The Best Up-and-Coming Breweries in the Midwest
Midwestern beer culture is as diverse as its people and geography, tracing back to the waves of immigration that shaped the region and its brewing establishments. Midwestern beer speaks volumes about our ever-changing weather patterns and the abundance of readily available farm-fresh ingredients. Hence the influence on craft brewing with a greater appreciation of Central European styles, foeders, new types of hops, and an infusion of flavors like cherries and cranberries. The following 14 newer breweries represent some of the Midwest's best up-and-coming crop so if you find yourself traversing the nation’s heartland, or see these beers on store shelves, give 'em a try.
Hailstorm’s presence in the craft-brew community speaks to its name -- it’s a force to be reckoned with. Beers such as Jesus Toast and Dominatrix speak the shine of the brewery’s portfolio, and the Maibock even brought a silver medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Hailstorm is a place where craft-brewing excellence meets the welcoming and inviting atmosphere associated with a Chicago neighborhood tavern. It’s staffed with blue-collared artisans who love open-mic live music and provide patrons with a host of ales, along with some stouts, saisons, and plenty more.
Not far from the Shawnee National Forest, you’ll find the home of Little Egypt beer. We’ll spare you the pyramid-building metaphors, all you need to know is that beer is all that matters in this neck of the woods. After getting his start in a thoroughly saturated market in California, Ken Rhude moved to Illinois to explore his dream of opening a brewery. Not only has he succeeded, but his unfiltered Belgian Hefeweizen won the GABF gold medal in 2014. Having recently moved into a larger facility to ramp up distribution, it might not be long until everyone in the Midwest gets a taste of Little Egypt.
From magnificent label artwork to innovative brews, 18th Street is proving to beer lovers that they aren’t any ordinary brewery. It brews funky sours, including collaborating on a barrel-fermented Belgian with Denmark’s Alefarm Brewing. Brewers also recently created Euro Tight Pants, a DIPA collaboration with Swedish brewery, Sahtipaja. 18th Street’s versatility and skillfulness are not surprising when you consider its founder, Drew Fox, got his start at Pipeworks and enjoyed a relationship with Spiteful, two brash, innovative, and successful Chicago breweries. 18th Street has also won “best beer” and “best brewery” awards, collaborated with breweries in Arizona and Texas, and recently expanded to a second location -- not bad for three years of work.
This Iowa brewery may not be heaven, but it’s certainly a haven for great beer and Midwestern hospitality with beer-nerd rating sites routinely grade their beers highly. The brewery brings in different local artists every two months to feature mind-melting visuals in the space. The beer is visual, too. For instance, Cat in a Tree Ginger Beer is as transparent as a glass of white wine. But, they also brew a multitude of hoppy ales, stouts, and porters, such as the 2 Alarm Red (ale), Acova Black Walnut brown ale, and Pumper Truck Porter.
In the heart of tornado alley, Central Standard Brewing (CSB) has ridden a whirlwind of success to become one of the Kansas’ most noticeable up and coming breweries. Although the brewery is new, CSB’s brewers possess 20 years of combined brewing experience. In addition to the typical craft selections, they brew the area's first puncheons and foeders, as well as an assortment of Belgians, wild ales, sours, and mixed fermentations. Meanwhile, the large, but cozy, taproom includes access to a spacious outdoor patio.
What do three friendly families living on the same dirt road talk about when they hang out and drink homebrew? They discuss opening a brewery, of course. River’s Edge reflects those humble dirt-road origins by offering comforting food, fun games, good beer, and space for friends and family to enjoy good conversation -- no wall-to-wall TVs at this place. River’s Edge is located in suburban Detroit and sits on the shores of the Huron River that flows into Lake Erie, but it’s often places like Belgium, Poland, and England that influences the beer. Indeed, they won the GABF silver medal for their Belgian Dubbel Entendré, serve a carbonated and smokey Polish beer called Grodziskie, and offer plenty of English ales.
Fair State offers more than just the typical perks associated with a brewery membership; they offer part ownership. Members also help design the beers, such as their recently brewed Baltic porter described as “cold fermented with lager yeast... brewed with Beechwood smoked malt, Wisconsin maple syrup, and a hint of Black Pepper.” From their traditional black lager -- the Schwarzbier -- to plenty of sours, and a pils, there’s a wealth of Central European brewing occurring at Fair State. And for hop heads, they have plenty of ales, too. That type of versatility allowed them to recently receive the award for best new brewery in Minnesota and inclusion in one of the world’s top ten new breweries, according to Ratebeer.
