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IPAs to Oktoberfest: The best beer of every type

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IPAs to Oktoberfest: The best beer of every type

In 1956, archaeologists working in northern Israel’s Raqefet Cave—once home to the Natufian people (13,050–7,550 B.C.)—stumbled upon an astonishing discovery: 13,000-year-old fermented gruel. Archaeologists had found prehistoric evidence of beer before: Remnants of ancient brewing have surfaced in China, Mesopotamia, and North Africa; but this was the oldest. And it was the oldest to a great extent. The beer residue found in Raqefet Cave precedes other archaeological evidence by at least 6,000 years.

For as long as humans have farmed cereals like wheat, barley, and rice, humans have fermented at least some of it into beer. The Mesopotamians produced beer from bread and documented its ritual consumption on stone tablets. Ancient Egyptians, who recorded the world’s first beer recipe on papyrus scrolls, drank it during religious ceremonies. The Nubian culture in the central Nile River Valley used beer as an antibiotic. In 2,100 B.C., Babylonian King Hammurabi enshrined regulations for tavern keepers and brewers in his famous Code of Hammurabi. Beer became so inextricably linked to the ancient grain-growing civilizations of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa that the Greek writer Sophocles (450 B.C.) considered beer, alongside vegetables, meat, and bread, to be a vital component of a healthy diet. (In an era when the average Greek lived about 35 years, Sophocles, it should be noted, lived to the ripe old age of 90.)

Fast forward many eons and beer production is now an exacting science comprising complex flavor profiles, exotic additives, carefully measured formulas, and humongous sterilized stainless-steel vats. Gone is the thick, syrupy brew favored by Germanic tribes and disdained by Ancient Romans. Instead, breweries nowadays turn out flavorful, easy-drinking beers. Long evolved from the Natufians fermented gruel, modern beer satisfies a range of tastes for a global market.

Beer styles are distinguished by three key factors: color (pale to dark), hoppy bitterness (0 to 100 International Bitterness Units), and alcohol content (3% to 20% Alcohol By Volume). From classic to cultured bacteria, Stacker identified 35 different styles and used BeerAdvocate’s sweeping database of craft brews to determine the best individual beers among them. Beers had to have at least 100 user votes to be considered, and the user rating is out of five. The ratings and rankings are accurate as of August 2019.

From Canada to Belgium, read on to find the best beers of every style, then go out and make old Sophocles proud.

You may also like: Best beers from every state

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Eric Kilby // Wikimedia Commons

Blonde ale

- Beer: Eureka w/ Citra
- Brewery: Tree House Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.28

On the low end of the international-bitterness-units (IBU) and alcohol-by-volume (ABV) scale, a blonde ale is light and drinkable, golden in appearance, and pairs well with a sunny summer day. The Eureka w/ Citra, from Massachusetts-based Tree House Brewing, adds a citrus twist to the mix, earning accolades from reviewers who call it “refreshing” with a “mild tropical fruit nose.”

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sashimomura // flickr

Belgian Saison

- Beer: Ann
- Brewery: Hill Farmstead Brewery
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.67

Traditionally a summer treat brewed in simple Belgian farmhouses, the golden-hued and medium-low in bitterness Belgian Saison is brewed year-round now. ABV varies greatly among Saisons, but the wine-barrel-aged Ann from Hill Farmstead Brewery packs a punch at 6.5%, which has reviewers praising it as “super flavorful” and “exceptional.”

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Milk stout

- Beer: Moment of Clarity
- Brewery: Tree House Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.57

Once on the verge of extinction, the creamy and sweet milk stout originated in 19th-century England when blue-collar workers added whole milk to their lunchtime stout porters. Milk stouts trend toward the medium-high end of the ABV scale and Tree House Brewing’s Moment of Clarity is no exception at 7.7%. Reviewers cite its “perfectly balanced chocolate, coffee, & maple” flavors and a “beautiful pour... inky black and oily with 1.5 fingers of brownish head.”

