My Top 20 Beers (right now, at least)
20. New Belgium 1554 Black Ale. While they call it an ale, it's brewed with a lager yeast so as far as I'm concerned it's a Belgian Schwarzbier. Whatever you call it, this is the stuff that should be everywhere instead of Fat Tire.
19. Fuller's London Pride. It's what I think of when I think of British ales, and the malt profile is more complex than you'd think at first taste.
18. Rogue Dead Guy Ale. I love a good Maibock, and ironically the best--and most widely available--version in the U.S. is an ale. Go figure.
17. Left Hand Milk Stout. It sets the standard for sweet/milk stouts.
16. Trumer Pils. Brewed under Austrian supervision in Berkeley, it allows the drinker to experience a fresh European pils that hasn't suffered through a transatlantic trip.
15. Bell's Cherry Stout. A lot of people don't like this one for some reason, but I love it. It's malty and roasty enough to hold up to the tart cherries. Great stuff.
14. Two Brothers Bare Tree. The best of an emerging style: wheat wines (a cross between barley wines and hefeweizens).
13. Piece Brewery Golden Arm Koelsch. Like you're in Cologne, only not served in .2 L beakers!
12. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. As you can tell from this list, I'm not much of a hop head, but this beer has the malt to balance it out. My favorite beer to pair with fish.
11. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Ur-Bock. I know smoked beers can be love 'em or hate 'em propositions, but if you love 'em like I do then this is your beer.
10. Flossmoor Station Black Wolf Schwarzbier. Schwarzbier is one of my favorite styles, and Matt and Andrew at Flossmoor do it right. There's a reason this took the gold at the 2006 GABF. Too bad you can only get it at the pub.
9. Delirium Tremens. 9% alcohol and it drinks like a Bud Light. And I mean that in a good way.
8. Orkney SkullSplitter. I don't know why everybody associates Ireland with beer. Scotland is where it's at, and SkullSplitter shows you why.
7. New Glarus Yokel. A wonderful, fresh American Kellerbier. It's currently retired, but if Deb or Dan Carey happen to read this, bring it back!!!
6. Stone Imperial Russian Stout. I only tried this once, but obviously it made an impression. It was like drinking dark chocolate. Mmm... chocolate.
5. Spaten Münchner Hell. Light lagers tend to be overlooked, and especially light lagers from larger breweries. However, Spaten represents everything that's good about light lagers, especially if you can find it on tap. There's nothing better on a hot day.
4. Chimay Blue (Grande Réserve). I'm sure many people will scoff at the fact that this is the only Trappist ale on my list. Think what you will, but I honestly believe that if this were one of the hardest beers to obtain, and Westvleteren 12 was available at virtually every liquor store in the U.S., this would be considered the greatest beer in the world.
3. Oskar Blues Old Chub. This Scotch-style ale in a can takes just about everything I love about beer--chocolatey malts, roast malts, even a hint of smoked malt, with just enough hops to balance it--and somehow makes it drinkable at 8.6% ABV. My favorite American-brewed beer, hands down.
2. Weihenstephaner Korbinian. I love Doppelbocks. And with all due respect to Optimator, Celebrator and Salvator (all of which are excellent as well), my favorite is the one that doesn't end in -ator. It just has a tad more complexity to the malt profile than the rest.
1. Uerige Sticke Alt. I suppose it's somewhat ironic that after praising malty beers I would pick one of the hoppiest German beers as my favorite. But it's just so damn well balanced. As much as I'm jealous of people living in Düsseldorf, I can take solace in the fact that I can buy a bottle of Sticke pretty much any time, and they have to wait for the three days a year on which it's served on tap.
So there you have it. I suppose I should note that there are several excellent breweries in the greater Chicagoland/Milwaukee area that don't have a beer in my list (Goose Island, Capital and Lakefront all come to mind). With each of these breweries, I think they have an excellent year-round selection of brews... there just wasn't one that stood out above the rest. Anyway, hope this inspires somebody to pop something new. And let me know if you think there's something else I should try. Cheers!
P.S. Quick fun fact: only two of my Top Twenty are on the Top 100 rated beers at BeerAdvocate (Stone Imperial Russian Stout and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA) and only one (Stone Imperial Russian Stout) is on the RateBeer Top 100.