Top New Breweries
Cerebral Brewing (Denver, Colorado): Everything exploded for Cerebral in 2017, with high profile collab beers, big crowds for limited releases, and expanded distribution along the front range. Finally, beer drinkers are discovering one of Denver’s best-kept secrets for distinct and hazy IPAs, deliciously bright and crisp Brettanomyces saisons, and deeply nuanced stouts. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t always try to hit the taproom when I’m in Denver.
Fall Brewing (San Diego, California): Ray Astamendi’s spot in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood is the little brewery that could. The footprint is incredibly small for the 4,000 or so barrels of beer they make per year, but the taproom exudes SoCal punk rock cool and the beer expresses the confidence of a brewer who knows exactly what he wants to make and has nothing to prove. The impeccably crafted small beers pack a flavorful punch, yet remain drinkable (beer after beer). In a town full of incredible breweries, Fall continues to make a significant mark.
Top Beers of the Year
Weldwerks Brewing Extra Extra Juicy Bits (Greeley, Colorado): I’m a sucker for a good hazy IPA, and Juicy Bits is my go-to. This “Extra Extra” version is everything I love about the original—bright citrus notes, creamy mouthfeel, and a perfectly placed soft bitterness—but amplified in an effortless way that prizes drinkability.
New Belgium Old Aggie (Fort Collins, Colorado): Sometimes you just need a beer (or four), and the advent of Old Aggie light lager has made cookouts and camping trips that much more fun in Northern Colorado. At $12.99 for a 12-pack, this relatively crisp and very clean lager brings craft quality and ethical business practices to the masses, and I’ve polished off quite a few over the past few months.
Casey The Cut Santa Rosa Plum (Glenwood Springs, Colorado): I’ve been drinking Troy Casey’s beers since Saison batch 1 (or earlier, if you consider the AC Golden beers he brewed before breaking out on his own), and I was out there in line for the release of the very first The Cut bottle released (the one the locals lovingly refer to as “Ballerton”). For a while there, the heightened acidity levels of the Cut beers turned me off, and drifted toward the mild acidity of his mixed fermentation farmhouse beers. Then late last year I found myself out in Glenwood with a friend for a tasting, had a glass of The Cut Santa Rosa Plum, and was blown away by the soft acidity, candy-like bright fruit notes, and deeply complementary barnyard funk. I’ve been raving about it to anyone who will listen ever since, and have found all of the recent The Cut releases to exhibit a similar cohesiveness.
Great Notion IPAs (Portland, Oregon): It’s too hard to choose between Juice Box, Juice Jr., Ripe, Super Ripe, Mandela, Fortunate Sun, and all the other incredible Great Notion beers I’ve had this year, so let me just say this—back to back with the best of the best from around the country, they consistently impress. I can’t wait for the new brewery to get up and running, so I can enjoy these beers in (somewhat) great volume.
Perennial Maman 2017 (St. Louis, Missouri): With a deep rumble of heavy bass notes and a luxuriously thick body, Maman has earned its reputation as one of the best unadjuncted barrel-aged stouts in the world. It feels excessive to keep hyping the barrel-aged gems from St. Louis like Maman and BA Abraxas, but until I taste something better, they’ll remain tops on my list.
Noble Aleworks Citra Showers (Anaheim, California): Call it counter-trend to highlight a relatively clear west coast IPA from a brewery that’s gone deep in the haze game, but some things just have to be said. While the trading market may have dried up for this incredible example of modern hops artistry, it was the standout for me of all the great beers I tasted on a SoCal trip earlier this year.
Crooked Stave Von Pilsner (Denver, Colorado): I love this evolving class of soft, unfiltered Pilsners with a touch of contemporary hops character, and have had great ones from Brouwerij West (Popfuji), Suarez Family Brewers (Qualify Pils), and more. But Von Pilsner might be my favorite for both the price point ($9.99 for a 6-pack) and what it represents as a big move for one of the country’s larger sour beer brewers.
Side Project Blended 2017 (Maplewood, Missouri): This 3-year blend of wild ales was a standout among all the great beers I had the chance to sample at the Firestone Walker Invitational.
Melvin Brewing Hey Zeus (Alpine, Wyoming): I’ve enjoyed many Melvin beers over the past year, and the temptation is strong to include one of their bigger, bolder beers (like Citradamus or Drunken Master) on this list, but there’s something about the lure of Hey Zeus Mexican-style lager that I just can’t shake. It has swagger and attitude despite its inherent simplicity, but don’t be fooled—while the Melvin folks love a good party, they’re deadly serious about crafting great beer.
Most Underrated Brewery
The Bavarian state-owned Weihenstephaner brewery has been brewing beer for close to a millennium, which makes it easy to take them for granted, but do so at your own risk. I recently ordered their Festbier at a German-style beer hall, and was reminded of just how satisfying that crisp combination of light toasty malt, subtle hops, and lager fermentation character can be. The clarity of intention and quality of execution is unparalleled, yet the beers feel comfortable and familiar.
Best Beer-Related Experience of the Year
Indulge me for a second—my favorite beer experiences this year have been the three Craft Beer & Brewing Brewers Retreats that we’ve held in Astoria, Oregon, Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and Tabernash, Colorado. Yes, it’s self-serving to promote our own events, but I’d be lying if I gave any other answer. The intimacy of the three day, three night experiences is unique, and the opportunity to spend time with some of my absolute favorite people in the world of beer is something I look forward to every time. This is why we created this media company—to help people get better at what they love to do, and to provide meaningful experiences that add richness and value to the world around us.
Least Favorite Beer Trend
Vocal beer fans complaining about losing out on a “rare” release has to be one of the worst experiences in beer today. Listen—I get that you’re frustrated, that you’ve visited the taproom X number of times, and you feel like part of the brewery family, but that sense of entitlement is insane. I’m sorry you won’t have a chance to flip that bottle on the secondary market and make a 300 percent profit on it, but no one owes that to you, so just grab a seat in the taproom and enjoy all the great (but less hyped) beer on tap. It’s just as good—trust me.
Favorite Beer Trend
Conventional logic has it that there are too many breweries open and still opening in the United States, but my favorite trend is breweries-in-planning seeking out underserved craft beer markets with on-premise-focused business plans. We can all pretty much agree that the market for new breweries focused on packaging and selling through distributors to retailers is beyond saturated, but few in the beer industry talk about that Nielsen TDLinx study in 2015 that found over 12,000 neighborhood bars closed between 2004 and 2014. That’s the vacuum that most of today’s new breweries are filling, as consumers want to connect with those who make the things they consume, and there’s still opportunity ahead for those who think small and local.
Podcast Episode 22: The Current State of Lager in the U.S. with Notch Brewing Founder/Brewer Chris Lohring
Chris Lohring of Notch sits down with John Holl to discuss lagers of all kinds, the importance of a comfortable tap room and ways brewers can face competition from each other and from the outside.
Bonn Place Brewing Mr. Harry’s Pig Tale Extra Pale Recipe
From Sam Masotto at Bonn Place Brewing, this isn't an IPA because it’s not fully English, but it is a nice hybrid, “strong,” hoppy pale ale! A blend of New World hops and English malt and yeast brewed in the traditional English style, single-infusion mash.
Podcast Episode 21: New Belgium's Wood Cellar Director & Blender Lauren Limbach
Jamie is joined by American sour beer pioneer Lauren Limbach of New Belgium Brewing, and they talk about the evolution of New Belgium’s sour beer program, from the earliest days two decades ago to the advances in analytics and technical process today.