We’ve reached the Final Four in our search with Philly Loves Beer for the best brewery in America, and there’s good news and bad news.
The good news: Not a single beer drinker would argue that the four breweries chosen by the wisdom of the crowd — over the course of thousands and thousands of votes — aren’t four of the best in the country.
We’ve got Yards, who pulled ahead of Iron Hill to win the in-city battle 62 to 38 percent. Then Victory, which put out the call to fans and was able to edge ahead of worthy competitor Troegs, 51-49. Sierra Nevada wasn’t a shoo-in, but it did top Deschutes, 52-48. And then Dogfish Head, which took the life out of Allagash, 72-28.
So! Yards, Victory, Sierra, Dogfish. If you went into a Philly beer bar and randomly asked someone to pick the four best breweries in the US, it’s possible this is the exact list they’d come up with.
Wait, you might be saying, what about Tired Hands or Wicked Weed or Crooked Stave or that one that opened nearby last year and does only one bottle release a month and people stand in line for hours to get it? Yes, those breweries are surely all doing exciting things with beer, but it comes down to what “best” means. The superlative should not be equivalent with “hottest” or “trendiest.” It should reflect, for a business, a long history of dedication to quality and caring about customers and respecting the environment and helping make the world a better place. And that’s what each contender in our Final Four group has done — along with making some truly great beer.
Now the bad news: You have to decide between them.
To help, we’ve created a list of four of the best beers from each competitor. Even if you’re not familiar with all four breweries, read through and use your best judgement to cast a vote. (Skip to the voting by clicking here.)
This newcomer to the lineup is a retooling of the excellent Rye IPA, and it still has a spicy-sharp backbone thanks to the use of rye malt. It’s got a bolder hop flavor, though, which starts with a citrusy nose, moves through a tinge of pine and finishes with a dry bite (6.2% ABV).
Chocolate Love Stout
How to get your chocolate fix if you’re not in the mood for something sweet. Really, the more than 200 pounds of Belgian dark chocolate that go into this stout make it ultra smooth and velvety — chocolatey, you could say — but without any overpowering syrupy sweetness to drag it down (6.9% ABV).
Don’t let the bright pink color fool you — this beer isn’t sweet either. There’s 3,300 pounds of cherries and raspberries in the mix, but the end result is more like champagne than juice. It’s crisp and dry and also raises money for breast cancer research, best of all worlds (5.5% ABV).
Have a friend who usually drinks Yuengling? Turn them onto this alternative. Ultra drinkable, this malty brew is equally good for a beach picnic or a ski party. It works in any weather and almost any time (4.2%).
One of the newest IPAs in the lineup, but the most balanced. This could be a poster child for the style known as American IPA. It’s tangy but not bitter, bright but not biting and full of body but easy to sip quickly (6.5% ABV).
This tart twist on the classic knockout tripel Golden Monkey almost tastes more like wine than it does beer — in the best way. Plus, it’s still strong, but you can taste the strength more than in the original. So though it’s still a pleasure to drink, so you’re less likely to inadvertently finish the whole six pack and end up in trouble (9.5% ABV).
When you’re looking for complex flavors but want to keep the ABV low, this is the go-to. Made with tons of real cherries, the ale starts out sweet but finishes almost salty. It’s as refreshing as they get, and you’ll definitely want more than one (4.7% ABV).
The classic, the standard-bearer, the way pilsners should taste. One of the first beers Victory ever brewed, it just got a brand makeover, but the clean, crisp taste and full body — what you thought “beer” would be like when you were a kid — is the same as ever (5.3% ABV).
Flesh & Blood IPA
If you think you don’t like fruity beers, this new addition to the lineup is one that will prove you wrong. There’s a ton of citrus in it, from lemon flesh to blood orange juice, but the beer itself still tastes like beer, hoppy and bright and slightly bitter. Watch out, it’s a bit too drinkable (7.5% ABV).
The sour beer than won over America before America knew it liked sours. This springtime classic helped introduce people to Berliner Weisse style, which has a sharp, tart flavor and a clean acidic finish. Refreshing as all hell (4.5% ABV).
A wood-aged beer that’s as bold as any, but doesn’t knock you over with too much oak. That’s thanks to the fact that the base is actually a blend of a smooth and rich English old ale and a sharp and strong Imperial IPA. They come together to pack a hefty flavor punch (10% ABV).
60 Minute IPA
Just enough hops — added continually throughout the brewing process, a method Dogfish pioneered — makes this classic something you can always count on. The end result is hoppy and bitter, but not so much than you can’t toss back a few over the course of a night (6% ABV).
The best-selling craft beer in the country would probably be called an IPA if it was introduced today, but its simple name reflects its straightforward character as a lightly hoppy American classic. It’s piney, it’s citrusy, it’s bright, it’s round. It’s what you want to drink, just about all the time (5.6% ABV).
No actual fruit in this one, and once you taste it, that’s surprising. Who knew hops could create such intense notes of mango and papaya? The brewers at Sierra, apparently. There’s still some bracing bitterness, too, so be prepared for a tidal wave of flavor (6.7% ABV).
Any ale brewed with prickly pear cactus is interesting enough to check out, but this take on a gose has enough good things going for it that it will keep and hold your attention. It’s a summer refresher that’s more interesting than most (4.5% ABV).
Every year it’s different, every year it’s a gift. One of the only hop-forward Christmas beers, this annual release is bold and intense, but not so much that it won’t pair beautifully with holiday meats and sweets. At 6.8% ABV, it’ll help you get through the awkward family conversations, too.