Top Three Small Breweries (15K bbl or less)
Burial Beer Co. (Asheville, North Carolina) Over the years, Burial has evolved into a craft-brewery paragon, making world-class beer across a variety of styles with a healthy dose of attitude, fierce independence, and artful quirkiness. With an intensely diverse focus on everything from hazy IPAs to traditional lagers to pastry stouts and mixed-fermentation farmhouse beers, they refuse to be pigeonholed and have grown from jacks-of-all-trades to masters of them. Truly, they’re one of the most exciting breweries in craft beer today.
Pinthouse Pizza (Austin, Texas) When Pinthouse first appeared on my radar, my initial thought was “another brewpub pizza chain.” Then I tasted the beer. Brewing director Joe Mohrfeld, an Odell Brewing alum, is doing spectacular work in the Lone Star State, creating beers that are as characterful as they are drinkable. Their thoughtful approach to designing beers that are both relevant to their local audience and broadly identifiable—such as the hazy IPA, Electric Jellyfish—is underpinned by a deliberate approach to brewing ingredients that’s hard to find in other breweries their size.
Alvarado Street Brewery (Monterey and Salinas, California) Another contender for the all-around crown, these young guns from Central California have grown incredibly fast by carving out a niche with expressive, yeast-driven IPAs and fruit-forward kettle sours. But their launch this year of side brand Yeast of Eden—focusing on wild, spontaneous, and mixed-culture beers—and their consistent lager program producing great beers such as Peninsula Pilsner showcase a genuine love for beer and a dedication to the craft driven by constant iteration and improvement.
Top Regional or National Brewery (15K bbl or more)
Live Oak Brewing Company (Austin, Texas) It’s hard not to love Live Oak. While their delicious mainstays Pilz and HefeWeizen keep the lights on, they’ve never been afraid to follow their hearts, and their booth at last year’s Great American Beer Festival was one for the ages—four beers (all smoked) because, as founder Chip McElroy said when we visited in May, “We’re going to keep making smoked beers until people drink them.” Hell yeah, Chip. You do you.
Top Five Beers of the Year
Great Notion Brewing Space Invader (Portland, Oregon) Soft and sublime, Great Notion’s hazy IPAs remain some of my absolute favorites in the entire world of beer. Space Invader is everything I love about their approach—perfectly balanced bitterness and sweetness that amplify the juiciest fruit character of their chosen hops—applied to one of the most interesting hops on the market today. In a world where brewers are plowing more and more pounds of hops per barrel into IPAs in an intensity arms race, Space Invader feels effortless and self-assured but also of a place, expressing a touch of PNW dankness. The flavor is all there, and the brewing process to get there has left no trace.
Outer Range Brewing Co. In the Steep (Frisco, Colorado) Citra, Citra, Citra. In The Steep tastes like oranges and sweet lemons rolling across the softest backcountry powder you can imagine. It’s creamy but crisp, brisk and assertive, enveloping and pillowy while keeping you on edge. Riding that line between soft and structured is the challenge that every hazy IPA brewer faces, and Outer Range deftly pins the line.
Monkish Brewing Co. Glamour, Glitters, and Gold (Torrance, California) Every time I try to convince myself that the much-hyped Monkish might not be worth what the local traders insist for it, I drink a Monkish can that reminds me that Henry is a master of his craft and deserves every accolade heaped upon him. Glamour, Glitters, and Gold is intense yet subtle, boldly nuanced, and a gorgeous expression of everything possible with Citra hops.
Side Project Brewing 4 Candles (Maplewood, Missouri) It was a hot day in Paso Robles, California (at the Firestone Walker Invitational) when I tried 4 Candles—a day for anything but huge barrel-aged stouts (much less one that’s served still). But 4 Candles was, in fact, the only beer that compelled me to ask for a second (and a third) pour. Big roasty notes underpinned by a touch of anise and burnt molasses sweetness with an ideally integrated barrel character—it’s exquisite and rich and decadent yet belies a hard-to-find sophistication.
Highland Park Brewery Eddie Pils (Los Angeles, California) Another festival find, Eddie Pils was a revelation. I love progressively hopped Pilsners that don’t drift into IPL territory, and the Nelson Sauvin notes in this one perfectly complemented the bright and crisp Pilsner notes to make for a satisfying hops experience that still feels like a Pils. I’ve since sought out every HPB Pils I can get my hands on, and the recent collab with Creature Comforts—Goodie Pils (with Galaxy)—was equally incredible.
Honorable Mentions: Edmund’s Oast Brewing Company Mexican Cake IPA, Bierstadt Lagerhaus Slow Pour Pils, Perennial Artisan Ales Barrel-Aged Abraxas (2018) and Barrel-Aged Sump (2018), WeldWerks Brewing Co. Vanilla and Coconut Medianoche, The Civil Life Brewing Company American Brown.
One Classic Beer You’ll Always Order if It’s on the Menu
Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont (Tourpes, Belgium). There are few things I enjoy more than finding Saison Dupont on the menu at a restaurant where I’m dining. It’s dry, crisp, and effervescent, with an ester profile that complements most dishes.
Favorite Beer City
Richmond, Virginia, has grown by such leaps and bounds over the past few years that it deserves recognition, so read my full take on it in this issue’s Beercation (page 24).
Honorable Mentions: Austin, Texas; Asheville, North Carolina.
Favorite Beer Bar, or Beer Bar That Everyone Should Experience
It’s hard to find a better beer-bar experience in the United States than ChurchKey (Washington, D.C.). From the thoughtfully designed flavor-not-style menu and beer program to the perfectionist approach to serving temperatures, they’ve considered all the details and deliver a stylish beer-centric experience. With a heady mix of local hotshots, international classics, thoughtful out-of-market finds, and study workhorses, the beer menu offers something to every type of beer drinker.
One Beer Gadget or Accessory You Can’t Live Without
An Anchor Brewing titanium bottle opener lives permanently on my keychain. It’s the perfect keychain bottle opener—incredibly light yet insanely strong and similar in size to a key so it doesn’t stick out in an ungainly way. The lip of the opener can dig into the toughest wax, and after years of near daily use, it has never bent or been damaged in any way.
Most-Used or Go-To Beer Glass
As you might expect, I’m a glassware fanatic, and our office and my home bar are filled with all manner of different vessels for beer. My two go-to glasses this year have been the Craft Beer & Brewing-branded Libbey Munique glass for most beers and a TRVE Brewing-branded Rastal Harmony 35 for sour beer. The Munique offers the feel of a tulip but is better at focusing the aroma of beers, while the Harmony 35 is light and refined but still hardy enough to survive the dishwasher.