The beer industry stands at a crossroads. As consumer interests continue to shift, brewers are working to innovate. They are experimenting with flavors and processes, looking to find ways to bring exciting experiences to the glass. Brewers are also returning to roots, working to perfect humble styles without bells and whistles.
For beer drinkers this means a chance to drink familiar favorites while seeking out new ones. It also shows a maturity among brewers who thrive on innovation but respect history. As the United States approaches 10,000 breweries, the industry has uncertainty about the future, but a growing sense of purpose.
This list represents the very best submitted to Wine Enthusiast and tasted throughout 2023. From the relatively new cold IPA styles to more staid representations in porter and stout, the flavors use the very best in common and uncommon ingredients. Barrel-aged beers maintain popularity as brewers seek to get the most out of the wood. Saison and wheat beers remain versatile players in an endless sea of India pale ales. Fruit beers continue to become punchier, sweeter, tangier and more colorful.
While many of the national and business news headlines have focused on international conglomerates duking it out over the top lager spot, the smaller brewers—as highlighted here—are going for depth of flavor and reviving historical recipes to tempt taste buds. Dark lagers, from Czech-style to Schwarzbier, are having a mini-renaissance as well. Those categories should continue to grow in the new year.
Some of these beers, like the barrel-aged beers and other high-abv offerings, can be cellared for additional transformation of flavors. However, all can—and should—be drunk when released, as the brewers intended.
This list also highlights that real gems are found among the smaller brewers, not just the national players. It’s a good reason and reminder to go off the beaten path and into taprooms and local bottle shops to see what’s new and ready to drink. —John Holl
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