At last estimate, there were more than 7,500 breweries operating in the U.S. in 2019. As more breweries open — introducing a never-ending stream of new beers to the marketplace — finding the best is near impossible. Luckily, we’ve spent a lot of time over the last year tasting them.
This, evidently, was the year of saison; our 2019 list concludes with an unprecedented number of Belgian-style farmhouse ales, which signals that yeast may be having its moment. Lower-alcohol, “better-for-you” beers are in the limelight, too, as more craft beer drinkers seek beers that fit healthier lifestyles, or simply want more sessionable options — and more breweries are figuring out how to make these delicious.
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This ranking was determined by members of the VinePair team. Hundreds of selections were considered and narrowed down to 50 with the following criteria: All beers must be available for retail in the U.S. in a can or bottle retail, or otherwise be a seasonal release or part of a rotating series we expect to see back in 2020. Placement is limited to one beer per brewery. The 50 best beers of 2019 ranking focuses on labels released within the year, although this is not a requirement. Selections from last year’s 50 best beers of 2018 were not considered.
Availability has an effect on ranking: In other words, if you have to travel, trade, or sacrifice your firstborn for a 4-ounce pour, recommending it in our top 10 is not helpful to a majority of beer drinkers. Now for the fun part!
These are VinePair’s 50 best beers of 2019.
Previously dubbed “The Four Seasons of Mother Earth,” this 4Seasons release debuted in summer 2019 in partnership with Seattle’s Fremont Brewing. The duo used “craft” malt from a farmer-owned co-op in Spokane to further share the local love. On the hop front, this beer showcases African Queen, a fruity, herbal, spicy variety from South Africa, along with Galaxy, Mosaic Cryo, and El Dorado hops. The result? Mango, passion fruit, and orange aromas; a grain-forward, almost savory malt flavor reminiscent of sage; and a fruity, herbal finish. Although a limited release, we look forward to tasting more “seasons.”
Pouring bright gold and cloudy, a Camembert-esque cheesy aroma kicks off the nose on this hazy IPA, followed by orange, tangerine, passionfruit, and a melon cotton candy note. Low on bitterness, but less sweet than “traditional” hazy/juicy IPAs, it’s bright and balanced with soft carbonation and light malt character due to flaked oats.
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco stalwart Anchor Brewing’s relatively new Fog Breaker, released in 2018, earned its fair share of loyal drinkers this year. It was especially a hit among classic IPA lovers, who lament the days of IPAs that tasted like pine, weren’t too bitter, and didn’t look like OJ. This IPA has some West Coast bitterness, a hint of fruitiness and a touch of haze (O.K., fog). It’s piney and crisp, and adds Cryo hops to its dry-hopping regimen, along with whole-cone Denali and Cascade.
Spoetzl Brewery’s Shiner Beer updated its Ruby Redbird lager in 2019 with nutrition facts faux-dive bars will be fawning over: It contains 95 calories, 3.1 grams of carbs, and Texas-grown Ruby Red grapefruit juice. Grapefruit and ginger are present on the nose and palate, making this easy-drinking sipper with a kick perfect for sushi pairing.
Toward the tail end of 2018, Cascade re-released this oaky, complex, funky cuvée for the first time since 2008. A decade after its original release, the label did not disappoint: Berry and oak aromas are followed by a creamy mouthfeel and fruity tartness. When nursed in a tulip glass, it opens up nicely as it warms, releasing further fruit aromas such as cherry, plum, and hints of grapefruit and caramel.
In this 2019 variant of Goose Island’s infamous barrel-aged stout series, “double barrel” refers to the stout aging one year in 11-year-old Elijah Craig barrels, then afterward aging another year in (different) 12-year-old Elijah Craig barrels. Fruit, leather, chocolate, and yes, intense bourbon flavors swirl on the palate, with a whiskey-beer-hybrid warmth all the way down. Although this variant is very limited in quantity, several other Bourbon County stouts are out there. Forget the drama, they’re still delicious.
