Top New Breweries
Scofflaw Brewing (Atlanta, Georgia): Say what you will about their PR tactics (not that they care), but Scofflaw Brewing celebrated a first anniversary mid-September 2017 with an all-day packed house. With flagships such as Basement IPA and a new barrel-aging program producing Georgia “whales” such as Vanilla Absentium, we can all safely assume Scofflaw is here to stay.
Outer Range Brewing (Frisco, Colorado): If I could pick a brewery to slide into at the bottom of a ski slope, it’s Outer Range Brewing—the Rocky Mountain brewery making serious waves at 9,000 feet. The modern rustic brewery and picturesque backdrop make visiting an experience all of its own, but beers such as In the Steep and Hydrologic make the trip that much more worth it. Who drinks New England–style IPAs after a ski run? I do, if they’re from Outer Range.
American Solera (Tulsa, Oklahoma): With a resume like his, Chase Healey doesn’t need the accolades per se, but he deserves them. The two years he’s put into American Solera have proven fruitful with wild ales such as Foeder Cerise and Gold. When I see a bottle in a shop, I buy it, and when I see his table at a festival, I head toward it without hesitation. Expect great things from this new project.
Most Underrated Regional or National Brewery
DESTIHL Brewing (Normal, Illinois): I’ll admit it—I let many of DESTIHL’s beers fly under my radar for years, but that won’t happen again. With a 2017 lineup that includes the delicious Dosvidanya barrel-aged stout and the fruited Metallurgy series, a well-deserved GABF gold medal under their belt for Saint Dekkera Framboise, and a new $14 million facility to brew in, I’m thinking the next five years will be even better than their past five.
Top Beers of the Year
The Rare Barrel For Ever More (Berkeley, California): I’m starting to believe there’s not a sour or mixed-fermentation beer style that The Rare Barrel can’t execute flawlessly, but this 6 percent ABV oak-aged magenta beauty with vanilla, cinnamon, and boysenberries was a highlight of the year. You’re just showing off now, California.
Crooked Stave & Omnipollo Bianca Raspberry Wild Wild Brett (Denver, Colorado): A polished and impressive fruited sour with soft and inviting edges. These two breweries make magic individually, but this collaboration gave raspberries and Bretttanomyces an enjoyable, velvety, lacto-smoothness, and it’s one I could drink again and again.
Fonta Flora Brewery Urban Monk (Morganton, North Carolina): Todd Boera can do anything he wants. He can brew wild ales with beets and mushrooms; he can forage through the mountains for materials; and at his brewery in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, turns out he can also create a line of hundreds of people from all over the East Coast because he decided to brew five variants of this stout. The Urban Monk base is a masterfully drinkable and delicate 9 percent ABV imperial stout, and if space allowed, I’d be tempted to list all of its fantastic variations from this year’s Funk and Monk Festival on this Best in Beer 2017 list, as well.
Westbrook Brewing Siberian Black Magic Panther (Mount Pleasant, South Carolina): No, not Mexican Cake, not the Gose, not One Claw—Siberian Black Magic Panther, the pitch-black smooth and creamy stout that marks yet another winner from Westbrook. It’s as bold as you expect Westbrook to be with a stout but with sexy undertones of candi syrup and crème brulée. Plus, points for the name.
Creature Comforts Bibo (Athens, Georgia): Lagers need to be on this list, and if they all tasted like Bibo, my list could be nothing but lagers. Line up Pilsners for days in a tasting and I guarantee I can pick it out—it stands out immediately (trust me; I’ve done it.) This German Pils on lemony steroids is one I return to month after month and keep in my personal arsenal.
The Veil Brewing Crucial Crucial Taunt Taunt (Richmond, Virginia): Those Mid- Atlantic brewers are cranking out hazy and juicy IPAs faster than they can come up with new names, giving New England a serious run for their money on the eponymous style. This 8 percent ABV DDH/DIPA version of Crucial Taunt was one of the most aromatic, juicy hops-bombs I’ve had this year and could very well hang with (if not crush) anything the Northeast is producing.
Most Unfortunate Beer Trend
With the push to drink local comes the push to make friends with the brewers, and social media makes that easy—I get it. No one likes an Untappd critic or self- proclaimed cicerone, but reacting poorly to consumer opinions on social media isn’t the best way for brewers to vent their frustration. We all wish we could, but the question is whether we should. Passionate brewers are the best brewers, but don’t get caught in a war of words with every Instagrammer or Untappd reviewer who gives your beer a half star because they don’t like that style. And if you do comment, consider the negative blowback that can occur if you post from your company’s account. Once you start drinking for the day, put social media away.
Favorite Beer Trend
This isn’t where I bash craft breweries who have sold to larger companies. Instead, let’s talk about craft breweries doing distribution deals right, like TRVE Brewing and Burial Brewing, Funkwerks and Brooklyn Brewery, etc. From a business perspective, it’s smart and efficient for breweries to get into distribution and pool resources. From a human perspective, I enjoy seeing the camaraderie that occurs when like-minded creative business people work together to achieve common goals. And from my craft-beer consumer perspective, I love getting Burial’s stouts a few miles away from my office in Colorado.
Best Beer-Related Experience of the Year
I’d read reviews and heard stories, but nothing could have prepared me for the 3 days I spent in Atlanta for Shelton Festival. From Cantillon’s 2004 Iris to Other Half’s DDH Broccoli, the beers were absolutely world-class, and the gems I found around town on hole-in-the-wall bar draft lists were almost a good enough reason to be late to the festival or skip out early. (Emphasis on almost—I was there early for a few glasses of SPON Albarino/Blanc du Bois, and I stayed later than my liver wanted when I noticed the short line at Westvleteren.)