Next time you’re getting your buzz/sweat on at your favorite beer garden and thinking, Hmmm, this frothy thing in my hand is pretty goddamned good, take a close look at the bottle or the tap from which it came: That craft brewery could change your life. Knowing the breweries behind your favorite craft beer arms you with the information you need to ensure your drinking is always quality, even as you stray from your usual path. Fond of the ubiquitous Allagash White? Seek out the harder-to-find saison next time you’re at your favorite beer bar. Of course, you can always just go to the source: those kettle-filled breweries where beardy men will pour you glasses of golden joy while the next batch is being brewed behind them. You might even score a tour.
Best craft beer breweries in America
The biggest star right now in the American craft beer scene and currently the largest speciality brewer in the Midwest, Boulevard has been cranking out top-quality brews since 1989. The Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale carries legendary status among the country’s tap fiends, thanks to its fruity nose, dominated by grapefruit, and its spicy yet dry finish. The seasonal Irish ale, with six roasted barley and pale malts, is also a star when you can find it, while the 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat, a hybrid IPA and wheat beer, is great in a bottle, but at its best when found on draft. Other drops to look out for include the full-bodied and bittersweet Long Strange Tripel, the KC Pils and the Bully Porter.
Ballast Point’s Big Eye IPA can be found in liquor stores nationwide, but it’s not the big kahuna from this brilliant San Diego brewery. That honor is shared among a trio of seasonal brews that get the most growler traffic at the site: the punchy, peppery Habanero Sculpin IPA; the hoppy Dorado Double IPA; and the Madras curry–boosted Indra Kunindra Curry Export Stout. For something a little straighter, the classic Longfin lager is a popular California favorite, as is the Wahoo white and the original pale ale that kick-started the company in 1996. Ballast Point also boasts two of the top reds in the country—the Piper Down Scottish Ale and the Tongue Buckler Imperial Red—and has in recent years been distilling top-shelf spirits and pushing out a kick-ass Bloody Mary mix.
At this brilliant Portland brewery, you’ll find nine year-round beers—highlighted by the Chainbreaker White IPA, Cinder Cone Red, Deschutes River Ale and Pine Mountain Pilsner—alongside a range of seasonal ales, reserves and collaborations. It’s the latter that you want to get your hands on. A recent collaboration saw Deschutes team with Chicago’s Goose Island to create the Class of ’88 Belgian Style Ale, which featured Michigan riesling and Oregon pinot noir grapes aged with whole flower hops and pilsner malt in Muscat casks.
This brewery’s popularity has skyrocketed in the last four years, but you probably wouldn’t have noticed if you don’t live in Texas: Rahr’s beer is rarely found outside the Lone Star state. Each year, expect about 20 brews from Rahr, including standouts such as the ever-popular Texas Red, Ugly Pug Dark Lager, Buffalo Butt Amber Lager, Stormcloud IPA and Rahr’s Blonde. In the seasonal range, the Snowmageddon Oatmeal Stout pays tribute to the great brewery roof collapse of 2010 (as depicted on the label), while the La Grange Farmhouse Ale—with Saaz hops–driven aromas of toasted fruit—is an exceptional example of the American Saison–style that’s roaring across the country. The Pecker Wrecker Imperial Pilsner is also a winner.
The Ommegang Hennepin Farmhouse Saison is a prime example of how American craft brewers continue to produce their own unique takes on classic beer styles without destroying the heritage on which they were built. This beer is full-bodied yet crisp, spicy yet refreshing. Other standouts from Ommegang’s regular stable include the Gnomegang (yes, with gnomes on the bottle) Blonde Ale, the Rare Vos Amber Ale, the Witte Wheat Ale, Three Philosophers Quadrupel Ale and the Hope House Belgian-style Pale Ale. Annually, expect a few limited edition brews from this picturesque New York state brewery.
This crowdfunded brewery, founded by Jacob McKean—formerly of San Diego’s famous Stone Brewing—certainly is brewing for the people. Unlike some other San Diego breweries, here the IPA is not the only king: Instead it’s also about wheats, saisons, stouts and a notable Belgian strong ale. Most of the range comes canned, but don’t forget to bring your growler, because Modern Times is at its best on draft.
