Best Beer to Drink Quickly:
MILLER HIGH-LIFE AND BALLANTINE XXX (tie)
Cheap beer has its place and, more important, its proper temperature. Served brutally cold, a Miller tall boy almost lives up to the promise on its label (“The Champagne of Beers”). Ballantine has more structure; feel free to nurse it for a minute or two.
Best Reason to Love America’s Beer Geeks: IPA
Most of the world’s beer drinkers couldn’t care less about India Pale Ale, an aggressively bitter style developed by English brewers in the 18th century to withstand long ocean voyages to India. But somewhere along the way, American beer fanatics developed a fondness for these hoppy brews. And so here we are, drowning in a delicious sea of craft-brewed ales with names like Hop Daddy, Hop Rod, Hoptical Illusion, and so forth. Try the easygoing IPA from New Hampshire’s Smuttynose Brewing Company, or tackle the whopping, palate-crushing bitterness of Ruination, from Stone Brewing in California.
Best Mexican Beer That Doesn’t Need a Lime:
DOS EQUIS SPECIAL LAGER
Everything you learned about Mexican beer in college is wrong. This crisp lager should put an end to the notion that any bottle with a label in Spanish gets a lime stuffed down its neck.
Best Mexican Beer That Could Probably
Use a Lime: PACIFICO
A squeeze of citrus gives this clean-tasting but slightly wan lager some needed oomph.
Best Beer Cocktail: SHANDY
It sounds awful: a drink made with equal parts cold lager and Sprite. And yet it’s delightful. Go figure. For something a bit more complex, swap the lager for pale ale, the Sprite for ginger beer, and add an ounce or so of fresh lemon juice.
Best Beer That Tastes Like Whiskey (sort of):
This boozy, Belgian-inspired ale brewed in Maine is mellowed for eight weeks in old Jim Beam barrels. The complex flavor—dry and yeasty with hints of oak and vanilla—unspools slowly in the glass, its trace of bourbon so subtle that you might drink the whole bottle trying to pin it down. In a similar vein, there’s Oak Aged Beer from Scotland’s Innis & Gunn, which rests for a month in the same kind of barrels used to make some single-malts.
Best Stout to Drink Tonight:
SAMUEL SMITH OATMEAL STOUT
Great with some foods (oysters, chocolate) and lousy with others (pizza, pad Thai), stout probably does its best work alone. A dose of oats gives this full-bodied version, from one of England’s most august breweries, its incomparable smoothness.
Best Stout to Drink a Year From Now:
ROGUE IMPERIAL STOUT
Pours like motor oil (you can practically chew it), tastes like coffee that’s been roasting since whenever they started roasting coffee, and packs a wallop. Inspired by the strong dark beers once brewed in England for czarist Russia, this stout gets even better after 12 months or so in a cool closet.
Best Excuse to Get a Hangover: DOGFISH HEAD FORT
Billed as the world’s strongest fruit beer, this limited-edition raspberry ale pulls off the neat trick of being intensely raspberry-flavored but not excessively sweet. It’s also far more drinkable than any beer that’s 18 percent alcohol has a right to be. The folks at Dogfish Head would like to point out that 2,000 pounds of Oregon and Delaware fruit go into each batch. Great. Remind us about the health benefits in the morning.