Best Beer In America…Is It That Easy To Determine?

Summer Pils in a Bottle by Saint Arnolds Brewer

Saint Arnold Brewery Summer Pils (Picture Courtesy of Saint Arnold Brewery)

For the record I do not have a subscription to the magazine Men’s Journal, nor do I go to their website. I was however on a flight a few weeks ago and a passenger in front of me was flipping through the magazine and I saw the following article: The 24 Best Beers in America. I was fortunate to snag the discarded magazine at the end of the flight to review the article. Aside from a nice glossy article with the best 24 beers in 6 categories (Pilsner, Wheat, Lager, Pale Ale, IPA, Brown Ale, Belgian Style Ale and Porter / Stout). There were a number of surprises. Surprises such as; really, this is the best beer for this category and then for the majority, I have never heard of this beer or even the brewery.

The beers on this list that surprised me not because they are good, but they are defined as the best in their class were the Lagers from Samuel Adams and Yuengling and the Pale Ale from Sierra Nevada. The only other beers on the list that I recognized was Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat and New Belgium Ranger IPA. Only 5 of the 24 beers listed that I have drank or recognized. Not exactly a testament to my perceived love for beer.

This raised the question of whether or not given the size of the United States is it possible to determine the best beer in the United States?

From the Brewers Association website in 2011 there was just under 2,000 breweries operating in the United States, with 97% of those breweries being classified as either Brewpubs, Microbreweries or Regional Craft Breweries. Aside from a tear of joy that the art and industry of brewing is alive and well in the United States, the reality of the size of the industry is that the determination of best beers in the United States is a task of epic proportions. A reality that appears to be impossible to determine.

Thankfully there is such an amazing selection of fine beers being crafted by literally thousands of breweries in the United States. Likewise, it is also good that in addition to the 8 categories defined by the article in the Men’s Journal, there is an additional 50 other styles of beer being brewed in which to sample and enjoy that were judged at the 2012 United States Open Beer Championship.

Yuengling Traditional Lager

Yuengling Brewery Traditional Lager

I am a firm believer of supporting locally sourced companies, and my support for local craft breweries is no different. There are four reasons for my support. Freshness is a critical element to enjoying beer. I believe that there is an element of nimbleness and flexibility with small brewers that provides them with the ability to take a risk with producing a new offering and allow the local market to decide on the success of the brew. Local based craft brewers implicitly understand their market and will provide a selection of beers throughout the year to meet those desires of the consumers. Supporting local talent is critical not only to the success of the local economy, but is an affirmation of those that dare and risk much in pursuit of entrepreneurship.

In the end, I believe that it is personal choice and preference that helps craft one’s opinion of the best beer. For starters, I am partial to a Pilsner and Lager and if given a chance will choose draft over bottled beer. Over the last few years there have been a few Pilsners and Lagers that I have tried that truly have been memorable:

Shiner 101 Courtesy of Spoetzl Brewery & McGarrah Jessee

Shiner 101 Czech Style Pilsner (Picture Courtesy of the Spoetzl Brewery & McGarrah Jessee

I have no doubt that there are some very fine and superior Pilsners and Lagers brewed in the United States that surpass my list. However, given that there are nearly 2,000 breweries and only a small percentage of these beers are shipped to the Houston market, I will have to wait and see if my travels take me to where these beers are offered.

Below are links to the articles that provided me with some of the information for this post:

Men’s Journal The 24 Best Beers in America: Gallery

Brewer Association – Number of Breweries

2012 United States Open Beer Championship

Special thanks to the team at Saint Arnold Brewery in Houston, TX for providing me with authorized pictures of their Summer Pils to post to this article.

Special thank to the team at McGarrah Jessee, the advertising agency for the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, TX for providing me with the authorized picture of their Shiner 101 to post to this article.

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