Mike's Beer Ratings

What follows is, in order of preference, my ratings of beers that I've had. There's also an alphabetic listing if you want to see what I've rated. Of course, the ratings are biased, as they're based solely on my personal taste. The beers listed here are based on my bottle collection at home; I collect only bottles that I've actually drunk. This means that there are various beers that I've had in restaurants and at parties that are not on this list, as I don't have the bottle.

The relative distance between any two beers is not fixed. This list is still growing, so the current top may lose its place. I don't see the current bottom losing its place, as I don't intend to drink Budweiser, Coors, or Miller ever again. Those three do make good cheap slug-killer....

The picture at the top of this page is the label from Anchor Porter, my top-rated beer. Comments on this page are welcome, as are suggestions for beers not on this list. I'm mjbauer (at) mit (dot) edu.

Disclaimer and notes on glass color and skunking.

Great beers

Anchor Porter
This beer was surprising for its intense chocolate flavor and tasty head. Delicious stuff, either with food or sipped by itself. The best American beer I've had yet.
Guinness Extra Stout
Very close to Anchor Porter, Guinness is a great beer. Slightly more bitter than I would like, which is what cost it a higher rating. Good flavor.
Pete's Wicked Ale
Not as thick or chewy as the first few (but still pretty chewy), Pete's is a magnificent American brew. Nicely bitter, good flavor, and probably the best of these to drink with dinner.
Pilsner Urquell
The best pilsner-style beer I've ever had. It looks like Budweiser (Budweiser is theoretically a pilsner), but tastes orders of magnitude better. An excellent, light-bodied beer. It has the misfortune of being shipped in green bottles.
Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale
Another good dark beer, good flavor, decent bitterness, and a pleasant yeasty aftertaste. Unfortunatley, this beer comes in a clear bottle, leaving it very susceptible to skunking.
Tucher Hefe-Weizen
This is what a wheat beer should be. A light-weight beer with a wheat-and-yeast flavor that I can only call "dense". It's somewhat cloudy, but it's supposed to be. "Hefe" is German for "yeast", and there's a reasonable dose of yeast in this beer. Make sure you swish the last half-inch of beer around in the bottle before pouring -- yummy. If you like, have it with a wedge of lemon.
Negra Modelo
Although this may sound strange, this beer has the best aftertaste I've ever run across in a beer. The beer itself is dark, but doesn't taste like it -- its flavor more resembles a brown ale in strength. The flavor is somewhat sweet, which fits in wonderfully. The hops are nice and subdued, contributing to the flavor without being overpowering.
Oregon Nut Brown Ale
An excellent medium-dark beer with a well-rounded flavor that is just slightly thin. The hop flavor is quite pleasant; it is distinguishable but not overpowering. It does rather well with food, and can hold its own when served with spicy or hot dishes.
Old Brown Dog Ale
Courtesy of the Smuttynose Brewery in New Hampshire, Old Brown Dog Ale is a good brown ale with a strong, but pleasant, hop flavor. It does very well with food (in the case of the one I had, deep-dish pizza), and would probably do well by itself.
Bass Pale Ale
Bass, for all its advertising hype, is actually worth drinking. It has good body, a nice flavor, and compliments Guinness well as the other half of a Black and Tan.
Chimay is possibly the best-known of the many excellent beers brewed in Belgium. It is very smooth, with little hop bite. There is a faint sourness to it that I would attribute to the unique strains of wild yeasts available in Belgium. Quite tasty.
Samichlaus Bier 1994
Samichlaus is delicious, with an interesting combination of good sweet-malt flavor, strong winey and alcoholic background notes, and no appreciable hop flavor. It should not be drunk with food; rather, it should sipped and savored as an after-dinner drink. Perhaps share one with a friend. At about 18% alcohol, drinking a single bottle of it is about the same as drinking half a normal-sized bottle of wine. (As this beer is only made one day per year in Switzerland, and is rather expensive (US$5.00 per bottle), it is difficult to find.) (I found this beer a year after it had been bottled; I don't know if the extra bottle time made a difference in the flavor.)
Mackeson Triple Stout
Mackeson Triple Stout has a lovely malt flavor. The hops are extremely assertive, but not overpowering -- this is a nicely balanced brew. For those of you who are hop fiends, you should find this an excellent beer. I'm not a hop fiend....
Thomas Hardy's Ale
This beer comes in half-size bottles; it's rather pricey even then at about US$3 per half-size bottle (for a single; four-packs were US$10). This beer claims to age extremely well, and improve in flavor for up to 25 years. The one I bought was dated 1993, so it was at least seven months old when I drank it. If you do get this beer, I'd recommend letting it age for longer than I did -- the flavor was extremely sweet, although quite tasty. I suspect after a few years in the bottle, this would be a truly excellent beer. As it was, mine was young, and not as good. [I've since bought another bottle, December 1995, with the intent of drinking it for New Year's Eve, 2000. I'll write it up then. -MJB]
Flying Dog Doggie Style Ale
Once again, I tried a beer with an amusing name -- and this time, it was really good! It had a pleasant malt flavor, and they did something wonderful with the hops -- the flowery odor and flavor were there, but it was missing the excessive bitterness that usually goes along with the odor and flavor. The label says that they use dry-hopping to achieve this. I wonder if it's just the technique of dry-hopping, or the specific variety of hops they use.
Samuel Smith's Pure Brewed Lager Beer
Despite the pretentious-sounding name, this is a very nice beer. It is medium-bodied and extremely smooth, with a bit of an edge of hops that fits right in. Like the Nut Brown Ale, it had yeast in the bottom -- very pleasant. The bottle I had also had a slight sour flavor, with a very faint odor of skunk; I think it was minimally light-struck. (Green bottles are evil.) If it wasn't skunked, I think this would sit up near (or above!) Pilsner Urquell.
Newcastle Brown Ale
Nice flavor, nice bitterness, although the hopping is a bit too much. Tasty, although not great with food. Sadly, it comes in a clear bottle.

