page contents Top Breweries in America – CRAFTR

Top 25 Brew2


I don’t know about you, but the idea of a “Toilet to Tap sewer beer” is going to get me running to my local tap room for a sample. Normally Arrogant Bastard has that effect on me, but this is a hysterical and creative idea. Called appropriately, Full Circle, Stone makes the beer from recycled sewage water they get from Pure Water San Diego. The plant is new construction with modern technology, and plays a key role in San Diego’s endeavor to be able to drink about one-third of their own wastewater by 2035. Yum. For those of a less experimental nature, Stone offers their infamous IPA series including Delicious IPA, Ruination Double IPA and Tangerine Express IPA. In 2014, they whipped up an experimental batch of Belgian ale called Witty Moron, which won the category gold medal in the 2014 GABF. They also have seasonals, special releases, collaboration beers and small batch offerings.

Stone rejects the usual business marketing techniques used by craft breweries. Their website says they have grown totally on word-of-mouth advertising; never paying a dime to advertise on TV, radio or in print. Yet, they’ve made Inc. Magazine’s Top 500 list and the San Diego Business Journal’s Top 100 List, of the Fastest Growing Private Companies in the US for 12 years. According to the Brewers Association, Stone ranks #17 in the country based on volume of sales.


Ratio makes 5 beers, but that’s all you need when they’re awesome. Two of their session beers are Domestica, an American Standard Ale at 4.9% ABV and a French Saison called Dear You, coming in at 5.5% ABV. Ratio thinks of everyone by providing a beer for those who want to push beyond a pale ale, but don’t want to enter IPA territory with something hoppy and bitter. Their 6.1% repeater does that using Munich II malt to balance a more restrained hopping schedule. They call their Chocolate Rye Scotch Ale (interesting combination) their “most robust flagship offering” at 7.5%. Antidote is Ratio’s IPA offering in the West Coast style using Centennial and Mandarina Bavaria hops.

Ratio says, “We learned how to drink on tour. We learned how to brew in Germany.” Musicians can be a weird bunch. However, this is an advantage (and desirable) when it comes to making excellent and creative brews. These guys were a bunch of punks, literally, back in the late 1990’s when Ratio began (one of the co-Founders was in the now-defunct Denver-based punk band the Fairlanes). They now have a 20-barrel system in a facility that is complimented by involvement in the local music and art scenes in Denver. While reflecting on the awkward times in his punk rock past when meeting fans, brewery co-founder Jason zumBrunnen says of Ratio, “We thought, why not make it just about hanging out at a brewery, drinking beers and talking to the bands like normal people?"


Blue Mountain came onto the scene in Virginia in 2007, and they have kept their brewing, canning and bottling operators situated around the Afton area. They are proud to be being pioneers in craft brewing in the state, and that they use water from the deep wells in Virginia and hops they grow themselves, to make their beer. Blue Mountain also boasts a full-service restaurant, incorporating their beer into such dishes as Nitro Chili, beer-boiled local bratwurst (ask for some of their ale mustard to go with it) and smoked pulled-pork barbecue and Creole Cuban Press featuring legendary Virginia pork. On days you fell decadent, want to reward yourself, or just don’t give a crap how many calories you eat, order the EVIL 8 (their Belgian Dubbel Ale) Bread Pudding that is served with Blue Mountain ale, caramel sauce, chocolate and whipped cream.

The brewery makes beers for their Core, Barrel House, Seasonal and Progeny Series. In the 2015 GABF, Blue Mountain’s 13.FIVE OFEST (Seasonal, of course) won the silver medal in the Vienna Lager category. Some very creative offerings include A Hopwork Orange IPA, Blitzen Biere de Noel (label has a passed-out reindeer lying on its back), Long Winter’s Nap Blonde Tripelbock at 10% ABV (that’ll do it) and Evan Altmighty Düsseldorf Alt Beer made with German noble Hallertau hops.


