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12 breweries to watch in 2011

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Keep your eyes on these 12 breweries with big plans for 2011.

UINTA BREWING CO. Salt Lake City

Uinta’s put out quality craft beer for more than 15 years, but beer lovers around the country are now really starting to notice. “It’s amazing how many people you run into that ask, ‘Are you allowed to have beer in Utah?’” says Uinta’s marketing manager Lindsay Berk. “We want to get past the idea that there isn’t a beer scene here.” It’s a common misconception that Utah’s a dry state (it’s not), or that you can’t find a beer above 3.2% ABV (you can), but when the state’s liquor laws were amended last year, Utah suddenly joined the beer conversation. Around the same time, Salt Lake City’s Uinta Brewing released its new brand of high-ABV beer, Crooked Line, which will expand in 2011. “[Crooked Line beer] inspires you to sit down with a group of friends like you would with a bottle of wine,” says Berk. To produce the new line, Uinta built a separate brewery inside its existing one, complete with a custom machine from Italy that corks and cages bottles. Although the brewery’s produced high-ABV beer before (like its annual barleywine), Crooked Line’s a new chapter dedicated to putting big, quality beer in the hands of consumers. The brewery’s also paving the way for eco-friendly business practices, earning numerous awards including a Green Power Leadership Award from the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency. Harnessing wind power and donating spent grain is “very important,” says Berk. “We do everything we can on a daily basis to contribute.” TWO TO TRY: Try Cutthroat Pale Ale, Utah’s best-selling beer, or Crooked Line Tilted Smile, a 9.0%-ABV imperial pilsner.

DEVILS BACKBONE BREWING CO. Roseland, Va.

At the base of the Blue Ridge  Mountains, a little brewery’s quietly crafting monumental beer. From its picturesque perch in Nelson County, Va. (population: 12,000), Devils Backbone unleashed four GABF-medal-winning beers in 2009, four in 2010 and snatched the title of small brewpub of the year at the World Beer Cup. Never mind the brewery only opened its doors in November 2008.  “The goal for the brewpub was to create classic-style beers,” says owner Steve Crandall, a builder/developer by trade. Its most decorated is Gold Leaf Lager, a pilsner that snatched back-to-back gold medals at the 2009 and 2010 Great American Beer Festival; the Vienna-style lager and Wintergreen Weiss also took home hardware, sealing this brewery’s classic-style credibility. That’s not to say, of course, that brewer Jason Oliver isn’t pushing the envelope: In the brewery’s short history, he’s already churned out about 50 different styles from a wet-hopped brown ale made with Nelson County hops to Baltic Coffee, which incidentally also earned GABF gold. Today, Crandall says they’re putting together a plan for a production brewery, with the support and urging of the Nelson County community. “In the mid-Atlantic, people weren’t accustomed to the option of having a locally made craft beer,” he contends. But it seems that central Virginia and the rest of the beer community are loving what this Devil’s giving ’em.
TWO TO TRY: Go for the gold and try the award-winning Gold Leaf Lager; then taste the local flavor in Blue Ridge Hop Revival Ale, a harvest ale that uses the first commercial hops sold in Virginia in more than a century.

SAINT ARNOLD Houston, Texas

Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the state’s oldest craft brewery. Earlier this year, Saint Arnold completed a $6 million renovation on a former food services building in downtown Houston, and moved operations into its much larger home. “This is a huge upgrade,” says Saint Arnold’s Lennie Ambrose. “We have a lot more room to expand our brewing operation and host folks for our tours.” Saint Arnold will continue to distribute its regular 10-beer lineup only in Texas, but the brewery’s built a reputation beyond state borders for its high-gravity Divine Reserve series. In the past, one-time batches like the 11%-ABV Imperial Pumpkin Stout have sold out in a day or two; this year’s Divine Reserve No. 10, an English barleywine, will hit shelves before January, after the brewery’s move held back the September release. Saint Arnold’s innovation goes well beyond its big beer: The groundbreaking Moveable Yeast series pushes style boundaries with unexpected yeast strains used in the brewery’s regular recipes.
The brewery’s long been known for its often-sold-out Saturday tours averaging 900 guests toting their own food and games (“It’s more like a German Oktoberfest,” says Ambrose); now with bigger digs, guests can traipse through on weekdays, too.
TWO TO TRY: Early next year, the brewery will release Elissa IPA (a 2010 GABF silver medalist) brewed with Belgian Trappist yeast; in spring, watch for Brown Bitter Ale featuring Chico yeast.

