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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Whether you’re new to craft beer or are already familiar with some of the best and brightest brewers across our 50 states, this non-comprehensive and unofficial list of 25 great craft beers is a good start.

Keep in mind there are now more than 5,000 breweries nationwide, so this is just a taste of all the amazing beers available. In no particular order:

1. AleSmith Old Numbskull: American Barleywine (11 percent ABV)

This barleywine has won three Great American Beer Festival awards and two World Beer Cup medals. It’s extremely well-balanced and full-bodied, and can be paired with anything from roasted meats and stews to a variety of pungent cheeses.

2. Allagash White: Witbier (5 percent ABV)

Spiced with a special blend of coriander and Curaçao orange peel, this Belgian-style wheat beer has won numerous awards, including gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2015, and gold at the World Beer Cup in 1998, 2010 and 2012. Clove, banana and orange notes dominate the taste, but in a deliciously balanced and subtle way.

3. Allagash Black Ale: Belgian-Style Stout (7.5 percent ABV)

Allagash brews some of the most delicious craft beers on the market. Technically, there is no such thing as a traditional Belgian stout, but the good folks at Allagash don’t always necessarily follow the rules. This beer is a little easier to drink than some regular stouts and finishes clean.

4. Bell’s Expedition Stout: Russian Imperial Stout (10.5 percent ABV)

Chocolate, dark fruits, coffee and molasses come together in this warming, super-smooth and complex beer. This is one of the best Russian imperial stouts on the market, and one that gets even better with age.

5. Brauerei Aying Ayinger Celebrator: Dark Doppelbock (6.7 percent ABV)

This is a full-bodied beer showing off notes of caramel and toasted malts, and mild notes of dark fruit. Touches of alcohol warmth give it a gorgeous, long finish.

6. Cigar City Guava Grove: Farmhouse Ale (8 percent ABV)

This award-winning brewery brews Guava Grove in tribute to Tampa, Fla.’s fruity nickname. It’s made with a French strain of Saison yeast, with a secondary fermentation with pink guava puree. With this beer, experience barnyard flavors, carbonation, guava (of course), pepper, citrus, watermelon, clove and wheat.

7. Deschutes The Abyss: American Double/Imperial Stout (11 percent ABV)

You’ll want to dive into The Abyss at least once, thanks to its nearly immeasurable depth and complexity. This is barrel-aged for 12 months in bourbon, Oregon oak and pinot noir barrels.

8. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA: India Pale Ale (9 percent ABV)

It’s named after the amount of time it’s continuously hopped, providing smack-you-in-the-face hop bitterness, while a good amount of malt sweetness provides balance. Notes of pine, pineapple and honey lend to its drinkability.

9. Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA: American IPA (7.5 percent ABV)

This is pretty darn close to a perfect beer, in my book. The bouquet is crammed with Pacific Northwest hops. Notes of lemon, pineapple, papaya and pine give it a juicy and resinous quality.

10. Founders KBS: Imperial Stout (12.4 percent ABV)

This world-class beer is available starting this month (April), so mark your calendars. Take your time to fully taste all of the layers: coffee, brown sugar, chocolate, vanilla, licorice, charred nuttiness and bourbon. After sitting in oak bourbon barrels for a year, KBS emerges with a boozy sweet bourbon profile.

11. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout: Imperial Stout (13.8 percent ABV)

From the bottle: “The original bourbon barrel aged Stout”; “Since 1992”; “Stout aged in bourbon barrels.” It smells like a bourbon dessert with sweet caramel up front. The complex notes include plums, figs and milk chocolate. This is decadence in a glass.

12. Green Flash Palate Wrecker: Double IPA (9.5 percent ABV)

The appropriately named Imperial IPA has thick, sticky, chunky lacing and pistol-blazing intense bitterness. The pineapple, mango and grapefruit sweetness perfectly balance with the insanely high number of IBUs.

13. Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela: Pumpkin Ale (5.9 percent ABV)

This is a perfect fall beer (that’s also good now!) with notes of pumpkin, cinnamon, brown sugar, chocolate, caramel, lemon zest, sour cherries and toast. This isn’t your average pumpkin ale, as it finishes with a refreshing tart sourness.

14. Kern River Brewing Citra: Imperial IPA (8 percent ABV)

This citrus-forward beer is almost faultless. There are lingering notes of lemon cake, candied mango and chocolate-covered strawberries. Citra is bright and fresh with a creamy mouth-feel.

15. Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale: Pale Ale (7.5 percent ABV)

The balance between malt and hop makes this wheat ale outstanding. With grapefruit, pine, mandarin and a hint of wheat malt sweetness, the flavor is bright and clean, with an excellent harmony of citrus hops and sweet malts.

16. Pizza Port/Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme: American Wild Ale (11 percent ABV)

The brewery made famous for brewing amazing Belgian-style beers decided to brew an unconventional sour brown ale in 1999. Made from four fermentable sugars, it is fully fermented before being placed in bourbon barrels, where it ages for one year with sour cherries. Think cherry, oak, vanilla, bourbon and brown sugar.

17. Russian River Pliny the Elder: Double IPA (8 percent ABV)

Beer-drinkers have been known to stand in line to enjoy this limited-supply double IPA. This is the easiest IPA to imbibe. It’s powerful, fragrant and amazingly complex, yet very smooth and clean. It’s worth the hype.

18. Saison Dupont: Saison (6.5 percent ABV)

This must-try beer is a top fermentation beer, with re-fermentation in the bottle. Since 1844, this beer has been brewed at La Brasserie Dupont’s farm-brewery. Hints of banana, pineapple, tropical fruit, pear and black pepperfinish with a German hop flavor. In the background hangs a light screen of barnyard funk.

19. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: American Pale Ale (5.6 percent ABV)

This is a homebrewer’s dream that turned into one of the most iconic beers in the craft-beer world. A generous amount of premium Cascade hops give the pale ale its fragrant bouquet and spicy flavor. Its piny and citrus-hop aroma comes with a slightly dry finish.

20. Stone Brewing: Imperial Russian Stout (10.6 percent ABV)

Go ahead and enjoy this decadent, black-as-night beer now, or age at cellar temperature. Or buy two and do both! This is heavy on dark fruits, molasses, chocolate, coffee and licorice, with a hint of alcohol burn.

21. The Alchemist Heady Topper: Double IPA (8 percent ABV)

Brewed out of Vermont, this is a world-class beer. The scent is a burst of tropical hops like pineapple, mango, grapefruit and peach. A hoppy start flexes and finishes into a malty finish, while staying incredibly smooth.

22. The Bruery Black Tuesday: Imperial Stout (19.2 percent ABV)

Released on the final Tuesday of October every year, this beer is The Bruery’s take on a bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout. The nose is typically all dark chocolate, roasted coffee, toasted oak and bourbon. Despite its decadence and booziness, it’s wonderfully smooth.

23. 3 Floyds Zombie Dust: Pale Ale (6.2 percent ABV)

This intensely hopped undead pale ale pours peachy gold and gives off big aromas of citrus and tropical fruits. The taste is toasty buttered breadiness, and ripe tropical fruitiness. This is an exceptional beer.

24. 3 Floyds Dark Lord: Russian Imperial Stout (15 percent AB)

This RIS is brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla and Indian sugar. Not for the faint of heart, Dark Lord is among the most opaque and black stouts on the market. What you smell is delivered in the taste—dark chocolate, cherries, plums, caramel, roasted malt and burnt sugar.

25. Victory Prima Pils: German Pilsner (5.3 percent ABV)

This signature pils is brewed with heaps of whole flower European hops and fine German malts. You may notice grass, cracker and pepper notes on the nose, and pear, white grape and hoppy bitterness in the taste. Enjoy it alone or with seafood or burgers.

