America’s first craft brewery and a company more than a century in the making, this brewery is a staple of the San Francisco and American beer scene. Today, their beer is made from an all-malt mash in a traditional copper brew house, but the true San Franciscan brew is the Anchor Steam Beer, a gold rush-era style of making beer that took San Francisco’s foggy weather and turned it into a beer-making style that’s a West Coast tradition. For that, plus its solid flagship line of Californian beers, Anchor Brewing literally anchors the West Coast brewing scene.
Anyone who dwells near the Buckeye State has certainly grown accustomed to seeing this black and white label in bars and supermarkets. This popular beer is made in a two-story facility in Cleveland that goes through the four steps of the brewing process — mashing, lautering, boiling, and whirlpooling — on site. The brewery, which turns 25 this year, grew in popularity quickly; it’s most well-known for its first beer, The Heisman (now called Dortmunder Gold Lager), a Dortmunder-style beer named for the famed football player who lived around the corner from the brewery. Since then, Great Lakes shows no signs of stopping. "The state's first microbrewery set the tone for an entire industry in Ohio," says Marc Bona from The Plain Dealer. "Great Lakes has evolved by brewing an increasing number of styles, many of them unique like its flagship Dortmunder Gold."
New Glarus' business is run on the idea of individuality, cooperation, and using 100 percent natural ingredients to produce the best-handcrafted beers in Wisconsin. Six beers are available year-round and there are seasonals to complement holidays and the time in between, and New Glarus really won over experts and fans alike for its creative brews under the "Unplugged" series. But most people agree that what put New Glarus on the map wasn’t just its fantastic beers (the brewery won several awards at the recent U.S. Beer Open competition), but the "fantastic" story of co-founder Deborah Carey, of the few women CEOs in the brewing industry.
The brewing company that stared as a one-man operation, Allagash has quickly become the toast of the Maine brewing scene. The brewing company is famous for the Belgian influence in its beers, which founder Rob Tod thought was majorly missing in the brewing culture. True to these roots, its most famous and first beer is the Allagash White, similar to a traditional Belgian beer, easily one of the most favored beers on the East Coast (and the winner of seven beer awards). Today, the company operates out of a brewery in Portland, Maine, and offers both tours and tastings.
Named the Best Smallpub and Brewery by The Great American Beer Festival in 2012, Devils Backbone Brewing Company is the darling of the Virginia brewing industry. They offer tours of the brewery where they craft their award-winning beer, including Vienna Lager, a 2012 Gold World Beer Cup Gold Medal winner, 2012 Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal winner and 2009 Great American Beer Festival Silver Medal winner. "[Devils Backbone Brewing Company has an] incredible range of lagers and ales, and my favorite kolsch, called Ein Kolsch," says Lucy Saunders, the author of five craft beer cookbooks and a chronicler of the craft beer revolution for 20 years.
Everyone’s favorite lager, the Samuel Adams Boston Lager, was born at the Boston Beer Company. In the early 1980s, Jim Koch found his great-great grandfather’s recipe for Louis Koch Lager, and decided to brew a batch. The Boston Beer Company continues to use the same method as Koch’s great-great grandfather, using only all-natural ingredients. The brewery gives tours (and tastings!) in Boston, and the recipe hasn’t changed since that day back in 1984 when Koch made his first batch. Since its humble beginnings, Boston Beer Company has paved the road for nearly every craft brewery on the list; Boston Beer Company is the number five best-selling brewery in America. And it all boils down to Koch: "Jim led the way with excitement and makes well-made beers in a big way," said Peter LaFrance of Beer Basics.
One of the youngest breweries on our list, this small San Diego, Calif.-based company puts their own twist on traditional brews — and beer lovers have embraced them whole-heartedly. The company has only a few dozen employees, but has made a big impact on the craft beer scene, taking home gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival for its Le Freak and Trippel brews.
