8 beers you should be drinking and 8 you shouldn't

If you're anything like me, you probably favor craft beers but you're not so snobby that you'd turn down a free, fresh-out-of-the-cooler Miller, Budweiser, or Coors Light when you're tailgating or at a beach party. Free beer is better than no beer, no matter how you look at it, right? I would, however, turn down a Natty Light because it's been seven years since I left college and that is one beer that should not be consumed after your 22nd birthday (it's a rule, I promise). Besides Natty Light and its equally awful cousin, Natural Ice, there are other beers you should avoid. As the old saying (that you've probably seen on a tight-fitting hipster T-shirt) says, life's too short to drink bad beer. These are the beers you should reach for every time, as well as the ones you should stay far, far away from — even if they're free.

Drink: Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA

Vermont has been widely recognized for its craft beer scene for several decades, so it's no surprise that the Green Mountain State ranks No. 1 in craft breweries per capita. However, don't underestimate neighboring New Hampshire when it comes to developing tasty and complex beers.

Smuttynose Brewing Company has been around since 1994, and I truly believe its Finest Kind IPA is the best example of an East Coast IPA currently available on the market. This was the first IPA I tried back in 2008 and after one sip, I was making monthly beer runs from my parents' New Hampshire home back to my Philadelphia apartment with cases of this stuff because it wasn't readily available in Pennsylvania at the time. This is an IPA made with a classic recipe before all the beer bros went crazy for the style. Smuttynose says this is "not a training-wheels IPA," which is absolutely correct. It's a virtual hop bomb, coming in at 74 IBUs, but don't let that scare your tongue because there is a bit of a sweetness after the initial piney taste from the simcoe hops.

Drink: Lindeman's Framboise

Are you looking for a beer that drinks easy like Juicy Juice but tastes so much better? Look no further to satisfy your fruity beer cravings. Fruit beers aren't a lot of people's jam, but lambics are a style suited for folks who find themselves saying things like "yuck, I hate beer." Yes, you hate beer because your only experience with it was probably a sip that your dad allowed you to have from his can of Budweiser back when you were 6 years old.

Lindeman's Framboise is a raspberry beer from Belgium that is low in alcohol, light in mouthfeel, and big on taste. Even though it's only 2.5 percent alcohol, this isn't something you can session, but rather something to sip on while nibbling dark Belgian chocolate.

Drink: Oskar Blues Old Chub

I will admit, I didn't drink Oskar Blues Old Chub for the longest time. I was never one for Scotch ales or wee heavy beers, but spending week after week at my local bar's trivia night watching one of my teammates order and chug Old Chub like a champion, I got curious. One sip and I fell in love with the Chub.

This is an excellent stronger beer (8.0 percent ABV), it's smooth as a pair of silk sheets, and it has a smoky, sexy mouthfeel that would pair well with a cigar if you don't want be a traditionalist and sip on whiskey. While this isn't my personal go-to beer as I prefer more hop-forward beers, it very well could be yours if you enjoy things on the malty side.

Drink: Yuengling light lager

Unfortunately, beer can cause weight gain. (Homer Simpson knows all about that.) But there really are tasty light beers out there. Yuengling products aren't available throughout the country, but if you do happen to live in an area where they're distributed, you're in for a delicious light beer. You read that correctly: "delicious" and "light beer" uttered in the same sentence!

The light version of Yuengling's flagship beer has a fuller flavor than some regular beers from larger breweries, and at only 99 calories it's better than Bud Light's 110 calories or Coors Light's 102 calories. This a beer that doesn't have to be a guilty pleasure, and you can easily polish off a few cans or bottles without feeling like a bloated cow.

Drink: Your local beer

There's a really good chance that within 25 to 50 miles of where you are right now there's a place making their own beer. That's the place you should be hitting up for suds. It's a scientific fact that fresh beer tastes best — think of it like a local bakery versus store bought bread, nothing beats that fresh loaf taste, and the same applies to beer.

