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According to the Brewers Association, there were over 5,234 craft breweries in America in 2016, more than twice as many as there were in 2012.What defines a craft brewery? It’s a question that’s been debated in recent years, and though there are certain criteria, the proper use of the term remains hotly contested.
The Colorado-based Craft Brewer’s Association, however, states that a craft brewery must be three things:
— Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales).
— Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
— Traditional: A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.
That seems like a good starting point to us. Yet as more craft breweries expand beyond their humble beginnings and grow profitable, some are being bought up by the larger companies. In the rapidly evolving craft beer industry, is your favorite still considered a craft beer? The answer seems to be open to interpretation.
Case in point: Goose Island, our No. 24, was purchased by Anheuser-Busch in 2011. John Hall, the founder of Goose Island, who resigned from the brewery in 2012, had this to say to Time regarding the debate: “The so-called definition of craft beer has evolved over the years. Both the brewery size and ingredients have been changed. I believe the beer drinkers are the ones who truly decide what is a craft beer or isn’t.”
Beer and Whiskey Bros’ Jim Galligan told Time that although he agrees for the most part with the “craft” label guidelines set forth by the Brewers Association, “I also think a lot depends on if a brewer’s heart is in the right place.”
Ultimately, it’s the beer lovers who decide. To arrive at our top 50, we combined our past years’ lists with numerous new additions and opened the voting to our readers via survey. You responded enthusiastically, with over 1,100 replies, and when we tabulated the results, over 20 states were represented — California and Colorado were the “craftiest,” with 12 and 6 entries, respectively — as were many new faces, among them Hill Farmstead Brewery (No. 36), Tree House Brewing Company (No. 38), and Clown Shoes (No. 49).
Read on for the 50 Best Craft Breweries in America, as voted on by you, our readers.