MARKET GARDEN BREWERY Cleveland

According to Sam McNulty, the beer god responsible for Cleveland spots like the Belgian-laden Bier Markt and pizza-slinging Bar Cento, his union with former Dogfish Head brewer Andy Tveekrem was meant to be. “I was backpacking by myself in Thailand, sitting in a bar and surfing the ’net,” says McNulty. “I read that Andy was leaving Dogfish, so I got in touch, and it was bromance at first sight.” Their mutual affection spawned Market Garden, which by its winter opening may offer as many as 25 beers—some guest taps but mostly their own, many of which have been crowd-approved by Bier Markt patrons. Tveekrem’s sessionable creations for Market Garden are decidedly tamer than his Dogfish suds—many of them clock in under 5% ABV—and lean closer to the brewing ethos he developed  in his early days at Great Lakes Brewing.  “Beer has swung so far in the direction of extremism—in both taste and ABV—and while it’s nice to have a good Belgian tripel from time to time, you can’t put down a gallon in one night,” McNulty says. Tveekrem continues, “As the pendulum swings back, I want to focus on refinement and finesse, not about how much you can pour into the kettle. Philosophically, that’s where my head’s always been.” Offerings will range from a German-style bock to a Belgian tripel to an American pale, but the pair won’t stop with beer: Tveekrem will try his hand at distilling with whiskeys, infused vodkas and gin, while McNulty hones a menu of picnic-style eats, perfect for casual meals in the brewery’s 3,000-square-foot
cobblestoned American beer garden.
TWO TO TRY: Explore Tveekrem’s range with a light, pre-Prohibition-style American lager, and a honey barleywine. “I’ve been playing with the recipe for about 25 years now,” he says. “It needs to see the light of day.”

ODONATA BEER CO. Sacramento, Calif.

When Odonata owners Peter Hoey and former DRAFT beer director Rick Sellers discovered that their first batch of beer wasn’t properly carbonated, they knew just what to do: throw all 950 cases away. “Well, it had carbonation,” explains Sellers. “It just wasn’t forming the head we wanted.” Maybe a lesser brewer could not watch months of blood, sweat and tears (plus a heavy hunk of change) swirl and gurgle down the drain, but Sellers says, “We just couldn’t release it; we wanted to put our best foot forward.” This unremitting perfectionism has paid off; Odonata’s first beer to see daylight was Rorie’s Ale, a one-off Belgian quad aged in port barrels on top of sour cherries that earned a spot as one of Ratebeer.com’s top 100 beers of 2009, with a perfect 100-point score. And the buzz kept on: Even in hop-heavy California, Odonata’s flagship saison has garnered a resounding thumbs up from beer nuts throughout the state, including the title of Artisan Beer of Choice by the Sacramento News & Review. “Making a saison our flagship was a calculated risk. Many consumers don’t know how to pronounce it, let alone know what it is,” Sellers admits. “But we believe in this style, and the benefit is that there aren’t many in California. We’re only the second year-round producer in the state.” For now, Hoey and Sellers log many miles between brewing facilities in Davis, Sacramento and Yuba City, Calif., but in 2011 they plan to open a brewery of their own, where they’ll pull a handful of draft handles and continue to flow their distribution up and down the West Coast. “We’re not going to ship beer to somewhere we can’t visit and shake hands with the people who buy it, which means we may grow a little more slowly,” says Sellers.
TWO TO TRY: The flagship Odonata Saison starts with gentle banana sweetness before unfolding into a complex arrangement of spice, grass and slightly acidic lemon. Odonata’s first 2011 release, Water Witch, is a bold Belgian dark strong ale marked by sweet fruit, dry cherries and an unmistakable cobbler essence.

