By Lauren Buzzeo photographs By jon van gorder
The craft beer renaissance has produced an overwhelming
number of brands and styles. Here is a guide to the
breweries whose products consistently rise to the top.
t more than 1,700, the number of breweries
in the U.S. is higher than any time since
the late 1800s,” notes Paul Gatza, director
of the Brewers Association. “Beer lovers’
appreciation for American craft brewers
and their craft beers continue to grow.”
But with that increased adoration and fervor
comes a market that offers more choice than ever before.
Increased space is being devoted to artisanal selections, but
the sheer number of options can be intimidating.
So many names. So many styles. What’s a shopper to do?
While the best advice is to try as many different kinds of
beers from as many breweries as you can, that might not be
the most economical approach. To offer some guidance, we
created this guide with some of the best names to look for
while perusing your local distributor’s shelves.
The Biggest Little Giants, for example: It might seem
like these names are everywhere, but in reality they only
represent a small portion of the American beer market—
the giant breweries still reign supreme. Consider that in
2010, the total craft brewing sales share was 4.9% by volume,
according to the Brewers Association. That means out
of all of the beer sold, less than 5% was from a domestic craft
(small, independent and traditional) brewing company.
In addition to the five “little giants,” there are numerous
other breweries crafting distinctive and intriguing beers.
We list 10 domestic companies that rank in the Top 50 in domestic
craft beer sales—some of which you know, and some
you will come to know as they become increasingly available.
You’ll also find selections for the craft beer hunter,
international superstars and some wild boys: brewmasters
creating brett-inoculated (and other wild bacteria-infused)
selections. There is so much to say about each of these companies,
we ran out of room, but you can find the complete
version of this article on winemag.com/beerhunter.
Although it’s impossible to list all of the great breweries
out there, consider this a jumping off point for when you
dive into your beer-tasting adventure.
44 | wine enthusiast | august 2011 wineMag.com | 45
*Ranking by case sales in 2010, as determined by the Brewers Association
*#1 Boston Beer Co.
The major player on the craft beer scene remains
BBC, brewer of Samuel Adams and the iconic Boston
Lager. It represents a pinnacle of quality and
consistency that’s available from coast to coast.
#2 sierra nevada Brewing Co.
Through the tremendous success of its Pale Ale,
Sierra Nevada has become a staple on beer shelves
across America. Its exceptional brews don’t end
there, with other year-round offerings, seasonals
and limited selections.
#3 new BeLgiuM Brewing Co.
Fort CoLLins, Co
Fat Tire, the flagship amber ale from New Belgium,
is currently distributed in 26 states. New
Belgium also releases a special series called
Lips of Faith in addition to its year-round lineup.
#5 desChutes Brewery
Deschutes produces remarkable core brands and
a handful of some serious cult items like The Dissident,
The Abyss and Black Butte XX/XXI.
#11 dogFish head CraFt Brewery
Though they’re #11, Dogfish made serious strides
in 2010 (they were #16 in 2009) and will only continue
to develop thanks to increased exposure and
brewery expansion. Sam Calagione’s “off-centered
stuff for off-centered people” are some of the most
unique and forward-thinking brews today.
46 | wine enthusiast | august 2011
BeLL’s Brewery, inC.
The brewery just can’t keep up
with current demand. Since
starting in 1985 they have
grown to produce 20 beers
distributed across 18 states.
Harpoon’s UFO wheat beers are
some of the most popular, while
their 100 Barrel Series keeps
things fresh and unpredictable.
Kansas City, Mo
Founder John McDonald built a
brand known for using both
traditional and avant-garde
ABC’s beers reflect Juneau’s
brewing tradition and innovation
through their historic Alaskan
Amber recipe and ingredients
like alder-smoked malts and Sitka
stone Brewing Co.
Stone has posted double-digit
growth every year thanks to its
Arrogant Bastard lineup, special
releases and collaborations.
Brooklyn Brewery’s flagship
lager is among the top drafts in
NYC, while brewmaster Garrett
Oliver works tirelessly to promote
the industry through
hood river, or
Full Sail produces beers with a
local mindset; hops and barley are
sourced from neighboring farms
and water is tapped from a spring
on Mount Hood.
new gLarus, wi
Since 1993, New Glarus has won
countless awards. Unfortunately,
due to high demand, these outstanding
beers are only available
Brewmaster and President Bill
Covaleski’s training in Germany
helped him craft cult favorites like
HopDevil and Prima Pils, blending
traditional methods with a
odeLL Brewing Co.
Fort CoLLins, Co
Always pushing the boundaries,
Odell is a trendsetter—the use of
techniques like assorted barrel aging
and yeast cultivation.
Brettanomyces, a winery’s
worst enemy, has found
a welcome home in a
number of craft breweries.
While Brett is notoriously
tough to control and the
imparted are often unpredictable,
these wild boys
take their chances with
Brett-inoculated (and other
selections that are sure to
knock your socks off.
The Italian craft
beer scene has
momentum, and at
the forefront is Teo
Musso and his Birrificio
Baladin’s birra artigianale.
48 | wine enthusiast | august 2011
Allagash is known for
styled brews, melded
with an affinity for
Barrel aging, wine
grapes and a house Brett strain
keeps these wild ones on the
forefront of beer innovation.
Of particular note is
what was dubbed the
#1 beer of 2009 by WE,
Rosso e Marrone, an
American sour ale fermented
with grapes and aged
in oak barrels.
made a splash with
the release of The End
of History, a 55% abv
brew that came in a
it’s what’s inside the
bottles that people are
With five classic selections
and a collaborative
nature that birthed
the world’s first tree-tomato
Through open fermentation,
aging and bottle conditioning,
to create traditional,
rustic country style
beers with a modern
American craft twist.
Pliny the Elder is this
names like Temptation,
and Supplication in their barrelaged
series, you know it’s some
beer, be sure to keep an eye on
these guys to see what’s next.
Nøgne Ø (“naked
produces more than
20 different styles and
exports more than 70%
of its production.
Unibroue has established
by producing some of
the best Belgian-styled
beers this side of
This producer of “inspired
beer for sinners
and saints alike”
follows its own Ten
including “fresh beer
is great, aged beer is
better.” The sign over its barrel
room reads In Illa Brettanomyces,
Nos Fides (“In wild yeast we
For the CraFt
If you’re looking to broaden your
beer horizons, start looking for
these frothy treasures.
avery Brewing Co.
Cigar City Brewing Co.
Founders Brewing Co.
grand rapids, Mi
LeFt hand Brewing Co.
ninKasi Brewing Co.
sMuttynose Brewing Co.
southern tier Brewing Co.
uinta Brewing Co.
saLt LaKe City, ut
For more information on these
breweries worth the search,
click on winemag.com/