A cornucopia of tropical fruit explodes on the nose of this NEIPA — tangerine, passionfruit, guava. With our eyes closed, we could swear this was actual juice. Mango-flavored bubble tea and tart, juicy smoothie flavors make this a little sweet, but it is lip-smackingly delicious.
Maple syrup and cinnamon additions amplify this imperial stout’s sweet side, while roasted malt’s coffee and dark chocolate notes add bitterness to balance.
Inspired by the Spanish-descended fried dough sopapilla (or more specifically, the sopapilla served at Mexican Restaurant Casa Bonita, which has a room named “Black Bart’s Cave”), this dark, velvety imperial stout brings chocolatey, roasty flavors rather than fresh fried dough. Cinnamon, burnt sugar, and honey are added for extra decadence, making this a sweet stout to sip on a cold, boozy afternoon.
This liquid Reese’s Pieces is rich, but not sticky; chocolatey, but not cloying; and full-bodied, yet feels lighter on the palate than its peanut-butter-chocolate-flavored 7.1 percent ABV might have you think. Our panel unanimously found this pastry stout daringly easy to drink.
Considering that it was mostly its juicy IPAs, not wildly flavored kettle sours, that put this Colorado brewery on beercationers’ maps, a peanut butter and jelly-flavored Berliner weiss wasn’t what we expected to love most from WeldWerks this year. Yet, here we are. Berliner weiss and fruit are ancient companions, so perhaps it’s not surprising that strawberry puree would complement grain and tart flavors so well — add peanut powder to the mix, and the combination of flavors is unforgettable.
Brettanomyces can make or break a beer. In the right hands, as at Reuben’s Brews, it really sings. In this mixed-culture saison aged for six months in oak puncheons, then aged with boysenberries and blackberries for an additional six months, and finally refermented in-bottle, it sings. Brettania: Boysenberry and Blackberry was the first release in Reuben’s Brews’ barrel-aged sour program, and it promptly began winning awards. Brettania: Guava and Brettania: Blackcurrant followed, and we’re anxious to taste what’s next.
Released in March 2019, Bell’s Brewery’s “Official” marked the legendary beer pioneer’s entry into the hazy IPA category. Long celebrated for its Two Hearted IPA, a bracingly bitter, grapefruit-flavored exemplar of the more “old-school” IPAs style, this newcomer stands on its own with tropical fruit and citrus aromas, a palate that’s lighter than the style-defining NEIPAs of the Northeast, and an orange juice kick on the finish.
Longmont, CO, Brevard, N.C. and Austin, TX
Can-O-Bliss “Hazy,” part of a rotating IPA series (“Tropical” and “Citrus” are others), serves up OJ, pineapple juice, and a hint of cheesy funk on the nose, followed by a fruity, herbal, spicy potpourri of hop-driven flavors on the palate. (Strata, Cashmere, Enigma, Hallertau Blanc, and Eureka hops are all used in this brew.) It’s surprisingly light in color and body, though, with crisp carbonation to balance its pungent hoppiness.
Springdale Beer, of Jack’s Abby, debuted this wispy witbier last year, but in 2019 we started to see it on a lot more tap lists — and rightfully so. It’s the definition of a sessionable wheat beer: pillowy soft, crisp and coriander-flavored, with a hint of tangy citrus to keep things interesting.
Chico, CA and Asheville, NC
Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest got so much love this year, people married it (or at least, got married with it. At Oktoberfest. In Germany.) As for us, we appreciated the 2019 version of this annual classic as a bubbly aperitif. Brewed in collaboration with Germany’s Bitburger Brewery, it combines the smooth flavors of Caramel, Munich, and Pilsner malt with a bitter punch, perhaps from Bitburger’s Siegelhopfen — that’s German for “sealed hops,” or the brewer’s “secret” hop blend.
