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Friday, January 13, 2012

Open Thread Friday: Most Characteristic American Breweries

One of the things I'd like to do in The Beer Bible (the Beer Bible--even I don't know) is give a verbal tour of certain breweries that offer insight into a country or style of brewing. For those of us who have had the opportunity to go on actual tours, it's wonderfully educational--I thought it might be in print, too. For example, I wrote about Fuller's to describe both British ale brewing but also parti-gyle brewing--a relative rarity in the beer world. I'll write about Rodenbach and Boon/Cantillon and Orval.

I'd like to include an American brewery or two (or three). The problem: there are 1700 of them and the ones I've seen are largely in Oregon. So here's your charge, should you be willing to take it: offer your choice and tell me what makes it illustrative of American brewing as well as somehow unique. A couple examples I've been thinking about.

1. Double Mountain. Reasons: the brewery is a great example of a classic American craft brewery on the one hand--they do lots of beers wholly characteristic of the region (pick an IPA, any IPA), and tend to put an American twist on every style they brew. Double Mountain is also a brewery evolving into something distinctively local. Owner/brewer Matt Swihart has orchard land--in one of America's premier fruit-growing regions--and has begun to incorporate his own fruit into Double Mountain's beer.

2. Anheuser-Busch. There's nothing quite so American as a titantic brewery, and there's no brewery quite so titantic as A-B. But more than that, A-B has been a leader in a number of technologies going all the way back to the use of adjuncts in the 19th century. Macro lager might be easily dismissed gastronomically, but as a fixture in the brewing world, it's a little hard to match.

You see how I'm thinking about these things? Give me your ideas--particularly those from beyond Beervana.


  1. Fullsteam Brewery (Durham, NC). Reasons: They brew classic American styles using a distinctly Southern agricultural and culinary twist. For example, there are few styles more American than a cream ale. Fullsteam brews its El Toro Cream Ale using North Carolina corn grits. The brewery also brews some of its "easy-drinking Southern session beers" with North Carolina sweet potatoes, and local persimmons, paw paws and basil are ingredients in some of its seasonal releases.

  2. Oskar Blues Brewery, Longmont, Colo.

    First craft beer distributed in aluminum cans, 2002. Now 450 craft beers from 150 different breweries distributed in cans; comprises 11% of volume of craft beer sales.

    Founded by Dale Katechis in 1997. 36th largest US craft and 49th largest US brewing company [both based on volume 2010 beer sales]. Portfolio of more than 24 beers; the 7th canned artisan beer becomes available this Spring. Signature beer are rated Good to World Class at BA.

    OBB actively supports local products, charities, and initiatives including Colorado State Univ.'s initiative to develop a commercial Colorado hops industry.

  3. I agree with Double Mountain! My girl wanted to go to Full Sail, I wanted to go to Double Mountain We went to both, but DM had the far superior beer! And she loves the IPA beers and was glad we went! The Beer rocks even better with the pizza!

  4. I have to agree with Win about Fullsteam. While I haven't been able to visit yet and have only been able to try the Summer Basil Ale thanks to a friend who brought a growler last year, I've been following the project from the beginning. The integration of hyper-local ingredients (hell, no one even cultivates paw paws, they're all foraged) is about as American as brewing can get.

    I'll also advocate for including Yuengling (oldest American brewery) and Anchor (oldest craft brewery) to the list.

  5. I suggest Deschutes. They started out small. They made good beers and people supported them. They have grown up, for sure, and their reach is substantial today. But they still make terrific beers, including special beers you generally can't get in a bottle. So much of what they do is first rate. They are a quintessential American brewery in my book. Of course, they are in Oregon.

  6. Agree about Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. Granddaddy of craft brewing, Anchor Steam is a quintessentially American beer, etc. Agree about Yuengling too. Others? Victory, Downingtown, PA, for consistently high-quality beer across a range of styles. Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA, for going the distance for more than three decades, and still going strong.

  7. I'd suggest Anchor due to their history as basically the original American craft brewery, although I don't actually know much about their brewery itself.

  8. Win (and ElGordo), thanks. That's exactly the kind of obscure brewery (to me) I hoped to hear about.


  9. Well, of course Spoetzl Brewery in Texas, the makers of Shiner, founded in 1909. The brewery and the community were a snapshot of pre-prohibition Czech-American brewing until the late 1980's when Gambrinus bought them. It's still pretty quaint, just with marketing savvy and real management and quality control backing it up now.

    Another brewery with a colorful pre-prohibition story to tell is Oklahoma's Choc Beer. In the 1920's an Italian-born coal miner started a restaurant and served his guests untaxed homemade beer made from a scary sounding Choctaw Indian recipe. He kept it up right through prohibition. The company is still owned by the same family, but they're modern and legal now, and making some pretty good beers.

  10. FX Matt in Utica, NY. Has brewed everything from Utica Club to Garrett Oliver's finest. Survivor in a survivor of a city. Brewing since 1888.