URBAN CHESTNUT BREWING CO. St. Louis

Florian Kuplent isn’t new to the beer industry, and he’s had more than a few eyes on him over the last decade. With nearly 20 years of experience, from earning a master’s in malting and brewing science at University of Munich-Weihenstephan, to posting as head brewer and launching London’s Meantime Brewing Co. and, most recently, landing a top spot at Anheuser-Busch and overseeing Michelob’s craft beer line (Shock Top Belgian White was his recipe), his career’s already been one to write home about. But, he insists, this is the culmination: Kuplent and his business partner, former A-B marketing guru David Wolfe, are carving out their own piece of the St. Louis beer scene.
“I think as a brewmaster you always have some kind of hope that at some point in your life you can open your own brewery,” Kuplent says. “St. Louis is a great market for that…I can’t wait to start brewing.” Production at his Urban Chestnut Brewing Co. begins in November and the doors are slated to officially open in early 2011. The concept is “German beer garden in the city”; a New-World-meets-Old-World ethos that emotes in everything from the actual building, a converted 1920’s garage in a revitalized area of town, to the two distinct lines of beer he plans to release, Reverence and Revolution. The former is a run of well-crafted, classic European styles. “I’m very critical of beer that’s out there,” says  Kuplent. “I want to make the traditional European beers that are really true to style; to actually make a lager that’s a really
good lager.”  Revolution, then, plays with the newness and innovation of American craft, combining old ingredients in new ways. In the brewery’s tasting room, both lines will play against sausage and cheese plates (“stuff that goes well with beer”), and Kuplent plans to open a bottling line within the year.

PRETTY THINGS BEER & ALE PROJECT Cambridge, Mass.

As a brewer for most of his adult life—first in the Boston area and later at a traditional brewery in the U.K.—Dann Paquette’s passion for beer was embattled by “people who got into the industry three weeks prior and thought they had some key to becoming rich.” Today, you’d never guess Pretty Things is the brainchild of a formerly disenchanted and  broke brewer. Producing exceptional beer marked by vibrant, fantastical imagery hand-drawn by Paquette and his wife, Martha, Pretty Things is part of the vanguard of “gypsy brewers”: small batch brewers who rent extra space in other brewing facilities to produce their own beer with complete creative control. With a small arsenal of British and Belgian-inspired brews, Pretty Things quickly stormed the Boston market: It released its first beer two years ago and today, Jack D’Or, a Belgian-style saison, has become one of its most popular with a 96 on user-review site Ratebeer.com. And while Paquette shies away from competition, his beer’s most unforeseen success has been with Boston-area women. “Women have turned out to be a big part of this brand, all these insanely cool women who are drinking beer now,” says Paquette. “I spent a good 15 years of my career selling beer to nice pot-bellied men, so this is amazing.” While Paquette dreams of having his own brewery to call home, for now, he’s focused on staying creative and unveiling new beer. Up next? His experiments with wild yeast.
TWO TO TRY: Jack D’Or, an American-style Belgian saison, is the brewery’s most popular beer, while the tripel, Fluffy White Rabbits, is as eerily good as its label.

SUN KING BREWING CO. Indianapolis

In its first year of business, Sun King released an astounding 50 beers, and the year-and-a-half-old brewery shows no signs of slowing. Seasonal releases of brews like Winter Storm Warning (an imperial ESB) and El Gallo Negro (a black IPA) plus plans for a new IPA every four to six weeks will keep the Indianapolis outfit in drinkers’ good graces, but it’s the brewery’s innovations in canning that will seal its spot in the beer hall of fame. “We truly believe that cans are a superior method to store and transport craft beer,” says brewer and co-founder Clay Robinson. “We are releasing what we believe to be the first ever customizable can.” The brewery will release all of its beers—including a 1,000-can run of its first beer, Johan the Barleywine, which aged for a year while the can was developed—in 16-ounce, customizable Sun King cans marked by hand-applied labels (rather than different cans for each brew). The canning experiments have evolved the beer, too. “We don’t purge the lines of the canner between beers; instead, we push the beer through the lines and into the can creating a blend that is usually delicious and always interesting,” says Robinson. “We canned one of our IPAs, Amarillo Princess Warrior, right after we canned Batch 111: The Golden Slumber and ended up with a really nice Belgian-style IPA, so now we are going to brew a hybrid of those two beers and try to create something delicious.”
TWO TO TRY: Taste the molasses-and-dark-fruit-streaked Dominator Dopplebock, which scored a bronze medal at the 2010 GABF, and the
barley-oat-wheat Sunlight Cream Ale, which won hardware at the 2010 World Beer Cup.