Sometimes you have to make up your own definitions for words to get your point across. This brewery says, “Surly: The anger fueled by the inability to find good beer.” Certainly, that has inspired millions to start homebrewing, let alone start a brewery. The About page on Surly’s website gives these details on how it all began: “Two Minnesotans, one an avid homebrewer who runs an industrial abrasives manufacturing business started by his Pakistani father and German mother, and the other, a heavy metal guitarist-turned-head brewer, cross paths at the San Diego Brewers Conference.” The rest is history, as Surly has become one of the fastest growing breweries in the country. In 2016, Surly made its debut in the Brewers Association Top 50 Craft Breweries at #42.

Surly has several famous flagship beers like their American IPA/ESB hybrid Surly Furious, Surly Darkness Oat Wine Style Ale that is aged in rye barrels, and, of course, Surly Hell, their Munich Helles. Other offerings have names including adjectives such as Bender, Cynicale, Abrasive, Pentagram and Schadenfreude. You get the idea. The brewery has made the news recently due to the departure of brewmaster Todd Haug, who left to go to Three Floyds Brewing.


Ah, Flying Dog. Your beer names and labels are among the most creative, inspiring and humorous in the craft beer world. Your beer’s not bad, either. Raging Bitch, Doggie Style, Gonzo and Double Dog are Flying Dog classics that have helped set the bar for all aspects of craft beer in the US since the brewery began in 1990. Reflecting on the origin of the brewery name while on a mountaineering trip, founder George Stranahan tells the story; “It was a full-on oil painting of a dog. A beautiful oil painting, big, nice. And the dog was like…well, he had left the ground. Here we were, the March of the Innocents and this ‘Flying Dog,’ and the weirdness of it all. And the combination of the words ‘Flying Dog’ stuck with all of us, but particularly for me. They fit together in some way. I don’t know how it makes sense, but it makes sense.” A rather ambiguous explanation, but who cares. He brews awesome beer. The brewery won a silver medal in the Aged Beer category at the 2014 WBC for their Horn Dog Barley Wine.

In March 2017, Flying Dog promoted Ben Clark to the position of brewmaster. In an interview, Clark tells BEVNET, ““The hybrid of creativity and technical skill is what keeps me going. The industry has grown quite a bit during my tenure here, and our unwavering commitment to innovative and quality craft beer is a legacy I look forward to continuing.”


Six months after Stroh’s announced they were closing their 135-year-old brewery building in Detroit in February 1985, homebrew supply store owner and self-described stoner, Larry Bell sold his first beer which he made in a 15-gallon soup pot in his basement. Not only was Bell’s an early craft beer pioneer in the state, the business has grown to become the 7th largest craft brewer in the US and the 12th largest brewer in the US overall. It’s unlikely Bernhard Stroh and Larry Bell led parallel lives up until their success (Not sure if Bernhard was a stoner, but he did brew in his basement.), but it does represent a changing of the guard in Michigan brewing history. Admittedly, Larry says the journey has not been easy. “I’m on my fourth wife” he said during an interview with the Detroit Free Press in March 2017.

Bell’s year-round and specialty beers are familiar to anyone who knows US craft beer. Kalamazoo Stout, Two Hearted Ale, Lager of the Lakes, Porter, Oberon American Wheat Ale, Best Brown and Winter White Ale are like old friends, or even current friends who you don’t mind coming over all the time. Their Expedition Stout, considered a classic style example by the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) won a silver medal in the Aged Beer category at the 2016 GABF. Bell’s Specialty beers like Consecrator Doppelbock, Java Stout, Cherry Stout, Christmas Ale, Eccentric Ale (“Brewed Under the Discerning Eye of Larry”), Hopslam, Third Coast Old Ale and Hell Hath No Fury Belgian Dark, represent some of the finest brewing work on the planet, and worth every penny of the extra cost.


