The craft-brewery revolution is here to stay. The space has some well-known players, but a survey of popular regional upstarts points to a heady future.
Written by Bret Stetka for MSN local edition
Big-name brewers such as Budweiser, Coors, Miller and Pabst have dominated the American beer market for more than a century. But thanks to two Left Coast pioneers and a Boston entrepreneur, the beer business is far more democratic than it once was. Anchor Steam, Boston Brewing Co. (the brewer of Samuel Adams) and Sierra Nevada first challenged the U.S. brewing monopoly in the 1970s and ’80s. In their wake, other respected “micro” or “craft” brewers such as Dogfish Head, Allagash and Brooklyn Brewery helped permanently transform American beer with a more creative, hand-crafted approach. Now a new pool of brewers is out to further refine modern American brewing. Based on weeks of strenuous research and far too many pints, we’ve highlighted 10 young domestic breweries to watch, all founded within the past five years and offering tours, tastings or, at very least, frequent regional events.
Hill Farmstead Brewery
Greensboro Bend, Vt.
In a remote, often snow-covered corner of Vermont, Shaun Hill is obsessively perfecting beer. After a two-year stint brewing in Denmark, the dedicated craftsman moved back to his native Vermont and founded Hill Farmstead on family land going back eight generations. In just two years, he’s become one the country’s buzziest young brewers. Hill’s brews–a mix of classic styles, creative interpretations and collaborations with respected brewers such as Cigar City and Denmark’s Mikkeller–honor his ancestors. Great-grandfather Abner lends his name to a piney, citrus-tinged imperial IPA; uncle Jim gets a smoky, oakey black IPA aged in pinot noir barrels. Given the brewery’s small output and fast-growing admiration, Hill Farmstead brews can be hard to come by, but keep an eye out for it at respected Northeast beer bars. If you’re in the area, the brewery’s retail shop is open from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Jester King Craft Brewery
When in Texas, we love sipping local favorites Lone Star and Shiner Bock. But now Austinites have a craftier alternative. This 3-year-old outfit brews Texas interpretations of the so-called “farmhouse” beers of Belgium and France–styles like dry and spicy saisons and tart, funky, sour ales. These complex, often pucker-inducing quaffs are sometimes fermented with ambient yeast and bacteria, and Jester King’s mastery of micro-organisms pays expert homage to this Old Country tradition. Their Das Wunderkind! is aged in oak wine and whiskey barrels, and brewed by whatever critters waft by in the wild Texas air. It’s earthy and lightly fruity, and it perfectly embodies the brewery’s credo to brew with a sense of place, or “terroir” in wine parlance. Jester King’s tasting room is open Saturdays from 1-4 p.m., and brewery tours are offered at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30.
Opening a brewery is expensive. Really expensive. Hence, Pretty Things founders Dann and Martha Paquette opted for the so-called “gypsy brewer” approach. This recent trend sees aspiring brewers avoid the financial and logistical strains of opening a brewery by renting time at a host facility. Often in the middle of the night, the Paquettes and their team turn out some of the finest, most creative American beers, all on someone else’s equipment. Their flagship brew, Jack D’Or–labeled with a whimsical mustachioed barley grain–is an outstanding version of a Belgian saison: It’s dry and spicy with the perfect hint of grass. Although touring Pretty Things poses an obvious challenge, you’ll find their brews at beer retailers and beer events throughout the Northeast. Check PrettyThingsBeerToday.com for details.
The name? A fusion of “brewery” and brewer Patrick Rue’s last name. The operation? A vibrant young craft
brewery pushing the stylistic envelope in the tradition of Dogfish Head. Rue started homebrewing during his first year of law school. Tinkering with malt and hops quickly trumped litigation, and his hobby turned into a career. Along with his brother Chris and wife, Rachel, he founded the Bruery five years ago, melding traditional Belgian styles with California creativity. In the fall, Rue uses 17 pounds of yams per barrel in his hearty Autumn Maple ale; in the spring, he lightens things up with the tart, refreshing Saison de Lente. His wizardry with rye is accessible year-round with the spicy, rye-based Saison Rue and the rich, winter-perfect Rugbrod, a liquid take on dark Danish rye bread. The Bruery’s tasting room is open Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.
Maine Beer Company
Brothers Dan and Dave Kleban take a thoughtful approach to brewing, crafting sophisticated beers wrapped in tasteful, understated labels. The pair focuses on creating nuanced American ales at their minuscule brewery–at 3,000 square feet it’s literally “micro”–and their dry, crisp flagship, Peeper Ale, is a refreshing answer to the glut of overly sweet pale ales.
