After extensive research covering the past 45 years, I have come to the following conclusions about beer:
- Best beer: Samuel Adams Boston Lager. I've decided the best beer style is Vienna Lager, and Sam is the best of this style. It is the perfect balance of hops and malt, creamy head, and it is available everywhere. Whenever I'm in New York I get Brooklyn Lager on draft when possible, but my recent side-by-side comparison of bottles from Brooklyn and Boston came out in favor of Boston. I've been consulting BeerAdvocate.com to find beers to try, and even though regional brewers such as Great Lakes and New Glarus have higher-rated entries, I still prefer Sam.
- Best amber: Colorado Native Amber Lager. Hoppy but not a hop bomb like an IPA. Unfortunately only available in Colorado. Alaskan Amber isn't bad, and on a related note:
- Best local (South Dakota) beer: Red Water Ale from Crow Peak Brewery in Spearfish. I think this is a spring seasonal so not always available.
- Best IPA: 7,000 varieties tied for first place. Bell's Two-Hearted is my most recent try, not too bad. I actually prefer an IPL such as Colorado Native IPL or even Leinenkugel IPL.
- Best wheat beer: Like IPA, I don't think it makes much difference which you choose. 312 is ok, Blue Moon usually available, whatever.
- Best stout: Guinness Draft. I've decided I don't like most stouts but the Nitro creaminess of Guinness sets it apart.
- Best pilsner: Small sample size but I'm going with Brooklyn Pilsner. Wish I could get it more often. Sierra Nevada Nooner is often but not always available in my area. Eastern Europe imports often available and usually good.
- Best cheap crap: Pabst Blue Ribbon. The purpose of yellow fizzy beer is to quench your thirst on a hot day. PBR fills this niche. Other mainstream beers suffer in comparison, but I have been known to suck down the occasional Coors (but NOT Coors Light).
Generally speaking, I don't want fruit or spices in my beer, which is why I detest most seasonal beers. With that in mind:
- Best shandy: Seriously? Shandy sucks. I hate that it steals shelf space from real beer. I can't find the aforementioned Leinenkugel IPL because of all that shandy crap they sell.
- Best hard cider: Don't know, don't care.
- Best lite beer: Does not exist. Beer-flavored fizzy water.
Just speculating here, but I think the term "Pre-Prohibition" some brewers use (e.g. Brooklyn Lager) came into existence to emphasize that 100 years ago brewers didn't use cheap ingredients like corn and rice in place of barley. These cheap ingredients are called adjuncts, so crap like Bud and Miller are categorized as Adjunct Lagers. They really do have inferior flavor, and the reason is the ingredients. PBR makes the best of this disadvantage and has its place as I described above, but it is still inferior. The beer revolution is not some marketing gimmick as Bud might want you to believe. It's an ongoing revolution against the pale imitation beers that somehow became popular in this country in the 20th century.
Some beer snobs turn up their nose at Boston Lager because it has become a national brand over the past 25 years. But as far as I can tell they still aren't cutting corners, and there's something to be said for being able to go into a restaurant anywhere in the country and being sure there is at least one good beer on the menu.
I don't consider myself a beer snob. I don't really care about Belgian brews that almost taste like wine, and are bottled (and priced) accordingly. Even Boston Beer Company dabbles in this stuff. As long as they don't screw up Boston Lager, I don't care.
All of the above is my opinion. You are welcome to your own opinion, but I'm probably not interested in hearing it.