ne word for New Belgium is legendary. On top of the beers we already know, the powers that be have decided that a new offering from last year, Heavy Melon Ale, will continue this year, with the name Juicy Watermelon Ale. No doubt it will grow in popularity, and maybe become a New Belgium flagship beer like Fat Tire, the VooDoo Rangers, Pilsner, Whizbang, Citradelic and Trippel. Their Lips of Faith beer series includes Le Terroir, a dry-hopped sour ale, Salted Belgian Chocolate Stout, Gruit (beer made with herbs instead of hops; like back in the Dark Ages before the powers of hops were known), Pear Ginger Beer and their first Barleywine offering. Those ready for what’s new at from New Belgium should keep an eye out for Juicy Mandarina IPA, the latest addition to Lips of Faith. New Belgium ranks #4 in the US for craft breweries and #8 in US for breweries overall.

These guys are known for a lot more than their beer, however. They have some of the best employee perks on earth. After 1 year of employment you get a freaking Fat Tire Cruiser bicycle. Then, if you make it to 5 years (I would be sacrificing organs, selling first born, etc. to stay in the job), the company sends you to Belgium for a week for free with other 5-year employees. For years 10 and beyond you get a $1,000.00 travel voucher or 4-week paid sabbaticals. Yeah, sabbaticals. That’s time off in addition to the 14 days of vacation you get to start and 11 paid holidays. God, I hate my job.

To go along with Fat Tire Ale, New Belgium sponsors a 33-show, 5 month beer, bike and music festival called Tour de Fat. Company brand manager Sam Sawyer told The Colorado Springs Gazette, "This is one of the greatest ways we can give back to local communities. Not only do folks get a great event with top musical acts and plenty of spectacle, local nonprofits get a cash injection and the opportunity to share their message. This is without a doubt some of the most fun we have all year."


Le Freak, Green Flash’s Belgian Style Imperial IPA hopped with Amarillo, won a bronze medal in the 2014 GABF, then returned in 2015 to crush the competition and win the gold. Among their other well-known beers are Passion Fruit Kicker Ale, Soul Style Tropical IPA (also in tangerine), Palate Wrecker IPA (100+ IBU’s and 9.5% ABV) and Cosmic Ristretto Baltic Porter with Espresso (“Don’t fight its gravitational pull”). Green Flash’s Cellar 3 series is “where craft evolves into artistry” with beers that have been skillfully manipulated using bottle conditioning and barrel aging. These limited releases include Oculus Sauvage, Natura Morta Boysenerry and Nouveau Tarte. Also, BrewBound reports in March 2017 that Green Flash will again release Barrelmaster’s Reserve as part of the Cellar 3 series. Barrelmaster Pat Corn said, ““The results of our recent experimentation at Cellar 3 is exceeding expectations. We are inspired by the great Belgian sour producers, reinterpreting classic flavors and adding our own distinctly Californian twist. This year’s series will feature the most innovative efforts to date, and we are excited to be able to bottle and share a little of our pride and joy with the community.”

In addition to the San Diego location, Green Flash has another brewery on the US East coast in Virginia Beach, VA. Amenities include a tasting room, outdoor beer garden, tours and a retail store so you can buy that 53rd beer T-shirt you don’t need.


New Glarus hit the Brewers Association 2016 Top 50 list of US brewers at #25, and in 16th place in craft beer overall. The year before, they won a bronze medal at the 2015 GABF for their 2015 Golden Ale brettanomyces beer. Co-owner Dan Carey studied at the Siebel Institute and was a production supervisor at Anheuser-Busch (He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) before opening the brewery in the early 2000’s with his wife Deb. Deb brought the business management and financial smarts to New Glarus, and she was the first woman in the US to be a founder and operator of a brewery.

Spotted Cow Ale is well-known to craft beer drinkers, as is Serendipity Fruited Sour Ale and Moon Man “No Coast Pale Ale”. New Glarus’ website has a neat feature that shows you recommended food pairings for each beer. For example, you plan to crack open a bottle of Two Women Classic Country Lager for dinner. Hmmmmm. What to buy at the grocery store? Recommended pairings include pan fried trout, pork chops, steak, goulash and pasta salad. If you’re going to get some cheese (Yeah, right. “If”), try Gruyere, Provolone and/or Colby. For your seasonal beer needs, New Glarus has the popular Showshoe Irish Amber Ale, Staghorn Oktoberfest and Fat Squirrel Nut Brown Ale.


