There are beer breweries and then there are craft beer breweries that consistently produce the best beers. Exploring beers and finding the top breweries that produce the top beers are the quest of every beer enthusiast. With hundreds of breweries of around the USA producing thousands of different beers, finding the best beers is a life-long quest.
The best places to look for the best breweries of the last ten years are at beer festivals where beers are judged by Certified Beer Judges and the best beers are awarded medals. The largest judged beer festival in the United States is the Great American Beer Festival.
At the 2009 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) there were 3,038 beers judged in 78 categories from 495 competing breweries. A brewery that consistently wins medals at GABF is going to produce some of the best beers and will be a top brewery of the decade.
New Belgium Brewing, Ft Collins, CO
New Belgium Brewery in Ft. Collins, CO was started in 1991 by Kim and Jeff Jordan with the goals of “Having fun, brewing world class beer, promoting beer culture and being environment stewards,”. Today, New Belgium Brewery is the third largest mid-size brewery and is a model of environmental responsibility. In 2007, New Belgium Brewery’s innovations were featured in a segment on the NBC Nightly News.
Besides being environmental stewards, New Belgium Brewery has produced a host of award winning beers in a variety of styles. Some of their top beers include:
Fat Tire Amber Ale – NB’s most popular beer. An American-style amber ale beer with the perfect equilibrium between malt, nuts, spices, and fresh hoppiness. Toasty-malt aroma with medium body. A very easy drinking beer. It goes well with dishes containing cheese.
Mothership Wit – NB’s organic wheat beer. A classic Belgian-style wit beer. This unfiltered beer is bursting with wheat, malt, coriander, and the citrus flavor of orange peel. A GABF Gold medal winner. If you like Belgian white beer, this beer is for you. It goes well with crab cakes or falafel.
1554 – More than just a number. This is one of New Belgium Brewery’s most overlooked best beers. Based on an ancient Belgian beer recipe, this dark beer combines the flavors of dark chocolately malts with a hint of coffee. Medium body. Any dark beer enthusiasts dream beer. It goes well with anything off the grill or contains chocolate.
Oskar Blues Brewery, Lyons, CO
Oskar Blues started a revolution in the craft beer industry in 2002 when it started canning its award-winning top beers. What started as an effort to make their best beers more outdoor friendly was also found to keep their beers fresh by protecting it from oxygen and light. Today other top breweries are canning their beers.
Their best beers include but are not exclusive to:
Dale’s Pale Ale – The beer that started the craft beer canning revolution. This is a hoppy American-style pale ale that was rated the “Top American Pale Ale” by the New York Times. It is a sweet hoppy brew with a medium body. Take it camping or drink some while at their tasting room and grill.
Gordon Ale – An imperial red ale with full but balanced flavors of malts and hops. A 2008 World Beer Cup Bronze Medal winner and 2008 World Beer Championships Gold Medal. Best consumed when listening to the semi-pro open bluegrass jam in the Oskar Blues Grill on Tuesday nights.
Pyramid Breweries, 5 locations along the West Coast of the USA
Pyramid Breweries started in 1984 as Hart Brewing, Inc which later transformed itself in 1996 into Pyramid Breweries, Inc. It’s now safe to say that over the past ten years that Pyramid Breweries has dominated the wheat beers categories and has routinely produced the top beers. In 2008 it won the mid-size Brewery of the Year Award at GABF.
Haywire Hefeweizen – A 2009 & 2004 GABF Gold Medal winner. An incredibly tasty unfiltered wheat beer. A light bodied beer with sweet wheat malt flavor. The perfect beer on hot summer’s evening.
Crystal Wheat Ale – A multi-year GABF Gold Medal winner. This is the filtered cousin of the Haywire.
Deschutes Brewery, Bend & Portland, OR
What stared as a small brewpub in Bend, OR in 1988 has grown into a top brewery with a national reputation. They still continue to produce speciality batches of limited quantity beers yet still brew the best beers that they have won awards for. They routinely participate in the invitation-only Fresh Hop Ale Festival.
Black Butte Porter – A multi-year medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival. A smooth medium-bodied yet dark chocolatey porter beer. A hint of coffee. For porter beer enthusiasts it’s the best excuse for visiting Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OR. A great beer by one of the top breweries of the past ten years.
