Bucket List Brews

The 25 Beers You Need to Try Before You Die

June 30, 2020 Drinks By
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We asked a dozen masters of beer and brewing to name which beers every drinker should try at least once in their lifetime. Some of them are basic, beers that give you a baseline and hold your hand ahead of more complex and obscure styles. Others are simply the most notable examples of brewers pushing the limits of science and taste. How many have you tried?

Editor’s Note: Some responses have been edited for clarity and length.

3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze Cuvée Armand & Gaston

Style: Gueuze
ABV: 6%
Brewery Location: Beersel, Belgium
“The first time I shared a 3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze with my wife years ago, she handed it back and told me it smelled like burnt cat hair. Gueuze, of course, can be an acquired taste with its mashup of minerality, acidity, and deep earthy funk. But this new take on oude gueuze from the best gueuze blender in the business is really something spectacular. Soft lemon and stone fruit notes peek out from a body with just a touch of caramelized malt, while a tightly edited acidity is a constant reminder of just how heavy-handed some American brewers are with their ‘sour’ beer.” — Jamie Bogner, cofounder and editorial director of Craft Beer & Brewing

The Alchemist Heady Topper

Style: Double IPA
ABV: 8%
Brewery Location: Stowe, VT
“Do we need more lists that include Heady, the venerable Vermont IPA that helped usher in the NEIPA craze? Yes, yes we do. If we’re talking beers you need to try, why not try one that was once considered the most sought-after beer out there? While you may (or may not) get a better beer from The Alchemist’s neighbors in Vermont — Foam, Hill Farmstead — it’s fun to taste a brew that was once the center of the beer universe.” — Cory Smith, beer writer and photographer

Allagash White

Style: Witbier
ABV: 5.1%
Brewery Location: Portland, ME
“This is probably the most important beer in the history of American craft brewing. If you care about Belgian-American beers, unfiltered brews or fiercely independent business in any way, shape or form, you owe it to yourself to drink White. It also happens to be as tasty, refreshing and versatile as it’s been for the past [two decades].” — Alex Delany, associate web editor at Bon Appétit

Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus AG Rothaus Pils

Style: Pilsner
ABV: 5.1%
Brewery Location: Grafenhausen-Rothaus, Germany
“This beer is over 60 years old and still an elegant representation of a classic German pilsner. Brewed in Germany’s Black Forest, it’s as crisp and refreshing as it gets. We always try to keep some on hand at home and at the brewery as it’s a wonderful beer to share after a long shift, or with friends when entertaining at home.” — Dino Funari, founder of Vitamin Sea Brewing

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Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier

Style: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5.4%
Brewery Location: Freising, Germany
“This German wheat beer is hazy, fluffy and fruity, with no bitterness at all — nearly 1,000 years before the invention of New England-style IPA! Founded in 1040, the brewery was housed in an old monastery and is now owned by the German government.” — Jason Synan, brewer and co-owner of Hudson Valley Brewery

Birrificio Italiano Tipopils

Style: Pilsner
ABV: 5.2%
Brewery Location: Province of Como, Italy
“A wonderful example of an often produced but tough-to-nail style. Tipopils from Birrificio is certainly special among ‘normal’ beers. It’s more full in body than many of its pilsner counterparts, and it provides waves of malt flavors throughout the palate with a perfect Nobel hop spice and bitterness that tickles the tastebuds. Straight up, this beer rules.” — Andrew Witchey, founder of Dancing Gnome Beer

Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 13.2%
Brewery Location: Anaheim, CA
“I first had this beer at a bottle share around the time of Great Notion’s opening. I’ve had a fair number of imperial stouts in the past, but this one surprised me. Since then, I’ve gotten to know the guys from Bottle Logic, and I realize how crazy they are. They use an insane amount of vanilla beans in each bourbon barrel, which, with time, take on a really cool toasted marshmallow flavor. For me, this beer sets the standard for barrel-aged imperial stouts.” — James Dugan, cofounder and cobrewer at Great Notion Brewing

Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba

Style: Belgian Pale Ale
ABV: 4.5%
Brewery Location: Brussels, Belgium
“I only recently tried Tara Boulba but it was an eye-opening experience. A beer with a soft hay-like malt character, a grassy brightness from the hops and a touch of earthiness from the yeast that adds some complexity. It’s a shining example of all the ingredients that make beer melding in perfect harmony to create something greater than the sum of its parts.” — Sofia Barbaresco, general manager at Industrial Arts Brewing

Brasserie d’Orval S.A. Orval

Style: Belgian Pale Ale
ABV: 6.2%
Brewery Location: Florenville, Belgium
“One of the first beers I remember trying that had Brettanomyces in it. Eye opening. Balanced hoppiness when it is young, leaning towards a lovely funkiness as it ages. It might take more than one bottle understand profundity of it all. — Anthony Accardi, cofounder and fermentologist at Transmitter Brewing

Brasserie Dupont sprl Saison Dupont

Style: Saison
ABV: 6.5%
Brewery Location: Leuze-en-Hainaut, Belgium
“One of the most iconic bottle-conditioned beers, offering bright spritzy carbonation with aromatics and a flavor profile that embodies a farmhouse ale. This beer transcends seasons and is a must on everyone’s list.” — Scott Jones, cofounder of Triple Crossing Brewing

Brasserie Thiriez Extra

Style: Saison
ABV: 4.5%
Brewery Location: Esquelbecq, France
“Thiriez, the French farmhouse brewery that was doing hoppy saisons before any stateside brewers caught on to the magic, is possibly the most under-loved and under-appreciated brewery in the world. Extra is the archetype for the modern hoppy saison: unbelievably grassy, dank and yeasty. Drinking Daniel Thiriez’s brew gives context to an entire style of now-ubiquitous American beer.” — Alex Delany, associate web editor at Bon Appétit

Brauerei Spezial Rauchbier

Style: German Rauchbier
ABV: 4.7%
Brewery Location: Bamberg, Germany
“Every drinker should get out of their comfort zone and try a smoked beer. And this, in my opinion, is the best example in the world.” — Steve Luke, head brewer and owner of Cloudburst Brewing

Brouwerij Rodenbach N.V. Rodenbach Classic

Style: Flanders Red
ABV: 5.2%
Brewery Location: Roeselare, Belgium
“I found this on draft at The Ginger Man in New York City not knowing what I was in for in terms of flavor profile and experience. When I see it on draft today, I order it to bring back the experience of astonishment and revelation that tasting that beer had on me.” — Anthony Accardi, cofounder and fermentologist at Transmitter Brewing

Brouwerij Verhaeghe Duchesse De Bourgogne

Style: Flanders Red
ABV: 6.2%
Brewery Location: Vichte, Belgium
“Fans of contemporary American sour ales (read: fruited kettle sours) will love this classic from West Flanders in Belgium. Balancing yogurt-like acidity and sweetness, Duchesse tastes a lot like Sour Patch Kids for a beer that doesn’t have any Sour Patch Kids.” — Jason Synan, brewer and co-owner of Hudson Valley Brewery

Daisy Cutter Half Acre

Style: Pale Ale
ABV: 5.2%
Brewery Location: Chicago, IL
“The beer scene has certainly exploded over the last two years, let alone five, but Half Acre, just outside of Chicago, has been putting out phenomenal product for over a decade. Daisy Cutter is a near-perfect example of an American Pale Ale that checks all boxes. Pronounced and balanced bitterness, a dry and refreshing finish and, perhaps most importantly, an explosion of flavor that’s palatable for everyone. This one is for sure a desert-island beer.” — Andrew Witchey, founder of Dancing Gnome Beer

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 15.2%
Brewery Location: Chicago, IL
“Completely side-stepping the whole craft vs big beer debate, this beer is a benchmark for what barrel-aged stout can be. It created and defined an entire category and needs to be tried at least once.” — Cory Smith, beer writer and photographer

