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.
Fat Head’s started as Fat Head’s Saloon in 1992 on Pittsburgh’s historic South Side. As their popularity (and list of awards) grew, they opened Fat Head’s Brewery & Saloon in North Olmstead, Ohio, in 2009. They expanded to a full-scale production brewery in 2012 in Middleburg Heights, due to an explosion in demand for their craft brews. Try the Hop Juju Imperial IPA, which in 2016 won the gold medal for Imperial India Pale Ale at the World Beer Cup and the bronze at the Great American Beer Festival.
Clown Shoes’ mission is “to produce beer without pretension while being free and a little crazy.” The founders initially owned a liquor store, and in an effort to expand the unique beer offerings their shop made available, decided to start making their own beer — thus Clown Shoes Beer. Now, fans enjoy offerings such as Hoppy Feet, Black IPA, and Mangö Kölsch, a new addition for the summer season.
SweetWater was founded in 1997. Because their beers are all unpasteurized, distribution is limited to a few nearby states. This didn't stop them from taking home the gold medal at the 2010 World Beer Cup for The Creeper, from their Dank Tank series. They also “keep it green” by repurposing spent grain as cattle feed instead of sending it to a landfill, and use post-recycled content for all their cardboard packaging.
Located in Orange County, The Bruery (called that as a play on founder Patrick Rue’s surname), this boutique craft brewery, opened in 2008, prizes innovation. They specialize in unique ales and barrel-aging, with almost half the beer produced having been matured in either spirit or wine barrels.
New Glarus, located in a charming Swiss-heritage town, is co-owned by Dan Carey, a diploma master brewer formerly with Anheuser-Busch, and his wife and co-founder, Deborah Carey. They produce six year-round beers, including the lauded Wisconsin Belgian Red, and seasonal specialties like Uff-da and Fat Squirrel.
Odell was the first craft brewery in Fort Collins when they opened in 1989, and they have been committed to sustainability ever since (they have vowed to be a zero-landfill brewery by 2020). Odell was awarded the Fort Collins Chamber Small Business Sustainability Award in 2009 and 2013. Their Myrcenary Double IPA is named for myrcene, an essential oil component in the hop flower.
At Sixpoint, “beer is culture.” The six-point brewer’s star is a symbol that’s lasted through the ages in the craft of brewing. Since the brewery’sfounding in 2004, Sixpoint has released hundreds of beers, so it’s difficult to pick just one standout. Sweet Action, however, is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, with a refreshing zing all its own, and the 4Beans Imperial Porter is steeped with Madagascar vanilla beans for a rich and creamy flavor.
In true pioneer spirit, Alaskan Brewing Company is the first brewery in Juneau since Prohibition, and the country’s 67th independent brewery. Marcy and Geoff Larson have been making beer in the Last Frontier since 1986. Slow fermentation lends a distinct smoothness to their Alaskan Amber, a brew whose historically-based recipe was found in an old Alaskan newspaper.
Aaron Morse started brewing beer under the sink while in college, and Dark Horse was born in 1997. Dark Horse Brewing Company “does it the way they want to do it.” Try the Boffo Brown Ale: robust and nutty with toffee and caramel notes.
Elysian Brewing Company operates four pubs in Seattle. Since opening their first location in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Elysian has brewed over 350 different blends. Their fans can't get enough of their year-round beers such as Space Dust IPA, a “totally nebular IPA” which features Chinook, Amarillo, and Citra hops. Known for their seasonal pumpkin brews, Elysian yearly hosts the Great Pumpkin Beer Festival.
Owner John McDonald first tasted Belgian beer on a trip to Europe and was hooked. After forays into art school and carpentry, he began home-brewing, eventually selling his house and cobbling together enough money to begin building what would become Boulevard Brewing Company. The first keg of Boulevard Pale Ale was delivered to a local restaurant in 1989, and the brewery’s reputation and size have been growing steadily ever since.