Brewed in collaboration with Florida’s J. Wakefield Brewing, this double IPA is made with more than copious amounts of Citra, Galaxy, and Mosaic hops, vanilla, and lactose (milk sugar), pouring creamy and sweet, aroma-dosed with mango, and just a hint tart on the finish. It’s the ridiculousness of a milkshake IPA in an obscenely delicious package.
San Diego, CA
Unfiltered, yet clear and golden as a summer sky, topped with a fluffy white cloud of foam, Rain is a subtle eruption: pilsner malt’s telltale biscuity aroma is amplified by its single-malt, organic producer; lemongrass follows, from Hallertau Mittelfruh hops’ herbal, citrus nudge. German ingredients and an American craft brewer’s hand make this bitter little pilsner exactly what to look for at the end of — or start of — a long day.
San Pedro, CA
Picnic Lightning proves West Coast breweries can do New England-style IPAs well — and even add their own touch. Lemongrass, grapefruit, and a hint of tropical fruit blend on the nose as well as on the palate, creating a slightly sweet, herbal-citrus mix with a bitter kick. Along with malted barley, this beer uses oats and raw spelt, allowing a soft mouthfeel. Juicy, earthy, and memorable, this one is on tap at the brewery at press time — nab yourself a pour if you happen to be in L.A.
West Kill, NY
Teetering on the edge of dialed-in juicy IPA and new-American pale ale, this farm-brewed New beer from New York’s Catskill Mountain region is modern and rustic at once. Modern, with its dry-hopping regimen of Azaaca, Columbus, Mosaic, and Citra hops. Rustic, in that it’s crafted on a farm in the mountains. Though not as available as other IPAs on this list, this beer is worth the hike. Mountain or specialty beer shop, a word to the wise: a 4-pack is never enough.
Stout lovers won’t know what’s coming until sipping this bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout aged with cherries, cacao nibs, and vanilla beans. Sounds like standard fare for a barrel-aged pastry stout, but it’s anything but: Yes, it’s boozy and laced with bourbon-barrel character, but what stood out to our tasters was its powdered chocolate note and cooked fruit flavor, akin to cherry pie. Like the dessert, Bon Bon Cerise has layers to enjoy.
Launched in 2019, this sister to Left Hand’s category-defining milk stout has raspberry on the nose and palate, balanced with roasty notes and a touch of sweetness. Bitter chocolate and cherry on the finish wrap it all up in a smooth, dessert-friendly (or dessert-replacing) package.
Several Monday Night beers were considered for this list, but its “imperial brown ale” — fair enough, it’s 13.5 percent ABV, aged in locally sourced bourbon barrels, and dosed with locally roasted coffee, Ugandan vanilla beans, and maple syrup — is a testament to the Atlanta brewery’s relentless experimentation. Firstly, it brings the noise for brown ale (even if it’s hyperbolizing the usually subtly roasty style). In a similar conundrum, It smells like vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup, and tastes creamy and sweet. But warm bourbon and coffee bean prevent it from becoming cloying. The body has excellent texture, rich but drinkable, with just enough carbonation to give a crisp edge, lifting it safely out of the barrel-aged-syrup-beer danger zone. No single part overpowers another, making this a rare treat. (It’s available seasonally on draft and in 500-milliliter bottles in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama.)
This space-themed, true New England-Style IPA brewed by Boston’s Lamplighter, a brewery, coffee purveyor and soon-to-be-distillery, is, like its maker, bold. Floating in this tin can* are Australian Galaxy hops, imparting tropical-fruit juicy flavors, but also a bitter bite hiding in the haze. *The can is aluminum.
San Diego, CA
Saint Archer Brewery debuted its Mexican-style lager in March 2019, and it rose up our ranks for its many juxtapositions: sweet and herbal; cooked corn tortilla and fresh herbs; and, philosophically, a San Diego-brewed, Mexican-style beer owned by the very North American MillerCoors. Maybe it’s not that crazy. You would, however, be crazy to pass this up if you’re a fan of Mexican lagers like we are. Pair with chicken enchiladas, tortilla chips with salsa verde, or a lime wedge.
