This was a bright, bold, hazy year in beer. Throughout 2018, New England-style IPAs (NEIPAs) continued to pour in, reinvigorating craft beer pioneers and the IPA category as a whole.
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Sour ales hold several top spots in our year-end ranking. Our favorites span light and salty goses made in tanker trucks, to complex, barrel-aged-and-blended wild ales made using coolships and Spain’s ancient solera method.
Craft lagers and pilsners flooded the marketplace in 2018 as well. Hyper-local outfits and craft powerhouses alike made an excellent case for reaching for non-macro-brewed light lagers.
On the geekier end of things were a few selections that fall slightly outside the mainstream: a double brut IPA with blackcurrants, for example, and an ancient Polish-style smoked beer.
Then there were the legendary classics we found ourselves falling back in love with this year, from Belgian and German imports to “America’s stout.”
This ranking was determined by members of the VinePair team, including staff members and trusted industry insiders. Hundreds of selections were narrowed down to 50 with the following criteria:
All beers had to be available in the U.S. in a can or bottle retail. (Sorry, crowlers! Maybe next year.) The top 50 list focuses on beers that are accessible; though a few may be hard to find, it is possible to procure them even if you’re not in that city or state. Although many beers are new in 2018, this is not a requirement. No beers from last year’s top 50 list were considered, and entries were limited to one beer per brewery. Beers were tasted more than once, particularly those among the top 10.
Without further ado, here are the 50 best beers VinePair tasted this year, ranked.
This golden ale has a light-bodied, malt-driven simplicity. It inspired one of our panelists to liken it to a “craft Miller High Life,” a nod to its ability to please any crowd.
A soft-bodied, crushable Kolsch, this beer impressed us each time we tasted it. Subtly nuanced and pleasantly thirst-quenching, the fruity, pilsner-like ale has a cereal-sweetness followed by an herbal kick of Spalt and Bravo hops.
This Richmond, Va., brewery succeeds in any style, from Brett IPAs to pillowy pilsners. But what we found ourselves appreciating the most this year was its flagship saison. This farmhouse ale dances between spicy and fruity, and is refreshing and food-friendly.
Labeled as a Berliner weisse, but more like a liquid fruit tart, this guilty pleasure packs blackberry, vanilla, lactose, and lime into a thick, bright purple pour. It’s the perfect poolside beer.
This delicate, auburn, Belgian-style sour ale has raspberry and honey notes on the nose, plus a bit of dried rose petal and potpourri. It’s followed by a super-smooth palate with a faintly woody finish that lingers just long enough to beg another sip.
This fresh-hopped IPA from Adamstown, Pa.’s Stoudts Brewing boasts a bright orange color, pine and citrus aromas from Cascade and Columbus hops in the kettle and whirlpool, and a tropical fruit aroma from dry-hopping with Citra and Mosaic hops. Bright and effervescent with a nice bit of grapefruit flavor, this isn’t one to miss if you’re passing through southeast PA.
In this variant of Supercruise, a golden sour ale series that blends 25 percent grape must into each beer, Denver’s Black Project Brewing employs locally sourced Cabernet Franc wine grapes from Mesa Park Vineyards of Palisade, Colo. The grapes are first de-stemmed and crushed, and the juice rested, before joining Black Project’s base golden sour ale in oak barrels. Tart with berry-like flavors and a bitter, tannic quality, Supercruise straddles the worlds of beer and wine with grace.
This brand-new brut IPA from Brooklyn’s Five Boroughs bubbled up to the top of our brut IPA ranking this year. It encompasses everything we’ve come to learn defines the dichotomous style. It’s clear and bursting with candy aroma, hop-driven without dominating fruit or bitterness, and dry as a brut Champagne.
As its name suggests, Ninkasi’s Pacific Rain whets the palate with a storm of Pacific Northwest hops. Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic, and Nugget swirl with water from Oregon’s McKenzie River and a malt bill that adds oats for soft, crisp refreshment. Introduced as a year-round offering in 2017, Pacific Rain packs a tropical punch in a light-bodied, sessionable pale ale.