  11. Abita Brewing Company of Abita Springs, LA ( is my suggestion. 1st craft brewer in Louisiana - uses artesian spring water that's almost like the water in Pilsen - home of the Pilsner. In addition to creating great brews (Turbodog, Purple Haze) they also do some pretty nice charitable brews - Restoration and SOS. Their Strawberry Harvest brew is a sensation -- people hoard the stuff. Love these guys.

  12. Further, I second
    - Deschutes
    - Sierra Nevada
    - Victory
    All exceptional USofA craft breweries.

    Nominations still open, I suggest Boulder Beer Co.
    Founded at the tailend of the anti-establishment/back-to-craft 1970s, Boulder Beer became the 43rd breweries operating in the USA in 1979; 31 years later [and several name changes] it keep on ticking and is available in 35 states [of the USofA].

    Interesting back stories, include: Two of the three founders were Univ. of Colorado AstroPhysic professors. And BBC is [allegedly] credited with resurrecting/reviving the Porter beer style.

  13. Sam Adams - Started small and local then grew to be national. Started with the original family recipe from the 1870's. They brew a wide variety of seasonal styles including bocks, porters, stouts, and saisons. They support local home brewers by running a contest every year and selling the winner at Pats games. They also brew small specialty batches including my current favorite: "The Vixen" - a chocolate chili bock.

  14. Consider including a brewpub chain. A national chain such as
    - BJ's Restaurant and Brewery [est. 1978; 103 sites in 13 states]
    - Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants [est. 1988; 29 sites in 18 states]
    - Rock Bottom Restaurant Breweries [est. 1991; 35 sites in 15 states]
    or a regional chain such as
    - McMenamins [est. 1983; 60- sites in 02 states]

    Several brewpub chains report
    - consistent / drinkable beer with the same recipes used nationally
    - conventional beer styles
    - flagship beer recipes unchanged for decades

    The three national chain above have each received numerous GABF medals. Dates and numbers from wikip.

  15. Not to be so Pro-Oregon, but what about Breakside? The brewspace (system + square footage) has an amazing output. After describing a larger brewery, it might be interesting to then compare a, "smaller, " one. I know there is an algebraic equation in there somewhere. Output ÷ (bbl system + sq ft) oh, oh and include hours in a day. Bill, are you getting excited?

  16. Jack, a chain might be an interesting idea. But maybe Pizza Port should get the nod?

  17. Jeff,
    I have no knowledge of Pizza Port [excepting, Google search reveals 04 sites in Southern Calif.]
    to me, the Beer Bible should not be too West Coast centric [it would be nice if a reader should directly utilize the information therein]
    your name is the one on the title page [how cool is that].

  18. OK, I got the Central time zone down to 20 (thouhg I'm already having second thoughts), chosen for a combination of beer and stories within the breweries:

    Goose Island
    Great Lakes
    Jolly Pumpkin
    Live Oak
    Lucky Bucket
    New Glarus
    New Holland
    Real Ale
    Saint Arnold

  19. This is getting complicated. I think you'll have to go ahead and write your Beer Bible, then follow up with a Beer Book of Mormon that profiles all the offbeat breweries of North America.

  20. I'd like to throw Yuengling in there. Not only is it the oldest, and now largest American brewery, but it's also a bit of a living time capsule. Less so for the actual beer they produce than the fact that regional commercial breweries were once a huge part of the U.S. beer landscape.

  21. An American craft beer story that encompasses an appreciation for experimentation & other cultures, specifically Belgian style beers, can be seen, here, in Portland, Maine, with Allagash Brewing Company! To quote their website, "Today, Allagash has six year round beers in its portfolio, seven yearly releases and numerous one-offs and keg only releases. We continue to be successful by pushing the limits of beer and themselves. We have always strived to produce the finest Belgian inspired and experimental ales this side of the Atlantic. Allagash began as New England's original Belgian-Style brewery and have grown into one of the industry's most distinguished and well-respected brands.

  22. I'd second Jolly Pumpkin; the focus on barrel-aging, blending, and bugging makes it different than many of the other breweries out there.

  23. I certainly know the agony of trying to cover "the most characteristic American breweries" when there are far too many to write about. I included 14 in RWB b/c that was a mere 1% of the # of breweries in the US when I started. There aren't just 1,700 anymore. There are over 1,900 at this point. They open so often now, there will likely be 2,000 by summertime!

    So, while you could pick 30 and still leave an equally worthy 30 off your list, I'd recommend: Yuengling for its history and family-run foundation, Anchor also for its history and importance to the craft revolution, and New Glarus for its focus on localism and ingenuity. Combined, they cover East Coast, "flyover" territory, and West Coast.

  24. Brewer's Art in Baltimore is really great. Mostly Belgian style and amazing food as well.

  25. I think a tour through the Michigan breweries would be a nice mix (from Jolly Pumpkin to Founders to Bells).

    Also, it may be worth looking at one of the new gypsy brewers (Pretty Things or Stillwater are good ones). While they don't have a brewery per se, the entire type of brewer could definitely be a worthwhile topic to write about.