Raise a pint and exclaim, “Skål” because HammerHeart is a brewery that mashes up Norse, Celtic and Heavy Metal culture. But, make no mistake, Hammerheart beer is more than just something Ragnar Lodbrok might drink; it’s refined. In fact, it’s been served in places like Standard Market’s “The Cube,” a Chicago-area establishment known for its array of cheeses, fine wine, and craft beer connoisseurship. You might want to partake in the Laurentian porter - mesquite smoked with spruce tips, the Barrel Aged Dublin Raid -- a peat smoked Irish red ale, or the Fimbulvetr -- an oak smoked wheat IPA.
Proudly American, and proudly Missourian, Logboat worked tirelessly to garner stainless tanks made in the USA, and the inside of the brewery serves as somewhat of a local museum. The brewery includes an expansive outdoor space they refer to as the boatyard -- it has the feel of the world’s coolest backyard. Brewers aren’t trying to reinvent craft beer at Logboat; they make the beer they like to drink. Logboat just so happens to make the beer incredibly well, as shown by their 2015 GABF Gold Medal for its Belgian-Style Blonde.
Zipline is passionately devoted to conservation, sustainability, and overall environmental stewardship. Indeed, they even donate their spent grain to a place called “Beer Paws,” who transform it into dog treats. The brand caters to fitness enthusiasts, adventurists, and risk takers -- it shows in their beer. Zipline’s unafraid to tackle any brewing style, including barrel-aged, ryes, New Zealand hoppy ales, stouts, and hibiscus-infused saisons. The brewery won the GABF Gold medal for their German Altbier -- the Copper Alt. It seems the only risk that doesn’t exist with Zipline involves drinking their beer -- it's almost guaranteed to please you.
North Dakota ranks fifth in the country in beer consumption (impressive), yet breweries remain sparsely located throughout the state. Fargo Brewing Company wants to rectify that. In only a few short years, it has transitioned from garage brewery to open taproom in 2013, followed by a second location in 2016. Fargo Brewing Company also garnered North Dakota’s first brewing medal, the 2015 GABF Bronze for the Fargo Original Lager. Of course, if hearing the name of the brewery evokes memories of Steve Buscemi’s gruesome murder, you might enjoy the Wood Chipper IPA, to which they remark, “We’d give our left foot for another pint!”
In only three years, the award-winning Rhinegeist has evolved from greenhorn brewery to one that’s included in New Belgium’s “Fat Tire and Friends 25th Anniversary Riff-Pack,” where Rhinegeist and other breweries, such as Firestone Walker and Allagash, brew an original take on Fat Tire. Abiding by a work-hard, play-hard adage, the brewery -- which once served as a bottling plant over a century ago -- hosts motorcycle shows, whiffle ball games, and concerts. The Rhinegeist name is derived from their location near Cincy’s historic Over-the-Rhine German Brewery District. Rhinegeist offers a host of ales, such as Truth (IPA) and Zen (Session-APA), and they have ciders, gose, saisons, and plenty of barrel-aged beer.
Brewing beer that’s “one off of normal” 3 Sheeps puts new twists on old recipes, and it’s working. They’ve won several awards, including the Gold Medal for IPA at the Great International Beer Festival in 2013 with their entry, Really Cool Waterslides IPA. That was followed with a Gold Medal at the 2014 US Open Beer Championship for their winter brew, Ewephoria -- a ginger chocolate stout. Ewephoria’s name speaks for their love of puns and humorous beer descriptions -- take the time to read their website, you won’t regret it. There’s even an app to find 3 Sheeps beer, which includes many sessionable year-round offerings.
This brewhouse is understandably passionate about the Badger State as most of the taproom’s physical features arrived from Wisconsin, and most of what is brewed contain ingredients harvested from local farms. The passion for beer has resulted in an expansive and diverse beer menu. Brewers have even collaborated with PBR to brew a pre-prohibition “Old Tankard Ale.” There’s also a partnership with the University of Wisconsin, whose students from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences compete to develop a beer that gets brewed and distributed by Wisconsin Brewing Company (and must make them campus heroes).
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Mathew Powers is a freelance beer and spirits writer who never gets tired of researching -- it's the best part of the job. Follow him at @sportschipsndip