Topping many “best” lists, including the American Homebrewers Association Best Beers in America list in 2018 and 2017, Bell’s Two Hearted snuck back into our lives this year. Its availability and dependability comprise much of its appeal, and this all-Centennial-hopped IPA epitomizes the American IPA without hyperbolizing it. Pine sap and grapefruit peel dominate the aroma, bitterness knocks out sweetness on the palate, and its 7 percent ABV is surprisingly sessionable.
Bold but balanced, this golden brew offers up aromas of citrus peel and pine. It starts out light and zingy on the palate, and then flavors of fruit unfold, finishing with tropical notes. This beer is brewed with spelt, oat, and wheat, giving it a soft, full body that carries its fruity flavors and bold bitterness beautifully.
Juicy and hazy IPAs come out in rapid succession from Brooklyn’s much-hyped Other Half Brewing, but amid the noise, this is the one we found ourselves repeatedly seeking out in 2018. Brewed with Ahtanum, Amarillo, and Citra hops, and balanced with a nice bit of citrus, Hop Showers makes a great addition to any beer haul.
Big hop character and minimal bitterness is the name of the game with this California Pale Ale. Melon and citrus waft from the glass, with Citra and El Dorado hops providing the perfect Pacific Northwestern breeze. This beer is clean and bright, with a soft mouthfeel that carries grapefruit flavor to the finish without any lingering bitterness.
While Monday Night says the fastest way to make an Atlanta native cringe is to call it “Hotlanta,” we might argue the fastest way to make a veteran brewer roll their eyes is to call an IPA “quadruple-dry-hopped.” That said, this ironically named beer kept re-entering our tastings. Its over-the-top-hoppy aroma gave way to a creamy mouthfeel, and delicious crushability.
This new, year-round offering from Coronado Brewing is a super tasty San Diego-style double IPA. A blend of Vic Secret, Mosaic, and Citra hops lend a decadent combination of citrus, passionfruit, and pine flavors, with a body that carries its 8.5 percent ABV exceptionally well. Look out for Coronado’s upcoming year-round release, Leisure Lagoon Hazy Pale Ale, in spring 2019.
35. Rothaus Pils
Here at VinePair, we are thrilled by America’s Pilsner resurgence. More often than not, it’s the beer we want to drink. Hence our esteem for this classic. Rothaus Pils is the most popular beer from this German Black Forest brewery for good reason. It’s the pilsner from whence many of our newer favorites came, and its crisp body, subtle spice, and balance are all things to celebrate.
Named for a 1960s-era Brazilian art movement, this IPA gets its tropical notes from Citra, Centennial, and Galaxy hops. Deliciously citrusy without being over the top, the cloudy-but-balanced brew drinks like a session IPA (its ABV clocks in at 6.6 percent). It’s no wonder this is Creature Comforts’ top-rated beer. Look out for Imperial Trop Haze, too.
This new IPA from Maine Beer Co. tastes like a piney forest with a citrus twist. It is crushable in a way that’s reminiscent of the pre-haze craze days (although it, too, is quite cloudy). Made with Maine-grown barley and wheat, lots of American hops, and love for Mother Nature, Woods & Waters was brewed to commemorate Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument.
Belgium’s Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen has been blending geuze since 1959. In 2018, it debuted an eye-catching new bottle design for its Oude Geuze, which in turn inspired us to appreciate this liquid antiquity with new vigor. Each bottle contains a blend of lambics that were aged in five to 10 barrels, with wort from five to 11 different brews. Some portion of each blend is at least 3.5 years old. Aromas include apricot, peach, and Brettanomyces “barnyard” funk, and flavors are bracingly sour but fruit-driven and smooth. The spritzy carbonation lends an extra bit of excitement to each sip.
