Canned beer should no longer conjure up the tinny aftertaste of a bottom-shelf brew. Delicious suds now come can-standard (as we highlighted last summer.) And the selection of beers you can throw in a pack or pop in a drag bag just gets better and better. Here are our favorites for your cooler this summer—with some important new additions.
Best Beach Beer: Good Life Sweet As! Pacific Ale
"Sweet As" is Kiwi speak for really awesome, which is a fair claim for the use of Australian and New Zealand hops in this post-surf refresher. Get ready for a strong apricot zest that lasts throughout every sip and finishes really clean like a pilsner. It's crisp and dry and lightly bitter and will make you crave ocean air if you're not there already. 6%.
Best River Beer: Piney River Float Trip Ale
Maybe it's the limestone filtered Ozark spring water, but something about this beer makes you feel like you're already bobbing in an inner tube. Piney River's newest beer, it has a very light, mellow American ale taste without the lingering toilet water backwash. If you like Budweiser, but don't want to admit it to your craft beer enthused friends, this is a fine river beer for you. 4.5%.
Best Reward Beer: Brewery Vivant Big Red Coq
There was an outcry over our lack of Michigan representation on last year's list. Thanks for speaking up. This Belgo-American Red Ale straight out of Grand Rapids is everything you could want in a beer--smooth, big flavor, high alcohol content, and a light hop zest. The aromas smell like a pear orchard exploding in your nostrils and drinking it straight from the can helps maintain a palatable green pepper punch. Better served as a reward for your epic Class V descent than a primer. 6.25%.
Best Wiffle Ball Game Beer: Sam Adams Boston Lager
The day has come. Boston Beer's founder, Jim Koch, was one of the longest holdouts against canning beer, citing the contaminating taste of metal. Now that can linings are water-based instead of solvent-based, America's pioneer craft brewery just developed the Sam Can. With a wider lid for more airflow and the signature extended lip seen on their pint glasses, the Sam Can directs beer to the front of the tongue. It's the same old beer, but after sampling a tower of other canned lagers, you can't deny the superior balance of this timeless classic. It's like when Lance Armstrong started mountain biking and no one was surprised that he dominated. 4.9%.
Best Beer to Drink In the Parking Lot: The Alchemist Heady Topper
To get your hands on this fabled holy grail of beers, you'll need to line up outside the Waterbury Vermont brewery on Mondays and Wednesdays—canning days—before the locals snatch up every last one like locusts. Despite its distribution radius being only 20 miles from the source, it's currently ranked number one beer in the world on Beer Advocate. Nothing comes close to the masterful hop wave this double IPA hits you with initially, only to back off and smooth out before washing over your dancing taste buds again and again. It's worth the trip. 8%.
Best Trail Beer: Golden Road Cabrillo Kolsch
Get ready for your ultimate summer beer. The Cabrillo Kolsch makes great use of German hops to keep a steady flow of peppery citrus flavor cascading across your palate. Given the well-balanced maturity of this Kolsch, it may surprise you to learn that brewery co-founder, Meg Gill, is the youngest female brewery owner in the world, having earned her stripes at Oskar Blues. It's clear that she's tapped the formula. 5%.
Best Back Porch Beer: Great River Aaah Bock Lager
Every beer Great River sent us was hard to put down. From the first sip, they put you in a constant state of wonderment, trying to decipher what exactly is going on in your mouth. Before you know it, the 16-ounce. beer is gone and you're left feeling like a stumped mathematician. The Aaah Bock Lager, in particular, has a deep and mysterious smokey taste blended with a controlled sweetness—just enough, but not so much that it's tart. Co-owner and brewer Paul Krutzfeldt is has developed an ultra-efficient shrinkwrap label that even takes some bite off the cold metal. 6%.
Best Camping Beer: Fort George Tender Loving Empire NWPA
Popping the top on a limited seasonal NWPA and sticking your nose up to the mouth of the can smells like a Saturday morning walk through an Oregon farmer's market. Take a sip and you'll get peachy, citrusy, green, and even banana notes. They're all pretty subtle, but the whole beer is more complex than you think at first blush. There's nothing devious about the taste in that you know what you're getting every sip. While searching for descriptive phrases with his eyes closed, a tester let out an easy sigh and said, "It's just f---ing perfect." 5.8%.
Best Ballpark Beer (in Cincinnati): Mad Tree PsycHOPathy
Using an assembly line machine called Canny Rogers, Mad Tree just dropped Ohio's first canned craft beer, and this brew sets the bar pretty high. It's a delightfully bitter, full-bodied IPA that's not overpowering. The name evokes a catalog of funny puns—one tester repeatedly remarked, "This beer makes me so HOPPY … in my heart." He'd had several. 6.9%.
Best BBQ Beer: Revolution Bottum Up Witbier
A summer beer that reminds you of winter, with spices like coriander and Curacao orange peel. It's an honest, proper witbier and fairly monotonic—you only get one notable flavor, but it's a good one. Simple and clean and very drinkable for it's level of spice and flavor. Great to drink when the sun is shining and even better when it's setting. 5%.