ABV: < 0.5%
This isn’t the first time we’re praising Athletic Brewing’s flagship IPA, but it is the first time a non-alcoholic beer has made it to the top 50 beers of the year list. This says a lot, not only about the quality of this particular brew — which is made with all-organic grains, and five hop varieties from the Northwest U.S. — but it speaks to the market’s move (if inching, even) toward no- and low-ABV, as well as lower-calorie (this one’s 70), options. This beer is flavorful and balanced, featuring an herbal, citrus kick over a mild malt backbone. It became a regular purchase for some panelists over the course of the year. We’ve bought out in the wild on several semi-sober occasions. For us, this one isn’t about abstaining, it’s about sustaining — through the day and night with friends, can in hand.
Don’t let this beer’s street-smart exterior dark, murky interior fool you. On the inside, from the first sip, it’s sweet chocolate malt balls, smooth toffee flavor, and roasty, dialed-back bitterness (think cold-brewed coffee compared to burnt iced coffee). 24th Street Brown Ale is named for the brewery’s Miami address, and with the recent remodeling of that taproom, we felt it was owed another look and a new appreciation in 2019.
This West Coast IPA from California stalwart Coronado Brewing dials back the style’s bitterness with biscuity, freshly baked bread and fresh-squeezed orange juice on the nose. It’s dry on the palate, with a bitterness that lingers just the right amount, allowing the beer to be refreshing, rather than weigh down the palate. A hallmark West Coast IPA.
Connecticut-grown malts, hops, and yeast so local it was captured in the brewery’s own hop yard put the “terroir” in Table Terroir, a food-pairing companion and conversation starter that’s as fascinating as it is tasty. Delicate and complex, with fruity and spicy notes, it’s one we wish we could find more often — but, like this beer’s ingredients, you’ll have to go to the brewery for that.
“Finesse” comes to mind when attempting to describe this spontaneously-fermented lambic, which gets its fruit not from the traditional cherries (kriek) or raspberries (framboise), but from Pinot Noir grapes (260 grams of Pinot Noir grapes per liter of lambic, according to Gueuzerie Tilquin). The first version of this lambic, made to mark the 10th anniversary of legendary Belgian beer bar Moeder Lambic, used hand-harvested grapes from Valentin Zusslin Estate’s biodynamic Bollenberg vineyard. This new version uses organic grapes from a family farm in Steinseltz, France.
Kicking off the year with a tiki sour IPA series is a bold move. For Cerebral Brewing, which we already love for its show-stopping IPAs and interesting forays into categories like wood-aged lager, Forbidden Idol’s pineapple, lime, and passionfruit-flavored tiki cocktail-inspired release was an awakening. Our panel agreed this one actually tasted like a Mai Tai, proving that tiki cocktails can translate into IPA forms — and that sour IPAs, at their best, beautifully emulate cocktails. We were hooked from the start, but Cerebral Brewing has released this beer in Mai Tai, Singapore Sling, Castaway, Zombie and Painkiller versions. (And, by the way, Mai Tais are better than you think.)
When we think of an ideal juicy, hazy IPA, this is it. It’s not too sweet, not too boozy, and has a smooth mouthfeel. Fruity without being super sweet and gooey, it’s just right.
Shambolic, a saison brewed with malted spelt and raw wheat, rested in oak foudres, and dry-hopped with what is likely a lavish amount of Nelson Sauvin and Simcoe hops, is a lot to take in. Tropical fruit, lemony citrus, and floral notes create an intense perfume and palate, while fermentation with Tired Hands’ house saison yeast (and maybe microflora from the foudres) adds a tart, citric kick on the finish.
At this point, seeing an IPA below 7 percent ABV is a godsend. Fruity and floral aromas give way to a soft palate, with spicy hop character and a hint of tangerine tartness coming from a combination of Columbus, Galaxy, Hallertau Blanc, and Simcoe hops. It’s refreshing and balanced, with certain parts pleasantly exaggerated — citrus zest, for example — without going even a molecule too far. Truly hazy and juicy, without being too bitter or sweet, this is a perfect IPA.