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Arkangel // Wikimedia Commons

Cream ale

- Beer: Cafe y Churro
- Brewery: Carton Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.44

Bright yellow, mildly bitter, and low in ABV, cream ales are extremely drinkable beers that can use ale or lager yeasts. Cafe y Churro looks like a traditional cream ale but upends the conventional formula with a robust 12% ABV and notes of coffee, vanilla, and cream.

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Lindsay Eyink // flickr

Imperial IPA

- Beer: Pliny the Younger
- Brewery: Russian River Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.75

On the high end of both the IBU and ABV scales, imperial IPAs appear reddish to yellowish and are the strongest, hoppiest version of an IPA. Pliny the Younger, from Northern California’s Russian River Brewery, sits lower on the ABV scale at 10.25% but elicits much love from reviewers who report “flavors of pine, resin, citrus, herbal and earthy” and an overall experience that was “so smooth and so intense.”

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Tech.Co // Wikimedia Commons

Rye beer

- Beer: Rye on Rye on Rye
- Brewery: Boulevard Brewing Co.
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.34

Varying greatly in color and ABV, ryes typically fall on the medium-low end of the bitterness spectrum and appear darker and redder the more rye is used. To be considered a rye beer, enough of the namesake ingredient must be evident in the appearance and taste. Boulevard Brewing’s Rye on Rye on Rye is aged twice in rye-whiskey barrels and promises considerable impairment at 14% ABV.

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Sam Cavenagh // flickr

Oatmeal stout

- Beer: The Rusty Nail
- Brewery: Fremont Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.57

Very dark and medium-low in IBU and ABV, oatmeal stouts are smoky and oily, often evoking hints of caramel, coffee, and chocolate. The Rusty Nail adheres to the traditional flavor by using smoked barley but ups the ABV ante at 14.5%.

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Scottb211 // flickr

Brett

- Beer: Nightmare on Brett
- Brewery: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.39

Named after Brettanomyces yeast that lends it a leathery, phenolic, and acidic character, Brett beers are all over the place on the ABV, color, and IBU scales. They are often mistaken for sours. The Nightmare on Brett is super dark in color, sits at 7.7% ABV, and has prompted reviewers to note it’s “a real bourbon treat on the nose” and “very memorable.”

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Cliff // flickr

California Common

- Beer: East Coast Common Lager
- Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.08

Brewed with lager yeast but fermented like an ale, the California Common is a pale orange-brown, hits right in the middle of the ABV and IBU scales, and was pioneered by San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Brewing. The East Coast Common pays tribute to its American heritage until right after the fermentation process when Smuttynose brewmasters shock the batch with dry hops.

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walknboston // flickr

Kolsch

- Beer: Sprang
- Brewery: Trillium Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.27

Invented in Cologne, Germany as an easy-drinking springtime beer, Kolsch comes in a golden-straw color, reaches medium-low on the IBU and ABV spectrums, and straddles the divide between lagers and ales. Trillium Brewing’s Sprang hews closely to this heritage with a low ABV of 4.9%, minimal bitterness, and a refreshing and fruity character. But a lower fermentation temperature leaves a hazy appearance, a unique quality in the world of ordinarily crisp and clear Kolsch beers.

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Bernt Rostad // flickr

British barley wine

- Beer: Aaron
- Brewery: Hill Farmstead Brewery
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.63

Barley wines don’t mess around: These copper-red sipping beers reach double digits on the ABV scale, hit medium-high in bitterness, and are often barrel-aged like their grape-based namesake. However, Aaron from Hill Farmstead Brewery is unusually low in ABV at 9% and is bottle-aged, but reviewers love its “flavors of caramel, brown sugar, dates, raisins, butterscotch” and applaud the “complex and smooth” experience.

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Steven Guzzardi // flickr

Biere de Garde

- Beer: Biere de Norma
- Brewery: Hill Farmstead Brewery
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.41

Literally translated as “beer for keeping,” a French Biere de Garde comes in blond, amber, and brown versions, and trends toward medium-low on ABV and IBU scales. Oak-barrel-fermented, Hill Farmstead Brewery’s Biere de Norma contains 7% ABV and has a unique tart taste owing to its secretive in-house culture.

