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25 breweries you should know

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When it comes to beer, there’s a lot of talk about bubbles—and we don’t mean carbonation. By the latest stats, the number of breweries in the United States has nearly doubled from 1,625 in 2010 to 3,040 today. Not everyone’s excited; at the last Craft Brewers Conference, Brewer’s Association director Paul Gatza shared woeful tales of tasting bad new beers, followed by a stern warning to fledgling breweries: “Don’t f— it up.” These 25 breweries are not yet five years old, but they definitely aren’t f—ing it up; in fact, they’re making craft beer better than they found it. Innovative, creative and passionate, they more importantly set the standard for quality. Some are industry vets who know how to do things right; others are newbies who figured it out in short order. All of them should be on your radar.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. | Wicked Weed Brewing

Still one of Asheville’s best-kept secrets, brothers Luke and Walt Dickinson launched this downtown brewery in late 2012 with a focus on bold, hoppy beers and rustic farmhouse ales. Now that bottles are trickling out, they’re poised to become one of the most talked-about breweries on the East Coast. Why? The 100-point Serenity, for starters: The 100-percent Brettanomyces beer demonstrates Wicked Weed’s prowess as one of the most skilled Brett handlers around. A second production facility is in the works, and this fall, the brewery went all-in with the opening of The Funkatorium, a separate barrelhouse and bar dedicated to wild beers, with the likes of Black Angel cherry sour and Oblivion sour red  constantly rotating on 12 taps and an upcoming vintage bottle menu.

SAN DIEGO | Societe Brewing
Founders Travis Smith and Douglas Constantiner both started their brewing careers with cheap kits, the kind that produce more passion than good pints. But no matter. The sparks from those early awkward batches fanned into bonfires, with both future colleagues landing junior-level stints at the likes of Russian River, Green Flash and—where they’d eventually meet—The Bruery.

Intoxicated by the voodoo of deeply flavorful brews like Rogue’s Chocolate Stout, Constantiner started thinking seriously about bailing on his lucrative banking career in New York while taking Siebel Institute classes online, while Smith was soaking up experience from the likes of Moonlight’s Brian Hunt and Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo. In 2009, Constantiner moved to North County, San Diego, and landed The Bruery gig. Soon Smith and Constantiner formed a friendship over pints, and hatched plans for a place of their own.

Their joint move to hop-happy San Diego seemed a late entry into a super-crowded, IPA-saturated marketplace, but Societe’s brainy, lighthearted approach—and great beers—
resonated with locals, with word traveling fast around the American West. Societe’s ultra full-flavored beers are organized in four categories: Out West (read: IPA, IIPA), Old World (Belgian pales; saison; golden strongs), Stygian (stouts referencing the underworld’s River Styx), and Feral (sour and wild brews). Focused and trend-forward, the formula is not only working, it’s flying. Societe (now up to 18 full-time employees) is about to double again for the second consecutive year, adding new fermenters and a small bottling line, mainly for sours.

“Oh my God, it’s incredible. We’re just trying to keep up with local demand,” Constantiner says. “That’s why we started down here; nobody’s new to beer. Karl Strauss, Stone and Ballast Point paved the way for us. Now we can’t keep anything on tap.” Not bad for a guy that started with a $50 Mr. Beer kit.

Anchorage's Gabe Fletcher / Andre C. Horton

Anchorage’s Gabe Fletcher / Andre C. Horton

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA | Anchorage Brewing

The day we caught up with Anchorage owner Gabe Fletcher, he was about to pick up Evil Twin Brewing impresario Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø at the airport; the next day, the two brewers were going to fish, then brew a beer and ferment it in the woods. Fletcher admits that at Anchorage, he “does everything the hard way.” After 12-plus years at Midnight Sun, he started Anchorage with only specialty beers in mind: Every one takes at least three months (and as much as a year) to complete; is released only once in the year; focuses heavily on barrel-aging and Brett; and usually doesn’t touch stainless steel until it’s in the bottling tank. The results are stars like Bitter Monk, a dry-hopped Belgian IPA aged in chard barrels with Brett. Up next: new brews from his coolship as early as summer 2015.