Decent beers

Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout
A sweet, malty beer with barely a hint of hops. The sweet flavor does not turn cloying, unlike some other sweet beers. I don't recommend having food with this beer; the sweet flavor will overpower virtually any delicate food, and likely clash with anything stronger. Unfortunately, it comes in clear glass. I do wish that the folks at Samuel Smith's brewery would start using brown glass.
Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager
Probably the darkest beer on this list, the name made the beer worth trying, although it wasn't all that its name would imply. Good, thick, chewy stuff, but not amazing.
Theakston Old Peculier
Old Peculier used to be the best beer I have ever had. Wonderful flavor, decently bitter. Unfortunately, recent shipments have been consistently of a lesser grade than its previous incarnation -- one bottle went so far as to have a faint taste of wet cardboard. If the brewery (bought out within the past few years, which might explain the drop in quality) starts shipping the delicious stuff it used to ship to this side of the pond, I'll put it back on top.
Pete's Wicked Lager
Not as thick as Pete's Wicked Ale, but with more body than Pete's Wicked Red. Something other than body that's in Pete's Wicked Ale also seems to be missing from his Lager -- perhaps different hops? Another decent food beer, but I'd recommend Pete's Wicked Ale. Much better stuff.
Hackerbräu Edelhell
A somewhat strongly hopped, medium bodied beer from Germany. The hops are very pleasant, which (given my tastes) is rare at their strength of flavor. It accompanied a chicken dinner quite well, neither disappearing into nor ovepowering the food. Definitely a food beer.
Shepherd Neame Bishop's Finger Kentish Ale
This English ale has a nice body, but is a bit excessive on the hops. It goes well with pretzels, and should hold up well to all but the strongest foods -- I can see this nicely complementing medium-spicy Indian food. Unfortunately it comes in a clear bottle.
Castlemaine XXXX Export Lager
This Australian beer is heavy on the malt -- I could almost mistake it for Japanese mugicha (barley tea) were it not for the carbonation and the hops. The hops absolutely make this beer -- they're very subtle. They don't stand out on their own, but instead provide a wonderful undertone that augments the flavor. The reversal (strong malt, sublte hops) is interesting, and I rather like it. [On inspecting my XXXX bottle, it does not claim to be brewed by Coors. However, it is brewed under contract with a brewery I've never heard of -- in Golden, Colorado. Might this be a Coors subsidiary? -MJB]
Celis White
A lovely wheat beer, courtesy of a Belgian expatriate in Texas. It's light, and I expect rather refreshing in summer heat. (I've only had two, both on early spring days so far.) The wheat has interesting overtones of honey, but has an odd bite to it. It benefits from warming -- 50 degrees F is about right; refrigerator temperatures are too cold for it.
Celis Grand Cru
A pure-malt version of Celis white. The flavorings are nearly identical; however, the flavor of the wheat is missing. Nearly, but not quite as, good.
Fuller's ESB English Ale
When served refrigerator cold, Fuller's ESB has a strong hoppy flavor. When cellar cool (about 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit), it is very pleasant -- the hops and the malt balance each other nicely. Once it reaches room temperature, the hop flavor is strengthens, and the malt fades, making an unpleasantly hoppy beer. Definitely drink this one cellar cool; it rates much lower (somewhere near Harp Lager) otherwise. I've never before come across a beer that varies so much with temperature.
Pete's Wicked Red
Lighter-bodied than Pete's Wicked Ale, this beer could also be termed a Pale Ale without difficulty. Quite tasty, with the nice balance of hops and malt. It does leave something to be desired in flavor -- but it makes a wonderful pretzel beer.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale does not suffer the severe overhopping that seems to afflict everything else that comes out of the Sierra Nevada brewery. This is a pleasant ale, light and reasonably hoppy, although the hops get a bit too intense toward the end of the bottle.
Young's Old Nick
Don't let the mild flavor of this beer fool you. It's a barley wine, a beer that has near wine-level alcohol content. Old Nick is rather pleasant to drink, and lends itself nicely to food. Just don't have too many.