Dry-hopped with Mosaic and Mandarina Bavaria hops, this session IPA is one of the most flavorful, refreshing, and memorable of the year. A light, crisp, yet full-flavored body carries juicy notes of orange, tangerine, and berries. It’s hazy and fruity, yet balanced and bright, able to please the juice wolves and casual drinkers alike.
This beer boldly arrived in 2018 with its own website, Instagram account, and Spotify playlist. Flavor-wise, however, it is as subtle and understated as can be. We commend Firestone Lager for is its successful attempt to upend the lager category in a fun and utra-drinkable way. For a brewery that excels at exquisite barrel-aged wild ales and IPAs, this beer is a big move.
Brewed for Kills Boro’s first birthday, this playful pastry stout packs cocoa nibs, milk sugar, and vanilla beans into a 10-percent-ABV package. Candy-coated chocolate dominates the aroma, while the flavor is dangerously close to licking the remnants of raw cake mix from a bowl. This beer likely won’t be brewed again until Kills Boro turns 2, so, in the meantime, look out for its Tiramisu Munchies, brewed with lactose and conditioned on cacao nibs and coffee beans.
This black pilsner is not just a beer, it’s a message: Schwarzbier is here. It’s also become a calling card for the Brooklyn brewery, which made Morbid Hour for the pilot episode of a metal-and-beer lifestyle show, the Six Most Metal Breweries. It’s everything we want in a black pilsner: dark roast, light body, notes of chocolate, and goat horns.
This oil-black imperial stout brewed with coconut and vanilla smells and tastes like a Samoa Girl Scout Cookie mated with a cherry chocolate liqueur. Coconut is abundant on the nose and palate, but isn’t overdone; it melds with the beer’s supporting notes of molasses, brownie batter, and, finally, vanilla. Like Bomb, another adjunct-packed stout from Prairie we love, this is a beer worth seeking out.
This legacy brand saved the day for several panelists this year; when faced with a non-local draft list, a Left Hand tap handle waves its signature red high-five from across the bar as if to say, “Hey! It’s alright. I’m still here.” It’s a perfect milk stout: chocolatey and roasty, smooth and creamy, and topped with a velvety head that caresses your every sip.
Hudson Valley Brewery is leading the way in sour IPAs, and this member of its Amulet collection features raw wheat, malted oats, milk sugar, blueberries, and hibiscus. You might say we fell in love with this beer at first sight — it pours a stunning garnet color with a frothy pink head — but it delivers on all fronts. Crisp and refreshing, and tangy and tart, this berry-packed wild ale is one to watch.
Mexican-style lagers are an exciting addition to the American craft beer market. Among the many iterations we tasted this year is West Sixth Cerveza, which we reached for again and again in 2018. Made with pilsner malt, flaked corn, and Magnum hops, this lager is a crackery corn snack in liquid form. Enjoy with or without lime.
We fell in love with this Belgian staple all over again this year. Previously only available on draft, Duvel Single Fermented, a younger version of Duvel original, got a fresh look in a nationwide can release in 2018. Don’t let the edgy, black-and-red tallboy fool you, though — this is still the same lightly spiced, delicately hopped Belgian golden ale we’ve loved for the last decade. The difference between this Duvel and the original is that while the latter spends more than 90 days fermenting (also called “sleeping” at the brewery), Single Fermented “sleeps” for 30 days, and is dry-hopped with Citra. It’s Duvel with lower alcohol and a hoppier bite.
Sometimes a beer grabs a hold of you and never lets go. Such was the case for us with Hopfentea, which stood out among other tea-infused beers this year with its stunning pink hue, tart and fruity flavor, and refreshing finish.
This can-conditioned, grisette-style farmhouse ale is fermented twice with French saison yeast, and dry-hopped with Tettnang, Grungeist, and Styrian Wolf hops, culminating in a Champagne-like treat that would pair well with anything from regular old pizza to an artisanal cheese plate. It was also one of two beers the Denver-based brewery debuted in its first-ever cans in May 2018.