ARDMORE, PA. | Tired Hands Brewing

He earned his chops at iconic East Coasters Weyerbacher and Iron Hill, but in 2011, Jean Broillet IV struck out on his own, bringing some of the country’s most creative brews to the Mid-Atlantic. Situated in a cute stretch of canopied brick storefronts, the brewery and tasting room is where Broillet has already churned out 300 unique recipes, but HopHands (an ultrajuicy pale ale) and the rye/oat/wheat/barley SaisonHands are the anchors. Here-and-gone brews like Bob, a fennel-and-cherry brewed pale ale, have so captured beer geeks’ imaginations, RateBeer.com named Tired Hands a Best New Brewer  in 2013. The brewery’s building out a new facility just a block down the road, which will up its output tenfold.

CHELSEA, MASS. | Mystic Brewery

Helmed by fermentation scientist Bryan Greenhagen, Mystic takes a beaker approach to flavor. Inside the brewery’s Fermentorium, he takes wort the brewery makes at nearby Mercury Brewing and ferments it with yeast from a variety of sources (Maine blueberries and Vermont grapes among them) to inoculate a range of Belgian- and English-inspired beers. Sourcing as many local ingredients as possible and fermenting with indigenous yeasts, it’s one of the few breweries attempting a true native ale born from the North American countryside. This summer, the brewery opened its artisanal beer café, bringing saisons, tavern ales and charcuterie to the Boston ’burbs.

ST. LOUIS | Perennial Artisan Ales

Phil Wymore had an impressive career as Goose Island’s cellar master and head brewer at Half Acre, so in 2011, when he tapped Cory King, a homebrewer with no professional experience, to become the brewer at his new brewery, Perennial Artisan Ales, even King was surprised. “I got very lucky; but at the same time, I was really stalking him,” King laughs.

King and Wymore have their fingers on the pulse of where craft is now. Perennial’s flagships lean Belgian, with a saison, a Belgian pale ale and a Belgian ale with Brett, but foodie seasonals— including a squash-infused brown ale, a walnut dunkelweisse, and a stout with cacao nibs, ancho chiles, cinnamon sticks and coffee beans—are introducing wholly new flavors into beer. That stout, by the way, is called Abraxas, and it put Perennial on the map, taking silver in the experimental category at Chicago’s Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers in 2012, then gold this year in the same category; it also happens to be one of King’s homebrew recipes that he brought to the brewery. As an industry vet, Wymore had an inkling about how the story of a talented brewer with an MBA might unfold.

“Phil came to me and said, ‘You’re going to leave me one day, aren’t you?’” says King. Wymore started to show King the ropes of running his own brewery, but six months later approached him with a proposition: “He said, ‘Why don’t you start your brewery here?’”

… & Side Project Brewing

Side Project is something like King’s gypsy brewery, except that he brews after-hours exclusively at his own 9-to-5 workplace. “At Side Project, everything touches oak; my passion is oak-aging, barrel-aging and barrel fermentation.” It took King a year to put out his first beer, and only 70 barrels are currently in production. He has more than 100 barrels stashed in a space he rents at Perennial, housing wild ales and saisons that are bottled in tiny, coveted batches and earn high marks—even perfect scores—with reviewers and drinkers alike.

EVERETT, MASS. | Night Shift Brewing

Pink hibiscus IPA and habanero-agave rye ale as year-round offerings? Sure! Founders Michael Oxton, Mike O’Mara and Rob Burns have a habit of taking risks with their beer, and nailing it every time. Case in point: The Sour Weisse Collection, Berliner weisses with flavor turns like kiwi-strawberry and lemongrass-cinnamon, was released in 2012, well before fruited Berliner weisses became a craft-beer craze. Taste them at Night Shift’s brand-new brewery and taproom, an industrial-chic, owl-adorned and picnic-tabled spot that Zagat recently named one of Boston’s hottest beer gardens.