Hood River, OR
Available in cans starting in 2019, this crystal-clear, golden pilsner is reminiscent of springtime. A fresh floral aroma, soft carbonation, and suite of unusual herbal hops varietals like Perle and Saphir make this both palate cleanser and a center-stage sipper. Whether thoughtfully or thoughtlessly, enjoy this on a porch, in a backyard, at a barbecue, or basically anywhere, anytime.
Pennington/Hopewell Township, NJ
“Blackberry spontaneously fermented golden ale” is a mouthful of a beer description, but it only begins to scratch the surface of how this exquisite vintage is made. Released in July 2019, Le Mur is a blend of one- and two-year-old beer, the younger re-fermented with southern New Jersey blackberries in French oak, and the older with northern New Jersey blackberries in stainless steel. It pours a dusty garnet with a fluffy ruby head. Tart cherry, raspberry, and blackberry aromas are pungent from first whiff. Up close, nose to glass, it’s all citrus — fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, acidic orange, and a hint of lemon and lime. A brioche scent wafts in, creating a tart berry-pie aroma. The palate is tart, concentrated fruit, sharp but balanced with jammy berry flavors — it is not puckeringly sour like so many unoaked, kettle-soured beers tend to be. Oak puncheons, and perhaps more so, time, have softened its edges. Depth, complexity, and excitement.
St. Louis, MO
Showcasing the multi-faceted, New-World Mosaic hop in a classic saison would be a terrible idea if you were anyone but Perennial. But saisons and farmhouse-style ales are among this small St. Louis brewery’s specialty, and this particular release in its “Prism” series did the best job at convincing us the result can be delicious. Maybe it’s the magic of Mosaic meeting a saison yeast strain, but this saison is better than the sum of its parts.
ABV: 6.1% ABV
Golden, frothy, and skunky (in a good way), this pungently-scented saison is all earthy funk on the nose, followed by floral and citrus flavors and a lingering pithy finish. It’s one of many excellent saisons from this Seattle brewery, and solidifies our suspicion that we’ll grab a bottle any time we see one — if the beer budget allows.
Pungent, peppery spice, and tart apricot aromas are a precursor to this oak-aged saison’s delectable journey. Lightly fruity, dry, Champagne-sparkling, it’s a saison worth celebrating with — or celebrating, period. Next in rotation of mixed-culture, oak-aged wheat beers is Bad Faith.
After moving from a very small space in Queens to one of Brooklyn’s biggest commercial centers, Transmitter released S9, a saison that rivals its smaller-scale days, and, dare we say, its Belgian inspirations. This iteration is pale and can be perceived as light on the palate, but it has hidden complexities: earthy, fruity notes derived from yeast and hops complement cereal grain flavors, with lively carbonation and bitterness hitting at the finish.
Massachusetts hives provide the nectar for this double IPA with raw wildflower honey, which, along with lactose, give the beer its ultra-creamy mouthfeel, and supple, smoothie-sweet decadence. Named for the queen bee (the “crown”) and the milk crate her worker bees use to create their hive, its abundance of tropical fruit flavors invoke the plenitudes of spring, royalty, and indulgence.
Boston, MA and Windsor, VT
Is there anything more exciting than a 3.8-percent-ABV hoppy beer? It’d be hard to convince us while sipping Rec League. Harpoon is officially back in the game with this refreshing, light-bodied, lightly bitter and light-everything low-ABV refresher. Hints of pineapple and tropical fruit on the nose, and clementine and tangerine on the palate, yet dry as a bone, it’s a standout of the year.
Whether you’re into the low-alcohol, low-calorie phase of your beer-drinking career or not, it’s important to know that brewing a beer that’s light and tastes good is no easy feat. As the can perhaps suggests, Daytime Ale nails it. It’s citrusy and herbal, light and flavorful, and barbecue-friendly in every way. Coors Light chicks and hazebros can unite over this hoppy yet thirst-quenching summer sipper.
