Craft beer is touted as the "it" beverage, the new wine, and becoming more popular even as domestic lager sales have slowed. So Consumer Reports' experts conducted blind taste tests of 23 craft ales and lagers and found three that were excellent and 10 more that were very good. Tough job, but somebody had to taste and tell.
An American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional, and produces 6 million barrels a year at most, according to the Brewers Association. But craft beers are supposed to be free from substantial ownership by a non-craft brewer, yet some don't fit that description. There are more than 2,400 U.S. breweries and only several dozen aren't defined as craft brewers, says the association.
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Craft beer is typically made with traditional ingredients although brewers may add ingredients for interest and highly original names for distinctiveness—Dogfish Head, Shock Top and Shiner, to name a few. For excellent ale consider the top-rated Stone IPA. Our experts found that it's very fragrant, with floral, fruity and juniper notes from the added hops. Next was Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA, which has a great mix of malt and hop notes and is more intense than most. The third was Samuel Adams Hopology Collection Latitude 48 IPA, which has fruity and malty notes. Five of the ales we tasted were very good.
The best lagers were very tasty but not quite complex or intense enough to be rated excellent by our tasters. Five are recommended, including the top-rated Brooklyn Lager and Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
See the results of our craft beer taste tests for all the details. And to make sure you truly enjoy your beer, here are a few tips from our experts and Restaurant-Hospitality.com, which serves the trade.
Drink from a glass, not the bottle. Much of the taste comes from the aroma and if you drink from the bottle, you won't be able to take in the aroma as well.
Don't chill the glasses in the freezer. When the ice crystals melt they add water to the beer and can dilute the flavor.
Pair craft ales with burgers. Craft ales usually have more intense flavors so their pronounced bitterness and malt, fruity, and floral flavors complement the strong flavors of burgers, ribs, steaks, sausages, and other fatty foods. The fat can help cut the beer's bitterness.
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