Some friends of mine think of me as a loony beer purist. And, I’m ok with that ;). Labels aside, I figure that if I’m going to invest the calories in a beverage, it may as well taste good (after all, there isn’t yet Splenda Beer — nor do I hope that one ever exists). Fortunately, if you’re looking into broadening your beer palette, there're many drinkable beers available these days.
One of the sites that I often visit for beer ratings & reviews is RateBeer.com. While the site may seem overwhelming at first, the most pertinent section for most people is probably the beer ratings part of the site. If you’re ready to dive in, you could select a Beer Style or Country (from along the left side of the page) to see the best beers in that style or from that country, respectively. Or, for a healthy dose of schadenfreude, their list of the worst beers is usually good for a laugh. (Apparently, Bud Light scored even lower than Beast Light. Who knew?
In any case, for a quick list of beers that taste good which you actually have a chance of finding in your local store, I’d recommend RateBeer’s list of Top Widely Distributed Beers (which also sometimes refer to as their list of “Top Accessible” beers). As I understand it, a given beer needs several hundred ratings to make it onto the list — that conveniently excludes, say, beers from Tom’s Nanobrewery in Somecity USA which you wouldn’t have a chance of finding locally.
Having said that, there’s no inherent downside to a beer just because it’s widely available. For instance, my favorite porter, Fullers London Porter, is there at #14 and it’s “only” among the 99th percentile of beers reviewed on the site ;). Porters are good — you could think of them as a notch down from a stout, if you haven’t tried one — but they’re less than ideal for patio-sipping. They’re generally hearty enough that they need a food accompaniment to balance out their oomph.
Probably my favorite style of beer, though, are abbey tripels. The style is classically Belgian, but that’s not to say that only Belgians make a good tripel. And, sure enough, some respectable tripels make the list as well. Chimay Blanche (White) pulls in at #33 and La Fin Du Monde is shortly after that at #37. And, while stouts aren’t personally my cup of tea, they make a strong showing on the list as well (just after a duo of two abt/quadrupel beers in 1st & 2nd place, stouts take on 3rd, 4th and 5th place).
If all these beer styles are greek to you, don’t worry — just try printing out their list of Top Widely Distributed Beers the next time you need beer and you’re headed to the store. Then just glance over what’s on the shelf and see if some of them are on the list. To be sure, even the “lowest rated” beer among their Widely-Distributed list, Sierra Nevada Porter is in the 90th percentile among beers — not too shabby. Any of the beers on the list would make for a formidable alternative to garden-variety American-macrobrews (which is to say, Budweiser, Coors and Miller).