We tasted every Jammer variety time and time again this summer, and while our favoritism fluctuated between the original and tropical fruit flavors, we ultimately landed on Citrus Jammer. It has the salty, spicy gose flavor we’re looking for, but is slightly subdued (compared to American goses that overdo it). Added to that are candied orange aromas, Sprite-like lemon-lime, and a lingering, lemony tang, and we found its bright and bitter finish was more refreshing than the original. Soft coriander on the finish.
Fort Collins, CO; Asheville, NC; and Mexico City, Mexico
Mural Agua Fresca got its start via test batches brewed by New Belgium and Primus at the Mexico City cerveceria. In 2019, the agua-fresca-inspired ale is available in all 50 U.S. states (and, coming soon, more flavors). It’s refreshing all around — Mural gets its red-pink color and tart essence from hibiscus, its thirst-quenching flavor from watermelon, zippy refreshment from lime, and a touch of sweetness from agave. Get out there and try this “cerveza” before it’s rebranded as spiked seltzer.
Fort Collins, CO
If sour ales can be sessionable, Funkwerks is one of the few breweries that can accomplish it — and lucky for us, the Colorado farmhouse-style brand added New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Kentucky, Chicagoland, and, finally, Kansas to its distribution network this year. Passion Fruit Provincial is a memorable bottled ecosystem of passionfruit’s interaction with soft malt and saison yeast. Tart, tropical, and refreshing, it’s one that has us looking out for more “Provincial” variants — raspberry, “rhuberry” (strawberry and rhubarb), and pineapple guava are among them.
Nationally available as of 2019, Rodenbach Classic in cans — cans! —is what brought this classic brand to the top of our list this year. Rodenbach, a nearly-200-year-old Belgian brewery that defines the Flemish red beer style, launched its Rodenbach Classic label statewide in the U.S. in cans. The sleek, elegant take on a tallboy puts one of the best beers of all time in a pedestrian package, signaling that centuries-old tradition and the mastery of foeder-aging (courtesy living legend Rudi Ghequire), actually can be enjoyed anytime. No longer do we have to hoard our Rodenbach for Christmas dinner… unless it’s a vintage. As for the classic, it’s a blend of young and aged beer, the latter part of the blend aged for two years in giant oak foeders. It’s fruity and tart, pairs perfectly with rich foods, and is surprisingly sessionable on its own, too. Also in 2019, Rodenbach announced its first-ever beer collaboration with American craft beer pioneer Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.
Chocolate stouts have been brewed many times over, but none have tasted like this. SweetWater’s 420 Strain, a series of cannabis-inspired beers, can be gimmicky, but this one wowed us every time we reached for it. It’s brewed with three types of roasted malt (Pale Chocolate, Chocolate, and Roasted Barley), a pair of herbal hops (Bravo, Willamette), and what the brewery refers to as “strain-specific terpenes and natural hemp-type flavors” — the latter being the “X”-factor. It’s insanely aromatic, like a sticky nug of weed, but roasty, too, and somehow, actual chocolate completes the package (Dutch chocolate, naturally). Insert weed joke here.
Guayabera pours frothy, fruity, and intensely aromatic. Using only Citra hops, known for their citrusy profile of grapefruit and tropical fruit, this American pale ale is juicy and refreshing, balancing citrusy bitterness, soft, bready malt character, and endlessly quaffable aroma. It also makes a great shower beer.
ABV: 4.8 %
2019 was all about easy-drinking refreshment, and Allagash nails it with River Trip — most importantly, the pioneering brewery does so without sacrificing its style. While craft brewers clamor to diversify with light lagers and hard seltzers, this Belgian-style session ale is easy-drinking with an edge. Spiced with coriander like a traditional Belgian witbier, and fermented with Allagash’s house yeast, it adds bright, bitter, grassy notes to its table beer base. Yes, Allagash excels at beautifully executed mixed-fermentation sour beers, but it was River Trip we kept coming back to this year, again and again.