Anchor Brewing Company dates all the way back to 1896 and is proud to be America’s first and oldest craft brewery. They are one of the few breweries that still make “California common beer” (also called “steam beer”), an effervescent product brewed with higher-temperature-fermented lager yeasts. According to Anchor, “‘steam’ was a nickname for beer brewed on the West Coast of America under primitive conditions and without ice.” Their Liberty Ale is produced according to traditional craft brewing methods, which yield the distinctive dry-hopped ale.
Tree House Brewing Company is an artisan, draft-only brewery that values the freedom to craft new brews based on the season, daily inspiration, and innovation. Rotational offerings include the top-rated hop-loaded Julius and That’s What She Said, a roasted coffee milk stout.
Maine Beer Company loves beer and the planet, and is committed to both. The tasting area of this brewery is a great place to go with a group, as it is filled with community tables big enough for all of your friends to enjoy the sample flights on offer — and to enjoy views of the brewing operation through huge glass windows. Sample Dinner, a dry-hopped double IPA that Craft Beer & Brewing magazine gives a perfect score of 100.
The Hill family has over 200 years of history in Vermont, and Hill Farmstead is one of the most respected names in American beer. The image of their logo originates from a sign that at one time hung in Aaron Hill’s tavern in the early 1800s. Their mission is “to hand craft succinct, elegant beers of distinction and to revive and diversify the farmscape of the Hill Farmstead in Greensboro.”
Flying Dog originally opened as the Flying Dog Brewpub in Aspen. Now housed in a state-of-the-art facility in Maryland, this “good beer” company produces over 100,000 barrels annually. While the beer speaks for itself, Flying Dog’s iconic labels also have a fascinating history. When co-founder George Stranahan was introduced to English artist Ralph Steadman by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (who lived down the road from the brewery in a “fortified compound” in Aspen), he met the man who’d create his bottles’ unique look, beginning with the Road Dog Porter.
“Brew Free! or Die” Blood Orange IPA sums up this brewery’s character. Friends Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan met in a summer brewing science class at UC Davis, and the idea for 21st Amendment (the passage of which repealed Prohibition) was born. The name is a nod to the fighting spirit of the old-time San Francisco breweries, gathering places which captured the essence of San Francisco’s old neighborhoods.
New Holland’s founders grew up together in Michigan, sharing a love for home-brewing and creating beers that are unique to their state. Their simple dream has expanded to include a brewery, brewpub, and distillery. Try one of the Dragon’s Milk Reserve series, the Paleooza Michigan Pale Ale, or Hoptronix Double IPA.
Trillium Brewing Company originally opened in March of 2013 and they quickly made a name for themselves as one of the top breweries in Massachusetts. Trillium Brewing now has two locations, but the original is nestled in South Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood. This New England farmhouse-style brewery focuses on hoppy brews that can be found in shops throughout Massachusetts. Try Sprang, an ale inspired by Germany’s Kölsch ale, or Night and Day Imperial Stout, brewed with Barrington Coffee Roasters coffee.
Founded in 1995, AleSmith’s innovative, hand-crafted ales are inspired by quintessential European styles. They blew up the beer world in 2003 with the release of their epic Barrel Aged Speedway Stout, considered by many to be one of the best beers in the world. Check out their new Mexican-style lager created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the California ska-punk band Sublime’s iconic debut album, 40oz. to Freedom; the initial batch comes in 40-ounce bottles, naturally.
Wicked Weed Brewing has what it calls a Funkatorium, the “East Coast’s first sour and funky beer dedicated taproom.” The Funkatorium is the perfect stop for sour beer lovers to grab a bite and discover what Wicked Weed is brewing for the season. Check out Freak of Nature, a West Coast-style double IPA brewed with a massive amount of hops, or Oblivion, a sour red ale aged in wine barrels with dates and blackberries.
