Top Three Small Breweries (15K bbl or less)
Maine Beer Company (Freeport, Maine)
While Dinner may get most of the attention, Maine Beer Company produces a remarkable slate of intriguing beers. Whether aiming for rich and chocolaty (Mean Old Tom) or clean and bright (an experimental lager I was lucky enough to try one evening—along with a brisket-and-meatball pizza), it’s obvious they can do more than just produce a great DIPA, which is one reason I’m so glad that they’re in the process of doubling their production!
pFriem Family Brewers (Hood River, Oregon) If you haven’t had the opportunity to try pFriem’s beer (which tends to be available only in the Pacific Northwest), you’re missing out. Find a friend to ship you some or add them to your “must-stop” list for your next trip out West because their beer nails a wide range of modern and classic styles—truly, a great beer for everyone. It helps that they’re fun, friendly, helpful people, too.
Forest & Main Brewing Co. (Ambler, Pennsylvania) I promised myself I’d put only one Philadelphia-area brewery on this list but know that I could have named a dozen or more. But if we’re talking “small,” I’d love to highlight Forest & Main (which, conveniently, is also their location in Ambler). Their Victorian front porch is as bucolic a setting for drinking beer as you could ask for, and if the weather isn’t cooperating, the interior is just as charming. The beer they pour ranges from a simple (but exquisite) hand-pumped bitter to some of the most creative farmhouse-inspired beers you could ask for to stand-up-to-anyone’s IPAs and stouts.
Top Regional or National Brewery (15K bbl or more)
Founders Brewing Co. (Grand Rapids, Michigan) For reasons I can’t fathom, Founders is somehow never in the conversation when I hear people discussing the best brewery in the United States. That needs to change. They produce top-five examples of beers across a wide range of not-that-similar styles; in an era of niche and single-lane breweries, that’s pretty impressive. When I took a forty-day sabbatical from alcohol, I came back with a Founders Breakfast Stout. When I need a guaranteed homerun in a barrel-aged beer, I reach for Backwoods Bastard. And Founders brews what is probably the best session beer ever made in their All Day IPA—I could drink nothing but that for the rest of my life and be okay with it.
Top Five Beers of the Year
Uinta Brewing Baba Black Lager (Salt Lake City, Utah) A good schwarzbier is a joy to drink all year long.
Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co. Dank Hill Wheat DIPA (Croydon, Pennsylvania) If you’re a Simcoe hater, give this one a try before you write it off for good. If you’re anyone else, just drink it and enjoy!
Stoudts Brewing Company American Pale Ale (Adamstown, Pennsylvania) Sometimes you want to remember what awesome pale ale tasted like before they became de facto IPAs. Victory Brewing Company Prima Pils (Downingtown, Pennsylvania) Sometimes you want to remember what awesome Pilsner tastes like when it becomes almost a de facto IPA.
Himburgs Braukunstkeller Amarsi (Munich, Germany) “German” and “IPA” don’t usually end up in the same sentence, much less the same beer, but this one really works, with Pils and Munich malts paired with American craft hops. Himburgs also make a slightly smoky IPA (Mandarina) for the more adventurous!
One Classic Beer You’ll Always Order if It’s on the Menu
Fuller’s Brewery London Pride (London) is wonderful when fresh and shockingly good (just different) even in a four-year-old bottle of it that one bar pulled up from its cellar.
Favorite Beer City
Not only do you find outstanding breweries on almost every corner and all over its suburbs, but the bars and bottle shops in the region source beers from all over the world that somehow never find their way to anywhere else.
Favorite Beer Bar or Beer Bar that Everyone Should Experience
It might be impossible to choose between Monk’s Café and Brauhaus Schmitz, barely a mile from each other in Philadelphia, so I’m not going to. Monk’s is as near-perfect a beer bar as one could ask for, with a staggering selection of Belgian beers right alongside some of the best non-Belgian beers in the world (imagine pivoting, as I did two weeks ago, from Orval to Russian River’s Blind Pig); a great menu (order the mussels); in a classic setting (head straight for the back bar).
Brauhaus Schmitz, on the other hand, offers updated German cuisine with classic and New Wave German beers in a beer-hall environment, invariably with German soccer airing in the background (or foreground—sometimes they close down South Street for big matches and put it on a 20-foot projector!). And neither place feels put-on or artificial, ever.
One Beer Gadget or Accessory You Can’t Live Without
The BACtrack S80 Professional Breathalyzer. This might seem like an odd choice, but it’s invaluable. Beer enthusiasts go to lots of events, dinners, tastings, parties, and more where alcohol is served, and we owe it to everyone to do so safely. Any time I’m not with a designated driver, I use this device, snap a picture of the result, and text it to my wife to let her know I’m safely on my way home. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
Most-Used or Go-To Beer Glass
I have no idea how it came to be, but my “lucky” glass is essentially a straight-walled stange with a gentle curved belling at the top from Southampton Publick House (Southampton, New York). I suppose what’s remarkable about this is that, to my knowledge, I’ve never been to the Southampton Publick House in Southampton (though I do have fond memories of their Biere de Mars and order it whenever I see it!).
I have no clue where this glass came from. It’s just the right size, though—about 13 ounces, so enough room for the typical can or bottle but small enough to have someone pour a 3–4 ounce “taster” into—and the shape captures aromas well and fits my hand perfectly.