The explosion of craft beer in the US has given us close to 2,000 operating breweries and brewpubs. There are now dozens of breweries in states that, just a few short years ago, might have only had one or two. That fact, combined with my love of inane lists, inspired me to research one of the single most useless topics we’ve ever tackled at Aleheads (and that’s saying something). I wanted to know which beer was the “best” from each of the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia). That list is below.
Before we get there, let me unleash my usual plethora of caveats. First of all, I certainly don’t claim that these are “actually” the best beers found in each state. Beyond the fact that it’s a completely subjective argument, I’ve also only had about a dozen of these mostly rare brews. I culled this list from the raw data on BeerAdvocate (one of the largest on-line rating sites). Generally, when I do these kinds of “research projects”, I eliminate any beer that doesn’t have at least 10 reviews from one of those sites to eliminate the “small sample size” issue. I made that my cut-off here as well since it has worked fairly well in the past. Because of that arbitrary number, there are beers on this list that might have only 12 or 15 reviews that “just” beat out a highly-popular prestige beer with over 1,000 reviews. Does that slightly higher overall rating “really” mean that the beer with a dozen reviews is better than the one with 1,000? Probably not. If I’m at a package store and I’m waffling between a beer with a 4.4 rating and 10 reviews versus one with a 4.39 rating and 700 reviews, I’m likely choosing the latter. Nevertheless, when you decide on your criteria for a project like this, you have to stick with it. Don’t blame me. Blame science.*
*Seriously though, you can blame me.
Then there’s the “homer” problem. Lots of small-town breweries get inflated ratings on these sites because the only people writing about their beers are homers. I can’t really account for that unless I eliminate all of the small breweries or make my cut-off number much higher. Since I wanted to be able to account for every production-level brewery (so as to include some unheralded gems), I just went all-in. I looked at every brewery in every state, checked the overall ratings for every beer that had at least 10 reviews, and then found the one with the highest overall rating. Problematic? Yes. Pointless. Absolutely. But you don’t come to Aleheads for logic and pragmatism. You come here because you’re bored at work and need to kill 10 minutes before your next strategic planning meeting. Hey, we aim to please!
So here it is, folks. The “best” beer from every state in the country. Enjoy!
- Alabama – Good People Hitchhiker: Probably the only state in which I can say that I’ve probably tried almost every commercially available beer. Good People’s Hitchhiker is my personal favorite beer from the Yellowhammer State as well. It’s a well-balanced, satisfying, and very easy-drinking American IPA. If Good People’s El Gordo, a rich, decadent Imperial Stout, had a few more on-line reviews, it would take the top spot, but for now the Hitch is the pick.
- Alaska – Midnight Sun Bar Fly: Look, you’re going to be seeing LOTS of Imperial Stouts and DIPAs on this list. Might as well get used to them. The Bar Fly is a Smoked Imperial Stout aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. Does that sound like something you might be interested in?
- Arizona – Four Peaks Hop Knot: Arizona still has some work to do to make a name for itself in the world of craft beer. To be fair, the arid climate doesn’t really allow much in the way of hop or barley production in the state (or, you know, easy access to water). Nevertheless, Four Peaks has produced a solid American IPA which I was able to get my hands on during my last trip to the Grand Canyon State. Definitely worth seeking out.
- Arkansas – Diamond Bear Paradise Porter: Arkansas’s not exactly a craft beer mecca either, but people rave about Diamond Bear…particularly their Paradise Porter. Let’s hope Arkansas sees the same kind of craft beer growth as nearby Alabama and Tennessee in the coming years.
- California – Russian River Pliny the Younger: I mean…it’s the highest-rated beer on Earth, so it was fairly likely it was going to top the California list. A number of the Aleheads have sampled it recently and none have been disappointed. What more can you say about the Younger?
- Colorado – Avery Tweak: Colorado has become one of the best beer states in the country…on par with Oregon and behind perhaps only California. I had no idea which beer would top out in the Centennial State (what a perfect nickname for a craft beer destination state, by the way). In the end, I wasn’t particularly surprised by the winner. The Tweak, formerly known as Mephaddict, is a huge, coffee-infused version of Avery’s already incredible Mephistopheles. I had it on tap at the Thirsty Monk in Asheville, NC last Fall and fell deeply, madly in love.
- Connecticut – Thomas Hooker Liberator Doppelbock: The Professor has since moved to Maryland, but during his years in Connecticut, he lamented the fact that one of the most affluent states in the nation didn’t support much of a craft beer industry. That’s slowly starting to change with the addition of some well-regarded new breweries. Topping the list in CT? A Doppelbock of all things. Nice job, Thomas Hooker. Good to have a lager on the list.