Founded in 2010 in Denmark, Evil Twin have already made their mark on the beer world and now proudly call Brooklyn their second home. They brew with “All good intentions to disturb, disorder, and enlighten you with unforgettable beer after beer.” Try the Double Barrel Jesus, an imperial stout with bourbon and vanilla notes, ranked as one of our top 50 Beers in the World.
Founded in 1994, Great Divide is famous for brewing strong beers; as founder Brian Dunn says, “brewers like to sell the beer that they like to drink.” They’ve earned five World Beer Cup awards, and 18 Great American Beer Festival medals, among many other honors. Great Divide represents a Colorado lifestyle by investing in the local community and environmental initiatives. Explore their brews, which include Yeti Imperial Stout and Fresh Hop Pale Ale.
Before Cooperstown was known for baseball, the town was the center of U.S. hop production. Situated on 136 acres of an old hop farm, Brewery Ommegang seeks to keep that tradition alive. Ommegang has famously teamed up with HBO to make Game of Thrones-inspired beer: “In the world of Westeros it is known that ‘Valar Dohaeris’ means ‘All Men Must Serve’ in High Valarian. Here at Brewery Ommegang, we like to think that ‘All Men Must Serve Beer.’”
Allagash Brewing Company is known best for the Belgian influence in their beer, something founder Rob Tod thought was missing in American brewing culture. Before each beer is bottled, a fresh dose of yeast and candi sugar (a Belgian invert sugar) is added, so that when it is put in a temperature-regulated cellar it re-ferments to add a unique taste. This attention to detail and focus on quality is exactly why Allagash continues to be a fan favorite.
Goose Island was founded in 1988 and has grown exponentially since then. One of the main reasons to visit Goose Island Beer Company? They pioneered the use of bourbon barrels in the beer-aging process. If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying bourbon-aged beer, you are in for a treat. By championing sustainability in their breweries and investing in Chicago’s communities, Goose Island continues to lead in the craft brewing industry.
Great Lakes Brewing Company pride themselves on their environmental conscience and sustainability practices almost as much as their beer. The brewery, established in 1988, is committed to local, organic farming for the harvest of raw materials, and repurposes spent brewer’s grains into fertilizer and feed for the livestock that eventually makes its way in meat form onto their brewpub’s menu. All that green power produces some truly great beer. Great Lakes’ Edmund Fitzgerald Porter is a testament to that, comprising roasted barley and a slightly bittersweet mocha flavor.
Located in the hipster capital of the world — Williamsburg, Brooklyn — this brewery predates the counterculture wave that has sprung up around it. On the team is Garret Oliver, a brewmaster, author, and Great American Beer Festival judge, and co-founder Steve Hindy, who’s an author and beer industry commentator. They are just two among a team of impassioned beer advocates who bring unique seasonal flavors and year-round ales to their growing masses of fans. Brooklyn Brewery’s iconic logo was created by Milton Glaser, the graphic artist who also created the I Love New York campaign.
Brothers John and Chris Trogner founded Tröegs (a play on their last name and kroeg, Flemish for “pub”) in 1996, and in 1997 they sold their first keg to a local restaurant in Harrisburg. While the Troegenator Double Bock is a year-round favorite, every Tröegs fan longs for the holiday season, when the brewery’s Christmastime beer Mad Elf arrives on shelves.
At Green Flash Brewing Company, brewmaster Erik Jensen produces award-winning craft ales and is constantly experimenting with new brews. Since their start in 2002, Green Flash has become synonymous with highly-hopped IPAs, such as their revolutionary West Coast IPA. Stop by Cellar 3, their tasting room and facility, which opened in 2015, to see where Green Flash experiments with barrel-aging and bottle-conditioning, thus producing fan favorites like Baroque Belgique and Vivid Sauvage.
Left Hand Brewing is quintessential Colorado, and is all about staying balanced. From the brewery’s lightest beers to their darkest, each brew finds a nice equilibrium between hops and malt for a smooth and refreshing finish. Try the Wake Up Dead Imperial Stout if you’re looking for the perfect example of a beer that makes a statement while keeping a balanced flavor profile.
