The 50 Best Beers in America. Pliny Tops the List.

Drum roll please… Zymurgy magazine just released its list of the 50 Best Beers in America, as voted on by its readers. We have the list below, along with the press release. Did your favorite make the list? Does anything about the list surprise you?

If nothing else, the list is a great conversation piece. This year Zymurgy tallied over 16,000 votes. Not surprisingly, the top of the list is lousy with heavily hopped beers. Is anyone really surprised at the lack of beers from the Pacific Northwest, other than three from Deschutes and one from Rogue? Our good friend Pliny finished at both the top and bottom of the list. That is interesting. I bet on the two Plinys to win and place.

Zymurgy is the area of applied science that addresses fermentation. Zymurgy magazine is the journal of the American Homebrewers Association. In other words, the people who vote in this poll are serious homebrewers from across the nation. Obviously, like any national publication, the majority of the readers likely reside in large population centers across the country. We all know where to find the greatest density of population in the United States. It is not the Pacific Northwest.

In my humble opinion, beer is almost entirely subjective. A good beer is one that I like. A bad beer is one that is spoiled or patently flawed. I tend to either like or dislike a particular beer. The word “best” doesn’t really work. I can pick a favorite, but I am not vainglorious enough to presume that I know which is best. But I get the point of the reader poll. It is what it is.

The 50 Best Beers in America

1. Russian River Pliny the Elder

2. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale

3. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA

4. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

5. Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale

6. Bell’s Hopslam

7. Sierra Nevada Celebration

8. Stone Ruination IPA

9. Sierra Nevada Torpedo

10. North Coast Old Rasputin

11. Firestone Walker Union Jack

12. Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye

13. Bear Republic Racer 5

14. Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale

15. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA

16. Firestone Walker Double Jack

T17. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

T17. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot

19. Stone IPA

20. New Belgium Fat Tire

21. Deschutes Black Butte Porter

22. Avery Maharaja

23. Founders Breakfast Stout

24. Left Hand Milk Stout

T25. Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

T25. New Belgium Ranger

T25. Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

28. Deschutes The Abyss

29. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

30. Surly Furious

T31. Lagunitas Little Sumpin Sumpin

T31. Rogue Dead Guy

T31. Samuel Adams Boston Lager

34. Troegs Nugget Nectar

T35. Lagunitas IPA

T35. New Belgium La Folie

T37. Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

T37. Founders KBS

T37. Russian River Blind Pig IPA

40. Green Flash West Coast IPA

41. Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale

42. Victory Prima Pils

43. Great Divide Yeti

T44. Alaskan Smoked Porter

T44. Anchor Steam

T44. Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

T44. Samuel Adams Noble Pils

T48. Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

T48. Oskar Blues Ten Fidy

T48. Russian River Pliny the Younger


Hops captivate homebrewers’ hearts

Boulder, CO • June 27, 2012—A record number of 16,445 votes were tallied in Zymurgy magazine‘s “Best Commerical Beers in America” poll, and the message is loud and clear: American Homebrewers Association (AHA) love hoppy beers! Eight of the top 10 vote getters were IPAs, double IPAs or pale ales, and for the fourth straight year, Russian River Brewing Co.’s Pliny the Elder, a double IPA brewed in Santa Rosa, Calif., was named the “Best Commercial Beer in America.”

In its 10th year, Zymurgy’s annual survey saw increased participation, with readers voting online for their 20 favorite beers that are commercially available in the United States. Votes were received from some 1,500 Zymurgy readers around the world.

With a fierce field of hopped-up beers, Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo was very pleased to win a fourth accolade: “When we started brewing Pliny the Elder in 1999, there were almost no double IPAs on the market. Present day, there are so many great hoppy beers, it’s hard to put to words how honored we are.”

Just like last year, the second and third rankings were rounded out by Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (Kalamazoo, Mich.), and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery’s 90-Minute IPA (Milton, Del.) The only beers in the top 10 that didn’t fit into the categories of IPA, pale ale or double/imperial IPA were Stone Brewing Co.’s Arrogant Bastard (American strong ale) in fifth and North Coast’s Old Rasputin (Russian imperial stout) in 10th.