Temperature, light exposure, and storage time all can affect beer flavor. A local place won't have to worry about that. They'll likely have "to go" beer available in cans, or a one-time purchase of a growler, which provide just a touch under a 6-pack of straight-from-the-keg beer. After you have that growler, you can take it back anytime and fill it up (you just pay for the beer, not the bottle again) — in fact, I've yet to find a local place that won't accept any growler and fill it for you. Try bringing a Miller cup to Anheuser-Busch and see what happens. Local "craft beer" establishments have reputations for making unique flavors, and weird names like saison, but the truth is that pretty much all of them make a beer similar to the big brands, like straight up lagers and pilsners. If you've been scared off from that local joint making beer, don't be — give them a try.

Drink: Clausthaler NA Dry Hopped

Let's not bury the lead; the "NA" stands for "Non-Alcoholic." But wait, before you run off, you should know that the days of watery grain-like bubbly drinks (like O'Douls) have moved aside for tasty drinks that have removed the alcohol. So regardless if you're a teetotaler or have an allergy to alcohol, Clausthaler NA Dry Hopped with its .50 percent alcohol by volume — which is similar to kombucha tea's alcohol content — is an option.

So, what does it taste like? Think of it as an ale — in the Miller style but more refined, like a Sierra Nevada, but with a lot of hop body to it. It's not as hoppy as an IPA, but it's not watery like most non-alcoholic beers. Non-alcoholic beer sales are up 80 percent in a five-year span as more people are realizing that they can enjoy a refreshing taste without the buzz. The secret to Clausthaler is in the name; dry hopping is the manner in which the hops are added at the end of fermentation, and that step gives the NA a bit more flavor than your usual non-alcoholic beers. It's worth a try if you're craving a beer but driving, or just don't want that tipsy sensation.

Drink: Kona Brewing Big Wave golden ale

This beer is available from Kona Brewing year round, but I think it's a great beer for when the weather starts to get warmer. Blondes have more fun, and that's the case with this ale. Don't let the light color fool you; this beer is big on flavor.

If you like your beers on the fruity side, you'll appreciate the citrus and honey notes, but it isn't a fruit-heavy brew. I know some beer aficionados might dismiss Kona now that it's more mainstream and widely available on the mainland, but that just means more distribution of a good product. This is a beer that everyone needs to try at least once.

Drink: Abita Purple Haze

If you've ever been to New Orleans, you know there's a superior beer option in the Big Easy, and that's Abita. And of all of the beers that Abita brews, the Purple Haze is a standout because of its wheaty body and its tart raspberry flavor. In fact, it has pureed raspberries added directly to the brew — hence the purple tint. But unlike a lot of fruit beers, it's not overly sweet, and it has a solid but light body that compliments the berry flavor.

Purple Haze has a 4.2 percent ABV, so you can enjoy a couple of them without getting too loaded. It pairs well with salads, desserts, or cheese plates, and it's also just fine on its own — especially on a hot NOLA night.

Don't drink: Guinness Nitro IPA

This is a beer that was pretty much only produced to capitalize on a trend (and Guinness tried so hard to be with the cool kids at the IPA table), but it's not hard to see right through it. This is a pale ale. It may say IPA on the can and it may have a super cool nitro widget to infuse the beer with nitrogen when you open the can, but if I closed my eyes and took a sip, I would tell you that this was more of a pale ale than a traditional IPA.

Grant Marek at Thrillist compared this beer to Boddingtons, which seems right to me. Boddingtons and Guinness Nitro IPA have a similar mouthfeel, and both come in cans with widgets. If you're looking to drink an IPA, this won't satisfy your craving for hops at all. If you do want something from St. James's Gate, stick to Guinness Draught, a beer that has been satisfying souls since 1759.

Don't drink: Wild Blue

Described by its parent company as "the beer with bite" (I think that tagline was stolen from Barq's root beer), Wild Blue is a pseudo craft offering from Anheuser-Busch that was launched last decade to stake a claim in the ever-growing fruit-based beer market. This beer is thick — think McDonald's milkshake thick. I'm talking Boone's Farm Blue Hawaiian thick. It's not the same shade of blue as the Boone's Farm, but Wild Blue is just as sweet and syrupy.

Because it's cloyingly sweet, the alcohol is really hidden. Don't make the newbie mistake and assume that all fruit beers are low on booze. Wild Blue has a hefty 8.0 percent ABV. A few of these sweet treats will cause a hangover so bad that you wouldn't want to drink Wild Blue ever again. That's probably a good thing in the long run.