Xingu Black Beer
Xingu seems to be of the same style as Negro Modela. It doesn't taste as thick as its darkness would imply, and it has a nice sweet flavor. It's not quite as good as Negro Modela; Xingu is slightly harsher and doesn't have the wonderful aftertaste.
Samuel Adams Scotch Ale
This is one of the best Samuel Adams beers. It's reasonably thick, without the associated hop content or indifferent flavor that seems to plague other Samuel Adams beers. Good by itself or with munchies.
Celis Pale Bock
Nice light flavor, similar to a pale ale. Not excessively hoppy, sligtly sweet. It would probably go well with mildly flavored foods (although I drank it separately).
Pete's Wicked Summer Brew
A light, pleasantly flavored, but somewhat lame beer. It seemed to be missing something -- perhaps in the combination of hops. A nice summer beer; however, don't drink it with assertive food, as it doesn't hold up well.
Saranac Golden
A standard, garden-variety pilsner that has hops that actually stand out. Sadly, a bit too much; however, the flavor is good. It stands up reasonably to strongly-flavored foods.
Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
A relatively standard stout with an interesting extra flavor, which I believe was the oatmeal. Unlike other Samuel Smith products, this one didn't seem to have a noticeable yeast flavor or sediment. Pleasant, but the brewery makes better beers. And again, the beer comes in a clear bottle. Not good, guys....
Kirin Dry
This beer is the one that started the dry beer craze in the US. Of all the dry beers, it's probably the best. Decent flavor, slightly underhopped, and (the dry feature) no aftertaste. This is not something for those who like their beer to stick with them.
Anchor Steam Beer
This stuff has an interesting flavor; I'm not sure if it's the steam brewing process, or their recipe. It's good, whatever makes it taste that way.
Samuel Adams Boston Lager
Probably the best brew that Samuel Adams puts out. It's a good basic lager, with a nice level of hopping, and decent flavor. Sadly, it's nothing more than that.
Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat
The cherry flavor in this wheat improves the overall taste -- and I don't normally like cherries! This is a pleasant wheat beer, with a nice edge (not too strong) of cherry. For completely different reasons, this rivals the Boston Lager for the best that Samuel Adams makes. Much better than their Wheat.
Harp Lager
By itself, this is a really good beer that has too many hops in the recipe. As an alternative other half of a Black and Tan, it is better than Bass, as its flavor does something wonderful with Guinness and makes a really good drink.
Pete's Wicked Winter Brew
This seems to be a desire to be different gone awry. Normally, winter beers have warm spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, to add flavor. This one includes nutmeg, but also is trying to be different by adding raspberries (a distinctly summer fruit, and from the flavor added fresh). The raspberries are surprising, but detract from the nutmeg. Removing them might be a good idea.
Samuel Adams Cream Stout
A reasonably thick beer -- and somehow Sam Adams overdid the hops. It would probably stand up well to strongly-flavored foods -- perhaps potent Indian or Thai sauces.
Rolling Rock Bock
Bock is a German medium-bodied beer. As one such, this was decent, with a good strong flavor, and decent hoppiness. Nothing really grabbed my attention about it, though.
Saranac Black and Tan
This tries to be a black and tan (Guinness and Bass (or Harp) mixed) in one bottle. Unfortunately, it comes across as a medium-heavy lager with the full complement of hops for a strong stout. Hop lovers might like it better than I did; I thought the hops were too strong for the weight of the beer.
Saranac Adirondack Amber
This beer is too strong on the hops, too weak in the malt. Decent with food, not recommended by itself.
Harpoon Ale
A medium-bodied, but slightly thin and rather sharp beer. I didn't like it that well -- it seemed to have an excess of some sharp flavored hop and not enough malt.
New Amsterdam New York Amber Beer
A nice beer that really doesn't distinguish itself. It seems technically correct, but without inspiration.
Ballantine India Pale Ale
An uninspiring hoppy pale ale. It does do well with food.