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Bernt Rostad // flickr

Lambic

- Beer: Zenne y Frontera
- Brewery: Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.76

A traditional lambic, born in Belgium, is reddish-gold in appearance and mildly bitter with medium ABV. The 7% ABV Zenne y Frontera is meant to blur the lines between wine and beer—it’s aged for 12 months in 40-year-old oak casks and is the result of a collaboration between a brewmaster and sommelier. Reviewers have responded in kind with references to it being “the best lambic” and “my favorite beer...ever.”

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Bernt Rostad // Wikimedia Commons

American pale ale

- Beer: Zombie Dust
- Brewery: 3 Floyds Brewing Co.
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.63

Golden-red in appearance, a classic American pale ale offers hints of citrus and pine with medium bitterness and a low ABV. Zombie Dust ignores tradition (some reviewers claim this should be classified as an IPA) by going big on ABV at 6.2% and intensely hoppy like its British cousin, better known as an extra-special bitter or ESB.

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rubixcuben // flickr

Chile beer

- Beer: Fatali Four
- Brewery: Upright Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.15

A North American invention, chile beers are pale ales or lagers with precisely what they promise—a noticeable dose of chile peppers. Color, IBU, and ABV depend on the base beer, but most chile beers incorporate jalapeno peppers (or their juice or oils). The 4.5% ABV Fatali Four, courtesy of Oregon’s Upright Brewing, hurdles its jalapeno-using competitors by adding African Fatali peppers two months before bottling.

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American porter

- Beer: Everett Porter
- Brewery: Hill Farmstead Brewery
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.51

As dark as a black hole in space, the distinctly American porter eschews the roasted hops and barley of its European brethren, is medium in IBUs, and very high on the ABV scale. Hill Farmstead Brewery, never one to play by the rules, stretches the definition of an American porter by mixing roasted German malts with American barley and hops. At 7.5%, it’s also on the low-end of ABV for an American porter.

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Russian imperial stout

- Beer: Marshmallow Handjee
- Brewery: 3 Floyds Brewing Co.
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.81

Higher in alcohol than its American and British counterparts, the complex and bold Russian imperial stout was first brewed in England for Peter the Great during a sojourn in the Isles. The curiously named, barrel-aged with vanilla beans, 15% ABV Marshmallow Handjee is a love-it-or-hate-it beer with many reviewers claiming that it’s overwrought, which is kind of a hallmark of Russian imperial stouts.

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David Berkowitz // flickr

Fruit and field beer

- Beer: Wisconsin Belgian Red
- Brewery: New Glarus Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.42

Fruit and field beers are brewed with fruit. But brewmasters also use herbs and vegetables, thus the “and field” portion of the name. Varying greatly in color and ABV, they’re typically medium-low to low in IBUs. The Wisconsin Belgian Red from New Glarus is brewed from Wisconsin-grown Montmorency cherries, looks ruby red, tastes like cherry pie, and hits 4% ABV.

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Jim Kelly // flickr

Black ale

- Beer: Barrel-Aged Double Shot Double Black
- Brewery: Bent Paddle Brewing Co.
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.49

Almost as dark as an American porter, black ales have high IBUs, medium alcohol content, and are characterized by dark-roasted malt and caramel flavors. True to form, the Double Shot Double Black from Bent Paddle is inky black with hints of vanilla and coffee, but bucks tradition with 15 months of aging in bourbon barrels that produces a robust 11.2% ABV.

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Phillip Pessar // flickr

Berliner Weisse

- Beer: Miami Madness
- Brewery: J. Wakefield Brewing
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.59

Golden-colored, unfiltered, and very low in IBUs and ABV, a true Berliner Weisse puts hops on the backburner in favor of yeast, white bread, and graham cracker flavors. American brewers have begun adding fruit to the formula, none more successfully than J. Wakefield’s 5.5% Miami Madness, which reviewers note has a “great passion fruit nose” and is “so incredibly balanced and tasty.”