HIGHLAND BREWING CO. Asheville, N.C.

the brewery that sparked Asheville’s beer frenzy just keeps growing. There’s the beer, of course; by the end of 2010, brewmaster and co-founder John Lyda will have cranked out 18,000 barrels, solidifying Highland’s hold as the Southeast’s third-largest beer producer. And in fall, the brewery debuted a brand-new, 6,000-square-foot tasting room with live music and food on Fridays. This year, the brewery expanded its range with an organic brew, the rye- and hibiscus-infused Cattail Peak Wheat, which highlighted the brewery’s partnership with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. It also plans to ramp up its organic offerings with new seasonals, but the beers Lyda’s most excited about haven’t been dreamed up yet; he’s installing a 3-barrel pilot brewing system, on which he hopes his three-man brewing team will flex its creative muscle. “I’d love to try saisons and more Belgian-style stuff; Joey [Justice] likes the lighter things, and Paul [Rollow] likes to experiment with the crazy things,” he says. Visitors to the new tasting room will serve as Lyda’s guinea pigs, and the best brews may become more permanent fixtures.
TWO TO TRY: Highland’s year-round Gaelic Ale remains one of the truest-to-style amber ales out there, while its always-evolving Cold Mountain Winter Ale is worth sipping every time the air gets chilly; the beer’s spice profile changes annually.

EVOLUTION CRAFT BREWING Delmar, Del.

Yes, there is another brewery in Delaware. An hour southwest of Rehoboth Beach, where Sam Calagione’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery put the nation’s second-smallest state on the beer map, the humble Evolution Craft Brewing has been brewing  since 2009. In the company’s short life, brewmaster Geoff DeBisschop has introduced a handful of solid regulars, like the perfumy Exile ESB. But he’s also operated a barrel room since the beginning, and he’s ready to roll out his aged brews. Evolution’s new Migration series consists of three releases each year, with every brew designed to complement its particular barrel. One, a dark strong ale, rested in old bourbon vessels; another, a golden strong ale, aged in Cruzan rum barrels while a third brew slept in wine casks. “Our oak-aging program has been fun for all the guys and Evolution fans,” said founder Tom Knorr. “Our approach is to take the best of the traditional styles and evolve them with subtle changes in complexity while still maintaining a well-crafted balanced beer.” And the beer list’s not the only thing that’s growing: Evolution plans to expand its facility four times the size of its current brewery.
TWO TO TRY: Lucky 7 porter and Rise Up stout—together. In 2011, Evolution will bottle its Menagerie series of oak-aged blends. The latest, Part Deux, combines Lucky 7’s cocoa-roast essence with the sweet, coffee-infused Rise Up; the blend aged four months in bourbon barrels.

STILLWATER ARTISAN ALES Baltimore
As a techno and house producer, Brian Strumke traveled to studios across the States and Europe to record bands. After he left the music business in 2009 to pursue a brewing career, he let the traveling producer lifestyle shape his  brewing venture. “I started to look at a brewery as a studio,” he recalls. “I never felt any less of a musician or artist because I didn’t own my own studio.” So Strumke became a gypsy brewer, using others’ facilities to craft his brew. In October 2009, Strumke pitched his idea to Brian Ewing, owner of Brooklyn-based import company 12 Percent Imports. With help from Ewing’s clients in Belgium, and personal contacts Strumke had in the Baltimore area, two Stillwater lines were born: the Import and  Stateside series. Brewing his farmhouse ales throughout Belgium at facilities like Huisbrouwerij Sint Canarus, and in the States at DOG Brewing Co., Strumke created what has quickly become the best-selling brand in the 12 Percent portfolio and earned rave reviews from online critics and media outlets, including the Baltimore Sun and Washington City Paper. “Eventually, I’d like to have something of my own, whether it’s a full production facility or a brewpub,” says Strumke. “But I’m really happy just to travel around and work with different breweries.” For now, Strumke’s ramping up production of his Import Series as he travels Europe, with stops in Belgium and Denmark to collaborate with notable brewers.
TWO TO TRY: Sip Stateside Saison, a fruity, spicy farmhouse-style ale brewed on this side of the Atlantic, or travel abroad with A Saison Darkly, brewed at Belgium’s Sint Canarus.

