The 2016 Great American Beer Fest poured nearly 4,000 beers from 800 breweries over the three-day celebration of craft beer. Despite our best effort, we couldn’t quite get a taste of every beer. But thanks to studious preparation and recommendations from our favorite brewers on the festival floor, we were able to round up what we thought were the best of the best. Our must-try list is mostly newer brews, or hail from emerging brewers, but we included a couple old favorites that still stand apart as world-class.
So good, it’s unfair to other blonde ales. This malt-focused beer uses locally grown and malted barley for a complex toasty character that’s so crisp it almost drinks like a German lager.
This bready, complex ale is a masterful display of why San Francisco’s Magnolia brewpub is the king of English session beer — at least on this side of the Atlantic.
This California-brewed lager offers the perfect balance of bready malts and spicy floral hops. It’s big flavors in a very drinkable body. We want more.
Brewed with ghost peppers, this Texas brewery nailed the very hard to find balance between heat and malt sweetness.
Poured alongside other award-winning pilsners, the rich hop characters remains a cut above and deserves the same adoration Pliny receives.
This bright, tart ale blends the biting grapefruit perfectly into the citrus-like sourness.
A retro-inspired American lager is ridiculously refreshing with a clean toast and sweet corn character. We’ll call it the craft version of High Life (that’s a good thing).
There’s no shortage of amazing sours, but this blend of one-, two-, and three-year spontaneously fermented ales tastes like it could have come from Belgium’s lambic gods.
Cucumber’s become a popular infusion for the more refreshing, lower-alcohol sours. Spangalang’s is the best we’ve found, thanks to a late addition of cucumber juice from The Real Dill pickle company.
Scratch is a leader in the emerging set of brewers creating beers with locally foraged ingredients. This tart wheat beer was brewed with oyster and turkey tail mushrooms, as well as turmeric.
This beautiful, juicy ale is a delicious reminder that beer geeks shouldn’t simply seek the biggest IPAs if they want a wonderfully hoppy pint.
This rich, smoky ale tastes like it’s straight out of Bamberg, Germany — home to the smoked, rauchbier style. Backed by sweet malts, Fastenbier re-created the ales monks created to sustain themselves during Lent.
This 5 percent ABV version of Great Divide’s imperial stout seems to capture all the chocolate and roast of the original, in a much smoother, smaller package.
Packed with floral Amarillo hops, this red-hued session IPA is crisp and satisfying at a mere 5 percent alcohol.
Portland, Oregon’s Great Notion is bringing the hazy, massively hoppy New England–style IPA to the West Coast with its Juice Box. Impressively, it not only matches its East Coast peers, but surpasses most of them for managing a giant juicy hop character with smooth malt character.
A new sour from Asheville star Wicked Weed, this foeder-aged peach ale brew is complex and earthy with spicy oak and a big fruit character.
Many brewers have made excellent attempts at capturing the taste of spicy Mexican chocolate in a beer, but none match this imperial chocolate porter.