The Best (and the Rest): Best Easy Ramen Hacks and Winter Beers
Year founded: 2005
Must-drink beer: Furious
Surly didn't miss ranking among the 50 biggest craft brewers by much, and considering its new modernist beer temple/brewery that opened up at the end of 2014, the MSP-based stalwart is setting itself up for years of massive growth to come. It has all the earmarks of a brewery that could be the next big thing -- a rare-beer release with serious nerd cred in the Russian imperial stout Darkness, a fantastic new complex devoted to its beer that defines the phrase "destination brewery," and that ineffable cool factor. Look at the design of the Todd the Axe Man can. Its sense of humor. Hell, even its T-shirt swag is on point. And above all, the beer is undoubtedly some of the best in the Great Lakes region. Once Surly has the capacity to ship its beer everywhere, it should be in the top 50 regularly.
Year founded: 1987
Must-drink beer: Briney Melon gose
Mendocino County's Anderson Valley has been doing the craft beer thing longer than most, and it's hard to find a drinker not familiar with the legendary Boont amber, or a BBQ without somebody extolling the virtues of the salty, sour Briney Melon gose in a can. From saisons to IPAs to Wild Turkey barrel-aged stouts, it's become a paragon of great craft beer and a great uniter for drinkers of all interest levels. That AV isn't one of the 50 biggest craft breweries in the US is slightly shocking, given the seeming ubiquity of it in beer bars. But if you've yet to come across the antler-sporting bear on the label, fear not: production has increased annually at a slow-and-steady clip, with 50k barrels flooding markets across the country. That's a lot of cans of gose in markets where the style is still a mystery. But with any luck (and continued growth) AV will help make the rest of the country an antlered-bear republic.
Year founded: 1994
Must-drink beer: Finestkind IPA
New Hampshire's brewery with the weird name (and creepy backstory behind that name!) is already brewing enough brews to sate the thirst of overseas beer nerds in Sweden, Germany, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Japan, and parts of the Caribbean. That is one well-traveled beer. Expansion into a new brewery in late 2014 certainly helped its ability to produce more goodness, and Smuttynose also branched out with an on-site restaurant in early 2015 that serves up seafood-heavy plates. And while its year-round beers like Old Brown Dog ale, Robust Porter, and Finestkind IPA continue to be popular, its Smuttlabs churns out experimental brews that are keeping beer dorks interested, with offbeat options like the fall-favorite Smoked Peach Short Weisse and the Daily Brett saison.
Year founded: 1993
Must-drink beer: Hog Heaven
One thing many of the breweries in this rundown have in common is that they've built new facilities in which to brew beer (and, you know, drink beer and play cornhole and stuff). And oh boy, does Avery have a new brewery. Drive toward the back of a business park in North Boulder and this massive new facility appears as if dropped from a spaceship, a gleaming beer temple decked out in white (especially after it's snowed -- it's in Colorado, after all). When you step in, expect some of the best damn taproom food you've ever consumed. And, of course, fantastic beer. Flagships like the bourbon barrel-aged, 17.5% coffee stout Tweak, the hoppy Hog Heaven barleywine, and the witbier White Rascal join fantastic newer brews like the margarita-beer mash-up El Gose and the tropical delight Liliko'i Kepolo.
Year founded: 1994
Must-drink beer: Chocolate oak-aged Yeti
Drive around Denver long enough and you'll see an "I Believe" bumper sticker with a cartoon Yeti on it. Drink around Denver long enough, and you'll likely have a pint of Yeti imperial stout, whether it's an oatmeal, chocolate oak-aged, or espresso oak-aged. One of Mile High's stalwart breweries from way back in 19-aught-94 (one thing all '90s kids remember!!), Great Divide used to brew out of the cutest little taproom in the Mile High's Ballpark neighborhood. Thankfully for beer lovers nationwide, the cozy space is still there, but the fact that the brewery bought a five-acre piece of land for a new brewery, restaurant, and beer garden gives you an idea of its expansion plans. And with more room to experiment, there should be more beers like the new Nadia Kali hibiscus saison on the forefront.