BREWERY VIVANT Grand Rapids, Mich.

Most beer makers dream of running one successful brewery in their lifetime, but with any luck, Jason Spaulding will have two when Brewery Vivant opens in November.
Four years ago, Spaulding left New Holland Brewing, the craft beer juggernaut he founded with pal Brett VanderKamp in 1996 at age 22. But beer was never far from his heart, and eventually, he enrolled at a Munich brewing school to refresh his technique. While in Europe, he fell hard for rural France and Belgium’s farmhouse ales, and by the time he returned home, he was set on building a neighborhood brewery focused on funky Franco-Belgian brews. On the hunt to find a home for the brewery, Spaulding stumbled on an empty complex that comprised a former funeral home, auto repair shop and childcare facility. Following a $3 million, eco-minded renovation, the old chapel now houses the restaurant-pub, while the brewery fits into the barrel-roofed auto garage; outside, the grounds host a Euro-style beer garden. A plum location just blocks from the Grand Rapids farmers’ market inspires a menu of locavore country fare helmed by the aptly named chef Drew Turnipseed. “We’re really going to challenge our chef and brewers by saying ‘make a dish that pairs well with this beer,’ or ‘make a beer with the properties of this dish,’” says Spaulding. For now, he’s starting with his spins on the Belgian and French beers he loves so much: a biére de garde, a dubbel and a  Belgian ale that’s been whispered about since he test-drove it last year. And if a menu of new brews wasn’t innovation enough, Spaulding is also debuting his side project: a snap-off tap handle he’s been toying with for years. “It doesn’t get stuck on the faucet, and it only engages when its facing the correct way,” he says. “It will never be crooked.”
TWO TO TRY: Spaulding’s perfected Zaison, a rustic Belgian ale brewed with telicherry black pepper, orange peel and Wallonian yeast, and is putting the finishing touches on a Belgian IPA.

CITY TO WATCH: HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA
Three new breweries in this tony Southern town bring Alabama’s brewery count to nine. The trio—Straight to Ale, Yellowhammer and Blue Pants—plans to keep the competition friendly in favor of elevating the city’s palate. “All I’m interested in is getting people to drink craft beer in general,” says Yellowhammer brewer Keith Yager. “The worst that could happen is that any one of us is bad, because then it turns everyone off.” Here’s what each outfit’s working on:

Straight to Ale
Launched in spring, this devil-themed brewery brews four regulars—Monkeynaught IPA, Lily Flagg Milk Stout, Wernher von Brown Ale and Brother Joseph’s Belgian Dubbel—plus several “occasionals” like a raspberry wheat. And it has already introduced a limited-edition lineup: the Right to Brew Series, a line of brews crafted in collaboration with guest homebrewers. The first, a Belgian quad, debuted in September. straighttoale.com

Yellowhammer Brewery
Named after Alabama’s state bird, Yellowhammer introduced an IPA and a ginger-and-lime-leaf-spiked Belgian White in October; Yager will expand the lineup with a German altbier, a tripel and a kolsch next year. yellowhammerbrewery.com

Blue Pants Brewery

This quirky nanobrewery launched in October with Knickerbocker Red, a keg-conditioned, Cascade-hopped American red. Next up: Pinstripe Stout, an imperial version loaded with chocolate, coffee and vanilla. bluepantsbrew.com

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