The Best Craft Breweries in America From A to Z

thrillist american craft beer alphabet
Shutterstock / Jennifer Bui
Shutterstock / Jennifer Bui

There are around 2,400 craft breweries in this magnificent country, and we love each & every one of 'em. But in the spirit of scholarship, excellence, and "writing words about beer"-ness, we tapped nine beer experts* from around the nation to select** just one outstanding US craft brewery for each letter of the alphabet. Of course, there are only 26 letters in the alphabet -- around 1% of the craft breweries there are in America -- which means there's a 99% chance you disagree with our findings. Be sure to tell us what your picks would be in the comments!

Now, let's review our ABCs.

Location: Waterbury, VT
Year founded: 2003
Marquee beer: Heady Topper double IPA
This tiny brewpub in rural Vermont focuses all of its efforts on a single product: a chrome-canned DIPA so righteous, there's an actual black market for cans of it outside the Green Mountain State.
Runner-up: Allagash

Location: Placentia, CA
Year founded: 2008
Marquee beer: The seasonals. All of them.
"B" may as well have stood for "battle royale," because it was stacked with excellent contenders. Straight outta the ever-more-legitimate beer mecca that is Orange County, Bruery took the title thanks to its seemingly limitless stream of seasonals, annuals, and one-offs.
Runner-up: Bell's

Location: Tampa, FL
Year founded: 2007
Marquee beer: Jai Alai IPA
Between the Florida Cracker and the Jai Alai, CCB's year-rounders ain't nothing to scoff at. But if you're in the market for something truly special from the adolescent Floridian brewery, keep your eyes peeled for its hard-to-find Hunahpu's Imperial Stout.
Runner-up: Cascade

Location: Bend, OR
Year founded: 1988
Marquee beer: Black Butte Porter
As one of the beloved cornerstones of Bend's nationally relevant brewing scene, Deschutes keeps the West Coast & Midwest blanketed in brew, and the East Coast thirsty. That's changing, though: you can now drink Black Butte on tap in DC, and some of their brews are available in Pennsylvania, too. Slow & steady.
Runner-up: Dogfish Head

evil twin hipster ale
Shutterstock / Drew Swantak & Jennifer Bui

Location: Brooklyn, NY (office)
Year founded: 2010
Marquee beer: Hipster Ale
Gypsy-brewing his way into the hearts & minds of our judges, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø's creations often sound more like titles from a particularly unhinged creative writing class than beers -- Ryan and the Gosling, Plastic Man, and The Porthole are all tasty drinkables, not novellas. That's precisely the sort of uncanny innovation he's capable of. Biscotti stout, anyone?
Runner-up: Elysian

Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Year founded: 1997
Marquee beer: Kentucky Breakfast Stout
"F" was a talent-choked race, but it all came down to the masterful Michiganders and their super-deep roster. They've got it all -- critical acclaim in KBS & CBS, year-round drinkability in the All Day IPA, and winter domination via Imperial Stout & Dark Penance.
Runner-up: Firestone Walker

green flash west coast ipa
Shutterstock / Drew Swantak & Jennifer Bui

Location: San Diego, CA
Year founded: 2002
Marquee beer: West Coast IPA
This San Diego scene-leader beat out two big-timers (Goose Island & Great Divide) with our panel, who were clearly swayed by beastly seasonals like Green Bullet, a triple IPA that combines New Zealand's Pacific Gem and Green Bullet hops. New Zealand! That's commitment.
Runner-up: Great Lakes

Location: Greensboro, VT
Year founded: 2010
Marquee beer: Abner imperial IPA
If you've tasted Shaun Hill's artisanal ales you're either a Green Mountain native (like he is), a diehard beer guy (like he also is), or probably both, because HF's stuff rarely makes it beyond Vermont's boundaries. When your list of accolades includes World's Best Brewery, though, you can get away with being provincial.
Runner-up: Hair of the Dog

Location: Ithaca, NY
Year founded: 1998
Marquee beer: Flower Power IPA
Keeping Cornellians topped off since the Clinton years, Ithaca was the easy "I" winner thanks to its small, tightly focused crop of year-round labels including Flower Power, Nut Brown, and the punch-you-in-the-teeth hop-monster that is CascaZilla, named for a nearby gorge and the ludicrous amount of Cascade hops that go into it.
Runner-up: Iron Fist