Southern Tier was founded in Lakewood in 2002, and recently opened their first satellite brewpub in Pittsburgh. Try the Nu Skool IPA, brewed with experimental and new American hops, or Thick Mint, a beer inspired by those famous Girl Scout cookies with a similar name.
Avery Brewing Company started in Boulder in 1993, blending “Old World tradition and expertise with ingenuity, creativity, and boldness.” They are also extremely involved in the community, partnering with nonprofits such as American Rivers, Boulder Valley Humane Society, and the Colorado Haiti Project. Their beers can be found in 36 states, plus Japan and Sweden. Try the Coconut Porter, White Rascal, or Raja Double IPA, which “chief barrel herder” Andy Parker says tastes “like a passion fruit wrapped in really good weed.”
Created in 1996 by best friends Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, Victory Brewing Company is the toast of Pennsylvania, with a reach that spans the nation. The company uses German malted barley and both American and European whole-flower hops. (The use of whole-flower hops is unusual; the brewers insist this creates a better flavor and aroma in the beer.) Victory is well known for their Hop Devil IPA, but Belgian-style lovers flock around any tap that is pouring the fruity and spicy Golden Monkey. In 2016, Victory and New York State’s Southern Tier Brewing Company (No. 18) united under parent company Artisanal Brewing Ventures (ABV). “Like-minded brewers such as Victory and Southern Tier can preserve our character, culture and products by banding together,” said Bill Covaleski, founder and brewmaster of Victory.
New Belgium quickly turned from a microbrewery into one of the most respected and loved full-scale breweries in the country. While Fat Tire is the solid flagship beer of New Belgium, the brewery takes risks with their seasonal offerings. Their Juicy Watermelon, for instance, has a clean finish and notes of cucumber and freshly cut grass. New Belgium has become 100 percent employee-owned, after the Employee Stock Ownership Program bought the balance of company shares in December 2012. After one year of employment, each New Belgium employee is rewarded with ownership rights and a cruiser bicycle.
Firestone Walker Brewing is the collaboration of two brothers-in-law with an unparalleled love for beer. They won the award for World Cup Champion Brewer four times, in 2004, 2006, 2010, and 2012. Stop by the brewery and try one of their Barrelworks Wild Ales, matured in oak barrels and fermented with microflora, or Parabola, an intense Russian Imperial Stout that’s considered to be one of the best beers in the world.
Three Floyds Brewing Company is well known not just for what’s in the bottle, but for the amazing label artwork as well. Two of their most famous brews, Zombie Dust and Dark Lord Imperial Stout, regularly land on best beer lists around the world. The super-hopped Zombie Dust, a pale ale, “will be the only respite after the zombie apocalypse.” Dark Lord Imperial Stout is available at the brewery only one day a year, Dark Lord Day (May 13 this year).
This family brewery, situated in small-town Vermont, specializes in unfiltered IPAs. It was opened in 2003 as a modest brewpub, and expanded to include the Alchemist Cannery in 2011, which is closed to the public but produces the brewery’s famous double IPA, Heady Topper, which is sold in limited production. In 2016, Alchemist Stowe was opened in Stowe, Vermont; the new facility produces Focal Banger IPA and various seasonal beers in addition to Heady Topper, and includes a visitor center.
Cigar City Brewing, a Florida favorite, has fans from far outside the Sunshine State thanks to their unique lineup of beers. John Holl, author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook, says it best: “Capitalizing on the Latin culture and tobacco-manufacturing history of Tampa Bay, Cigar City highlights those strengths on its labels and in its beer names and recipes. Many of the beers it produces — Jai Alai IPA, Improv Oatmeal Rye India-Style Brown Ale, Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale — reflect the sensibilities and ingredients of Florida."
