The 13 Best Beers We Drank This Year

For many, 2022 was time to get back out to drink in person. We sure did—here are our favorites from nearly 800 beers sampled this year.

To many of us, 2022 was the Year of Getting Out. It was a chance not only to hug long-distance loved ones, but also to venture back into large, anonymous crowds at concerts, sporting events and festivals. And whether the occasion was splitting a bomber of barleywine with a couple of old college roommates or striking up a conversation with a stranger at an airport bar, beer fueled and lubricated many reintroductions to the wild.

For me that also meant getting back to beer bars and breweries: politely declining virtual beer tastings and festivals (OK, I still did one or two Zoom-’n’-brews), closing my laptop and getting back on the road. I used my phone not for placing online beer orders and calling in curbside pickups, but for hailing Ubers from the airport to the brewpub to the hotel and back again and checking out new beers from places other than Untappd at Home.

Thankfully, there was still a robust world of craft beer to return to. Alcohol might be recession-proof, but craft beer was only able to weather the last two years with a hard pivot to packaging and self-distribution as thousands of taprooms were at limited capacity or sat empty altogether. That quickly changed in 2022: While the Brewers Association said that retail scan data showed total beer volume sales were down 6.5% in the first half of the year, the craft beer trade group also reported that on-premise sales and draught numbers were trending upward.

I didn’t need a line graph to illustrate the return to the tap—I saw it myself. This year, I tried almost 800 beers, at least one from each of the Lower 48, 20 of which I visited for at least one homegrown beer. I also attended the first in-person Great American Beer Festival since 2019. But it wasn’t just the taprooms, bars and convention halls that were buzzing again. Everywhere I went, from family gatherings to community picnics and fairs, there were revelers clanging their cups and cans together and toasting life, one another and their newly regained freedom.

Here are just a few of my personal favorites for each occasion, classified by season, from my year of getting back out on the beer trail.

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Indigenous Brewers Tackle Hops and History With Native Craft Beer

At breweries like Oklahoma City’s Skydance, even a visit to the taproom is a teachable moment.

It’s 11 a.m. on a Saturday, and beer drinkers line up out the door of Oklahoma City’s Skydance Brewing. They’ve come to toast the downtown taproom’s one-year anniversary with pints of special-release juicy IPA and snifters of one-off pastry stouts. The tipplers are doing more than just celebrating an occasion—they’re also tacitly acknowledging the place’s Native American heritage.

According to a 2021 audit from the Brewers’ Association, only .4% of craft breweries are owned by American Indians or Alaska Natives, compared with 93.5% by White owners. But places like Skydance are proudly touting their culture, not only to differentiate in a crowded marketplace, but also to tell the stories of their peoples.

At Skydance, patrons look up to see American Indian art, like the portrait of a warpainted Cheyenne Dog Soldier rendered by a local Iowa tribesman. They order the flagship Fancy Dance Hazy IPA, named after the popular powwow ritual, or the Rez Dog American Blonde. The Skydance “S” logo emblazoned on the windows, tap handles, and glasses comprises two eagle feathers, a hallowed symbol of dignity in many Native American cultures. “It symbolizes bringing people together,” says Jake Keyes, vice chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, who launched Skydance out of a local brewing incubator in 2018. “Our culture has always been mysterious to a lot of non-Natives, because it was illegal for us to practice our culture for a long time. We were taught to not talk about it. Now we put the stories on the cans and start a conversation. It demystifies it, and that brings people together.”

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How the South’s Bourbon Culture Changed Craft Beer

Love a bourbon barrel–aged stout? You can thank a wild and crazy idea cooked up by Jim Beam and Goose Island.

Todd Ahsmann slides the six-ounce tasting glass closer to him, gently swirls the dark brown liquid therein, and then lifts the glass to his nose, breathing in deeply. 

“I’m getting a bit of chocolate on the nose,” he says.

Then Ahsmann takes a sip, observing the fluid with his tongue, opening his mouth to let fresh oxygen unlock layer upon layer of flavor, even after he has swallowed.

“There’s vanilla, some molasses,” he says. “Some cherry, almond…oak on the back end.”

Ahsmann’s voice echoes against vaulted ceilings and brick walls lined with charred white-oak barrels, stacked four high, each filled with aging alcohol. But this isn’t a typical Kentucky rickhouse, nor is it some cellar in the heart of Napa wine country. It’s the Goose Island Barrel House, where the Chicago-based craft-beer pioneers age their imperial stout for up to sixteen months in used bourbon barrels. 

Tonight, Ahsmann, president of Goose Island, is leading an advance tasting of 2022’s Bourbon County Brand Stout(BCS), released annually nationwide on Black Friday and hunted by beer lovers for weeks thereafter. This year, the brewery is commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the night Goose Island brewmaster Gregory Hall met Jim Beam master distiller Booker Noe II at a beer, bourbon, and cigar dinner in Indiana, and on a whim, the two came up with the wild idea of aging Hall’s then-unremarkable imperial stout in some of Noe’s freshly emptied Jim Beam barrels. The result has become one of the best-known and highest-rated beers in the world.

It’s also, arguably, one of the most influential. When Goose Island began to develop the Bourbon County Stout in the early 1990s, American beer could be summed up in three words: Miller, Coors, and Anheuser-Busch. For decades, the triumvirate of mega-brewers had flooded the country with slightly different versions of the same yellow lager that was, to put it mildly, easy on the palate. Meanwhile, the coming craft beer revolution was only just starting to bubble over from the basements of hobbyist homebrewers. Even the most novel homespun IPA or porter was still largely looked at—and guzzled—as the same working-class libation European immigrants had brought over three centuries before.

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Why Budweiser Should Matter to the Midwest

“The consistency is staggering”

In Midwestern craft beer circles, there’s nothing cool about Budweiser. Anheuser-Busch was already the Walmart of Big Beer before InBev’s 2008 hostile takeover, after which a disturbingly powerful new American-Brazilian-Belgian conglomerate known as ABInBev cut thousands of jobs in its hometown of St. Louis and moved its sales and marketing operations to New York. 

Of course, ABInBev is still a domineering presence in the Midwest, as it is all over the world. The company’s garrison of Clydesdales, bull terriers, and talking frogs has helped it squeeze diversity—and flavor—out of the domestic marketplace, making room for thirty-packs of cans containing marginally different variations of the same watered-down brew. When craft beer dared to nibble at the outer edges of its massive market share, the company started swallowing up beloved regional microbreweries, including Chicago’s Goose Island and Cleveland’s Platform, and turning them into “crafty breweries,” marketed as craft but backed by big bucks, further nudging truly independent brewers out of prized shelf and tap space.

But despite this litany of crimes against craft, to many beer aficionados, Anheuser-Busch’s most maddening offense might be that its product, namely its flagship Budweiser, is actually, objectively… pretty damn good.

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