Location: Austin, TX
Year founded: 2010
Marquee beer: Commercial Suicide 
Tucked away in Texas Hill Country outside of Austin proper, carefully limited in both production & distribution, and passionate about making some crazy-ass beers, Jester is a bucket-list label for many a serious beer-drinker. Most if not all of their bottles are bombers, full of barrel-aged beers brewed with wild yeasts and oddball add-ins (mushrooms, anyone?). Oh, and there's a pizza place on the sprawling ranch facility. Which is basically cheating.
Runner-up: Jolly Pumpkin

knee deep imperial tanilla
Shutterstock / Drew Swantak & Jennifer Bui

Location: Auburn, CA
Year founded: 2010
Marquee beer: Simtra Triple IPA (Imperial Tanilla shown)
Arguably the best thing to come out of Reno since... uh, ever, Knee Deep was contract-brewing in Northern Nevada as late as 2011, when they finally set up shop in nearby Auburn. Brewer Jeremy Warren calls himself the Hoptologist, and true to his name, he gets pretty freaky with the green: in addition to the Simtra (Simcoe plus Citra, two hop varieties), KD also puts out a quad IPA called Hop-De-Ranged.
Runner-up: Kuhnhenn

Location: Hood River, OR
Year founded: 2011
Marquee beer: Seizoen Bretta 
There are plenty of farmhouse ales on the market, but Logsdon throws down the artisanal gauntlet by actually making theirs on a farm nestled at the base of Mount Hood. That authenticity, plus super-fresh ingredients, translates into serious success, including a 2012 Great American Beer Festival gold medal for their Seizoen Bretta.
Runner-up: Lost Abbey

Location: Freeport, ME
Year founded: 2009
Marquee beer: MO American pale ale
This is a tiny little outfit in a state better known for Allagash (runner-up in the "A" category), but they've quietly become an in-the-know favorite thanks to no-nonsense, small-batch brews like MO and Peeper, an American ale. 
Runner-up: Midnight Sun

Location: New Glarus, WI
Year founded: 1993
Marquee beer: Spotted Cow 
"N" was basically a two-horse race, and it really could've gone either way. The Sconnie stalwart won out thanks to the ubiquity of their most recognizable beer -- pretty much every bar in Wisco worth a damn has Spotted Cow on tap, and Cheesehead transplants will come running at the first whiff of its sweet aroma outside the state.
Runner-up: North Coast

oskar blues yella pils
Shutterstock / Drew Swantak & Jennifer Bui

Location: Longmont, CO
Year founded: 1997
Marquee beer(s): Dale's Pale Ale and Mama's Little Yella Pils
Another close one. The brewpub-turned-brand started as a Colorado secret, but has chipped away at drinkers nationwide with a steady flow of tasty year-round cans and limited releases like Gubna, a spring-only imperial IPA that happens to be the favorite of Thrillist editorial director Ben Robinson.
Runner-up: Ommegang

Location: Solana Beach, CA
Year founded: 1987
Marquee beer: Pier Rat Porter
You can't spell "upset" without "P" -- seriously, try it! -- and this category delivered one, with SoCal's GABF-laden brewpub empire edging out Prairie Artisan, the pride of Okies everywhere. There are five restaurants between San Diego & Los Angeles (plus a bottle shop!), and each pours a different lineup of award-winners. Oh, and the food is great, too. Duh.
Runner-up: Prairie Artisan Ales

Location: Greenville, SC
Year founded: 2012
Marquee beer: Golden Fleece Belgian pale ale
Uh... so as it turns out, there are not all that many breweries that begin with the letter "Q." But you know what? That's just fine, because this small-ish brewpub by Greenville's local airport does, and despite being just a couple years old, their barrel-aged brews are garnering real attention in South Carolina's very good scene.
Runner-up: Queen City Brewing

russian river pliny the elder
Shutterstock / Drew Swantak & Jennifer Bui

Location: Santa Rosa, CA
Year founded: 2004
Marquee beer: Pliny the Elder
Is Russian River worthy of its never-ending hype? No comment, but this is one of only two letters in which our judges all assigned their highest rank to the same brewery. And that's pretty damn impressive.
Runner-up: Revolution

Location: Minneapolis, MN
Year founded: 2004
Marquee beer: Furious
Upset alert! Sort of! Internally, we thought Stone would be a lock here, but Surly -- widely credited with establishing Minneapolis as a craft beer mecca a decade ago -- took the crown instead. Truth be told, no matter who won on the score sheet, you can't go wrong with this one-two "S" punch.
Runner-up: Stone

Location: Munster, IN
Year founded: 1996
Marquee beer: Dark Lord
Founded by the Floyd family (a Father and two sons), this heavy-metal heavy hitter was one of Chicagoland's first real craft players way back during the first Clinton administration. It's hard to find outside the Midwest but deeply loved within it, which is why Dark Lord Day -- the release day/music festival of its same-named Russian imperial stout -- is always a sold-out affair.
Runner-up: 21st Amendment

Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Year founded: 1993
Marquee beer: Hop Nosh IPA
Utah's drinking laws are the stuff of drinkers' nightmares, but nevertheless, Uinta has managed to build a loyal local following in its two-decade run thanks to its treasure trove of GABF-, NABA-, and WBC-medalist brews. They also offer some organic & kosher beers. Which, like, mazel!
Runner-up: Upslope

victory hopdevil ipa
Shutterstock / Drew Swantak & Jennifer Bui

Location: Downingtown, PA
Year founded: 1996
Marquee beer: HopDevil IPA
The other unanimous letter-winnner (alongside Russian River), this Pennsylvania operation is a testament to the slow-and-steady approach. Sure, Prima Pils & Festbier went silver & gold at GABF in 2007, and that's just the tip of the awards iceberg. And fine, they operate their own restaurant & catering company. Plus they brew/bottle a root beer, all while servicing around 25 annuals & seasonals... wait, how the hell did they pull all this off in less than two decades?!
Runner-up: Brewery Vivant

Location: Mount Pleasant, SC
Year founded: 2010
Marquee beer: Gose
Carolina took a big win on "W" with Charleston sour darling Westbrook beating out Asheville's heavily traded WW brew. Like "S," this is another can't-miss twosome that could've gone either way.
Runner-up: Wicked Weed

Location: Dripping Springs, TX
Year founded: 2009
Marquee beer: Twisted X lager
Alright, alright: it isn't technically an "X." But of all our experts, no one could think of any American brewery that actually began with the letter (Xerxes Beer Company would be killer, you guys), so we deep-Googled and found the next best thing: this Southwest Austin microbrewery that puts out "Tex Mex"-style beers like Fuego (a jalapeño pilsner) and a Mexico-by-way-of-Austria Vienna lager called Cow Creek.

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Year founded: 1994
Marquee beer: Extra Special Ale
Nitro stouts being so near & dear to this writer's heart, it was a delight to see the brewery responsible for Love Stout get its due. Yards is straight outta Philly and deserves all the praise it gets -- and then some! -- for quenching the city's craft thirst (not to mention, plenty of Jersey's) for more than two decades.
Runner-up: Yazoo

Location: Denver, CO
Year founded: 2014
Marquee beer: Milk Stout
The Coloradans throwing votes may have been able to wangle their super-young RiNo brewery into the "Z" slot, but Zauber (founded 2012) actually has a bit more going on. Launched by a Great Lakes & Sam Adams alum, this young label complements Columbus' burgeoning culinary scene with kegs & growlers of German- and Belgian-influenced brews. That's not to take away from Zephyr's win, though -- with a taproom surrounded by some of the finest eats in the country, and a roster full of crowd-pleasing brews, they've got a bright future.
Runner-up: Zauber

Flickr/Bernt Rostad

*Meet our experts!

This alphabet was meticulously handcrafted thanks to input from these noble, knowledgeable men & women of beer. We tried to get a mix of folks representing different areas of the country, and put a few of Thrillist's biggest hopheads to the test to keep things interesting. (As author/moderator, I did not vote.) Here are your lettermen and -women:

Sarah Pederson
Publican, Saraveza
Portland, OR

Zach Mack
Owner, Alphabet City Beer Co.; beer writer, Thrillist
New York, NY

Thomas Haydon
Amateur beer trader
Washington, DC

Ben Robinson
Editorial director, Thrillist
New York, NY

Andy Kryza
Senior editor, Thrillist
Portland, OR

Brandon Underwood
Beer expert & all-around awesome bartender, The Ordinary
Charleston, SC

Chris O'Leary
Beer writer, Brew York
Brooklyn, NY

Jonathan Shikes
Beer writer & managing editor, Westword
Denver, CO

Matt Lynch
Senior editor, Thrillist
Chicago, IL

*How it worked:

1. Nominations. We Thrillist editors put our heads together to nominate a comprehensive list of breweries by name. We dealt with naming conventions in good faith, alphabetizing by the first important letter in each brewery's official name. (For example, if Anheuser-Busch was a craft brewery -- which, by any/all definitions, it is not -- it would be in the "A" category. This mostly mattered for places with a definite article out front, like "The Bruery," which lands in "B," not "T." Get it? Of course you do!)

2. Voting. We presented our experts with the 26 nominee groups, and asked them to score each brewery in relation to the others in its letter category. (So for a letter category with three nominees in it, each expert had to assign 1, 2, and 3 scores amongst the candidates. The lower the rank, the better the brewery.)

3. Scoring. We compiled the scores & averaged 'em out to find the point-leader amongst our nine judges.

Dave Infante is a senior writer for Thrillist Food & Drink and wishes the alphabet was longer. Follow @dinfontay on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.