12. New York
Look, it’s not all about NYC, OK? But since you mentioned it, Gotham’s bringing serious beer thunder courtesy of classics like the world-dominating Brooklyn, the cultishly beloved Sixpoint, and Other Half, which consistently shows its head among the nation’s best right along with batshit legend Evil Twin. But beyond that, New York’s got enough heat to justify a trip throughout the state without pretending to just really love leaves, among them Peekskill and its award-winning IPA, Oceanside’s beloved Barrier, and, of course, Americanized Belgian trailblazer Ommegang, which shares a hometown with the Baseball Hall of Fame. There’s also, of course, Genesee Cream Ale, the pride of Rochester that pairs excellently with a garbage plate, and has been keeping grandpas happy and hydrated since 1957.
Anyone who has ever bothered to watch the opening credits to Laverne and Shirley knows that brewing is in Wisconsin's DNA, and while the Badger State's undeniable contribution to the canon of American lawnmower beers deserves respect, there's so much more to be excited about. New Glarus unquestionably retains some of its cachet due to its steadfast, occasionally maddening refusal to distribute beyond Wisconsin's borders, but the bulk of it comes from their ability to do everything so consistently well, especially their fruit-forward beers. Outside of the adorably Swiss confines of New Glarus, breweries like Central Waters, Tyranena, and Ale Asylum are also worth a beer-centric detour.
10. North Carolina
You can kind of take the comments about Virginia, replace "Devil's Backbone" with "Wicked Weed," and basically go from there, except the key difference is that North Carolina's game is just consistently crushing it. Heist, Green Man, Olde Hickory, Ponysaurus, Burial -- Asheville might still be the state's beer capital -- and some would officially agree with its Beer City USA title -- but there's fine hop artistry being performed statewide. It's also worth mentioning that a bottle of barrel-aged Sexual Chocolate from Foothills pairs really well with repeated viewings of Coming to America.
If all Maine had going for it was Maine Beer Co., it'd still be in a damn fine place, as anyone who's ever had a sip of their Lunch or Dinner knows they aren't just fun names -- it's legitimately tempting to fully replace meals with them and bask on the overflow of juicy hops. But there's so much more! Allagash has been so good for so long that it sometimes gets a bit taken for granted. Oxbow is dynamite with saisons. Bissell Brothers Swish is right there with MBC's best efforts. Foundation has only been at it a couple of years and is already turning heads. We're going to stop there and lose ourselves in a daydream about moving to Portland and subsisting entirely on a diet of lobster rolls and hazy IPAs. You should, too.
Goose Island's sale was one of the first to make big waves in craft beer, and while it undoubtedly altered the Chicago beer landscape, it doesn't change the fact that Bourbon County Stout is STILL one of the most hotly anticipated releases on the annual beer geek calendar. But focusing on Goose Island does a bit of a disservice to what's happened around the rest of the state, with Revolution, Half Acre, and Pipeworks all expanding rapidly and attracting the attention of beer lovers nationwide. Ex-Goose Island brewers have gone on to start boundary-pushing breweries like Off Color and Moody Tongue. Mikerphone and more are turning the suburbs into a serious force, and Destihl's standout sours are making sure no one ignores what's happening downstate.
First and foremost, let us all hail the fertile grounds of Washington for providing an overwhelming majority of North American hops. Washington’s always been at the forefront of the craft beer scene, a state that’s birthed now-national juggernauts like Elysian and Red Hook alongside organic trailblazer Fish Tale, certified craft masters Fremont and Reuben’s, and new-school alchemists like Three Magnets. Even rural areas manage to up their game, with standouts like Oregon-adjacent Carson’s Backwoods and "Basically Canada" town Blaine's Atwood getting credit for spreading the love. It’s a glorious place to love beer, and as it did with coffee, Washington has changed the entire game and made the world a better place to drink. But fact is, that old adage about the pupil surpassing the master is the tale of Washington beer. This should be the highest compliment, and will surely mean Washington’s continued place at the forefront of craft beer, even if it’s no longer driving.
In just a few short years Tree House managed to turn a sleepy sliver of Western Mass into the epicenter of the New England IPA craze, and yet their impossibly rich imperial stout Good Morning might be their best beer, which is crazy considering they put out roughly 75 different IPAs for which people would willingly trade their children. Meanwhile, in Boston, Trillium is executing at a similarly high level. There are also so many fantastic breweries that don't start with "T"! There's Clown Shoes. There's Jack's Abby. Building 8 and Exhibit A are a couple of thoroughly exciting newcomers. All the shiny new beer notwithstanding, it's worth remembering that Massachusetts has held a critical place in the craft beer ecosystem going all the way back to Sam Adams emergence in the '80s. They've been good at this for a while.
The Alchemist's Heady Topper is probably one of the most celebrated and analyzed beers of the craft beer boom, and remarkably they're not even Vermont's best brewery thanks to the breadth of stunningly fantastic beer that Hill Farmstead puts out. Lawson's Finest Liquids would be the best brewery in many, many other states. Switchback, Foley Brothers, Otter Creek, Foam, Frost Beer Works and so many others round out the lineup in the state that's been raising its game ever since '90s college students were drinking Magic Hat to appear sophisticated. If the metric for this was amazing beer produced per capita, it's hard to imagine anyone competing with Vermont.