Jester King came into being as a traditional farmhouse brewery. Not something you see every day in Texas. “Our beers incorporate our natural surroundings and local arigulture [sic], so as to make beer uniquely tied to a time, place, and people.” One of their flagship beers, Le Petit Prince (2.9% ABV), won the bronze medal in the Session Beer category in the 2014 WBC. According to Beer Advocate, their top 5 beers by average score (out of 5.0) are Gin Barrel Nocturn Chrysalis Barrel-Aged Sour Refermented with Blackberries (4.73), Atrial Rubicite Barrel Aged Sour Refermented with Raspberries (4.53, 1,695 ratings, by the way), Montmorency Vs Balaton Barrel-Aged Sour Refermented with Cherries (4.51), Cru 55 Flanders Red (4.50) and Evil Twin/Jester King Even More Jeppe American Wild Ale (4.49).

In late 2016, crowds were building up around Jester King in anticipation of the release of 2,000 bottles of 2016 SPON Méthode Gueuze. Production of the beer had started 4 years earlier, the brainchild of owner (and gueuze-nutcase) Jeff Stuffings, who wanted to make a traditional spontaneously fermented beer, in Texas. After 4 years of brewing, fermenting, blending, waiting, screaming and hair-pulling it was ready. It has a score of 92 on Beer Advocate, and lucky are those who had the chance to try this one-time brew from a legendary US brewery.


Trillium opened in 2013, so they among the newest craft breweries on the list. They function a New England farmhouse brewery, “deeply rooted in the dynamic landscapes, abundant natural resources, and resilient population of the region.” In their Canton tap room, which opened in 2015, Trillium offers 12 beers ranging from IPA’s to wild ales to pale ales to porters. New England Wild Ale is a flagship brew made with their own wild-cultured New England yeast strain, Valley Danko Rye, flaked wheat and pilsner malts, and Columbus hops, coming out at 6.4% ABV. Imagine eating a big fat oatmeal cookie after you’ve dunked it in hot chocolate (with vanilla) and coffee, with a touch of Ancho chili. This is TrillBOMB Imperial Stout. You’ll be bombed alright, after savoring this intense, dark 11% ABV creation made with Columbus hops.
Boston Magazine wrote in January 2017 that Trillium is planning to open a new brewpub is Boston. Or what co-owner Esther Tetreault calls a “pilot brewpub”. “I get asked for the last two years if we’re opening a restaurant,” Esther said. “We know people are looking for it and that questions will arise, so we wanted to be open about the fact that we feel we have a great partnership with a potential landlord, and have started the process more seriously.” She went on to add, ““We want to be able to operate more like a pilot brewpub, where we’re able to do some cool, new styles, or one-offs that will be available on draft only at the restaurant.” Trillium hopes to have the new brewpub open and running by late this year or early 2018.


As if there isn’t enough to talk about with Dogfish Head, they also have a state-of-the-art distillery as of late 2015. Craft beer-wise, there’s all their famous handiwork, like 60, 90 and 120-Minute IPA (Whoa, dude, I can’t feel my tongue.), Namaste White Ale and Midas Touch Ancient Ale. Their releases for 2017 include Beer for Breakfast Stout, Beer To Drink Music To Blonde Ale, SeaQuench Sour and Palo Santo Marron Wood Aged (12% - watch out). You may know some beers in what Dogfish Head refers to as its Rarities; Noble Rot Beer-Wine Hybrid and Choc Lobster (summer seasonal). The latter is a porter made with live lobsters that are added directly to the boil, along with cocoa powder and basil tea. This amazing beer won the silver medal in the Indigenous/Regional Beer category at the 2014 GABF.

