The consultant in me starts the answer to most questions with “it depends”… Are you looking for flavor? What do you like? Is it about the experience, or are you just looking to whet your whistle?
The “best” beer to drink is a subjective topic, but since you’ve read this far, read on and maybe I’ll be able to answer the more specific question you’re wanting to ask.
How to Rate a Beer (in case you care)
As a past judge for the “Liquid Arts Festival” at the annual 4th of July celebration at the Hot Shops, I have tasted my share of beers. I have also logged nearly 1,500 unique beers on Untappd. Rating a beer methodically may seem too scientific or snobbish for some, so if the idea doesn’t appeal to you then feel free to skip ahead to the next section.
Beer is generally rated in five categories and the scores are added together to come up with a number. The higher the number, in theory the better the beer:
- Appearance – The color, clarity, intensity, and depth of the beer. Look at the beer with light behind it or simply observe it in the ambient light. In my opinion, if you can see through it, it might not be beer 😉
- Aroma (or Nose) – What do you smell? Don’t be afraid to put your nose right in the glass, people around you might think you actually know what you’re doing. This will often give you an idea of what you might taste, but not always. Brewers can do things to influence the aroma somewhat independently of the taste, and I enjoy a welcome surprise from time to time.
- Palette (mouth feel) – Now finally take a taste. I prefer a bit more than a sip for my first taste because that allows me to roll it over my tongue to see what it feels like. Is it watery, thin, heavy, viscous, carbonated, flat, slippery, or something else? Stick with your first impression here and you’ll probably be right.
- Flavour (what you taste) – Now that the formalities are over with, this what it’s really all about. Can you taste the malts and different styles of hops? What about roasted grains or coffee? Can you make out the water profile? Are there a lot of minerals or other distinctive flavors from the water? Brewers can introduce spices, fruit flavors, and all kinds of creative delights. Finally, is the beer bitter, sour, or sweet, and could you taste the alcohol?
- Overall (impression of the beer) – Was it an enjoyable experience or a kick in the head? As you learn to categorize beer by style, was it a good or bad representative? Keep reading for an introduction to styles of beer.
What’s your Style?
While the answer to the question posed in the title may be subjective, most of us at least have an idea of what we like – or maybe you’re on the path to figuring that out. I appreciate many styles, but in general for me the darker the better. I love roasty malts and rich mouth feel, so stouts and porters are my favorite place to start.
To point you in the right direction, here’s a quick summary of the basic styles, but the beauty of the craft is that there are limitless variations.
- Ales – by far the most common
- Pale, Brown, Amber
- Cream, Old, Barley Wine
- Scottish (wee heavy)
- India Pale – known for a lot of hops and bitterness
- Lagers – similar to ales but colder fermentation process
- Light, dark, German, Vienna (my favorite)
- Stouts – darker, heavy, malty, roasty
- Porters – similar to stouts, but usually with coffee
- Wheat beers – lighter than beers made from barley, tons of variety in this category
- Wit, Weiss, Hefeweizen, Dunkelweiss
- Wild / Sour beers – can be very interesting and flavorful
- Barrel aged
- Honey, pumpkin, fruit, vegetable
- Herb, spice, rye
- Session, Smoked (rauchbier)
There are many more subcategories and alternate names for you to learn, but this is a good place to start. Finally, you can add a few significant words to modify the style – such as Imperial or Double which both indicate higher alcohol content (ABV). Although Double/Triple can also mean higher bitterness (IBU), particularly when describing an IPA.
For the true intellectual who loves to read (hopefully with accompaniment of a good beer), check out this exhaustive overview of styles.
Frigid to Room Temperature
Often overlooked, especially for beginners, is the temperature of the beer. Before the days of refrigeration, beer was a way of getting liquid refreshment that didn’t go bad. Hops, in particular are a great preservative as well as an antiseptic. And the process of making beer kills most harmful bacteria.
But more importantly, the flavour of the beer is the aspect that is most affected by temperature. If a beer is meant to be consumed very cold, then it may (or may not) be very tasty at room temperature and vice-versa. In general dark beers become sweeter and more malt-forward as they warm up, while lighter beers often just go flat.
Here are some general guidelines to get you started in the right direction:
- 35–40°F (2–4°C): Mass market / lighter lagers are best cold
- 40–45°F (4–7°C): Czech and German Pilsners, Munich Helles, and wheat beers
- 45–50°F (7–10°C): IPAs, American pale ales, porters, and most stouts
- 50–55°F (10–13°C): Belgian ales, sour ales, Bocks, English bitters and milds, Scottish ales
- 55–60°F (13–16°C): Barleywines, imperial stouts, Belgian strong ales, and Doppelbocks
Why Are You Reaching for a Beer?
It is always important to understand the occasion for drinking a beer. The best beer to drink may well be dependent on the occasion for drinking it:
- For me it’s all about the experience – I enjoy beer, I’ve brewed beer, I am a “taster” and I appreciate everything about the craft of brewing beer. So the best beer for me is probably the next one :). Looking for an experience? Find a unique beer in your favorite style.
- Favorites – A good standby is like a comfy pair of slippers. It’s relaxing to crack open a familiar beer and be rewarded with what you’re expecting.
- Thirst – When drinking a beer to satisfy thirst, look for lighter beer and probably lower ABV
- Buzz – Well, admit it. Sometimes we’re looking for a good shot of muscle relaxant. Look for a Double, Triple or Imperial variety of your favorite style and make sure you’re staying put – or that you have a ride.
- Habit – I’m not a creature of habit, but many of us are. In that case, find the cheapest beer you like and keep it on hand.
- Social – Drink beer socially? Of course!! Pace yourself, though. Be careful of higher ABV because it’s easy to lose track when you’re spending time in the company of people of you enjoy. Also keep in mind the beer is getting warmer the longer it takes to drink it – and the temperature change will affect the flavor of your beer. If there’s any doubt about having consumed too much, find a lift (or a lyft) home.
So, What Is the Best Beer to Drink?
One of the things I like best about Untappd beer rankings is that they come from all levels of beer drinkers. Here’s their continuously updated list of “Untappd Top Rated Beers“. Start there to get an idea of what others like and add a filter for your favorite style or venture out and try something different to find what’s best for you.
Alternately, customize a monthly experience at the Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club, and let a team of experts match your style to find your next great beer. And, check out this article for other great ways to buy craft beer online.
While the answer to the question really is “it depends”, the best beer to drink is usually the one you enjoy and that best fits the occasion!