Harpoon India Pale Ale
Apologies in advance for this and the next two lame entries; I don't remember much about these. Nothing in this beer really stuck out in my mind; I need to try another one. (It's been a while.)
Watney's Red Barrel Beer
Nothing in this beer really stuck out in my mind; I need to try another one. (It's been a while.)
Belhaven Scottish Ale
Nothing in this beer really stuck out in my mind; I need to try another one. (It's been a while.)
Samuel Adams Boston Ale
Another fine product of the Samuel Adams line, and one of their better ones. Nice flavor, but not amazing.
Kirin Ichiban
Ichiban means "number one" in Japanese, although I disagree with their designation. Kirin Ichiban is a decent beer, although nothing to write home about. Kirin Dry is much better.
Red Stripe Lager Beer
Turns out that the first Red Stripe I had was indeed skunked. Without the skunky flavor, Red Stripe is reasonably good. It's a bit thinner than I like, but I can understand this given the usual temperatures of its country of origin (Jamaica).
Commonwealth Brewing Company Boston Burton Ale
This is an ale made to imitate the ales produced in Burton-on-Trent, England. The style is largely based on reproducing the extremely hard water found in Burton; this lends a strong mineral flavor to the beer. I think the beer would have been much better without the extra stuff in the water.
Miller Velvet Stout
One of the megabrewers finally put together something decent. It has flavor beyond that of "yuck", good body, and is a little too bitter. Miller finally let a brewmaster make something other than their usual crud! Now maybe they'll stop making the slug-killer entirely, and just work on improving this.
Kappy's Premium Quality Beer
An indifferent beer with a nice level of hops and relatively assertive flavor -- I appreciate this. Indifferent beer that tries to camouflage itself behind hops is annoying. Ones that let the flavor come through at least lets you taste for yourself.
A megabrewery does yet another respectable job (Plank Road is a division of Miller). Icehouse actually acts like a real pilsner -- it has a reasonable hop flavor, and a pleasant if understated malt flavor that comes out as it warms. A competent, if uninspired, pilsner. Keep up the good work, and stop making the slug-killer already.
I was hoping that this was a good beer with an amusing name. I was right about the amusing name part. This stuff is a pale imitation of Budweiser in that it has more flavor than Bud (which doesn't really say much for the beer). Other than that, this stuff is Budweiser, including the strong visual resemblance to a urine sample.
Decent beer, although it doesn't have enough body for me. Duvel's disadvantage is that it is overhopped, nearly burying malt flavor.
Ironside Ale
My first impression of this beer was that is was very hoppy tonic water. However, as it warmed, it got a very small hint of malt, with the hop level staying about the same. Desperately in need of flavor.
Post Road Pale Ale
Post Road Pale Ale has far too many hops. Sadly, it doesn't have much flavor either -- although I'm not sure -- the hops were a bit too strong to tell.
Olde Heurich Maerzen Beer
An otherwise good beer that is missing something from its flavor. Unfortunately, I'm not a brewer [I've taken up homebrewing since I wrote this, but I'm not inclined to to go out and buy another bottle. -MJB], so I'm not quite sure what's missing. If the brewers fix the flavor problem, this will be a much better beer.
Warsteiner Premium Verum
The package for this claimed it was the Queen of Beers, and the best-selling beer in Germany. Somehow I suspect that it is also from the largest brewer in Germany, which means they have more opportunity to find poor saps who'll drink anything. It has a bit more flavor than Spaten Premium Lager (the other German beer on this list), but not much. I suspect that the Germans drink anything respectable before anyone has a chance to export it.
Samuel Adams Wheat
Thin, not much flavor. I've had far better wheat beers, and will be trying to find others. [This one appears to have disappeared from the Samuel Adams product line. -MJB]
Crazy Ed's Original Cave Creek Chili Beer
Very bad beer saved only by the whole chili pepper in the bottle. This gives the otherwise Budweiser-equivalent beer an interesting twist. Pleasantly warm for my level of hot tolerance. Extremely hot for some other folks with no hot tolerance.