Published in Beer

“There are 4,700 breweries in the U.S., and 10,000 wineries. There’s room to grow.” —David Walker, Firestone Walker Brewing

The craft-beer movement has reached nearly every nook and cranny of the Golden State: Some 80 percent of Californians live within five miles of a craft brewery—including the vast majority of us in the Coachella Valley, thanks to Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse, La Quinta Brewing Co. and Coachella Valley Brewing Co.

Thus, it makes perfect sense that the folks at the California Craft Brewers Association decided to brew up the California Craft Beer Summit.

The second annual three-day event recently took place in Sacramento. There are now 700 breweries in California, which provide jobs for more than 50,000 people, according to the California Craft Brewers Association. California craft beer contributed $7.29 billion to the state economy in 2015, and the summit plays a vital role in bringing together all of the players involved in the industry—from brewers to retailers, from distributors to craft-beer drinkers.

The event began on Thursday, Sept. 8, with a welcome reception. I missed it—but Sactown welcomed me just fine. America’s self-proclaimed Farm-to-Fork Capital has also proudly staked a claim as a craft-beer paradise. It would have been impossible to pay a proper visit to the region’s 45-plus breweries (with more on the way), but we were able to visit a couple while also soaking in beer knowledge at the summit. While Sacramento is obviously an important political city, the people there totally know how to have fun.

My Thursday night began at the Dive Bar. There’s a double meaning within that title that combines two of my favorite things: dive bars with great beer, and swimming. Strange, yes, but this rollicking bar features mermaid-costumed women swimming around in a giant fish tank above the bar. Seriously.

On Friday, the CCBS held educational sessions including “Bringing Malting Back to California” and “A Talk with AleSmith, Chartering Growth Over 21 Years.” Peter Zien, the CEO and owner of San Diego-based AleSmith, talked about staying true by brewing high-quality beers with passion and integrity—even when the market wasn’t quite ready for them yet back in the mid-’90s.

“You’re an artist and you’re a businessman, or -woman,” he told the audience.

In 2008, when much of the economy was suffering, Zien was ordering a brand-new brew system from China in order to “up (our) game.” AleSmith went from 1,100 barrels to just more than 4,000 that year—but it wasn’t without blood, sweat and fears. While the brew system was making its way to California on a ship, Zien feared the system would end up at the bottom of the ocean due to a grizzly typhoon that was brewing off China. Thankfully, the new brew system made it to San Diego just fine.

“It allowed me to dream,” Zien said, adding that the system helped AleSmith celebrate its most profitable year in 2013.

Long-time brewers like Zien have inspired younger brewers to dream—like Ken Anthony, of Device Brewing Co. in Sacramento, who is now making a name for himself with quality artisanal beers.

Anthony, Device’s owner and head brewer, was a structural engineer before entering the beer business, so it’s no surprise that Device uses a beautiful, custom-built 7 BBL brewhouse from Bennett Forgeworks to brew up some delicious IPAs and awesome seasonal brews.

I also got to know—and fell in love with—Berkeley-based Fieldwork Brewing Company, thanks to its beers, branding and atmosphere. The brewery makes awesome cards explaining every beer in detail, with humorous antidotes. The Salted Cucumber Farmhouse Ale is perfect for a hot day—and probably equally delicious on days that aren’t all that warm. According to the detailed card, “The addition of French sea salt keeps all taste buds on high alert, convincing you to keep chasing the cucumber.”

On Saturday, I attended the “Master Pairings: Craft and Artisanal Chocolate” session with Bill Sysak. “Dr. Bill” is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on craft beer and food pairings. His session was a wonderful way to start a day. That afternoon, the Summit Beer Festival pleased hundreds of beer-drinkers with the creations of more than 160 breweries. The lineup was arranged by region across the Capitol Mall: San Francisco Bay area, Northern California, Los Angeles, San Diego and Central California.

It was an awesome weekend that showed how truly amazing the California craft beer industry has become. Cheers to California craft!

Published in Beer