Sun King says they have produced 173 different beers in their history, which isn’t bad at all for a small Indianapolis producer. Their three regular beers—Sunlight Cream Ale, Wee Mac Scottish-Style Ale and Osiris Pale Ale—introduce many Midwest drinkers to their brewery, and once they get a taste, they uncover top reserve, seasonal and speciality drops. On the seasonal list, things get quirky with releases like the Popcorn Pilsner, which has Indiana-grown Riehle’s Select popcorn added to Sun King’s German-style pilsner recipe. Then there’s the "Cream Dream Series," a range of large, hop-centric American IPAs, based on the malt profile of the brewery's cream ale.
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Christopher Murphy
At the recently opened Alamo Beer Company, down under a bridge in a rapidly changing, warehouse-laden corner of San Antonio, you’ll find a lively courtyard with live bands, DJs, food trucks and a solid selection of brews. The Golden Ale, crisp, flavorsome and well balanced, is one of the best examples of its kind in America; you can also expect good things from the amber lager and the pilsner.
Any half-decent craft beer bar in America is going to have the Allagash White on tap or at least in a bottle. This brilliant Maine take on a Belgian wheat beer is loaded with a refined blend of coriander and curaçao orange peel that goes down incredibly smooth. It’s not the only standout that Allagash cooks up: Try to get your hands on its full-bodied saison, crafted with Tettnang, Bravo and Cascade hops, and its speciality releases, including the Grand Cru, a full-blown winter beer that features peated malt and is spiced with coriander, sweet orange peel and anise. The limited edition range is also worth a look.
Look out for the Polar Bear beer tap next time you’re out—it heralds one of the six regular beers produced by the team at the Alaskan Brewing Company. The Alaskan White is one of the finest witbiers America produces and stands tall alongside the brewery’s flagship amber, a dry-hop IPA, a rich stout and a green American pale ale. Also look out for Hopothermia, a double IPA the brewers say is “like a massive grizzly bear in winter." The brewery produces a further 18 seasonal and limited edition drops, and our favorites include the Double Black IPA, Alaskan Birch Bock, Alaskan Imperial Red Ale, Pumpkin Porter, Troppelbock and the fiery Jalapeno Imperial IPA. Its annual spring release is often a winner, too: This year it was a cracker of an extra special bitter.
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Jessica Spengler
From the outside, Smog City Brewing looks just like all the other warehouses that populate Torrance, south of L.A.: white, boxy, industrial. Pull into its parking lot, though, and you’ll immediately spot a beer-wielding crowd spilling from the door. This family-run brewery opened in 2013 and has since won acclaim for its phenomenal IPAs and small-batch, experimental brews. Ask for a Hoptonic IPA or its famed Bourbon Coffee Porter, fill up a bag with some free popcorn, then find a spot at one of the handful of tables and get ready to shoot the shit with complete strangers.
The good folk at Brooklyn Brewery have been sending their infamous lager across the U.S. in bottles, cans and kegs for more than a decade. They followed it up with their Sorachi Ace strong farmhouse ale, which stands tall on draft at a range of craft pubs. What we need more of on a regular basis across the States are their other drops, including the East IPA, their pilsner, the 1/2 Ale in their perennial range and their seasonals, particularly the Winter Ale, Summer Ale and Black Chocolate Stout. When you visit the brewery in Williamsburg, make a beeline for the Brewmaster’s Reserve range and, if it’s available (they change every four months), sneak a taste of the Cuvée La Boîte.
Bearded brewers across the globe have Tampa’s Cigar City on their top 10 lists for good reason—the beers here are consistently well balanced, from the Cubano espresso stout to the Florida Cracker Belgian-style White Ale. The brewery comes complete with a cigar roller, so have a Nitro Invasion or a twist on the Cracker and walk out puffing away with some takeaways.