Jai Alai made news in 2018 for becoming the fastest-growing independent beer brand in the country, as well as the No. 1 selling craft can 6-pack in the U.S. grocery sector. It serves as a good reminder: Jai Alai has been out there blowing hop lovers’ minds with its tropical hop profile since long before hazy or juicy IPA was a beer category. Pair it with spicy foods, or a hot day.
This release in Grimm’s Pop! Series, a line of “dessert sour” Berliner weisse-style ales with vanilla and milk sugar, showcases Australian Galaxy hops. The hops’ citrus- and passionfruit-forward flavors and aromas make it akin to “a lemon meringue pie in a glass,” according to Grimm itself. Even as the former gypsy brewers continue to release new iterations of this label (Mosaic Pop!, Mango Guava Pop!, Power Pop!), Galaxy Pop! remains our favorite of the year.
Impress your friends with this accessible milkshake IPA. Unlike its thick, sweet namesake, this milkshake IPA dials back lactose-dosed heavyweights with easy-drinking precision. Perfumy aromas of peaches and cream, citrusy hops, and a creamy yet crisp mouthfeel make this a “milkshake” we can drink all day.
Our favorite offering from Live Oak’s 2018 lager lineup is its Grodziskie. The nearly extinct Polish smoked wheat beer is characterized by smoky oak flavor and an ultra-light body. Less intense than a rauchbier, and extra-low alcohol at 3 percent ABV, this beer’s light body and subtle peat flavor make it unique yet sessionable. We would love to see Live Oak’s beer launch an industry-wide trend, too. Here’s to more grodziskies in 2019.
A beautifully made saison with a hoppy kick, this saison is a stellar example of the Belgian-style ale with an American edge. Funkwerks saisons continue to impress us each time we encounter them, in any iteration. Try the original saison, too, then branch out to Tropic King imperial saison.
A lager with agave and hibiscus may sound strange, but this tea-like brew is a fantastic reinterpretation of agua de jamaica, a popular Mexican agua fresca. Agavemente draws subtle hints of tannic tartness from the flower, along with a beautiful deep pink color. A balancing drop of honey-like agave yields a super refreshing agua fresca-cerveza hybrid. This beer also does wonders for beer-can chicken.
This is a beer you can stock your fridge with and never tire of — and lucky for all of us, it’s available year-round. Two-row malt and rolled oats make a soft and light mouthfeel; and Galaxy, Citra, and Mosaic hops are a triple-threat of mouthwatering tropical hop flavor. The modest 5.5 percent ABV makes Daily Dose a legitimate all-day companion, as does its much-appreciated bitter finish.
Jack’s Abby excels in American-made lagers — that’s literally all it brews — but its Octoberfest won our hearts and dollars this fall. Grain-forward, with notes of spice and fruit, this festive brew brought notes of toast, pastry, and specialty malt. It even improved as it warmed, making it a proper all-day mug filler.
It’s easy to forget this bold summer seasonal from Breakside is a session IPA. It packs peach, pineapple, and ripe citrus flavors, and hovers gracefully just above 5 percent ABV. The beer’s light-bodied crushability comes from the addition of flaked rice in the malt bill, while delicate notes of melon add a summery brightness.
Debuting in cans this June, this tart and thirst-quenching German-style sour ale is brewed with lemon, cucumber, and sea salt. It takes Westbrook’s original gose and kicks it up several tart, green notches. This extra-refreshing take on the gose is one we’d like to crush any season.
Thrusting a friendly middle digit to macro lagers, Night Shift Nite Lite is a beacon of the craft lager movement. The Massachusetts brewery’s take on the crowd-pleasing category is unfiltered and unpasteurized, allowing fuller body and flavor. In craft lagers’ court, everybody wins: Hop heads get a flavorful break from milkshake IPAs, and die-hard domestic lager fans are treated to a familiar, better-tasting alternative.
This double IPA from Wiley Roots bursts with fruit notes of passionfruit, mango, and ripe pineapple. Its full-bodied, creamy mouthfeel is luxurious and mouth-coating, like a thick, juicy shake. A touch of bitterness on the finish hints at this beer’s ability to be both Citradonkulous and balanced in its own way.