Cooperstown, N.Y., is often regarded as a key area for baseball fans, but it turns out it was also once the epicenter of U.S. hop production and high-quality water wells — a perfect recipe for a perfect beer. In 1997, Brewery Ommegang was built on 136 acres of land (that used to be a hop farm); it was the first farmstead brewery built in the U.S. in more than 100 years. The brewery focuses on Belgian ales, a current favorite of both experts and fans — but that doesn’t mean it won’t spice it up a bit with limited-edition seasonals. (ahem, Game of Thrones beer?!) At this brewery, visitors can go on tours every day; now, Brewery Ommegang even has a café with Belgian bites like ice cream and waffles.
Victory Brewing Company has hometown roots in Downingtown, Penn., but that doesn’t mean the brewery is without its national fans. It’s one of the oldest craft breweries in the country, created in 1996 by best friends Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski. The company uses German malted barley and a mix of both European and American whole-flower hops; in fact, it’s one of the only breweries in the nation that uses whole flower hops, and the brewers insist this creates a better flavor and aroma in the beer. In its first year, the brewery produced a mere 1,725 barrels of beer; today, that number has climbed to more than 93,000 barrels. The brewery is planning on opening a second brew house this year, so get ready to see more Victory brews on shelves near you.
One of the first craft breweries in Denver, Great Divide was on the forefront of the Denver craft brew scene. Not only did they do it first, but they are one of the best, winning a slew of awards in their hometown, including several for their famed Hades Belgian-Style Strong Ale and Yeti Imperial Stouts. (The Espresso Oak-Aged Imperial Stout was recently named one of the best 50 beers in the world by RateBeer.) "Their Yeti Imperial Stout and its many iterations is probably some of the best beer around," says Lou Bustamante, of SF Weekly and other publications. "Even with a huge amount of hops in it, it somehow manages to not overwhelm with the rich and intensely malty brew."
Rogue is one of those "only in Portland" kind of breweries, and it’s what makes it just so unique. Founded by two fraternity brothers and their friends, this brand shattered all expectations about what a craft brewing company should be, evident in their name and their creed: a desire and a willingness to change the status quo. This shows even in their bottles, which include tasting notes, ingredients, and food pairings directly on the labels. The company even breaks norms in its beer styles for its brews, like the Chipotle Ale, the Single Malt Ale, and perhaps the most talked about Rogue brew, the VooDoo Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Banana Ale.
Oskar Blues, originally based in Lyons, Colo., is the self-declared leader in the canned beer revolution — and it’s hard to imagine a summer without Dale’s Pale Ale or Old Chub. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more award-winning brewery in Colorado, much less the West Coast, but this brewpub turned mega-craft beer producer (with new facilities in North Carolina) has kept its hometown roots intact with live music, outdoor games, and more.
This 20-year old Boulder, Colo., brewing company began with founders who had a passion for home-brewing. Today, they have expanded to a much larger warehouse and have gained an impressive following, from Colorado and beyond. Avery certainly knows how to treat its fans right; visitors to the Boulder taproom find exclusive, small-batch beers that are hard to find in stores and in bars, like the Hog Heaven Barleywine-Style Ale and The Reverend Belgian-style quad. In a Colorado beer scene that’s plenty full, it’s what makes Avery stand out from the rest.
Three Floyds Brewing Company was founded in 1996 by Nick and Simon, with their father Mike Floyd. The business' home was originally a run-down warehouse, but the brothers transformed the building into a brewery, and began to brew intense beers that were (and still remain) "not normal" by conventional standards. With the increase in demand for their beers, the company grew and grew. "They’ve got a fanatical fan base," says Tom Bobak, of American Craft Beer. In 2000, the company acquired better technology, and eventually began to bottle products. As the craft beer industry grows, the Floyd family hopes to expand their distribution to more people than just the local area. Still, once you try Three Floyds, you never go back. "Given that their Zombie Dust beer ran out at both sessions of Savor [craft beer festival] (and the fact that they make some of the best beers around), I'd say they should definitely be considered as a [the best brewery in America]," says Clare Goggin Sivits, writer for BeerGoggins.com.
