Last year, we rounded up the 25 Best Craft Breweries in America, and while that list remains solid in 2014 -- and several of last year's winners are featured again this year -- we decided to expand and develop our list of all-star U.S. breweries. What better way to begin than by doubling the list (more of a good thing being, of course, excellent), and taking into account the year's most interesting craft beer trends? So go ahead, crack one (or two, if they're session beers!) open and enjoy.
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So what's changed this year that we should consider when determining the best craft breweries of 2014? Well, for starters, those aforementioned sessions beers have made a major impact this year: low-alcohol brews designed for people who love to drink beer -- and keep sipping it all day long with impunity. The beers are also an interesting brewing challenge: creating a beer that maintains the intensity of the main style's flavor with a lower alcohol content is quite difficult, and we've been excited about the number of impressive successes that have come out in the past year.
What started with merely a thirst for better beer and a gallon soup kettle in 1985 has turned into a regionally known craft brewery. Bell’s Brewery is a dedicated company that believes in brewing flavorful, unfiltered, quality, and small-batch craft beers. Bell’s currently has more than 20 brews for distribution, as well as some select options served at their pub. The pub at Bell’s, The Eccentric Café, was founded in 1993
and made Bell’s the first brewery in Michigan to serve beer by the glass. The brewery also has a general store with beer to go, and home brewing supplies to help you on your own beer endeavor. This year, Bell’s started releasing cans and mini-kegs of Oberon, in case you needed an excuse to drink even more of their excellent brew.
Photo Credit: Bell's Brewery Click Here to See More of the 50 Best Craft Breweries in America
In the brewery business for almost two decades, Dogfish Head is one of the most popular breweries in the country. It was Delaware’s first brewpub, and when it opened in 1995
, Dogfish Head was the smallest commercial brewery in America. But this small brewery now packs a giant punch, operating out of a 100,000-square-foot converted cannery, and selling their beer, including their original 60 Minute IPA, in more than 25 states. Under the direction of founder Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head continues to be the game changer — and leader — in the world of craft beer. This year, the company continued its innovative streak by turning hotelier: they recently opened the Dogfish Inn, an impossibly cute inn featuring sixteen rooms packed with beer-centric amenities and charming design.
Photo Credit: Dogfish Head
Russian River Brewing Company focuses on "traditional aggressively hopped California-style" ales, Belgians, and barrel-aged beers. Originally owned by Korbel Champagne Cellars, the brewery became its own entity in 2003
. Founder and brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo came from a winemaking family, but has established himself as a craft brewer full of innovation and willingness to share his knowledge. Today, he and his wife Natalie serve the brews fresh at their brewpub in downtown Santa Rosa, Calif. "One of the best things about living in California is being able to get a pint of fresh Pliny at tons of local bars,” says Maggie Hoffman, Senior Editor at Serious Eats. “Russian River churns out consistently delicious, hoppy beers and sours, not a dud among them. Vinnie Cilurzo is committed to quality and really digs into the science behind making the best beer. At a dinner I attended recently, he talked about taking a whole course on Brettanomyces at UC Davis. He quoted beer writer Michael Jackson, who once compared regular brewing yeast to a dog, who can be trained, and whose behavior is pretty predictable, while Brettanomyces is more like a cat. ‘When you call, they'll run away. When you pick them up, they'll scratch you.’ ‘Well,’ he noted. ‘Natalie and I are cat people. Brett is a moving target. You have to be ready for the uncertainty.’”
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There are more than enough accolades and recognition for this Californian brewery. If topping the 2008 list
of All-Time Top Breweries on Planet Earth by Beer Advocate isn’t enough for you, perhaps a bit more information will convince you that Stone Brewing Company is one of the best craft breweries in America. Stone is the tenth-largest brewery in the United States, with 55,000 square feet. And it’s beloved for much more than the beer. “Stone is all about attitude, but in a positive way. When a brewery produces so many delicious, decadent, award- winning beers that push the envelope off the edge of the table, the company rightfully earns immediate bragging rights. Some may call Stone Brewing a little arrogant, but I consider it a company that is merely taking pride in its exceptional work.” says Bryan Carey of Great Beer Now. The 99-rating on Beer Advocate calls this brewery "World Class," and that can be intimidating. “No brewery casts a bigger shadow over the San Diego beer scene than Stone. With their constant collaborations and experimentations, it seems like they put out a new beer every week. Here's the rub: they're all great.” Don Ayres explains.
Photo Credit: Stone Brewing
Founders set out to make "complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body, and tons of flavor" — and they’ve done just that. “Founders Brewing embodies the excellent quality that has helped place Michigan among the best states for craft beer. Its Centennial IPA and Porter are among the best beers I have ever tried in their respective categories. Founders can barely keep up with demand for its products and its mind- blowing brews continue to attract legions of new fans, many of whom cannot believe the excellence of Founders beer when they try it for the first time,” Bryan Carey of Great Beer Now tells us. The founders, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, say their beer is for the renegades and rebels who enjoy a beer that “pushes the limits,” but Founders has earned huge fans for their stand-out brews all over the map. "This brewery is so, so solid. Their porter is a favorite: rich and velvety, with roasted hazelnut and unsweetened chocolate flavors." Maggie Hoffman, Senior Editor at Serious Eats, explains. And the beer alone isn’t all that makes this brewery great. According to Kelli Williams of Momma Needs a Beer, the brewery experience is just as good. “Founders is one of those rare gems that lives up to the hype; from KBS to newer offerings like the single-hopped Mosaic Promise, the beer is consistent and solid,” she says. “But what I truly adore about the brewery, even as it continues to grow beyond everyone's wildest dreams is that, as a local, I can walk into Founders Taproom alone, or with my family or friends, and still feel like a local.”
Click Here to See All of the 50 Best Craft Breweries in AmericaPhoto Credit: Founders Brewing
The relatively new Citra and Mosaic hops have made a big splash, as breweries across the board have been discovering these varieties and featuring them in more and more beers, especially IPAs.
Another pleasant shift in the craft-brew zeitgeist has been a new focus on collaborations: many breweries have begun collaborating with other breweries or homebrewers, often resulting in some fantastic, specialty one-off beers. Stone Brewery, for instance, launched W00tStout 2.0 this month, a collaboration with Drew Curtis of Fark.com, Wil Wheaton, and Aisha Tyler. It doesn't get much more fun than that.
So how does one go about actually determining which breweries are the best in the U.S.? While this is an admittedly subjective subject -- and one that our readers appear have some very strong opinions on, we might add -- we started the process as impartially as possible: by asking our panel of craft beer experts to nominate breweries they believed in. They chose from among new breweries that have really started to make a name for themselves, as well as older standbys that continue to brew excellent, consistent beer year after year. In the end, we tried to focus on craft breweries that offer a range of great brews, rather than those that offer one particularly stand-out beer.
Once the nominations were in (all 118 of them), we asked you, dear readers, to weigh in on which breweries deserved to be recognized. And you responded with a deluge of your well-researched opinions: we received over 13,000 votes, and many write-in opinions: Left Hand, Hailstorm, and Port City Brewing Company, for instance, all received multiple shout-outs from craft beer aficionados who felt they should have been nominated (and we listened: next year, we promise you, they're a lock for round one).
While we're proud of our list, and while we believe that it represents some of the best craft breweries in America, we also know that it's truly impossible to narrow down all of the great options to the absolute best brewery in the U.S. So much depends on personal taste, regionality, and your own associations. We're lucky that the craft beer scene has grown exponentially in recent years, and that these days, there are great local craft beers to enjoy everywhere in the United States.
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-Jess Novak, The Daily Meal
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