PORTLAND, ORE. | The Commons Brewery

What began in the garage of founder Mike Wright has become one of Portland’s most buzzed-about breweries. This 3-year-old bucked the city’s IPA obsession with flagships Flemish Kiss, a GABF silver-medal Brett pale ale, and Urban Farmhouse ale, a World Beer Cup bronze saison. Since then, Wright and company have taken Portland palates on a wild ride, crafting off-the-wall brews like Biere Royale (a yogurt-fermented sour ale with currants) and brunch–perfect Myrtle (a citrusy, mimosalike farmhouse ale). Watch for The Commons craze to hit a fever pitch this year when the brewery triples its size in a new facility just down the road from Portland notables Cascade Barrel House and Green Dragon pub.

The Rare Barrel's Jay Goodwin / Rory Earnshaw for DRAFT

The Rare Barrel’s Jay Goodwin / Rory Earnshaw for DRAFT

BERKELEY, CALIF. | The Rare Barrel

Less than a year old, the all-sour Berkeley, Calif., barrelhouse, home to more than 850 barrels, is turning heads, and not just for its beer. For instance, the wort—four base styles of pale, gold, red and dark—is guest made at neighboring breweries and trucked to The Rare Barrel, where brewmaster and blender Jay Goodwin (formerly of The Bruery) ferments the liquid with wild yeast and cultures, like Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus. Once deemed ready, batches—some containing fruits and spices—are blended to create highly experimental sours like the funky, raspberry-tart Ensorcelled, a gold medalist at this year’s World Beer Cup. Next year, the company will invite the first small group of professional and amateur tasters to sample from the barrels and select the best beer in the house, which will be dubbed The Rare Barrel and released unblended.

SOMERVILLE, MASS. | Aeronaut Brewing

The pilot of Aeronaut’s reality show “The Big Brew Theory” (produced by Mark Wahlberg, no less) was picked up by A&E, but despite the small-screen glitz, these guys are all geek. In a suburban warehouse, techies and scientists Ronn Friedlander, Benjamin Holmes and Daniel Rassi, as well as brewmaster Mike Labbe, concoct DIY projects like a mobile beer dispenser while crafting pale ales, imperial stouts, wild ales and beyond, even sourcing ingredients from the on-site farmers market. They’re also launching Coolship Labs, an incubator workshop for startups working in the fermentation sciences.

ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, N.J. | Carton Brewing

A sour wasabi ale designed as an intermezzo; a cigar-inspired smoked cherry beer called Swisher; a trail-mix beer called GORP—Augie Carton transforms  culinary experiences  into avantgarde beers. Brewmaster Jesse Ferguson’s charged with the technical work of turning plates into pints; this summer, he put out Panzanella, a beer based on the Tuscan bread salad. Take a trip to the small Jersey Shore brewery to taste one-offs like Rav, Carton’s butternut squash/sage/fennel/ hazelnut spin on a pumpkin beer, or track down cans of Boat, a hoppy pale.

MONSON, MASS. | Tree House Brewing

Every weekend, the parking lot at Tree House Brewing, located on a pretty, third-generation Western Massachusetts farm, fills with newcomers and first-timers. “We’re blown away by the license plates. We’re thinking, ‘Really, you came all the way from North Carolina to see us?’” says co-founder Nate Lanier. The crowds come for Julius, a fresh, citrusy IPA that earned a perfect 100-point score on BeerAdvocate.com; drinkers lug growlers back home, inspiring a new set of beer journeymen to trek to the brewery. Opened in spring of 2012, Tree House was the brainchild of four homebrewers who sought to make “really bright, fresh simple American style pale beers”; they’ve also forayed into darker styles, and will initiate a barrel program in the near future. Though, perhaps the happiest news for beer travelers is that Julius will soon be available in cans.

CHICAGO | Pipeworks Brewing

It’s the ship that launched a thousand tippy Kickstarter canoes. Founded by Gerrit Lewis and Beejay Oslon, homebrewers who met while working at Chicago’s West Lakeview Liquors, Pipeworks was among the first-ever crowd-funded breweries, amassing an eyebrow-raising $40,075 (on their wished-for $30K) in January of 2012, plus a reported $40,000 through Paypal from friends, family and supporters who missed the initial window.

Neither brewer had real-world experience beyond a brief apprenticeship at Belgium’s acclaimed De Struise, but the duo found their stride with beers like Ninja vs. Unicorn, a resinous
double IPA with a 99-point score on RateBeer.com, and a whiskey-barrel-aged smoked porter. Pipeworks’ beers have sold out again and again.