Michigan has at least two great beer towns in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo -- both of which are rooted in legends (Founders and Bell's, respectively) that laid the groundwork for others to thrive -- but the beauty of Michigan is the fact that basically any section of the enormous state is housing some of the best beer in the nation. Ann Arbor-adjacent Dexter is home to the coveted bottle-conditioned madness of Jolly Pumpkin. Tiny Traverse City manages to out-beer cities five times its size. Shorts offers as good a reason to visit Bellaire as its famous lakes. Williamston's Old Nation has achieved national acclaim for its M-43 haze-bomb. Arcadia’s finally given Battle Creek a claim to fame that isn’t cereal and yogurt enemas. Escanaba, Marquette, and Ishpeming bring serious beer cred to the isolated Upper Peninsula with Upper Hand, Blackrocks, and Cognition. Hell, even perpetually beleaguered Flint managed to open a solid brewery in Tenacity despite the fact that the city’s in the midst of a water crisis. You can’t throw a rock in Michigan without hitting a great brewery these days. And considering throwing Petoskey stones into a big-ass lake is one of Michigan’s favorite pastimes, that’s really saying something.
There’s a reason that the best brewers in the world annually descend on Denver, and it (probably) has nothing to do with the Illuminati. The map of Colorado is dotted with amber-hued greatness. You want internationally recognized beers? You’ve got them in both the macro sector -- Coors, Blue Moon -- and the craft universe, an arena long dominated by the impossibly-still-indie New Belgium, which has remained one of the nation’s best since the day it opened, ubiquity be damned. Other innovators like Oskar Blues, Ska, and Crooked Stave are making a national push, while Avery is slowly creeping into larger markets and offering up perhaps the most playfully compelling barrel-aged concoctions in the US, most of which disappear quicker than a Banquet Beer at a UC Boulder tailgate. The one thing that unites these vastly different breweries -- spanning from metropolitan mainstays to rural joints catering to ski bums and vagabonds all the way to the lawnmower beers your dad still drinks despite hiring a gardener -- is love, loyalty, and a true affinity for the joys that the Rocky Mountain state offers. And when you’re on the ground, that love is in every single sip. Sometimes, there’s also bull testicle in that sip, too, but hey, love is love!
“Oregon beer’s in trouble,” glassy-eyed soothsayers tend to say every time a pall is cast over Oregon’s beer culture, from the closure of beloved best-in-show brewery The Commons and beloved Amnesia to rampant talk of acquisition. But Oregon’s nothing if not resilient, and you don’t become so legendary without some survival instinct. Each time a brewery among the nearly 300 that call the Beaver State home closes, two more seem to pop pop up. This is a place where beer is a way of life, where two cities -- that’d be Portland and Bend -- can accurately claim status among the best in the country for drinkers, and where small towns like Hood River manage to out-beer entire states (Seriously, with Pfriem, Double Mountain, and Full Sail alone, this little Gorge town could have trounced at least 10 full states on this thing). Scenic coastal towns like Astoria and Cannon Beach are not essential stops for beer lovers as much as Goonies fans. Rural-ass Baker City is home to Barley Brown, which consistently rolls with big dogs like Deschutes, Breakside, Hair of the Dog, Crux, Great Notion, and Boneyard. This is a state where breweries like Widmer, Bridgeport, Rogue, Ninkasi, and 10 Barrel have been deemed old hat, despite the fact that 95% of communities would kill for their presence. Oregon's beer culture is nearly unmatched… beer is just a way of life. This is, after all, a place where even optometrists hand out beers in the waiting room. Don’t believe us? Run a spell check on this article: We just got new reading glasses, and we're oddly suspicious about the exam.
If this was a numbers game, California would have walked away with the crown easily, what with 900 breweries operating in the enormous Bear Republic. But what finally got California to edge out Oregon -- likely to the chagrin of Portlanders who have adopted "go back to California" as a rallying cry -- is the sheer quality of what's coming out of the state, which just keeps getting better.
California is home to one of the world’s greatest beer cities in San Diego and one of the best in the country in San Francisco. And the valleys surrounding SF contain a murderer's row of great breweries -- among them Russian River, Bear Republic, and the original Lagunitas -- so strong they threaten to unseat wine and Snoopy as Sonoma County’s claim to fame. Los Angeles is stepping up its game in a very, very real way, bucking its reputation as a craft-beer desert thanks to the likes of Highland Park, Yorkshire Square, and Brouwerij West. Rural areas sport destination breweries the rest of the country would kill for. That’s to say nothing of singular breweries such as The Bruery, Sierra Nevada, Firestone, Anderson Valley, and others doing their thing divorced from big cities and hullabaloo. California has more breweries than any other state, and some of the best the country has to offer call the massive state home. Again, it's not a numbers game. Unless you count the sheer number of great, game-changing, paradigm-shifting breweries operating in the state. In which case this is very much a numbers game.