- Delaware – Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA: To the surprise of absolutely no one, Dogfish Head’s beloved Imperial IPA, the 90 Minute, took top honors in Delaware. Just another feather in Sam Calagione’s gaudy headdress.
- District of Columbia – D.C. Brau On the Wings of Armageddon: No, I’m not bitter at all that this popular brewery that makes a world-class Imperial IPA with one of the coolest names in the craft beer world opened up shop AFTER I moved out of D.C. Not bitter in the slightest.
- Florida – Peg’s Cantina G.O.O.D. Rare D.O.S.: I’ll admit this one surprised me. A small brew-pub in Gulfport cranks out a whiskey barrel-aged Imperial Stout that actually has the highest overall rating of ANY beer on this list? I don’t know what’s going on down in Tampa, but between Peg’s and Cigar City, they’ve got a G.O.O.D. thing going.
- Georgia – Wild Heaven Eschaton: Makers of Wifey’s favorite beer, the Ode to Mercy, Wild Heaven also produces a giant Quad which beats all comers in Georgia. Eschaton is a generic term for the end of the world, but I’m hopeful that the Wild Heaven folks actually named the beer after the complex tennis/wargame hybrid in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.
- Hawaii – Maui Imperial CoCoNut Porter: I was nervous that Kona Brewing, Maui’s notorious, Anheuser-Busch backed rival, would win “best beer in Hawaii” honors. But Maui won in the end thanks to this amped-up version of their delicious CoCoNut Porter. Sounds like a beauty.
- Idaho – Grand Teton 5 O’Clock Shadow: Idaho, as you might expect, does not have a myriad of craft breweries. Grand Teton is probably their most well-known and they produce Idaho’s #1 brew. The 5 O’Clock Shadow is a Double/Imperial Schwarzbier…a style that clearly needs to be mainstreamed.
- Illinois – Goose Island King Henry: I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but I had a sneaking suspicion that Goose Island was going to take top honors in Illinois. Despite their buy-out at the hands of Anheuser-Busch, Goose Island and its still-independent brewpubs continue to crank out some phenomenally well-received beers. The highest-rated of these is the King Henry (brewed at their Fulton Street-HQ), a high-octane Barleywine aged in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle barrels. If I wasn’t maintaining my personal boycott of all Goose Island products, this would be the first beer I would seek out.
- Indiana – Three Floyds Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Bean Dark Lord: Wait, you’re telling me that the best beer in Indiana is a barrel-aged, vanilla bean-infused, version of a prestige Imperial Stout produced by the #1 rated brewery in the US? What are the odds?!
- Iowa – Toppling Goliath Golden Nugget IPA: I had never heard of the Toppling Goliath Brewing Company, but their Golden Nugget (made with Golden Promise malt and Nugget hops) is the highest-rated beer in Iowa. So the next time you head to the Hawkeye State, head to Toppling Goliath and pass over your money without even thinking about it. For it’s money you have and beer you lack.
- Kansas – Free State Old Backus Barleywine: I was mildly surprised by how many Barleywines were on this list, but the good ones are genuinely VERY good. And from what I’ve read, the Old Backus is a damn fine version of the style. We’ll have to ask Lady Jay and/or Herr Hordeum to grab a sample and report back to us from their Kansas-based lair.
- Kentucky – Lexington Brewing’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale: If you thought the #1 beer in Kentucky was going to be ANYTHING but a bourbon barrel-aged brew, you don’t know shit about the Bluegrass State. They brush their teeth, wash their faces, and perform enemas with bourbon.
- Louisiana – NOLA Flambeau Red: I’ve found the few NOLA (New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing Company) beers that have made their way to Alabama to be pretty decent. But I haven’t had a chance to try the Flambeau yet. This hop-forward red ale outranks them all in Louisiana.
- Maine – Allagash Coolship Resurgam: I was happy to see the Resurgam top the Maine list after writing about Allagash’s coolship program in my sour ale post last week. Now if only I lived close enough to Portland to actually get these coolship brews…
- Maryland – Evolution Rise Up Stout: A straight-up stout from newcomer Evolution, the Rise Up has a reputation for an incredibly smooth body and rich, complex flavor. Between Stillwater, The Brewer’s Art, Flying Dog, DuClaw and Evolution, Maryland is becoming quite the little craft beer destination.
- Massachusetts – Samuel Adams Utopias: Love ’em or hate ’em, the Boston Beer Company knows how to brew. Their Utopias was seen as a bit of a marketing gimmick when the 27% strong ales were released in hand-numbered, miniature copper kettles a few years back. But the public approved and the Utopias are now one of the highest-rated beers in the country.
- Michigan – Founders CBS: When all of the clamor and hype of the Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout died down, the truth was finally revealed. And that truth is that the CBS is one of the tastiest beers there is. Of course, when you age your already incredible Breakfast Stout in bourbon barrels formerly used to age maple syrup, you’re probably gonna like the results.
