Best Beer Country: BELGIUM
Sure, Germans have been drinking beer since the fourth century. And yes, American brewers have come a long way in the past two decades. But Belgium, a nation roughly the size of Maryland, produces hundreds of beers in styles ranging from refreshing summer ales (see Fantôme Saison) to deceptively potent Tripels and strong ales (see St. Bernardus Tripel and Delirium Tremens) to rich Trappist brews (see Chimay Grande Reserve). Best of all, Belgium has beer knights. Any country that rewards dedicated beer fanatics with knighthood has its head on straight.
Best Beer in a Can: DALE’S PALE ALE
Canned beer has many virtues. It weighs less than bottled beer, chills faster, and stays fresh longer. Unfortunately most of it is also plonk. But not the pale ale from the smart folks at Oskar Blues brewing company in Lyons, Colorado. It’s supremely thirst-quenching, as canned beer should be, yet bitter enough to keep things interesting. And when summer’s over look for the brewery’s rib-sticking Scottish-style ale in a can, Old Chub.
Best German Beer: HEFEWEIZEN
Pilsener has always been the 800-pound gorilla of German brewing, but a more reliable choice these days is hefeweizen. Loads of wheat and lively carbonation lend crispness, while a dose of yeast in the bottle gives the beer its characteristic bananalike flavor. Try Weihenstephaner’s Hefeweissbier, an exceedingly drinkable beverage from Germany’s oldest brewery. Pour it into a tall, narrow glass and marvel at the creamy, billowing head—which will promptly collapse if you insist on squirting it with lemon.
Best Beer for a Summer Barbecue: WITBIER
Grilling on a hot summer day is loads of fun. Unless, of course, you happen to be the one hunched over blazing coals basting ribs while your friends loll in the shade. In which case it kind of sucks. Witbier can help. It’s a tart white ale, similar to hefeweizen but perked up with orange peel, coriander, and an assortment of other spices. Hoegaarden, founded the 1960s by a Belgian milkman, makes the most famous. Lately, though, brewers around the globe have taken a shine to the style, producing white beers that are well worth the effort it takes to find them. Look for citrusy Hitachino Nest White Ale from Japan or, for something more widely available, the creamy seasonal offering from Samuel Adams.
Best Beer Web Site: BEERADVOCATE.COM
If a beer exists, used to exist, or will soon exist, you can be certain the Alström brothers—along with the 64,000 or so brew geeks who flock to their Web site—have something to say about it. All the talk of mouth feel, esters, hop character, and head retention (a nonscientific measure of the time spent taking notes on a beer before drinking it) can be tiring, but Beer Advocate is still the most complete and up-to-date guide anywhere.
Best Beer That’s Ripe for a Comeback: PORTER
Time has not been good to porter. A blackish beer with flavors of smoke and chocolate and the aroma of sour molasses, porter was the most popular brew in England until easy-drinking stouts such as Guinness nudged it into obscurity. Today things are looking up for porter. Check out the top-notch versions from Anchor and Sierra Nevada, or track down Sinebrychoff, a brooding export from Finland.