But MBC’s finest achievement might be the citrusy Lunch IPA. This near-flawless brew calls to mind Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Elder, to many beer aficionados the gold standard in India pale ales. The Kleban brothers are happy to show visitors around the brewery every Friday at 2 p.m.
It’s hard to stand out in the country’s biggest craft-brewing market. But this 3-year-old newcomer manages, thanks to brewer Alex Ganum’s expert handle on fermented grain. Ganum is a rising star in the beer community, with a thing for European farmhouse beers and high-quality Pacific Northwest ingredients. His Upright 7 is a refined, grassy saison brewed with a house yeast strain; the Flora Rustica is a tart, spicy ale brewed with marigold and yarrow flowers. In the winter, Ganum shucks fresh Washington state oysters for his salty oyster stout, a traditional British style that tastes far better than it sounds. Upright’s tasting room is open from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, and between 6 p.m. and tipoff for all evening home Blazers games.
Cigar City’s Tampa-based brewing operation tips its hat to that city’s acclaimed cigar industry, right down to ageing beer in barrels of Spanish cedar–the same wood used to make most cigar boxes. (Photo: Darin Crofton)
Cigar City Brewing
This buzzy young brewery pays homage to Tampa’s storied cigar industry, among other Florida iconography. Owner Joseph Redner and brewer Wayne Wambles meld local influences with classic beer styles and in just three years have become one of the country’s most respected new breweries. Their nicely hoppy, keenly crafted Jai Alai IPA is a great place to start. Better yet, try it aged with Spanish cedar–the wood used to make most cigar boxes–as part of Cigar City’s Humidor Series. And for an outstanding interpretation of a French farmhouse ale with a tropical bent, sip a Guava Grove: It’s a tart, lightly fruity refresher fermented with pink guava puree. Cigar City’s tasting room is open daily; stay for a pint or take a 64-ounce growler to go.
Barrier Brewing Company
Barrier founders Evan Klein and Craig Frymark honed their brewing skills at Brooklyn favorite Sixpoint. Now they’ve set out on their own, opening an endearingly scrappy operation on Long Island. The ambitious pair turn out some of the region’s best beer on a single-barrel brewing setup, modest even by craft-brewing standards.
Well-made takes on classic styles such as pale ales and porters showcase their attention to technique: The sweet and spicy Sanity IPA is perfectly balanced thanks to Munich malt, rye grain and a mix of Pacific Northwest hops. The Barrier boys are happy to show you around and run you through their process; just call ahead to be sure they’re around.
Beer geeks were outraged last year when Anheuser-Busch bought Goose Island Brewing, one of Chicago’s (and the country’s) most respected craft breweries. Thankfully, its lineup hasn’t changed much, but for those looking to support a humbler Windy City brewer, Revolution fits the bill. Former Goose Island brewer Josh Deth mans the brew kettle at this bustling brewery and brew pub. Deth and his team brew more than 35 year-round and seasonal beers, including hop-heavy IPAs, earthy saisons and the creamy Very Mad Cow Stout, which picks up hints of wood and whiskey thanks to aging in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels. Revolution’s new brewery and taproom opened this spring in northwestern Chicago and will be offering tours. Or you can stop by the original brew pub and pair your beer with refined pub fare. Seriously consider the bacon-fat popcorn.
This heartland brewery and pub has shopping-mall neighbors, but the Nebraska Brewing Company has amassed an enviable collection of ales and drafts. (Photo: Courtesy Nebraska Brewing Company)
Nebraska Brewing Company
This greater Omaha brew pub might share a shopping center with a bevy of suburban chain stores, but its approach to beer is anything but generic. Nebraska Brewing pubgoers can sample an impressive collection of drafts such as Hop God, a spicy, citrusy Belgian/Californian crossbreed. But it’s the outstanding Reserve Series that sets Nebraska Brewing apart from so many other craft breweries: Hop God’s more mature sibling picks up a perfectly subtle woodiness thanks to a rest in French oak chardonnay barrels. Another barreled highlight is the outstanding Melange A Trois, a tart, complex Belgian strong ale joining fine wine atop the hierarchy of sophisticated beverages. NBC’s brew pub is open daily.
Bret Stetka is a frequent contributor to MSN Local Edition.