Sometimes, having no experience means going no-holds-barred. Since its formation, Pipeworks has hewed to a rarely used commercial model: Almost every single batch is unique.  What it means for fans of the Bucktown brewery is that every week or two, a new beer lands. It’s where Oslon’s art background comes in handy, as the brewery churns out new, graphic labels every week, too.

Fond of goofy pop-culture references (i.e., naming a “white Russian” imperial milk stout “Hey Careful Man, There’s a Beverage Here” after the classic “The Big Lebowski” line), Pipeworks’ brewing experiments are also bold; its recent rye strong ale aged in Heaven Hill rye whiskey barrels with cherries and bitter roots is a Manhattan cocktail in beer form, brewed collaboratively with Chicago inn and whiskey bar Longman & Eagle.

In just two years the operation has expanded quickly. At press time, Pipeworks was prepping a new 17,000-sq.-ft. brewhouse a mile and a half west of the current operation, inking massive hops contracts and ordering a canning line, with plans to release the first beers by March. They’ll  further their line-up of sour and barrel-aged beers, while exploring lower-gravity brews, as well. Stay tuned for what’s coming down the pipe.

De Garde's Trevor Rogers and Linsey Hamacher / Taylor Schefstrom for DRAFT

De Garde’s Trevor Rogers and Linsey Hamacher / Taylor Schefstrom for DRAFT

TILLAMOOK, ORE. | de Garde Brewing

Some breweries value their local water, but Trevor Rogers and Linsey Hamacher went to rural Tillamook, Ore., specifically for the air. There, the duo captures free-floating bacteria and yeast to spontaneously ferment barrel-aged beers like the vinous, funky Vin Rougie. To further harness Oregon terroir, they partner with local farmers to source ingredients like raspberries and marionberries; they turn to vintners for grapes and wine barrels. Recently, the small operation brought in a few 500-gallon cognac barrels, which will expand its blending projects, along with the help of new assistant brewer William Hubbs. Visit this fall when de Garde releases a line of bourbon-, cognac-, rum- and wine-barrel-aged sours.

GREENSBORO, VT. | Hill Farmstead Brewery

When Shaun Hill launched his brewery in 2010 on a 200-year-old tract of his family’s farmland, he quickly became the talk of the industry, as his string of small batches lured beer seekers from across the country and put Vermont on the beer map. Beers like the juicy Abner double IPA and barrel-aged, locally fermented Flora saison are initiations into the innermost circle of beer geekdom, while constant new releases like Aaron, a barleywine aged for two years in bourbon barrels, and Peleg, an English old ale aged with native yeast and bacteria, keep the insatiable beer tickers on the hunt.

DENVER | Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project

Founder Chad Yakobson wrote a dissertation on Brettanomyces yeast while studying brewing science at Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University, then returned to the States, opened Crooked Stave in 2010 and sparked a firestorm of American wild ales. He was at the forefront of fermenting 100-percent Brett beers with twists like the dry-hopped, tropical Hop Savant. Since then—aside from producing some of the best Brett beers in the world—he’s spearheaded The Source, a Denver artisanal wares collective with a coffee roaster, meat/cheese shop, two restaurants and an art gallery; it’s also where he hosts the bi-annual, see-and- be-seen What the Funk?! Fest, featuring wild ales from breweries around the world.

SAN DIEGO | White Labs Brewing Co.

In the early 1990s, Chris White was getting his Ph.D., working in a yeast lab at UC San Diego and homebrewing with friends. Those friends went on to start breweries like Ballast Point, and though White had the same yearning to start a brewery, he realized there was a need for yeast and lab services. So, in 1995, he launched White Labs Pure Yeast and Fermentation with a $5,000 loan from his parents. Today, thousands of breweries, distilleries and wineries turn to his company for yeast strains. But White’s desire for a brewery of his own never quite subsided; opportunity surfaced when he moved into a new San Diego facility and could, at last, build one of the most unusual tasting rooms in the world. Here, you’ll find 35 taps, but only a handful of different beers, all fermented with a different yeast so tasters can have the experience of trying a brown ale fermented with English, Burton and California ale yeasts. Look for a second tasting room in Boulder in late fall.