Hill Farmstead Citra

Style: IPA
ABV: 6.3%
Brewery Location: Greensboro Bend, Vermont
“It’s just perfection. The best representation of any single hop variety I’ve had in a beer. It smells like a citrus grove in bloom and tastes like perfectly ripe peaches. The finish is soft and slightly acidic, making your mouth water for another drink. It’s magic.” — Kyle Jefferson, owner and brewer of Pueblo Vida Brewing Company

Jester King Le Petit Prince

Style: Table Beer
ABV: 2.9%
Brewery Location: Austin, TX
“It’s a complex 2.9-percent farmhouse table beer that I could have on my dinner table for the rest of my life; the beer pairs well with any meal. Soft and delicate, yet full of flavor and funk. The brewers at Jester King are basically just showing off. It’s the hardest style to execute and they perfected it.” — Kyle Jefferson, owner and brewer of Pueblo Vida Brewing Company

Kane Brewing Mexican Brunch

Style: Imperial Milk Porter
ABV: 9.2%
Brewery Location: Ocean, NJ
“This is my favorite offering from our New Jersey friends at Kane and one of the best dark beers in the country. Kane does a great job balancing the flavors from a rich base beer with the delicate flavors of the adjuncts. Try it, if you can get your hands on a bottle!” — Eric Ruta, owner of Magnify Brewing

Perennial Abraxas

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 10%
Brewery Location: Saint Louis, MO
“Easily one of the most consistently delicious stouts year after year. Abraxas tends to dodge the “pastry stout” moniker because it manages to stay balanced despite the number of adjuncts.” — John Paradiso, managing editor of Hop Culture

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales Saison Bernice

Style: Saison
ABV: 6.5%
Brewery Location: Capitola, CA
“One day, back when I lived in the Bay Area, I found myself at Toronado on Haight Street. The bartender served me my first Saison Bernice and I was blown away. I remember sipping it slowly, appreciating every nuance, and it changed my idea about what a saison could be. The beauty of it is in its balance: you get a mix of funky Brett, bright acidity and classic farmhouse character. As I try to achieve that level of balance in our mix culture beer, this beer still inspires me.” — James Dugan, cofounder and cobrewer at Great Notion Brewing

Schneeeule Brauerie Marlene

Style: Berliner Weisse
ABV: 3%
Brewery Location: Berlin, Germany
“Schneeeule is making some amazing Berliner Weisse in Berlin, and Marlene is a great example of the style. If you enjoy the beer younger side you might find it has a touch of acidity, but if you let it age longer, you might be able to enjoy a more pronounced acidity and carbonation.” — Alex Wallash, cofounder of The Rare Barrel

Side Project Bière du Pays

Style: Saison
ABV: 4%
Brewery Location: Maplewood, MO
“While there are plenty of Side Project beers you could spend an excessive amount of time and money chasing, this dry and lightly tart exploration into the interaction of Brettanomyces and hops is, for me, one of the most beautiful expressions of mixed culture fermentation there is. Bright citrus notes buoyed by the gentle acidity lay over a crisp malt bed with a touch of spicy Brettanomyces notes to give it structure. Pop open a bottle outside on an early summer afternoon with a friend or two, as this is a beer to drink by the glass, not by the taster.” — Jamie Bogner, cofounder and editorial director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Style: Pale Ale
ABV: 5.6%
Brewery Location: Chico, California
“No matter if I buy this beer at a gas station off a highway exit ramp, a grocery store or an airport, the quality is guaranteed to be the same: impeccable.” – Josh Bernstein, author of The Complete Beer Course and Complete IPA: The Guide to Your Favorite Craft Beer

Yeast of Eden Family Miner

Style: Grisette
ABV: 4.2%
Brewery Location: Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
“This is my favorite grisette because it’s both complex yet crushable, with a hint of acidity … it can really fit whatever mood you have for a beer. If you’re new to the grisette beer style, you can think of a grisette as something like a sessionable saison.” — Alex Wallash, cofounder of The Rare Barrel

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J. Travis Smith

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