The Pike Brewing Company, Seattle, WA
Pike Brewing Company started in 1989 in the basement of the La Salle Hotel next to the historic Pike Place Market. When The Beer Hunter was asked the hypothetical question “which one beer from the USA would you want on a deserted island?”, he quickly mentioned the products of then tiny Pike Place Brewery. The name changed in 1995 but the reputation of its top beers has not.
Old Bawdy Barley Wine – This top beer is Pike Brewing’s signature beer despite an eight year absence before 2007. A multi-year medal winner at GABF and other beer festivals. Like all barley wines, this beer packs a punch. It’s a smooth big bodied beer with strong caramel malt flavors, dark fruit flavors and finishes with a touch of bitterness. Those who aren’t normally barley wine fans will enjoy this top beer.
Boulder Beer Company, Boulder, CO
Boulder Beer was founded in 1979 as Colorado’s first microbrewery. Started by two University of Colorado professors with good beer in mind, the brewery today is part of an alliance with Rock Bottom Restaurants. It now has the capacity to annually produce 43,000 barrels of its top beers. In 2009 it was the first craft brewery to celebrate 30 years of producing craft beers in the United States.
Hazed & Infused – This is BB most wildly popular beer. This ale is dry-hopped with Crystal and Centennial hops during fermentation producing the hoppiest beer you may ever taste. It has plenty of caramel malt and did I mention heaps of spicy hops flavor. A must for hops lovers. The best beer for apres-ski.
Sweaty Betty Blonde – A great beer on a hot summer day. This is a slightly sweet, light-bodied unfiltered wheat beer. It has a mild citrus finish. Serve with seafood.
Maui Brewing Company, Lahaina, HI
Maui Brewing Company was founded in 2005 but has already made their mark in the craft beer industry. MB is the only microbrewery on the island of Maui and until recently their beers were only available in the state of Hawaii. Maui Brewing’s best beers are available in it’s Lahaina brewpub and in cans. Their brews are now available on the mainland through a few online retailers.
CoCoNut Porter – A 2006 World Beer Cup Gold Medal winner. This is a dark malty beer with tastes of chocolate, hints of coffee, and finishes with loads of toasted coconut. The toasted coconut aroma will make you feel like you’re vacationing in the islands.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Dogfish Head started in 1995 as the first brewpub in the state of Delaware. It hasn’t looked back. It has continually expanded and now produces 20 styles of top beers that are available in 25 different states. They are now into making vodka, rum, and gin along with their top beers. This brewery definitely deserves to be a top 10 brewery of the past ten years. They certainly have the one of the longest lines at GABF.
Red & White – If you can find it, try it. This is a traditional Belgian-style wit beer brewed with coriander and orange peel. A light citrusy wit beer. A 2008 GABF Gold Medal winner.
Pizza Port Brewing Company, Carlsbad, CA
It there ever was a case of don’t judge a book by its cover, Pizza Port is it. Initially a food only restaurant, Pizza Port started producing craft beer at its Solana Beach location in 1992. The Carlsbad location location open in 1997 and immediately started producing top beers for Pizza Port.
Night Rider Imperial Stout – A dark full-bodied beer. Lots of roasted malt flavor, chocolate, and a hint of coffee. It finishes with a bit of hop bitterness. A very drinkable beer. Goes great with pizza and grilled items.
Revelations Belgian Gold – A Belgian-style pale ale. Flavors of bananas, cloves, and coriander in this brew. Lots of yeasty flavor. Belgian beer drinkers can drink this top beer all day.
Redstone Meadery, Boulder, CO
While not a beer brewery, Redstone Meadery is a brewery that started a whole new beverage category – mead. Honey wine or mead has been produced since ancient times but has been relatively unknown in the United States until recently. Redstone Meadery was founded in 2000 and had its first mead on the market in 2001. It now produces many award winning meads. Their booth is very well attended at GABF.
Sunshine Nectar – An International Mead Festival Gold Medal winner. A tart, dry, medium-sweet mead with a slight taste of apricots. Buy a few bottles at their tasting room.
Black Raspberry Nectar – RM’s most popular mead. It’s light, refreshing, with a hint of berries. Medium sweetness. You’ll be surprised at how quickly this mead disappears.
Boysenberry Nectar – A light, crisp, dry mead. Medium sweetnes with a light boysenberry flavor. Great as an apertif.