Ballast Point didn't stop at brewing — they branched into distilling as well. Ballast Point Brewing was founded in 1996 and became the first micro-distillery in San Diego since Prohibition. Many of the beers are named after fishing terms, and the labels “have fish on them as a reminder to always do what you love.” Try the Watermelon Dorado or the Grunion Pale Ale, both refreshingly different from your everyday craft beers.
Established in 1979, Sierra Nevada Brewing has come a long way and now produces the second-best-selling craft beer in the United States. The first brew ever made here, in 1980, was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, “the beer that helped to launch the American craft beer movement.” Celebration Ale soon followed in 1981, and the brewery now offers seasonal, year-round, and even high-altitude beers like the Bigfoot, one beast of a beer with a full body and aggressive hop flavor.
As the Deschutes Brewery looks over the gorgeous Deschutes River, it is only fair to wonder if the secret to their delicious beer is actually in the water. A local institution, this brewery has been around since 1988, consistently pushing flavor profiles to the limit and experimenting with special small-batch brews. For a go-to beer, try the Black Butte Porter, a rich dark beer that satisfies. Deschutes will be expanding soon with the anticipated August 2017 opening of a brewery in Roanoke, Virginia.
The beer that is now brewed under the name Russian River Brewing Company was originally influenced by a winery. When Korbel Champagne Cellars decided to do away with their own beer in 2003, the company turned to their trusted brewmaster, Vinnie Cilurzo, giving him the opportunity to continue brewing the beer he made for them under the same brand. Russian River Brewing is completely different now, and produces beer aged in wine barrels. Try their famous double IPA, Pliny the Elder, for a well-balanced and hoppy brew.
Stone Brewing, founded in 1996, is Southern California’s largest brewery, and was voted by Beer Advocate’s readers as the “All Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth.” A high hop content is the calling card of many of their beers, which feature ABVs well above average. Thomas K. Matthews is the local designer who originally created the gargoyle motif for which their bottles have become famous, including Arrogant Bastard and Stone IPA.
Since 1995, this brewery has been creating craft beer that is approachable and relatable to all tastes. Their dedication to quality is what garners the brewery such a respectable reputation in the Rehoboth Beach area and around the country. Try the year-round Belgian-style white beer Namaste, made with “dried organic orange slices, fresh-cut lemongrass, and a bit of coriander,” for a refreshing reminder of why Dogfish Head Brewery has been near the top of our list for the last few years.
Bell’s Brewery has been producing delicious, inspired brews since 1985. Two Hearted Ale, Black Note Stout, and Hopslam are regular fixtures on best beer lists. This Kalamazoo icon places great emphasis on sustainability, environmental stewardship, and the low environmental impact of their beer. Spent grain is donated to local dairy farmers to feed cattle, and the brewery’s carbon footprint has been drastically reduced due to recycling practices that only require once-per-week garbage pick-up.
Known for their irreverent labels, Lagunitas has been one of America’s fastest-growing craft breweries, opening a Chicago outpost in 2014 and a third operation that’s just recently been built in Azusa, California. Long known for their association with marijuana, they even named a beer “Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale” in reference to the brewery’s twenty-day suspension of operations as the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control investigated alleged cannabis dealing amongst the brewery’s staff. No charges were filed, but another great beer was born.
Exactly 20 years ago, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers quit their jobs to pursue their dream of opening a brewery, and co-founded Founders Brewing Company, your top choice for the Best Craft Brewery in America. They were on the verge of bankruptcy when they decided to throw caution to the wind and start making the complex, assertive beer they were passionate about. Their wild popularity stems from a simple philosophy: “We don’t brew beer for the masses. Instead, our beers are crafted for a chosen few, a small cadre of renegades and rebels who enjoy a beer that pushes the limits of what is commonly accepted as taste. In short, we make beer for people like us.” Their wildly acclaimed KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) is cave-aged in oak bourbon barrels and is bursting with chocolate and espresso.