Bad news beers

Oxford Class Amber Ale
I'm not quite sure what this beer's brewmaster was thinking when he produced this recipe. The beer smells slightly metallic, and tastes that way as well. As it warms, the smell gets stronger, and the act of drinking becomes more and more unpleasant. There's a relatively strong sweet-malt flavor, as if the beer hadn't fermented completely before it was bottled. This flavor sits on the tongue for quite some time after drinking. All in all, a distinctly strange beer. (A friend originally handed me the bottle and said: "Here. Write something bad about it.".)
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 1992
An indifferent beer, which would rank higher, except that the brewers went completely overboard on the hops. This beer was almost undrinkably bitter. My experience with Sierra Nevada Porter makes me believe that all Sierra Nevada products are heavily hopped.
Griffon Extra Pale Ale
Looks like I found the Canadian equivalent of Budweiser. This stuff came across as water with hops and a heading agent in it. There was no discernible malt flavor. The hops got progressively less pleasant as I finished the beer; this is one of those that degenerates as it warms. Good thing I only got one.
Spaten Premium Lager
American Budweiser imported from Germany. I hope this is an example of Germany's worst. If this is the best Spaten can produce (as I would expect from the "premium" in the name), I don't want to drink anything from them. And in a green bottle, yet. [I've heard from a few people, and from reading Michael Jackson, that Spaten Optimator is respectable. Eventually I'll try some. -MJB]
Coronita Extra
It's "Coronita" because it comes in small bottles. I figured that I could drink a half-sized Corona, so I tried it. It ended up down here because, you guessed it, Mexican Budweiser. Water with a heading agent and minimal hop flavor. I've heard this type of beer (American-style pilsners and their clones) called lawnmower beers. However, I think that German wheat beers and Jamaican Red Stripe are also intended as such -- drink those instead. Much better tasting.
Kaliber Non-Alcoholic Brew
I didn't ever think I'd drink a non-alcoholic beer. However, it showed up at an office party recently. I ignored it, but my wife (for some unknown reason) decided to try one. She had a little bit in a glass, decided she didn't like it, and handed the rest to me. Bleah. The beer has effectively no body, and the only noticeable flavor is a faint stale hop taste. Guinness makes this -- and I'm of the opinion that they should stop Real Soon Now. Don't bother.

mjbauer (at) mit (dot) edu