In 1956, archaeologists working in northern Israel’s Raqefet Cave—once home to the Natufian people (13,050–7,550 B.C.)—stumbled upon an astonishing discovery: 13,000-year-old fermented gruel. Archaeologists had found prehistoric evidence of beer before in the remnants of ancient brewing that have surfaced in China, Mesopotamia, and North Africa. But this was the oldest—and it was the oldest to a great extent. The beer residue—a thin gruel-type beer—found in Raqefet Cave precedes other archaeological evidence by at least 5,000 years.
For as long as humans have farmed cereals like wheat, barley, and rice, humans have fermented at least some of it into beer. The Mesopotamians produced beer from bread and documented its ritual consumption on stone tablets. Ancient Egyptians, who recorded the world’s first beer recipe on papyrus scrolls, drank it during religious ceremonies. The Nubian culture in the central Nile River Valley used beer as an antibiotic. In 2,100 B.C., Babylonian King Hammurabi enshrined regulations for tavern keepers and brewers in his famous Code of Hammurabi. Beer became so inextricably linked to the ancient grain-growing civilizations of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa that the Greek writer Sophocles (450 B.C.) considered beer, alongside vegetables, meat, and bread, to be a vital component of a healthy diet. (In an era when the average Greek lived about 35 years, Sophocles, it should be noted, lived to the ripe age of 90.)
Fast forward many centuries and beer production is now an exacting science comprising complex flavor profiles, exotic additives, carefully measured formulas, and humongous sterilized stainless-steel vats. Gone is the thick, syrupy brew favored by Germanic tribes and disdained by Ancient Romans. Instead, breweries nowadays turn out flavorful, easy-drinking beers. Long evolved from the Natufians' fermented gruel, modern beer satisfies a range of tastes for a global market.
Beer styles are distinguished by three key factors: color (pale to dark), hoppy bitterness (0 to 100 International Bitterness Units, or IBU), and alcohol content (3% to 20% alcohol by volume). From classic to cultured bacteria, Stacker identified 35 different styles and used BeerAdvocate’s sweeping database of craft brews to determine the best individual beers among them. The ratings and rankings are accurate as of March 2021.
From Canada to Belgium, read on to find the best beers of every style, then go out and make old Sophocles proud.
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