Major breweries like Coors, Miller and Budweiser produce mass people-pleasers that fit tastes at most bars and parties.
While there is nothing wrong with that, it’s special to find a microbrew that fits your specific taste, like an indie band you discovered first. With the craft beer explosion in the United States, there is an abundance of tasty brew to be had. Despite the economic recession, this year’s Great American Beer Festival (GABF) crushed previous records with 3,308 beer entries from 495 breweries. While no one can try every brand, here are seven of our favorite American microbreweries. They’re ranked for the taste of their products and for the hangout factor of their flagship brewpubs.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Highlights: Union Jack IPA, Double Barrel Ale
Location: Paso Robles, California
Located in the heart of Southern California wine country, this joint is a perfect reprieve after wine tasting all day. Owned by the same family that makes tires and wine, you’re likely to see Andrew Firestone (The Bachelor) dining in there with his fine young wife and kid. They serve pub grub that spans from blackened ahi tostadas to pizza. The Walker fish & chips made with Double Barrel Ale and halibut are killer. Their Union Jack IPA just beat 134 entrants in the Great American Beer Festival’s most competitive category, American-Style India Pale Ale, for the second year in a row.
Highlights: Ernest's Silky Smoove, Shark Attack, Beech Street Bitter
Location: Pizza Ports in Carlsbad, San Clemente and Solana Beach, California
After winning nine medals at 2009’s GABF, Port Brewing’s Carlsbad location was named Large Brewpub of the Year. Beginning as just a pizza joint in 1987, the owners began brewing beer as a hobby. They introduced it to the menu in 1992 and suddenly they were so popular they expanded to three locations. The actual brewery is in San Marcos, but their restaurants are more fun. Even snooty New Yorkers admit to liking their pizza and staff will recommend a perfect beer to match your order.
Highlights: Lager, Local 1, Pennant Ale ‘55
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Unfortunately, this Williamsburg tasting room isn’t open to the public nightly. That’s why the place is packed every Friday night with hipsters, beer aficionados and single ladies looking for a strong beau and a brew. Owners stick to a bare-bones warehouse vibe with long beer hall tables set up among towering vats. Customers sit on bags of barley when seats run out. No food is served, so pizza guys from the neighborhood parlors constantly deliver. Everyone’s favorite Brooklyn brew wildly varies from their simple crisp lager to their incredibly complex Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse (a medal winner at 2009’s GABF).
Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats
Highlights: 90 Minute IPA, Midas Touch, Palo Santo Marron
Location: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Dogfish Head is not just unique for its name; its beers are the most original concoctions in North America. Founder, Sam Calagione, is a mad scientist who creates beers from ancient recipes dating back to 1200 B.C. Honduras (Theobroma) and 2700 B.C. Turkey (Midas Touch). The occasional rarity, Chateau Jiahu, which won the Specialty Beer Gold Medal 2009’s GABF, is a rice beer based on the chemical analysis of a 9,000-year-old pottery jars found in Northern China. Their 60-, 90-, and 120-Minute IPAs kick you in the throat to varying degrees based on their number. The brew pub and staff are as fun as their drinks, plus they distill their own vodka, gin and rum.
More From AskMen.com:
Great Lakes Brewery
Highlights: Blackout Stout, Commodore Perry IPA, Christmas Ale
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Rusty Cleveland endures regular wisecracks from 30 Rock to LeBron’s free agency. Despite this, or because of it, the city knows its beer. The local brew of choice is Great Lakes, located downtown in a two-storied warehouse brewpub. The seasonal Christmas Ale may be the best holiday beer around with its strength (7.5% ABV) and smooth, hoppy cinnamon flavor. Its popularity spawned a local hit song and packs the building annually when the beer is released. The 20-year-old brewery produces a range of flavorsome, cleverly named brews that are so strong, they wrap Clevelanders in an invisible coat of confidence.
Four Peaks Brewery
Highlights: Kilt Lifter Scottish-Style Ale, 8th Street Ale, Hop Knot IPA
Location: Tempe, Arizona
Bars around party-minded Arizona State University tend to be carbon-copied meat markets with low drink diversity. Luckily Sun Devils with discriminating tastes can drink Kilt Lifter or 8th Street Ale at most places and visit the nearby Four Peaks brewpub for the full lineup: bitter Hop Knot, intense Hopsquatch Barleywine, date-flavored Blind Date Ale, and a Pumpkin Porter so good it’s like your grandma just baked it. Their diverse menu also features the best burgers and fish and chips in town. The Brewery is a regular medal winner at the GABF and World Beer Cup competitions, and their cute waitresses are awards for your eyes.
Dry Dock Brewing Company
Highlights: Bismarck Altbier, U-Boat Hefeweizen, H.M.S. Victory ESB
Location: Aurora, Colorado
Colorado breweries beat out every other state at the 2009 GABF by winning 45 medals. Rising above this heavy-hitting microbrewing state was Dry Dock, which won the national award for Small Brewing Company of the Year. The tasting room keeps tight hours and isn’t much on atmosphere, but the beer is so good that the four-year-old company has been voted Best Brewpub in the Denver area three years running. You’ll swear the U-Boat Hefeweizen is straight from Germany and its Urca Vanilla Porter packs more vanilla than an Asher Roth concert.