It's an impossible question to answer and I almost always slip into complete beer geek mode. It depends on the time of the year, the time of the day, the weather, one's circumstances for drinking the beer, what food is being served, and so on. In very short order the questioner's eyes glaze over.
But recently when I was asked this question again I finally came up with an answer. The best beer is the one that was brewed closest to you. Although this obviously isn't really true there's a lot to be said for drinking local beer and this answer gives me the chance to talk about those reasons.
Some time ago the Brewer's Association came up with a statistic that the average American lives within 10 miles of a brewery. That's certainly true in my case - the closest brewer to me is a little brewpub that's about 10 blocks away. There's nothing quite like walking to a local brewpub for a pint or two on a beautiful day.
Even if you don't go to the brewer, drinking locally has its advantages. When beer has less distance to travel to get to you it's fresher when you drink it. It's also often cheaper because there was less expense in shipping it. And there is a wider variety of styles available from the brewer. Breweries generally only ship their flagship beers and maybe one or two others great distances but they make their entire selection available locally.
Finally, there's the carbon footprint of widely distributed beer. When you drink beer that was shipped across the country the truck that delivered it was belching pollution the whole way. Beer is heavy and needs to be refrigerated during shipping. That takes a lot of energy and produces a lot of undesirable side effects.
So, drink locally - it tastes better, it saves you money and it can save the planet.
- So, that's my answer. How about you, what's your favorite beer?