Bluejacket's Greg Engert / Sean Harp for DRAFT

Bluejacket’s Greg Engert / Sean Harp for DRAFT

WASHINGTON, D.C. | Bluejacket

Beer luminary Greg Engert had already put his stamp on D.C. by curating impeccable beer selections at Vermillion, ChurchKey and Birch & Barley, not to mention turning the entire capitol on to cask ale. Bluejacket, opened last year, is his first foray into brewing, but an experimental nano-outfit it is not. In a massive, glass 7,300-sq.-ft. warehouse, Bluejacket churns out 10 new bottled beers a week, spanning strawberry rhubarb Berliner weisse to dry-hopped kölsch. In fact, before the brewery even opened its doors, it had already completed 25 collaborations; that’s still happening, with the likes of New Belgium and Brooklyn Brewery recently swooping through to brew. Engert’s currently working with historian/homebrewer Michael Stein to revive beers made by D.C.’s first brewery, Washington Brewing, which, around 1805, moved to the Naval Yard near where Bluejacket is today.

HOOD RIVER, ORE. | Logsdon Organic Farmhouse Ales

Something about mild-mannered Oregonian Dave Logsdon’s super-influential operation makes it seem like it must be older. But it’s more a case of impeccable timing that the 4-year-old bucolic farmhouse operation in Oregon’s apple country hit the scene, when everything happening in beer—and everything happening in Logsdon’s little red barn looking across verdant farmscapes to Mt. Hood—do-si-doed into perfect unison. Word of mouth spread fast, but Logsdon and brewer Charles Porter stayed low-key, even after winning a GABF gold last fall for Cerasus, an American kriek brewed with sweet and tart organic cherries, following 2012 gold for another sour, Peche ’n Brett (which was also a 2012 World Beer Cup gold medalist). It was always all about the beer.

Logsdon’s  got pedigree, as a co-founder and original brewer at Full Sail and creator of überinfluential yeast bank Wyeast Laboratories. With his know-how and the brewery’s authenticity, Logsdon’s farmhouse beers are second to none.

Take Seizoen Bretta, which, like Orval (the classic Brett-inflected Belgian pale ale), is something of a yardstick for brewmasters and beer geeks alike, offering the soft, phenolic complexity seasoned palates crave. Looking for what he calls the “goodies,” Logsdon scaled up to 8% ABV (from earlier 4.5%-ABV versions) with the help of four yeasts including a proprietary Brettanomyces strain and pear juice for bottle-conditioning. Look for the oak-aged version at certain Whole Foods stores, or Portland International Airport’s Made In Oregon shops.

Then, there’s the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t Peche ’n Brett, a sensational 10%-ABV saison with a pound and a half of fresh local organic peaches per gallon. Or, how about this one: Logsdon raises highland cattle and ponies for his daughters, and is building a beer-aging cave adjacent to the barn brewery (which has a coolship and two giant foeders), just like it looks on the quaint, hand-painted labels. Oh, and did you hear about his Scharbeekse cherries? There are orchards of ’em, as far as the eye can see.

AUSTIN, TEXAS | Jester King Brewery

In 2010, when Michael Steffing and Jeff Stuffings launched Jester King, naysayers warned that their lineup ought to include “regular beers” like IPAs and wheats. Instead, they stuck by their farmhouse ales, sourcing wild yeast in Texas Hill Country and bringing Texas taste to fans in 23 states, Europe, Australia and Canada. Oddly enough, due to state law, they couldn’t sell beer in their own brewery. Co-owner Ron Extract helped reform that, too, and now, Jester King peddles its bottles as a brewpub. Onsite demand has been so fluid, they’ve pulled beer from  beyond state borders (except for special events), and in Texas it’s rare to find bottles on shelves. You’ll have to stop in for pours like Atrial Rubicite, a barrel-aged sour with raspberries; or, make long-term plans for  2016-ish, when spontaneous beers made in February 2013 might be ready.