More than two decades ago, this Odell family of "beer-centric" people began a craft brewery north of Denver. Sure, there might be another Fort Collins, Colo., brewery that gets more attention (look further down our list to find out who), but Odell is the darling of the Colorado brew scene. "While another larger brewery in Fort Collins gets most of the notice, Odell chugs along making some spectacularly delicious beers," says Mike Sweeney of St. Louis Hops. "Odell IPA puts a lot of West Coast breweries to shame with a perfect balance of hops and malt and then they double the effort with Myrcenary. They also try and push the boundaries of beer with their Cellar and Woodcut series and even when Odell tries and fails, you have to appreciate the effort." Today, the brewery has completed its fourth expansion and sponsors charities through its Odell Outreach.
Sierra Nevada beers mimic the mountains for which they are named, "bold, wild, and unwavering as those storied granite peaks," according to their website. Sierra Nevada brews use only the best ingredients, are created by traditional techniques, and are made by brewers who pay close attention to detail. The "Hop Torpedo," a stainless steel device packed with whole, cone hops, is the brewery’s unique way of adding hop aroma to beer with no additional bitterness. Because of it, the Hop Tornado and Sierra Nevada get credit "for putting hoppy pale ale on the map for American craft beer drinkers," says Lucy Saunders, the author of five craft beer cookbooks. Sierra Nevada is a "big boy that stays true to classic products," says Peter LaFrance of Beer Basics, a food and beer blog.
Russian River Brewing Company focuses on "traditional aggressively hopped California-style" ales, Belgians, and barrel-aged beers. Originally owned by Korbel Champagne Cellars, the brewery became its own entity in 2003. Founder and brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo came from a winemaking family, but has established himself as a craft-brewer full of innovation and willingness to share his knowledge. Today, he and his wife Natalie serve the brews fresh at their brewpub in downtown Santa Rosa, Calif. "Many credit Russian River’s founder/brewer Vinnie Cilurzo with pioneering the 'hopped-out-of-its-mind' West Coast Imperial that went onto set the standard that so many other breweries (like Stone) would later build their reputations on," says Tom Brobak, of American Craft Beer. "And now he’s redefining the American Sour." And the list of not-to-miss Russian River brews is a mile long. "The Plinys, Elder and Younger, are stunning achievements, but don’t overlook Russian River’s superb lineup of barrel-aged sour ales," says Peter Rowe, blogger for the San Diego Union-Tribune. "One favorite: Consecration, an earthy, fruity, and dry sour red that’s aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels."
What started with merely a thirst for better beer and a gallon soup kettle in 1985 has turned into a regionally known craft brewery. Bell’s Brewery is a dedicated company that believes in brewing flavorful, unfiltered, quality, and small-batch craft beers. Bell’s currently has more than 20 brews for distribution, as well as some select options served at their pub. "Far fewer [breweries] have a roster [of beer] as deep and consistently excellent as Bell's," says Chris Van Orden, co-founder of DC Beer. "No matter what style you're in the mood for, Bell's has a great take on it." Bill DeBaun, the other co-founder of DC Beer, agreed that its variety is unlike any other brewery. "I normally have breweries I trust for stouts, some I trust for wild ales, and some I trust for hoppy beers," he says. "The intersection of all three being in one brewery; Bell's, is a real rarity." The Bell’s pub, The Eccentric Café, was founded in 1993 and was the first brewery in Michigan to serve beer by the glass. The brewery also has a general store with beer-to-go, and home brewing supplies to help you on your own beer endeavor.
Founded in 1993, Lagunitas Brewing Company has a core of supportive beer lovers who want to nurture the creation of consistently good beer. The brewery is willing to do anything, "capable of making beer out of goat’s milk, brambles, and asphalt on the surface of the moon, if need be," according to its Facebook page. And it’s the brewery’s dedication to experimentation that has won over beer lovers across the company. "Tony Magee's vision and 'the glass is always half full' attitude toward life is reflected in his beer," says Liz Garibay of the blog Tales, Taverns, & Towns. "I don't think I've ever had a Lagunitas beer I didn't like." The California-based company recently made an announcement that it would be opening a 250,000-barrel-a-year facility in Chicago in order to cater to the Eastern U.S. With creative brews, passionate employees, and a commitment to serve, Lagunitas is definitely one of the best.