With more than 2,000 breweries now in the U.S. and more than 1,100 breweries in planning, according to statistics compiled by the Brewers Association, there are more choices than ever for beer lovers to explore, according to Jill Redding, editor of Zymurgy. “The Zymurgy readers’ poll grows in numbers and prestige each year,” said Redding. “As homebrewers and beer lovers, our readers have some of the most sophisticated and knowledgeable palates on the planet.”



  1. I can’t believe Hopslam is up there… that was one of the most uninteresting beers I’ve had all year. It should be ashamed to have the word hop in it’s name.

    Plenty of better IPAs and DIPAs that never make it out of the NW. For Oregon, Boneyard Hop Venom and the RPM should be on this list for sure. And Laurelwood… and HAIR OF THE DOG. For Washington, Boundary Bay, Diamont Knot, Snipes Mountain and Old Schoolhouse all deserve mention. The list could go on and on. But hey… that’s why we live in the NW. The rest of the country is finally understanding why we like lower malt IPAs that accentuate the hop characteristics. Where else can you get hops into a brew just hours after they were harvested? Or a festival that was dedicated to single hop beers (Amnesia Single Hopfest)?

  2. I would guess that 90 percent of the people who read Zymurgy have never even heard of Boundary Bay or Diamond Knot. And 99% have never heard of Snipes Mountain, Boneyard, or Old Schoolhouse. And of course there are countless breweries across the country that we Cascadians have never heard of. Actually, that’s a beautiful thing. As more and more breweries open across the country, these kinds of polls become less and less meaningful. Still, they are conversation pieces.

    It just doesn’t sound as sexy if you say, “Of all the beers in America that are widely distributed to major metropolitan areas in multiple states, or that enjoy a cult-like following, here are the top 50 as voted on by our small sampling of craft beer drinkers.” 🙂

  3. “In my humble opinion, beer is almost entirely subjective. A good beer is one that I like. A bad beer is one that is spoiled or patently flawed. I tend to either like or dislike a particular beer. The word “best” doesn’t really work. I can pick a favorite, but I am not vainglorious enough to presume that I know which is best. But I get the point of the reader poll. It is what it is.”

    Perfectly stated and pretty much sums up my feelings as well and I will admit, I love living in an area where my choices are so numerous. No where else in the country sans Portland, SD, Denver (big maybes there) can I indulge in so many variations of beer most of which are good beers, some of which are great.

    I hope Seattle always maintains the massive selection of all good/great beers and never settles for the ‘best’ 50 beers.

  4. Founder’s is one of those that you mentioned with small market and a full on cult following but has such limited production. 90% of people voting probably have never had it (or most haven’t had a Pliny or Blind Pig for that matter).

    The NW breweries on this list is severely lacking the quality that really exists in WA and OR. The mix of commercially available brews and local oddities seems like it needs to be split into separate catagories. I agree a NW based poll is in order! Great idea!

    I know that in a few years some of the breweries I mentioned will deserve this same recognition (like Boneyard once they start canning in December). Just look at all the awards our NW brewers have stacked up this year alone. 🙂

  5. That list is pretty right on. Although no Green Flash representation is odd. They have Ballast Point Sculpin on the there. (Great beer BTW) SN pale ale?? Bha…Bottom line, CA wins hands down when it comes to “West Coast IPA’s” and DIPA’s. Oregon is catching up with likes of Boneyard. WA makes great beer styles other than IPAs. I still don’t believe Pliny is overrated. Yes, the hard core beer geeks turned it into some “cult” beer a few years back, but that’s not the case anymore. Pliny is readily available these days. And yes, like art, very subjective. Some would say PBR is the “best” beer on earth! haaa

  6. They have to fill the pages somehow…these are easy articles that don’t require much effort and keep the magazine at a good weight for swatting flies.

