Craft beer conjures up different expectations depending on whom you ask, but most experts agree that small, independent breweries making distinctive and innovative products define the category. Despite the media blitz extolling the craft cocktail scene, many bartenders can attest that foregoing a cocktail or a dram of whisky in favor of an ice-cold beer is often the greatest cure after a long and exhaustive night of service.
To find out which craft brews should be stocked in your fridge, VinePair asked drinks pros for their tried and true recommendations. Keep reading below for a list of beloved bottles, ranging in origin from western Wyoming, to Belgium.
The Best Craft Beers Recommended by Bartenders
- Anything from Kona Brewing Company
- Melvin Brewing 2×4
- Woodfour Brewing Company Bohemian Nectar
- Other Half Brewing Co. Italian Clap
- Elysian Brewing Company Space Dust IPA
- Fiddlehead Brewing Company IPA
- Anything from Common Space Brewery
- Reaver Beach Brewing Company Hoptopus
- Hitachino Nest Amber Ale
- Middle James Brewing Company Highly Dramatic V.11
- Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops (Four Roses Small Batch)
- Brasserie Cantillon Saint Lamvinus
Keep reading for details about all of the recommended beers!
“My go-to craft beer is anything from Kona Brewing Company. They have now gone mainstream because of their popularity, but I still consider them craft. They originated in Hawaii, and their beers are laced with sweet, tropical flavors which make their beer taste incredible. In the beginning, it was hard to find the beer in just any store, and many of the different types could only be found on the island. It has grown so much in popularity that you can find many of their beers in grocery markets, so ease of access makes this a natural go-to beer for me. I have tried many beers, but this is still the one I just lean to every time. Some of my favorites include Wailua Wheat (passion fruit flavor), Big Wave, Kona Light, Pipeline Porter (with Kona Coffee), and if you are lucky to find it, Lemongrass Luau.” —Piero Procida, Director of Food & Beverage, The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Calif.
“Our go-to craft beer is from Woodfour Brewing at The Barlow: the Bohemian Nectar, a classic saison. They describe it as ‘a classic saison at the core featuring Belgian Pils and a touch of wheat malts. Dry-hopped with a gracious amount of Mosaic hops creates an intensely juicy tropical aroma. Crisp, quenching finish, sunshine in a glass.’” —Sam Levy, Co-Owner/Bar Director, Fern Bar, Sebastopol, Calif.
“I love my craft Brooklyn breweries, so I have to go with Other Half Brewing out of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I’m a big fan of Boilermakers so would recommend pairing Other Half’s Italian Clap with a side of Fistful of Bourbon (or another bourbon of your choice). The Italian Clap is clean and crisp, and pairs perfectly with a bourbon’s full-bodied flavor.” —Anthony Bohlinger, Bartender & U.S. Ambassador, Fistful of Bourbon, Charlotte, N.C.
“With so many craft breweries to choose from in California, the possibilities exceed my own free time. If I don’t have the time to wait in line for the latest Pliny release, I can go to any local grocery store and can grab a 6-pack of Space Dust IPA made by Elysian Brewing out of Seattle, Wash. It has a perfect combination of bitter hop that delivers that classic IPA flavor, and juicy citrus notes that make it stand out from other beers on the shelf.” —Nick Madden, Bartender, Elixir, San Francisco
“My favorite craft beer is Fiddlehead IPA. It’s the perfect mix of dank hops with a touch of citrus, without overpowering bitterness. At 6.2 percent ABV, you can have a couple and still be on your feet. For me, Vermont IPAs are the best. Enjoy after an icy-cold but fulfilling day at Killington.” —Harry McNamara, Bar Manager, Urban Cowboy Lodge, Big Indian, N.Y.
“Recently, I’ve been drinking a lot from Common Space Brewery from Hawthorne, Calif. It feels like they popped up out of nowhere, but every offering I’ve had from them has blown me away. Quite a feat for a new brewery. I love supporting local and drinking well, and this scratches both those itches.” —Maxwell Reis, Beverage Director, Gracias Madre, Newport/West Hollywood, Calif.
“When I’m reaching for a craft beer, my go-to is always an IPA. And nothing quite hits that hoppy spot like a pint of Reaver Beach Hoptopus. This double IPA has a nice, hazy amber color and light citrus notes, but don’t let that fool you. It definitely packs a punch. Between the bitter hops and the 8.8 percent ABV, you won’t be disappointed!” —Harmony Salaam, Head Bartender/General Manager, Dough Boy’s Pizza, Virginia Beach, Va.
“Go-to craft beer would have to be Hitachino Amber Ale. Japanese craft beers have a great flavor profile that’s balanced with delicious aromas and body.” —Daniel Kwon, Manager/Bartender, SouthGate, Philadelphia
“My go-to craft beer nowadays depends on what I am eating or what I am doing. If I am eating, I like to be drinking V-11. It is a Highly Dramatic New England IPA from Middle James — a juicy beer with a nice body and tropical fruit notes like mango and guava. It goes very well with BBQ or loaded nachos. However, if I am sitting on the patio in the middle of the afternoon, I will want to drink a beer that is light, crisp, clean, and refreshing. I love a southern pilsner/Kölsch-style beer from Middle James named Fly Kid.” —Juan Fernandez, Food & Beverage Manager/Head Sommelier, The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Charlotte, N.C.
“I’ve been drinking richer beers lately, and I really enjoyed Brooklyn Black Ops Four Roses Edition. The one I had was current vintage, but I’ve been told it ages well. Lots of chocolate and coffee notes with hints of vanilla.” —Nick Pratt, Assistant General Manager/Bar Manager, Hojoko, Boston
“My all-time favorite go-to craft beer is Cantillon Saint Lamvinus, a blend of lambics aged on Merlot grapes from the Côtes de Bourg area. This has easily become not only my go-to, but my favorite beer of all time. With my wife being a sommelier here in Las Vegas, it brings together both of our passions and makes for a wonderful drinking experience every time. It pulls all my favorite parts of the Belgium beer with barnyard funk and slightly acidic backend, then adds in vinous elements with grape skin and a nice tannin quality. It’s wonderful for drinking solo or with dinner, and always follows with great conversation. I try to keep as many bottles on hand as possible!” —Chris Jacobs, Founder, Beer Zombies at SkinnyFATS, Las Vegas