beer, 10 Barrel’s sour is remarkably flavorful and has a big, bright pucker that almost feels like it’s taking the enamel off your teeth (in a good way).
Classic but rarely seen German Keller beers inspire this dry-hopped lager with slightly toasted cereal malts and fresh hops from Burlington, Vermont. Drink this all day with pretzels and cheese, please.
Rich flavors of roasted grains, chocolate, and coffee, and a touch of sweetness define this outstanding unfiltered porter from Vermont’s Hill Farmstead, one of the world’s most highly-regarded breweries.
Chicago’s amazing Half Acre makes Pony, a year-round offering that satisfies everyone from your PBR drinking uncle to the beer geek.
A beer that first debuted in 2008, Surly’s Abrasive Double IPA is the perfect beer for when you want to soak in the best of what big American hops can be.
41. Lou Pepe Kriek Cantillon
Cantillon produces a range of complex and nuanced lambic beers, exploring this old-fashioned style from the Senne Valley of Belgium in which wort is fermented entirely by exposure to ambient yeasts and other airborne bacteria. The cherries (or kriek) give this lambic supreme dryness that further highlights its tart fruit.
Oregon’s Cascade creates a slew of deliciously tart motherfunkers. Noyaux, a blend of sour blond ales aged in white wine barrels for up to 24 months with fresh raspberries and apricot, is among the best in the game.
A classic European-style pilsner, Braven’s Bushwick has a bitter backbone that’s refreshing and food-friendly.
An uncommon mixture of Belgian wit yeast, bold American hops, and — here’s the kicker — seven spices give this calming, refreshing cloudy beer a Thai-spice bump.
Some breweries overthink (and overdo) spices, while Blue Point’s Prop Stopper demonstrates that a little saltiness goes a long way. Brewed with seaweed, this is a big, umami-forward IPA.
This refreshing wheat beer has just a hint of fresh and unripe apricot, making it a fruit beer that is not overwhelmingly fruity. We recommend pairing with food, or with more Apricot Wheat.
Thanks to its sweetness and high water content, strawberry beers are hard to get right. Buffalo Bill’s balances the fruit by layering an unfiltered double German wheat beer with sweet strawberries. The result is pretty much bursting with flavor.
A huge, super-hopped, unfiltered double IPA, Firestone Walker’s Leo v. Ursus Adversus is full of fruit and pine hop aromas. We’re keeping an eye on this series.
A pale ale with a charitable boost of Cascade hops, this is a beer that you can return to throughout the day without getting bored. And, with 5.1 percent alcohol by volume, without getting too ahead of yourself.
A thick imperial lager, Indeed Mexican Honey tastes like fresh honey and orange blossom, yet stays surprisingly light and easy-drinking for such a high alcohol percentage.