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Antti T. Nissinen // flickr

Tripel

- Beer: La Fin du Monde
- Brewery: Unibroue
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.36

First brewed by Trappist monks in the medieval era, a Belgian tripel balances smooth flavor and a golden-to-amber hue with high ABV and medium-low IBU. Quebec-based Unibroue pays homage to this history with its 9% ABV La Fin du Monde (“The End of the World”), a hazy golden tripel cultured with an ancient European yeast.

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Phyrexian // Wikimedia Commons

Scottish ale

- Beer: Dark Island Reserve
- Brewery: Orkney Brewery
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.15

Scottish ales are all about the malt flavor in the expense of hops, which breeds a crisp-red color and low IBU and ABV scores. Scotland’s Orkney Brewery, however, flips the script on the tradition with the Dark Island Reserve, an oily-black and 10% ABV that reviewers note is “like drinking scotch. Dark fruits and wood. Malt sweetness.”

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American wild ale

- Beer: Westly
- Brewery: Sante Adairius Rustic Ales
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.7

Wild, naturally occurring yeasts introduced through inoculated oak barrels or sour mash give this rustic beer its name, which is medium-high in ABV and medium-low in IBU. The environmental yeast should lend an earthy, “farmhouse” taste. Flavor profiles vary dramatically and are often complex, exemplified by the 8.5% ABV Westly from “SARA” brewery in Santa Cruz, Calif., which pushes apricots during a super-long barrel-aging process.

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Eric Kilby // Wikimedia Commons

Hefeweizen

- Beer: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
- Brewery: Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.45

Distinctive wheat malt (hefe = malt, and weizen = wheat) is the hallmark of a hefeweizen, which comes straw-colored, low in bitterness, and medium-low in alcohol. Invented and mastered in Germany, it’s unsurprising to find 5.4% ABV, Freising-brewed Weihenstephaner atop the rankings. Brewed according to tradition and using hops they’ve grown since 768 A.D. this hefeweizen has notes of clove and full-bodied yeast taste.

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Scottb211 // Wikimedia Commons

Smoke beer

- Beer: Holger Danske (with Kissmeyer)
- Brewery: Hill Farmstead Brewery
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.16

Since any beer can be smoked, smoke beer is less a distinctive style and more of an infusion process, defined by roasting malt over an open flame which lends a smoky flavor. The base beer, often a bock, Dunkel, or Vienna lager, determines where a smoke beer lands on the color, IBU, and ABV spectrums. The 7.5% ABV Holger Danske—Hill Farmstead’s fifth beer on this list—uses brown ale as a base which reviewers have remarked is “creamy and rich, with a medium-sized body, and a great level of drinkability” and “well balanced by a light caramel sweetness and nice clean hop bitterness.”

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@wreckandsalvage Salvage // flickr

New England IPA

- Beer: Heady Topper
- Brewery: The Alchemist
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.76

The style that put American craft brewing on the map, hoppy with a hint of citrus coupled with a hazy-golden hue, high IBU, and medium-high ABV defines a true New England IPA. British colonialists fortified their ales with extra hops for the long trip to India, and thus India pale ale was born. American brewers said, “Hold my beer,” and went out and doubled or tripled the number of hops used in a standard IPA. Enter the New England IPA. The 8% ABV Heady Topper from Vermont’s Alchemist is a double-hopped masterpiece exuding notes of grapefruit and pine.

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German pilsner

- Beer: Palatine Pils
- Brewery: Suarez Family Brewery
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.29

Straw to pale in appearance, the medium-low ABV and IBU German pilsner has conquered the beer-drinking world. Pilsners should be refreshing and crisp, and the 5.2% ABV Palatine Pils from New York’s Suarez Family Brewery delivers just that, prompting one reviewer to say “This is a world-class Pilsener, maybe the most well-rounded I‘ve ever had.”