- Minnesota – Surly Bourbon Barrel-Aged Darkness: Yet another example of a great brewery taking a great beer, tossing it into some bourbon barrels for awhile, and ending up with the highest-rated beer in their state. I think I smell a business strategy here…
- Mississippi – Lazy Magnolia Jefferson Stout: The most restrictive state in the nation in terms of beer laws JUST upped their allowable ABV from a ridiculous 5% ABW to a somewhat less ridiculous 8% ABW (~10%ABV). For now, Lazy Magnolia’s tasty Jefferson Stout is the top-rated beer in Mississippi, but expect that to change very soon as some bigger beers are brewed up.
- Missouri – Boulevard Saison-Brett: As I said in the sour beer post, when used correctly, Brett yeast can be transcendent. Let’s just say that Boulevard used it correctly in their Saison-Brett.
- Montana – Big Sky Ivan the Terrible: Yup…another bourbon barrel stout. Hey, what do you expect? They’re delicious! Other than Doc, I’ve never heard anyone complain that there were TOO many bourbon barrel stouts out there. Oh, except for that guy whose parents were killed by falling casks of bourbon barrel stout. That was sad. What a waste of beer.
- Nebraska – Nebraska Brewing’s Melange A Trois: A 10% Belgian Strong Pale Ale aged in French Oak Chardonnay barrels. Well played, Nebraska. Well played.
- Nevada – Big Dog’s Black Lab Stout: Based purely on overall ratings, Nevada might be one of the worst beer states in the nation. Any Alehead who has spent a weekend trying to wrangle up some high quality suds in Sin City knows how difficult it can be to find an even reasonably stocked beer bar. So it’s no surprise that the lowest rated of all of these “best” beers was Big Dog’s Black Lab Stout. That’s not a knock on what I’m sure is a tasty beer. I just think that Nevada has the same “lack of access to raw ingredients” problem as neighboring Arizona. Deserts just aren’t great places to make beer.
- New Hampshire – Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great: Not even a smidgen of surprise here. One of the most lauded prestige Imperial Stouts in the world was all but guaranteed the top spot in New Hampshire. Smiley Brown grabbed some this year and said it was well worth the wait. I look forward to his review which, based on his usual level of output, should be posted sometime in 2017.
- New Jersey – Ramstein Winter Wheat Eisbock: This one came out of left field, but still…props to Ramstein for taking the coveted Jersey cup with a goddamn Eisbock. The reviews on-line sound absolutely delicious.
- New Mexico – La Cumbre Elevated IPA: The pride of New Mexico, La Cumbre’s Elevated IPA won gold at last year’s GABF and is considered one of the best American IPAs on the market. A worthy winner in the Land of Enchantment.
- New York – Southampton Publick House’s Berliner Weisse: With heavy-hitters from Brooklyn, Sixpoint, Ommegang, Captain Lawrence, Shmaltz and Southern Tier competing, imagine my surprise when the top-rated beer in the entire state of New York was a 2% (!) ABV Berliner Weisse from Southampton. And that’s why the play the games.
- North Carolina – Foothills Jade: There are so many good breweries in the Tar Heel State, but most of them are criminally unknown. With the new HQs of New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues opening in North Carolina, perhaps some good pub will rub off on the local ale factories. If that’s the case, expect to hear more about the Foothills Jade…a big-time American IPA that crushed the competition in North Carolina.
- North Dakota – Fargo Brewing’s Stone’s Throw: So…I really didn’t know what to do here. According to BeerAdvocate, there are only two production breweries in North Dakota. The first is Granite City which is a large, multi-state chain like Gordon Biersch or Rock Bottom. I made the executive decision NOT to include beers from such chains in this exercise since you never know if any particular beer is actually sold in a specific state. The other choice was the Fargo Brewing Company. The problem there is that they only have two rated beers, neither of which passes the 10 review cut-off point. Rather than give the nod to a chain restaurant’s beer which may or may not even have been served in North Dakota, I went with the higher-rated of the two Fargo offerings…the Stone’s Throw Scottish Ale. My point is, you REALLY need more breweries, North Dakota (cut to all North Dakota Aleheads nodding vigorously in agreement)!
- Ohio – Columbus Brewing’s Bodhi DIPA: I was thinking Great Lakes would take the Ohio cup with something like their Blackout Stout, but nope…Columbus swooped in for the victory with their big, brash Bodhi. I haven’t had it, but it sounds like a tropical fruit-bowl of goodness.