    Also, there are a lot of people who need to be told what’s good so they can sound smart to their friends who don’t know any better. These articles sell magazines to those people.

  7. The fact that the likes of Fat Tire and Dead Guy Ale are rated higher on this list than PtY is kind of hilarious.

  8. kinda hard to rate PtY when it’s such a pain in the ass to find, especially if you’re not in a major city. not surprised at all it was rated so low.

  9. I agree that there need to be regional versions of this. I’m from Texas and I may be biased, but some of my favorite IPA’s and DIPA’s are made right here, such as Saint Arnold Endeavour and Deep Ellum IPA and Double Rye IPA.

  10. Agree Jonny. I’m from Dallas and the Deep Ellum is very good especially the Dreamcrusher IPA. Also, Jester King from Austin is one of my favorites now too.

  11. I think Kendall hit the point on the head. Some of our favorite NW breweries depend more on keg sales than bottle or can sales. If you look at that list carefully you’ll find that most of those beers are available in a 12oz. bottle. I moved to Central California and I can say that the only Washington beer I can find down here is Redhook. I miss Black Raven, Chuckanut, BB, DK, and Elysian. Nobody down here even knows who they are, though. I don’t think they’ll make the list until their beers are available in more than one State.

  12. Wow! Old Schoolhouse Ruud Awakening should be on there as well as their Imperial IPA. Mirror Pond & Fat Tire – delete!

  13. Stupid article. Sierra Nevada Pale? That was like 8 yrs ago. Waste of space!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. I agree with the Sierra Nevada comment. SN rating higher than Firestone Walker? I have come to accept that hype and availability will always put Pliny on top, even though I prefer RR’s Blind Pig (#37) any day.

  15. The list to me reflected those beers which have wide distribution. There are plenty of smaller breweries who make superior products to those on the list (not just here in the Northwest, but CA and other states as well), but their distribution is small, or in the case of keg-only breweries, not at all.

    Also, Pliny the Elder once upon a time was an amazing beer, but I can think of five IIPA’s which are far superior to it now. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s just not worth all the noise made about it, and beer stores which ration it only seem to add to the hype. Pliny the Younger is another story. I just don’t get how Pliny the Elder is superior to Double Jack, Ace of Spades, Double Daddy, Hop Venom or any number of other Imperial IPA’s.

  16. CORRECTION: you left out #40 – Green Flash West Coast IPA. After searching for the complete list online, I landed at the Beer Adv. site, and they complained there were only 49 on the list(???) So I compared this list with my copy of Zymurgy, and sure enough, the Green Flash W.C. IPA is there in print, in the No. 40 slot. It can be confusing with all the “tied” numbers. (So Josh was right!)
    Thank you for posting it, Kendall.
    It is a solid list of 50 great beers.

  17. Yeah, an interesting list for sure. I’m friends with several beer nerds and they know I love barrel-aged stuff, but they can’t stand “wood” as part of a palate (fools!). I put Hoppy the Woodsman at the top of my list, but since it’s seasonal (and hard to find when it’s “in season”), you’ll never see it on a list of top beers. Or that Coco Jones by Black Raven – Gold Medal in 2010 world beer cup (delicious), but it’s only brewed twice a year in small batches. I definitely hunt that one down, whenever it’s around. And don’t get me started on Cascade Brewing’s incredible offerings.
    So, like others have said, there’s no right or wrong answers – it’s just more of a list of tasty beers that happen to have wider distribution. I’ll have to make my own list this year, and get my vote counted next year. But you’d have to expect less than a third of MY top 50 (or anyone else’s, for that matter) to make the list. I have put a few on my list to track down on a trip to the midwest in the fall. That’s as good a purpose for this list as any, I guess. I’m thirsty.

  18. How can Pike brewery not be on this list? Diamond knot ipa as well. I’m in awe by this list. Yes there are great beers on this list, but at least half of these don’t even come close IMO.

  19. There’s really no way to make everyone happy with such a list. For example, I wish there were less IPAs listed.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love most of the beers on this list. However, there’s so much more to beer than just hops!

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