Thirty years ago, the concept of a craft beer power ranking system was inconceivable. Back then, there were only a handful of breweries pumping out suds that deviated from the watery-lager norm. Fast-forward to 2012 and there are more than 2,000 breweries in the country — with another 600 or 700 on the way. The scope of innovative beers is nothing short of stunning, with sour ales, bitter IPAs and barrel-aged stouts now the norm. Who’s leading the sudsy charge? Here’s our list of the most influential craft breweries today.
10. Short’s Brewing Company
If it’s weird and wonderful, then it’s likely being made at Michigan’s Short’s Brewing. No idea is too strange for Joe Short and his crew, whose lineup of delicious oddities includes the peanut-packed Über Goober Oatmeal Stout, tomato-packed Bloody Beer and Key Lime Pie, which was crafted with limes, marshmallow crème and graham crackers. A $2 million expansion will soon double capacity, meaning you might be able to nab a six-pack on your next trip up north.
9. The Alchemist Brewery
Last year, Vermont’s acclaimed brewpub The Alchemist was flooded during Hurricane Irene. Brewer John Kimmich and wife Jennifer opened a production brewery, focusing on the cultishly acclaimed double IPA Heady Topper. It’s hop bliss by the 16-ounce can. Equally game-changing: The recent bottled debut of Celia Saison, a gluten-free beer that you’d happily glug.
8. Jester King Craft Brewery
Located on a farm outside Austin, Texas, Jester King’s beers are no joke. Among the rustic, flavorful creations you’ll find the ludicrously low-alcohol Le Petit Prince, the Whiskey Barrel Rodeo imperial oatmeal stout flavored with chipotle peppers and coffee beans and the funky, wine barrel–aged Boxer’s Revenge.
7. Founders Brewing Company
Some of the buzziest beers in America are made at this brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Beer geeks’ most-wanted lists regularly count KBS, an imperial stout cave-aged in bourbon barrels for a year, and its sibling, the Canadian Breakfast Stout, which slumbers in bourbon barrels that last contained maple syrup. If you can’t buy those, a fine consolation prize is the cherry-infused Cerise or a malty, subtly smoky Dirty Bastard.
6. New Belgium Brewing
Following in the footsteps of Sierra Nevada, the Colorado-based beer maker recently announced that it would also open a brewery in Asheville, North Carolina. This game-changing move will open up the East Coast market, allowing folks to sip the experimental Lips of Faith releases and the Shift Pale Lager, one of the top trends of 2012. Try to get your hands on Brett Beer, its new wild yeast-dosed collaboration brewed with Lost Abbey.
5. Boneyard Beer
Though Bend, Oregon is home to great breweries like Deschutes, 10 Barrel and the brand-new Crux Fermentation Project, the city’s rising star is Boneyard Beer — Its RPM IPA, Hop Venom IPA, and Notorious Triple IPA are loving embraces to the hoppy bounty of Oregon and Washington. The brewery is the next big thing in bitter beers.
4. Stone Brewing Co.
Though its 16th anniversary is just weeks away, the Southern California brewery’s uncompromisingly bitter, unabashedly palate-pummeling ales continue to taste fresh and current. We love the Ruination IPA, Arrogant Bastard and Old Guardian Barley Wine, but we’re eagerly anticipating September’s release of the upcoming Enjoy By double IPA.
3. Green Flash Brewing Company
When it comes to dank IPAs, few breweries do ’em better than San Diego’s Green Flash. The West Coast IPA is a pungent classic, and Palate Wrecker more than lives up to its name. But we’re most impressed by Green Flash’s lineup of Belgian-style ales, like the Trippel and Le Freak. Be on the lookout for the Friendship Brew, an unusual spiced black saison brewed with Brasserie St-Feuillien. One more thing: Green Flash is also planning to open an East Coast brewery in the next few years.
2. Russian River Brewing Co.
Vinnie Cilurzo can do no wrong. The California brewmaster crafts some of the country’s finest sour brews, deploying bacteria and wild yeasts as deftly as a scientist. He’s even more appreciated for his IPAs, including the cultishly loved Pliny the Elder. Keep your eyes peeled for his new Hop Grower’s Series, which highlights select breeds. First up is Row 2, Hill 56, which is exclusively made with piney, citrusy Simcoe hops.
1. Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
We’ve never had a bad Firestone Walker beer, whether it’s the pungent Union Jack IPA, blended anniversary beers or Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout. Further setting the brewery apart is the fact its rich, pleasantly hoppy DBA (Double Barrel Ale), floral Pale 31, and Walker’s Reserve, a robust porter, spend six days in a Burton Union, an oak-barrel fermenting system. Even more exciting is the news that Firestone will soon be opening a facility specializing in sour beers.
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