A Deeper Look at the Best Beers in America for 2012

Recently, the American Homebrewers Association polled readers of its Zymurgy magazine to ask about their favorite beers. Some 16,000 respondents cast votes used to compile the list. Here's how it breaks down:

By the numbers:

  • 36 of the beers are commercially available in Houston
  • 27 different breweries are represented
  • 22 IPAs made the list
  • 8 stouts made the list
  • 40 of the beers hail from just five states (21 from California, seven from Colorado, four from Michigan, four from Delaware and four from Oregon)
  • 1 beer is missing (For those counting, there are only 49 beers on the list. No. 40 was inexplicably left off.) The error has been corrected and Green Flash West Coast IPA has been added.

For better or worse, the list functions somewhat better as a popularity barometer or as a sales and distribution measure. You will notice no Texas-brewed beers on the list. A big reason for this is the relative absence of Texas beers available at a national level; very few Texas brewers distribute outside the border.

This is not to say the list doesn't hold some outstanding beers, however. We've taken a deeper look at three of our favorite locally available beers from this year's list. All three can be found at most larger Spec's, Whole Foods or H-E-B locations.

Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA

Introduced earlier this year by America's second-largest craft brewer, Ruthless Rye is the newest beer on the top 50. While variations of the standard IPA have been gaining momentum among beer drinkers for several years, Ruthless Rye's place at No. 12 after being on the market less than six months is fairly surprising. A rye IPA, Ruthless offers a deeply complex, peppery flavor that pours thicker and maltier than a traditional IPA. Ruthless Rye can be found in sixpacks in the early spring.

Left Hand Milk Stout

Recently rebranded by Left Hand Brewing as "America's Stout," this Milk Stout is the third stout appearing on the list, coming in at No. 24. It is the only Milk or Cream Stout featured on the list. Milk Stouts contain lactose, a sugar which is not turned into alcohol during the brew process. This addition leaves the beer creamy and sweet with a thick mouth feel. Left Hand's Milk Stout is unique in that it is available in its normal carbonated form as well as new nitrogen-infused bottles. The nitro version is our pick here. Upon pouring a bottle of Nitro Milk Stout, you are rewarded with a smooth, cascading beer with a creamy head typically reserved for beers on draft. Both the traditional and the nitro version are available year-round.

Stone Sublimely Self Righteous This beer -- the recent victim of an attempt to make beer ice cream -- is a "Cascadian Dark Ale" or, more commonly, "Black IPA." Made by adding caramel malts to traditional IPA recipes during the brew process, Stone SSR is what the moniker "Black IPA" implies: a darker, slightly maltier version of what you might expect from a typical IPA beer. SSR is still a complex and very hoppy beer. It's 22 ounces of boozy goodness, best shared with a few friends. Stone Sublimely Self Righteous can be found in 22-ounce bottles year-round.

These three are just a start. At the moment, there are more than 30 additional beers on this list that you can pick up here in Houston at your favorite drinking hole or at larger grocers. How many of these 50 have you had?

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Joshua Justice
Contact: Joshua Justice