Don't drink: Samuel Adams Scotch ale

Once the reigning prince of the craft beer kingdom, Samuel Adams and Boston Beer Company have been struggling to stay relevant in a market more crowded than a subway train in Tokyo during rush hour. Samuel Adams is known to have some decent rotating beers that pop up in its seasonal mix packs, but its Scotch ale that shows up during the colder months is a total bust.

This beer honestly made me step away from the whole style. (What can I say? I was young and naive then.) Not all Scotch ales are equal, but Samuel Adams' offering turned me off. This beer had a hard time finding a balance between sweet and smoky, unfortunately. This, along with a very expensive bottle of Rogue Voodoo Doughnut maple bacon ale have been the only drain pours in my eight years of enjoying beer legally.

Don't drink: Michelob Ultra

Don't let the active lifestyle marketing fool you. This beer is what would happen if LaCroix developed a beer-flavored water, pure and simple. I do drink light beers, and I do consume a lot of LaCroix, but I want my beer to taste like beer. Michelob Ultra clocks in at 95 calories, but if you're watching your waistline, I think you're better off spending a few extra minutes on the treadmill and enjoying a fuller-flavor beer than you are wasting calories on a couple of these.

Don't drink: Shipyard Export ale

Shipyard Brewing Company of Portland, Maine, has a lot of standout beers like Pumpkinhead Ale, Monkey Fist IPA, and Old Thumper, but its flagship beer is pretty underwhelming for being a blonde ale. There's a metallic taste that's very off-putting. I'm sure the beer was magnificent when it was first brewed back in 1992, but MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice were topping the charts then, too. A lot of things seemed better than they were. Sure, the '90s are back, but this beer hasn't aged well. The last 25 years have produced much better blonde ales for your drinking pleasure.

Don't drink: Cat's Away IPA

There's fake craft beers, and then there's only available at Walmart fake craft beer. Walmart sells three "craft" beers — Cat's Away IPA, After Party Pale Ale, and Pack of Trouble. They're all a pack of trouble for your taste buds. Cat's Away tastes particularly awful, with hints of wet dead animal and bland hops. I had to try it, just to see if it was that bad. Yep.

A 2017 lawsuit accusing Walmart of… wait for it… fake brews… alleges false advertising in claiming that Cat's Away, et al, are really "craft" beers. Technically, a craft beer is defined as "small, independent, and traditional," three words that don't exactly come to mind when thinking Walmart. In case you're wondering, Walmart gets the beer from Genesee, under the name Trouble Brewing Company. Genesee isn't exactly a "craft brewery" either. Regardless of how the lawsuit turns out, you're better off finding this beer guilty of being undrinkable.

Don't Drink: Rolling Rock

A friend from Pennsylvania once told me, "People from Pennsylvania don't even drink Rolling Rock." And with good reason, the beer made for people that pretend they drink craft beer is actually a pale ale — or extra pale ale as they claim. Think about some pale ales; do you ever say to yourself, "Hey, this tastes like Rolling Rock?" That's why Rolling Rock sits comfortably near the bottom of overall rankings of beer.

What does Rolling Rock taste like? "Not a pale ale" is the first thing that jumps to mind. There's something odd about a beer this bad being so popular. Maybe it's the longevity; they've been around since 1939. But longevity can only carry the ball so far, and at some point people need to start drinking better pale ales, starting with the one called "Not Rolling Rock."

Don't drink: Heineken

It's hard to escape Heineken, with its ubiquitous logo and emerald green bottle, at bars, pubs, and parties. But frankly it shouldn't be so difficult, as the flavor is so assertively bitter that it tastes like it's skunked. Interestingly enough, the reason for the foul flavor might be due to the green glass bottles that are such a hallmark of the brand. This is because green glass doesn't block UV light from killing the flavor of the beer, so it could taste differently than when it was bottled. That doesn't explain why canned and draft Heineken taste so bad, but perhaps that skunky bitterness is now an expected part of its flavor profile.

You're better off ordering a cheaper and less pretentious beer — the quality may be better anyway.