A hoppy IPA sitting on a warm shelf is not the way any brewer intended to have his or her beer be sold. But at Trader Joe’s, there they are, testing the limits of shelf stability, one day at a time, gently melting away hop aromatics and flavor while paving the way for the inevitable implosion into a tidy pile of malt dust.
Just as any grocery store, there are some educated decisions you should make before putting something in your cart: Can or bottle? House brand vs. local? And most important, what is the cost?
After an insane weekend filled with blind tastings, here are the best beers to grab at your closest TJ’s:
Best Value: The German-made Bitburger Pilsner is middle-of-the-road on flavor, but it’s damn crushable. Bitburger has a super-classic, floral, noble hop character and crisp-cracker-like malt backbone. The Simpler Times and Trader José beers weren’t up to snuff, and Josephsbrau beers were just okay. Bit’s price and format (four-pack of 16-ounce cans, $4.99) easily wins.
Best IPA: This relies on a few factors, but generally you should go for Pizza Port, Sierra Nevada or Firestone Walker thanks to their superb packaging regimens. Check for the freshest date code and go from there. On a recent visit, pint cans of Port Brewing Mongo DIPA were $12.99 per six-pack, and the West Coast IPA still had the three D’s—dope, dank and delicious.
Best Classy Beer: The Chimay Blue Grand Reserve is corked, caged and, most important, able to stand the test of time thanks to superb bottle conditioning and a high ABV of 9 percent. Belgium’s dark Trappist ale sells for $12.99.
To find a Trader Joe’s near you, visit www.traderjoes.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest. When not writing about, photographing or filming beer, cocktails, and food, he can be found talking trash while playing video games under the name “OCBeer.”