- Oklahoma – COOP Ale Works F5 IPA: Like La Cumbre in New Mexico, the small COOP Ale Works in Oklahoma City decided to go big with a hop-forward American IPA. The proof is in the pudding and COOP has the highest-rated beer in all of Soonerdom.
- Oregon – Deschutes The Abyss: I’m not sure if the Abyss is my favorite beer in the world. Then again, I’m not sure it isn’t.
- Pennsylvania – Selin’s Grove Olde Frosty IPA: I know Slouch Sixpack will have some choice words about this one, but you can’t argue with the numbers. The highest-rated beer in the entire Keystone State is Selin’s Grove Olde Frosty IPA. I honestly have no idea how I feel about this pick. Some reviewers describe it as a classic, hop-forward IPA. Others liken it to a mellow, spiced winter warmer. Perhaps the Frosty takes top honors in PA because it’s all things to all people.
- Rhode Island – Trinity Decadence: A huge DIPA from the tiny Trinity Brewhouse in Providence. Reviews make it out to be a more malt-forward Imperial IPA then you might expect, but sometimes that’s a welcome change of pace if done well. And it sounds like the Decadence is indeed done well.
- South Carolina – COAST Carnie Fire: I suspected to see COAST’s name in the South Carolina slot, but I was more than a little surprised to see a beer called the Carnie Fire win the prize. It sounds like a moderately hop-forward red ale with a session-smooth finish. I love COAST’s beers, so color me intrigued.
- South Dakota – Crow Peak Pile O’ Dirt Porter: Can’t say I’ve ever had a Crow Peak beer, but they’re the winner of my personal “favorite craft can designers” contest. So I’m happy to see them on top in South Dakota with their Pile O’ Dirt Porter. Appetizing name too.
- Tennessee – Yazoo Sue: I love this dark, smoky brew, but was still a little surprised to see it as the #1 beer in Tennessee. Not that I’m arguing…it probably IS my favorite beer brewed in the Volunteer State. I think I was just taken aback because it’s fairly easy to find in these parts and most of the brews on this list are hard to come by.
- Texas – Live Oak HefeWeizen: The highest-rated American Hefeweizen is also the #1 beer in Texas. Hefeweizens were the “in” beer for years in the craft world, but have since been replaced by American Black Ales, Kölschs, and especially American IPAs. Despite their fall from grace, there are still some crazy-good American versions of the traditional German style out there and the Live Oak is supposedly the best.
- Utah – Uinta Labyrinth: Speaking of American Black Ales, the Labyrinth is one of the best in the biz. Amazing how good some of the beers being produced in a state that all but outlaws alcohol can be. Uinta should get extra props for the degree of difficulty in operating a brewery in Utah.
- Vermont – Alchemist Heady Topper: Yeah, it’s that good. One of the best DIPAs you’ll ever try. I’m still waiting for Doc to send me down a four-pack since the two I bought the last time I was in New England were gone in minutes.
- Virginia – Williamsburg AleWerks Bitter Valentine: Great name for a DIPA…the Bitter Valentine reviews make it sound like an extremely pine/resin-forward hop bomb. The kind of brew that Doc hates and Slouch worships. Regardless, it’s the winner winner, chicken dinner in the Old Dominion.
- Washington – Fremont Bourbon Barrel Abominable: I’ll just let Fremont describe this one: “Lovingly referred to by Fremonters as the B-BOMB, this bourbon barrel-aged edition of our winter ale has a warming spicy aroma and rich carmelly notes of bourbon, wood and vanilla added to dark roasty chocolatey malt flavors and subtle hopping.” OK then. I’ll take ten.
- West Virginia – Bridge Brew Works IPA: The Commander and Lord Copperpot gave rave reviews to two of Bridge Brew Works offerings, but alas, they didn’t get a chance to sample their best-in-the-Mountain-State IPA. Since they’re such good friends of the site, I’m sure Ken and Nathan will rectify that situation shortly. Right? Ken? Nathan? Hello?
- Wisconsin – Central Waters Fourteen Fourteen: I promise this is the last bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout on the list…in that there’s only one beer left. Wisconsin has a ton of magnificent craft breweries around, but the Fourteen Fourteen beat out every other offering in America’s Dairyland. Must be a winner.
- Wyoming – Snake River Zonker Stout: The top-rated American version of the Foreign/Export Stout style, the Zonker is famous for its rich roast character and smooth, easy finish. Sounds perfect after a long day of Wyoming-centric activities like fly-fishing, hiking, and getting shot in the face by Dick Cheney.
I expect…nay, demand…angry, heated comments after this post. Tell me which beers are “really” the best in your home state, readers. Make sure all of Alehead Nation knows how stupid the above list is as you tell us which brews truly reign supreme in your homeland. I’d love to follow up this post with an “Aleheads’ Choice” list, so don’t be shy with your suggestions!