They call them mainline beers, but there’s something not quite mainstream about Breckenridge’s regular lineup. There’s Agave Wheat, Vanilla Porter, Oatmeal Stout, Lucky-U-IPA and Avalanche Ale. If you happen to be in Breckenridge skiing and uncover this gem of a producer, start with the Avalanche, made amber ale–style with a fresh, bittersweet flavor, and then go straight for the Agave Wheat, a brilliant fusion of agave nectar in unfiltered wheat ale. The seasonal brews are also standouts, especially the Ophelia Hoppy Wheat and the Christmas Ale, a strong and full-bodied American ale that oozes chocolate and caramel notes. Also expect some barrel-aged gems.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Hank Anderson
Up on East 136th Street in the Bronx, the ales steal the show. Start with the Pale Ale, then the Belgian, the Rye and the Session, ending up on one of the city’s drops of the year, the Summer Pale Ale. Score a table in the Bronx Brewery’s back courtyard, where the hoppy guava-driven Session IPA is the average call. Look out for the barrel-aged brews—should they be stocked, order the tequila barrel–aged Bronx pale ale.
Beer may be just one half of Beachwood Brewing and BBQ, but it’s a strong half: The Long Beach brewpub features 22 rotating taps of fantastic craft beers, both from outside breweries and its own. Try the Hops of Brixton, a well-balanced extra special bitter brew, or the Foam Top Cream Ale, an easy-drinking ale that could only be better with some killer ‘cue. Good thing there’s plenty of that here, too.
On the outskirts of San Antonio on the North Loop, Freetail Brewing serves up a sweet lineup of 16 classics and twisted concoctions that are brewed with ample creativity. A standout is the Rye Wit, a mellow yet spicy witbier that’s seasoned with coriander and orange peel. Also look for the Soul Doubt and the completely random Spirulina Wit that’s yep, made with spirulina. Score a table on the deck out back and order a tasting flight.
When Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased Illinois’s famous Goose Island in 2011, production of the brewery’s flagship beers, including 312, moved outside Chicago. This resulted in more beer and a wider distribution, as well as a silver lining for Chicago drinkers—Goose Island now has more time and space to brew interesting beers at its brewpubs, including the 3600, a tamarind-laced Belgian table beer, and Cubby Blue, a blueberry ale made a stone’s throw from Wrigley Field. Its 312 Urban Wheat Ale and 312 Urban Pale Ale honor the brewery’s roots in Chicago (312 is the area code of the city where the brewery started in 1992) and feature an old-school telephone handle on their taps. The Sofie is a Belgian-style farmhouse ale that’s been wine barrel-aged and is one of seven brilliant vintage ales Goose Island produces. Expect about 54 beers annually.
A rising star in Texas and the American Midwest, Martin House’s dozen annual beers (six regular and six seasonal) have been attracting attention in the last couple of years for boasting fresh, full flavors while not topping the alcohol scales. Right now, Texans are taking to Martin House’s River House Saison, a brew that’s well balanced with floral and citrus notes. Also look out for its Day Break, a “four-grain breakfast beer that was modeled after a bowl of cereal," according to brewer Cody Martin. And he’s not wrong: It’s made with barley, wheat, oats and rye, and finished with locally sourced honey and milk and sugar. The brewery's Pretzel Stout and Cellarman’s Reserve IPA are also worth seeking out.
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Tiny House Brewing
Goose Island launched the careers of many talented brewers, including Jared Rouben, a former chef who went on to launch Moody Tongue in 2014. Rouben’s beers, which are made with culinary techniques and ingredients, were an instant hit: Crushed Green Coriander Wit is a clean, easy-drinking beer; Steeped Emperor’s Lemon Saison uses a lively lemon tea; and the Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner adds funky truffles to a lovely pilsner. Any beer store or bar stocking these gets instant cred.
Avery Brewing Company (Boulder, CO)
Bear Republic Brewing Company (Sonoma, CA)
Elevation Beer Company (Poncha Springs, CO)
Fountain Square Brewery (Indianapolis, IN)
Mission Brewery (San Diego, CA)
Prairie Artisan Ales (Tulsa, OK)
Russian River Brewing Company (Santa Rosa, CA)
Societe Brewing Company (San Diego, CA)
Stone Brewing Co. (San Diego, CA)
Uinta Brewing (Salt Lake City, UT)