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Bernt Rostad // flickr

Doppelbock

- Beer: Celebrated
- Brewery: Privatbrauerei Franz Inselkammer KG / Brauerei Aying
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.37

Amber to copper in color, monks from Munich pioneered this medium-high ABV and low IBU beer by adding extra lightly roasted malt. Full-bodied and complex, Ayinger’s 6.7% ABV Celebrated is dark red and “celebrated” universally by reviewers, one of whom called it “malty, spiced bread in a bottle.”

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Tony Webster // flickr

American IPA

- Beer: Todd the Axe Man
- Brewery: Surly Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.47

The best-selling craft-beers in the U.S., American IPAs are aromatic and bold, medium-high in both ABV and bitterness with strong notes of citrus and pine. The hazy-yellow, 7.2% ABV Todd the Axe Man from Surly Brewing in Minnesota is malt-forward with a mix of Citra and Mosaic hops. Brewed in conjunction with Danish brewery Amager, Todd the Axe Man straddles the line between a New England and West Coast IPA, making it an ideal American IPA.

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DirkVE // Wikimedia Commons

Flanders red ale

- Beer: Rodenbach Caractère Rouge
- Brewery: Brouwerij Rodenbach N.V.
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.48

A beer that wants to be a wine, complexity is what a Flanders red ale strives for. Oak barrel-aged with fruit, the specialty yeast strains produce distinctive sharp, fruity, sour, and tart flavors in this medium-high ABV and medium-low IBU beer. From the Dutch-speaking Flanders region of Belgium, the 7% ABV Rodenbach is aged for two-and-a-half years and exudes tradition as well as notes of wood and caramel.

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Irish red ale

- Beer: Hornswoggled
- Brewery: Cigar City Brewing
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.01

Low in bitterness and alcohol, Irish red ales are known for well-balanced malty sweetness reminiscent of fresh-baked bread. The 5% ABV Hornswoggled from Florida’s Cigar City Brewing aims to “confound” with Madagascar vanilla beans, white oak, and citrus peel.

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Oktoberfest

- Beer: Mecktoberfest
- Brewery: The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.18

Traditionally brewed in spring—in times before refrigeration made summer brewing possible—then tapped in the fall, Oktoberfest (or Marzen which means March) lagers are light red to gold in appearance with medium ABV and medium-low IBU and bread or biscuit aromas. The 5% ABV Mecktoberfest from North Carolina’s Olde Mecklenburg Brewery is no exception, adhering to the traditional formula which includes serving it only in fall.

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Dan Keeney // DPKPR

Pumpkin beer

- Beer: Pumpkinator
- Brewery: Saint Arnold Brewing Company
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.31

Somewhere in Munich, monks are rolling in their graves at the thought of pumpkin-spiced beer, yet here we are. Like other infused beers, characteristics of pumpkin drafts vary depending on the base beer used, usually an ale. This beer is best enjoyed in fall and paired with wild game, and many American craft brewers offer a take on pumpkin beers. The 10% ABV Pumpkinator from Saint Arnold Brewing won a gold medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival, making it one of North America’s best.

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English brown ale

- Beer: Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale
- Brewery: Cigar City Brewing
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.13

An iconic style, English brown ales should be toasty and robust, reddish in color, and medium-low on the IBU and ABV scales. Another Cigar City favorite, the 5.5% Espresso Brown Ale meets these requirements, but with its addition of Cuban-style espresso beans almost pushes this beer into the realm of stouts. Almost.

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American lager

- Beer: Hoponius Union
- Brewery: Jack's Abby Brewing
- BeerAdvocate user rating: 4.25

The old American standby, heavily carbonated American lagers are simple and thirst-quenching with low bitterness and alcohol content and a golden appearance. But they don’t have to be boring, which Jack’s Abby Brewing proves with its 6.5% ABV Hoponius Union. Pushing the barrier between an IPA and lager (they call it an India pale lager), the Hoponius Union combines lager yeast fermentation with West Coast IPA-style hops to great effect. Reviewers fawn over its “great balance” and “slightly oily with a crisp astringent dryness at the finish.”

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