We’ve written quite a bit about the shrinking of the craft beer space. Growth has leveled off, a handful of regional breweries have gone out of business while some darlings of the industry overextended and got in over their head. The contraction of the craft beer world is a real thing—no industry can sustain the sort of ridiculous growth that craft beer saw for the past decade. So yeah, there’s a market correction taking place right now, but you wouldn’t know it based on the Paste office’s beer fridge. We’ve been swimming in good beer this year. Scratch that. We’ve been swimming in great beer this year. Our monthly blind tastings and regular reviews have been robust, attracting some of the best beers we’ve ever had the opportunity to taste. In this list, you’ll find the highest rated beer reviews and the winners of our monthly blind tastings, all in one place. These are the absolute best of the best beers we’ve come across in 2018…so far.
City: Portland, Or.
This IPA climbed to the very top of a very strong field of 324 hop bombs in our recent blind tasting of IPAs. Of all of those IPAs, this was the beer that everyone taking part in the tasting wanted to drink more of. Ripe is a near-perfect New England IPA, full of Citra hops that deliver all sorts of our favorite tropical fruit notes, from mango to pineapple. It’s a sweet rush with a soft mouthfeel that our tasters decided was a “sinfully delicious experience, worthy of a pilgrimage to Portland.”
City: Placentia, CA.
The Bruery’s spin-off, Offshoot Beer Co., has gotten very good at hazy IPAs in a very short time, and Relax is their first year-round beer. Yep, it’s another New England style IPA, and it earned the number two spot on our blind tasting of IPAs this year. One taster described it as “the ideal hazy IPA.” Another said it was “velvety smooth, with big stone fruit (peach/apricot), orange and pineapple juice, but not sickly sweet.” We were particularly enamored with the mouthfeel of this beer, which was perfectly smooth and void of any grittiness or acidity. And after we had the chance to taste a two-week old Relax and an eight-week old Relax, we were smitten with how fresh the younger beer tasted. So, get it while it’s hot.
City: Atlanta, GA
Have you heard marijuana is legal in a bunch of states? Breweries are getting in on the action, some of which are brewing beer with weed in it, others are brewing beer that’s reminiscent of weed. Sweetwater took the latter approach with their 420 Strain G13, a new IPA that smells like Snoop Dogg’s backyard “herb garden.” It’s a fun example of the current reefer madness trend, but we gave this beer a 90 rating because the fun extends well beyond the nose; 420 Strain: G13 is full of bright, grassy notes with a mouthfeel that somehow manages to be both soft and zesty. It looks like a New England IPA, but delivers a West Coast dank experience. And it’s delicious.
City: Asheville, NC
Pilsners are so hot right now, at least they are in my mind. I’ve been reaching for them at an astonishing rate. And this pilsner, from Burial, is like an uber pilsner, with big hoppy notes from the dry hopping while still maintaining its supreme drinkability. One taster wrote: “Lovely! A hint of malty sweetness with a great mouthfeel and the right hops for the job.” Put it all together and you have a beer that earned the number two spot on our pilsner blind tasting, which had 134 stellar entries.
City: Austin, TX
Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. knows how to make a good pilsner. Their three separate pilsner styles—a German, Czech and American—have all won GABF gold in recent years. During our blind tasting of 134 pilsners, we decided that Industry was the “best American-made version of a classical German pilsner that you’re going to find in the world today.” Yeah, this beer is kind of a big deal. And it blew the competition away with its balance of cracker malt and floral hops. We think it’s time for a road trip to Austin.
City: San Leandro, CA
What’s the last beverage you reach for before you die? Drakes sent us their Hopocalypse Double and Triple IPAs, and the Triple was so damn good, it had me thinking that this might be my “end of days” beer—the last thing to touch my lips before the lights go out. It’s a West Coast palate scorcher, full of Jarrylo, El Dorrado, Simcoe and Chinook hops and smells like you’ve been scratching at grapefruit rind all morning. The mouthfeel is soft and fluffy, the hops are downright spicy and the backend has more bite than a teething toddler. This is not the IPA for newbies. It’s for professional IPA lovers only.
City: Berkeley, CA
Do you want a pale ale that’s “thicc?” A pale that’s both chewy and creamy? You do if it’s Fieldwork’s Painted Gold, which earned the number two spot in our blind tasting of pale ales, which had 151 very strong contenders. But this beer was a “showstopper,” according to our tasters. It has bold citrus notes with “waves of orange, followed by sweet mango.” It takes the hazy, New England thing and applies it to the pale style, and we love it.
City: Atlanta, GA
But we didn’t love Fieldwork’s Painted Gold as much as we loved Monday Night’s Han Brolo. I’d say we were smitten by the name alone, but it was a blind tasting, so nobody knew the name going into the glass. Monday Night bagged a couple of golds at GABF in 2017, and started 2018 with a number one spot on our pale blind tasting. This beer is brewed with lactose, that same ingredient that gives us “milkshake IPAs.” It’s super citrusy without being an over-the-top juice bomb, walking “the delicate line between decadence and drinkability.” And as for that lactose, it adds a silky smooth texture that underscores all those glorious hops. This is a pale ale for 2018.
City: Seattle, WA
Paste drank 78 different porters during our blind tasting of that style, which you might think is a lot of porters. And you’d be right. We saw some staples in there from Deschutes and Highland that scored well, but Fremont clawed its way to the top of the pack to earn the number two spot on the list. Fremont knows how to brew dark beers, and Stone Squirrel is full of rich coffee flavors, but with a lighter body than you might expect. So, it’s more cold brew than espresso. It’s easy drinking, with a little caramel sweetness. It comes in a 12-ounce can, but you’re going to want more than that.
City: Oakland Park, FL
Maple. Bacon. Coffee. A tiny part of us wants to label this beer a gimmick, but the rest of us is so in love with maple and bacon and coffee that we decided collectively to give this beer the top spot in our porter blind tasting. That’s not true. We didn’t give Funky Buddha the number one spot, they earned it with this beer. It’s big, rich and massively flavorful, which is probably why it’s one of the brewery’s most popular beers. And it’s exactly what you expect: a coffee porter full of sweet syrup and subtle smokiness from the bacon. Do you want 20 ounces of this beer? Probably. Will you regret it? Probably.
City: Braddock, PA
Barleywine. Such a misunderstood and often-times divisive beer style. It’s weird. Bold. Rich. You either love barleywine or you hate it. If you love the style, then you were probably stoked to see us taste and rank 62 of them in our blind tasting at the beginning of the year. Brew Gentlemen has done well in our blind tastings over the last few years, and they earned the number two spot on the barleywine list with III. It’s rich and sweet, with notes of maple syrup and toffee, and underscored by subtle bourbon barrel character. One taster called it, “a blanket of warming caramel and booze.” Alright, alright, alright.
City: Seattle, WA
This is a vintage barrel-aged barlewine—actually the first anniversary beer Fremont brewed—so it’s been mellowing since 2014. All that age did wonders for this beer, which earned the top spot on our barleywine blind tasting. It’s thick and luscious with all kinds of bourbon, vanilla and dark fruit notes. But don’t think this beer is over the top. It’s balanced and not too rich, which we credit to all that time in the bottle.