Started in 1989 with the founder delivering beers on his bike, New Belgium quickly turned into a microbrewery and then surpassed the microbrewery mark to become one of the most respected and loved full breweries in the country. They now offer free tours of their facility, which produces "Fat Tires," the very brew that was transported on bikes more than 20 years ago. While Fat Tire is the solid flagship beer of New Belgium, the brewery still takes risks with its seasonals. "New Belgium has a huge lineup of beers and [is] best known for their Fat Tire Amber Ale," says Dave Butler, Colorado beer blogger for Fermentedly Challenged. "In particular I love their Lips of Faith series of beers, and one of my favorites there is their La Folie Sour Brown Ale." New Belgium takes the Colorado lifestyle and transposes it to a larger audience, and many agree that the brewery doesn’t just make great craft beer — it makes a eco-friendly and community-friendly impact. "When it comes to the melding of craft beer, the arts, lifestyle, eco-consciousness, and community, this Fort Collins, Colo., brewery has few peers," says Tom Bobak of American Craft Beer. "I like what New Belgium 'does' almost as much as I enjoy what they brew."
This brewery started with two things in mind, according to its website: to "make world's best beer" and "to share with people near and far the fascinating culture and heritage of the Cigar City of Tampa." The self-proclaimed "world’s best beer" is made in a 6,600-square-foot warehouse, which includes a tasting room open to the public. But Cigar City, a Florida favorite, has fans from far outside the Panhandle state for their unique lineup of beers. Gerard Walen, of Roadtrips for Beer and Beer in Florida, notes that his hometown favorite is a notch above the rest. "[Cigar City Brewing is] currently making some of the best beer out there, many of which you can't find outside of the tasting room," he says.
Founders set out to make "complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body, and tons of flavor" — and they’ve just about done it. The founders, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, say their beer is for the renegades and the rebels (because that’s how they describe themselves). And boy, does Founders have some pretty big fans of their brews. "I've probably have drank gallons of Red's Rye PA and Centennial IPA," says Mike Sweeney of St. Louis Hops. "And don't even get me started on Breakfast Stout and its bigger brother KBS. While KBS may not be the best bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout in America (that goes to Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout), it's damned close. Oh, and Founders Porter is easily the best porter made in the world."
Boulevard Brewing Company is not only the second largest brewery in Missouri, but also one of the largest specialty brewers in the Midwest. Founded in 1989, Boulevard’s mission consists of producing fresh and flavorful beers, by using the finest traditional ingredients. The company uses old and new techniques, but is always known by their full flavors and high quality. "What really sets Boulevard apart for me is the Smokestack Series," says Tom Rotunno, of CNBC. "I haven’t had one I haven’t liked. They constantly surprise with a great variety of styles and each is as good as the last with releases like Love Child, Saison-Brett, Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale and Coffee Ale. The consistency in which the Smokestack Series delivers amazing results is impressive."
There are more than enough accolades and recognition for this Californian brewery. "No brewery in San Diego — and perhaps the world — pushes more envelopes or thinks outside so many boxes," says Peter Lowe of UT San Diego. If topping the 2008 list of All-Time Top Breweries on Planet Earth by Beer Advocate isn’t enough for you, perhaps a bit more information will convince you that Stone Brewing Company is one of the best craft breweries in America. Stone Brewing Company is the 10th largest brewery in the United States, with 55,000 square feet. The 99-rating on Beer Advocate calls this brewery "World Class." And it’s beloved for much more than the beer. "I love Stone's attitude as much as I love their beer," says Jason Morgan of Craft Beer Business. "Big and bold, their craft beer always sticks with you long after the six-pack is gone."
In the brewery business for almost two decades, Dogfish Head is one of the most popular breweries in the country. It was Delaware’s first brewpub, and when it opened in 1995, was the smallest commercial brewery in America. But, this small brewery now packs a giant punch, as they now operate out of a 100,000-square-foot converted cannery and sell their beer, including their original 60 Minute IPA, to more than 25 states. Under the direction of Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head will continue to be the gamechanger — and leader — when it comes to the world of craft beer. "When I think of 'craft beer,' Dogfish Head is the first brewery that pops into my head," says Jason Morgan, the founding partner of Craft Beer Business. "Their creativity and dedication to the craft beer tradition is inspiring."