San Diego, CA
Year founded: 1995
Must-drink beer: Speedway Stout
The fact that AleSmith brews one of the finest coffee beers in the country is notable, but the brewery has quite a history with award-winning beers, having produced 15+ GABF medal winners since 1998. It's not just beer judges that are in love with its beers, as the brewery has grown a staggering 90% in the past year, and has the capacity to brew 250,000 barrels should it need to (spoiler alert: that is more beer than a great majority of the top 50 craft breweries make in a year). It might need to soon. Twenty-three states currently carry AleSmith, with expansion into Texas and Michigan this year, though it makes sure to save something special for the home crowd: .394 pale ale, the massively popular Tony Gwynn-tribute ale only available in San Diego County. If you ever visit the brewery, baseball fans shouldn't miss the Tony Gwynn Museum. Oh, or the 25,000sqft taproom with selections like the killer Nut Brown Ale and IPA.
Year founded: 2006
Must-drink beer: Velveteen Habit
Unless you have a friend who lives in Wisconsin or Illinois who's been mailing you beer, you might not have ever had the balanced Hopalicious IPA or the red ale Ambergeddon. But that might change in 2017, as the brewery plans on expanding… to one more state. Look, Ale Asylum isn't going to be in every beer store in all 50 states anytime soon, but that doesn't mean its rep won't reach far and wide, like the also-WI-based New Glarus. AA's production expanded quite a bit in 2012, after the brewery moved into new 45,000sqft digs with a two-story tasting room and a solar array on the roof that supplies the whole damn place with power to brew the now-year-round beer Velveteen Habit IPA, and the seasonally delicious 8.8% DIPA Satisfaction Jacksin.
Year founded: 2009
Must-drink beer: Jai Alai
The brewery that led the way in turning Tampa-St. Petersburg into a legitimate beer destination earned an army of devoted followers on the strength of offerings like its Jai Alai IPA and Hunahpu's imperial stout (an annual release that causes a commotion few can match). It's been known in beer-geek circles that it's had growth on the mind for a while -- there was a rumored sale to AB InBev that was reportedly close to coming to fruition. Instead, it was the same private equity group that owns Oskar Blues that came calling, which preserves Cigar City's craft status while giving it added resources to expand upon its six-state distribution (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania) and the just-over 60,000 barrels it turned out in 2015.
Year founded: 2004
Must-drink beer: Space Rock American pale ale
For a while, Short's was like Founders and Bell's incredibly loved little brother that simply didn't want to leave its hometown (it's Michigan. It happens a lot.). After all, Short's managed to become a statewide favorite over the years, turning its idyllic hometown of Bellaire (population ~ 1,100) into a destination (the lakes help too) thanks to solid flagships like the beloved Space Rock pale, the lakeside-ready Local's Light lager, and experiments ranging from the barrel-aged Tequila Sauna to the fruity farmhouse Flanders Red. Then, after hitting a growth that amped production -- hitting 41k, an increase of 15k barrels over two years -- Short's did something many Michiganders thought it wouldn't: it started showing up in Illinois and Pennsylvania, with other territories to follow (to be fair, a lot of Michigan natives head to Illinois eventually). Purists might say the expansion means less intimacy. We say that if that means more people can be turned on to the magic in a bottle of Bellaire Brown, that's a good thing. And folks can still rest assured that a limited-edition Private Stache offering will be waiting for them in the flagship brewery right down the road from Lake Bellaire.
Year founded: 2008
Must-drink beer: Daisy Cutter
It's been a rapid rise for Half Acre, one of the early leaders in a Chicago brewery boom that's seen seemingly every neighborhood enjoy the benefits of its own brewery, like North Center residents have since 2008. Few of those breweries can match Half Acre's following, however, with its perfectly hopped flagship pale ale a ubiquitous sight on tap lists and in backyard coolers, and lines habitually forming down Lincoln Ave for its special releases. Its 2015 construction of a 60,000sqft facility near the original brewery has it poised to meet continuing demand and potentially push more robustly beyond Illinois. It's also going to allow it to open a restaurant and beer garden. Chicagoans are a hungry people.
Year founded: 1996
Must-drink beer: Zombie Dust
3 Floyds has become a household name nationally among beer geeks despite distribution to only five states (Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and Wisconsin), with the bulk of its production getting swallowed up by its perpetually thirsty neighbors in Chicago. But beer geeks everywhere seem to find their way here, especially on the last Saturday in April when the eyes of the beer world are on Munster for Dark Lord Day, one of the OGs of turning specialty beer releases into destination-worthy events. It's generally resisted expanding TOO quickly in the face of seemingly limitless demand (local store owners often have to place limits on Zombie Dust when they get their hands on some), but a $10 million expansion on the horizon figures to add to their 45,000-barrel output. It's also expected to add a distillery. Everyone should drink to that.