Dogfish Head founder and celebrity, Sam Calagione, has been nominated for the 7th time for the James Beard Award; category of “most outstanding wine, beer and spirits professional”. Rob Tod of Allagash Brewing is one of the other five finalists. A quick scan of news reveals Dogfish Head being introduced in Missouri, Alabama and Minnesota; and that’s just so far in 2017. Word has it that New Mexico and West Virginia are next in line.


Avery says the journey to opening the brewery, “…took a lot of beer drinking, failing, and drinking some more.” That’s one of the many beautiful things about craft beer. It’s so forgiving. In 1993, Avery set out to brew lagers and ales that “defy styles and categories.” But to begin, they stayed in-category, and won the gold medal with Out of Bounds Stout at the 1994 GABF. From there, their IPA made history by being the first packaged IPA sold in Colorado (Take that, you zillion other Colorado breweries). In 2015, Avery moved into its new brewery and continues to grow as a major US craft brewery. BrewBound reports that as of March 30, 2017, Avery is expanding their distribution network into Louisiana. You can even find it in Japan and Sweden.

When you plop yourself down in the taproom at Avery Brewing, you have some difficult and important decisions to make. Start with a White Rascal, maybe? It did win a silver medal at the 2015 GABF. Could do a famous Hog Heaven Imperial Red IPA. Maybe you want to get dank and tropical with Raja and 8% ABV. No, wait! Rumpkin! Yeah, Rumpkin! You only have one stomach to challege and one brain to pickle, so choose wisely. The good news is, there is no wrong choice, and tomorrow is another day to have an Avery beer. Well, unless you’re depressed and drink a half dozen of Uncle Jacob’s Stout at 17.1% ABV and die. Keep watch for Perzik Saison, a peach saison, Avery’s summer seasonal which was released at the end of March 2017. The brewery says over 11 pounds of peaches are used in each barrel of beer.


Ordering Allagash White is a reflex action for many. But it is a gem of a Witbier, and when you add in some of their Coolship series beers like Resurgam (won the silver medal in the 2014 Great American Beer Festival [GABF]) or Cerise, well, you have just an all-around great drinking experience, like hanging out on the farm in Brussels. The trophy case at Allagash really started to fill up in 2015 when they won two medals at the GABF; gold for Allagash White and silver for their Tripel. And then, and then…last year, the Tripel put to rest any doubts about its awesomeness, and won the gold medal.

Yeah, beer is great. It’s important in history. It reflects culture. The Allagash business philosophy only begins there. To them, we’re all part of this big freaking family living on the same home planet, where we have to take care of each other, and we all have to help clean the house, dammit. Since they started, Allagash has been a pioneer in using less water and electricity, and generating less waste than a conventional brewery. They also use local ingredients when they and share their cash with their local community. Some of the happiest cows in Maine live near Allagash. They get to chow down on spent grain from the brewery several times a week.


Three Floyds is known to have an aggressive style when it comes to creating beers. Their “Not Normal” approach to brewing comes from their early days when they started business using “a five-barrel Frankenstein wok-burner-fired brew kettle, repurposed open Swiss cheese fermenters (Hammond Squares) and an old Canfield’s Cola tank.” The place has grown a lot since 1996, and now offers customers a full menu of food options and WiFi. Four times a year, brewery chefs Pat Niebling and Scott Hughes create a whole new menu with dishes that are made from Three Floyds beers and ingredients from local farmers. Go there right now so you can get a slice of almond cake that has been soaked in coffee and stout.

Floyd’s Blot Out the Sun American-Style Imperial Stout won gold at the 2016 World Beer Cup (WBC). Their Blot Out the Sun American-Style Imperial Stout won gold at the 2016 WBC. The beer won the same award in 2013 along with Permanent Funeral which took the silver medal in the Imperial IPA category. If that wasn’t enough, users of the website Rate Beer ranked Three Floyds at the 4th best brewery in the world in 2015.