In an undulating sea of American pale ales, Voodoo IPA is a glistening tropical hop wave. The aroma includes melon, pineapple, and passion fruit. Oats and flaked wheat combine with generous dry-hopping to yield a soft, pillowy mouthfeel that pushes Citra and Simcoe hops to their citrusy heights. This pale ale also won a gold medal at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival.
We love beers with peaches. Allagsh’s Farm to Face is a spectacular example of what brewers are doing with this fruit. The beer starts its life as a pale ale and is fermented for 10 months in stainless steel with Allagash’s signature house yeast. After that, a funky party of pediococcus and lactobacillus bacteria, plus plenty of peaches, turn it puckeringly sour. Our panel found its aroma akin to fruit-at-the-bottom yogurt, opening up to unripe white peach and finishing with a fruit tart-like flavor.
This collaboration between Finback Brewery of Queens, N.Y., and Collective Arts Brewing of Ontario, Canada, pours a translucent, dazzling copper that glows in the glass. On the nose are pineapple, orange, and dark berries. The mouthfeel is light and dry, with fruity flavors belying a pithy, almost tannic bitterness. During our tastings, one panelist said this beer achieved “the best aroma on a beer in a long time.” Weeks later, in a separate tasting, another panelist called it “the best beer I’ve had in I don’t know how long.”
One of several stellar IPAs from Industrial Arts, Wrench is unique among New England-style IPAs: It goes full haze, yet feels simultaneously restrained. The beer pours egg-yolk yellow without mirroring milkshake thickness on the palate. It has intense aromas of peach and pineapple juice, and adds a pleasantly bitter citrus pithiness. A hint of a spicy finish punctuates this exemplary NEIPA.
Among the rash of rosé-inspired beers and ciders we tasted in 2018, Crooked Stave’s Sour Rosé emerged victorious. Brettanomyces-dosed and oak-barrel-fermented with second-use raspberries and blueberries, Sour Rosé achieves a delightful subtlety compared to other rosé brews. Wild-fermented and wildly compelling, this beyond-beer begs to be paired with a cheese and charcuterie spread, or a roast chicken dinner. This is also the cult brewer’s first 100-percent-oak-aged sour beer in cans.
Beachwood Blendery is extremely careful to state that this beer is not a gueuze or lambic. However, it is as close to a Cantillon Gueuze as you’re going to get that’s made stateside. Tasters were drawn in by this sour ale’s gueuze-gold hue and apricot aroma. Its flavor was “a journey,” one taster noted, beginning with mouthwatering tartness, opening up to oak and stone fruit, and finishing with a lemony zing. Funk Yeah took home a gold medal from the 2018 Great American Beer Festival in the Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale category.
Sauvignon Blanc Gose unites two of our favorite things: gose and classic white wine. On-trend with its tropical fruit notes (think passionfruit, lemon, and citrus), and expertly dialed in with a tart, salty base, this new addition to the Tanker Truck Series is at once invigorating and restrained, finishing dry with a crisp mineral finish. The series also includes Persian Lime, Plum, Passion Fruit, and Clementine versions, all of which we loved. Until now, these beers were fermented in a tanker truck parked outside the brewery, but come 2019, Two Roads’ sour brews will find a new home in a new blending facility on the property, Area Two.
Sierra Nevada made an epic comeback in 2018. For years, its pioneering Pale Ale was increasingly overshadowed by newer breweries’ trendy releases. With Hazy Little Thing, Sierra Nevada was back in the limelight. This hazy IPA pours a cloudy golden orange and has tropical fruit aromas of mango, pineapple, and ripe citrus. Its medium mouthfeel bares a telltale “juicy” essence that’s both a nod to the trend and proof of Sierra Nevada’s enduring expertise with hops. This beer is available in all 50 states and exceeded our expectations time and time again.