TULSA, OKLA. | Prairie Artisan Ales

Brewmaster Chase Healey’s Prairie catapulted onto the scene in early 2013 with a portfolio of electric saisons, a gallery of equally magnetic label artwork courtesy of his brother Colin, and an enthusiastic Kickstarter campaign that funded a brick-and-mortar brewery—in Tulsa, of all places. Since then, the master of farmhouse ales has embedded himself in the craft conversation with beers like the new Funky Gold Mosaic, a brilliant sour ale flavored with the trendy, tropical-noted Mosaic hop, and collabs with likeminded Evil Twin and Saint Somewhere. What’s next? A new brewery settled on a 16-acre former golf course, where guests can sip beers in the tasting room, then tour the gardens, fishing pond and bike trails.

Funky Buddha's Ryan Sentz / Ben Hicks

Funky Buddha’s Ryan Sentz / Ben Hicks

OAKLAND PARK, FLA. | Funky Buddha Brewery

When Ryan Sentz purchased the Funky Buddha hookah lounge in 2007, he was content to run a chill joint with live bands, flavored smoke and craft beer—like the ultimate basement beer cave. However, Funky Buddha Brewery (officially launched in 2010, with a brand-new production facility opened last year) became a lot more than a down-tempo hangout thanks to uncontainable hype swirling around foodie offerings like No Crusts, a jam-and-peanut butter beer, which draw amped-up, growler-wielding drinkers to the brewery. This fall, a new bottling line will churn out flagships Floridian hefe and Hop Gun IPA, followed by four-pack seasonals like the upcoming Sweet Potato Casserole. Don’t miss out on the daddy of them all, Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, when it returns to shelves in January.

SAN FRANCISCO | Cellarmaker Brewing

While waiting for their ambitious barrel program to develop, Connor Casey and Tim Sciascia kicked off Cellarmaker with equally ambitious hoppy beer. From a small, industrial garage in SoMa, Casey’s gone above and beyond to hunt, trade and cold-call his way to super-rare hops like South African Southern Passion and New Zealand Riwaka, which Sciascia puts in highly sought-after, here-and-gone drafts like the tropical Questionable Origins #3 pale ale. This fall, the brewery lives up to its name, and the barrel program sees light: Look for beers like Saison Francisco, aged in sauvignon blanc barrels with peaches and pluots, and Kiwi Saison, a collab with Evil Twin aged in chard barrels with kiwis.

NEWCASTLE, MAINE | Oxbow Beer

Picture, if you can, a rocking street party with a massive stage, DJs pumping dub-step, face-masked graffiti artists wielding poppling paint cans, glass (pipe) blowers, hordes of raucous locals and, to top it all off, a skater launching a perfect kick-flip over a flaming whiskey barrel.

Now imagine that this party, attended by more than 2,000 beer lovers recently in Portland, Maine, has been organized by a tiny farmhouse brewery 50 miles from town on 18 acres whose connoisseur-ready beer styles hail from the sleepy Belgian countryside—saison, grisette and other mellow stripes normally served alongside a good cow’s milk cheese. That’s exactly the beautiful paradox Newcastle, Maine’s Oxbow embodies every day, which is why, like that flaming whiskey barrel stunt (true story, by the way), it’s on fire.

“We are absolutely loving it,” says Tim Adams, a co-founder. “I’m so inspired by the beers we get to brew, and the community we get to be a part of.” It’s not just Portland that has embraced Oxbow; while the beers are still sold only in Maine, Adams and company have begun collaborating with Italy’s Birrificio del Ducato and Naparbier in Spain’s Basque region, as well as prepping a new 10,000-sq.-ft. Portland warehouse to use for barrel aging, blending and bottling. Not bad for a brewery that launched about 1,000 days ago in August 2011.

Next up, Adams says, is a coolship-led sour program using the farm’s and other local fruit including raspberries, cherries, elderberries and strawberries, for starters. “I think it’s very much in line with what we do: not being scared to take chances and take the time to make the best possible beer we can,” Adams says. “It’s the ultimate extreme of taking chances and taking time. It’s not the road most traveled, but I think spontaneous beers are the finest out there. We’re psyched.” We are, too.

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