Can you imagine opening a brewery in 2014? With the amount of competition that’s already out there? There’s an ocean of IPAs, saisons and wild ales to choose from, not just on the shelves at the beer shop, but from the breweries in your home town. This year, 13 states reached the century mark: more than 100 breweries each. It’s gotta be a daunting endeavor to open a brewery in that market, and yet, according to the Brewers Association, an average of 1.5 new breweries opens its doors every single day in this country. That’s a lot of beer. Some of it’s good, some of it’s great. We found eight new breweries that are out of this world.
Cellarmaker Brewing Company
San Francisco, Calif.
Photo via Cellarmaker/Facebook
While this Bay Area, California brewery actually first opened its doors in October 2013, it wasn’t until a few months into this year that word began to spread about the concoctions that Brewmaster Tim Sciascia was cooking up. The densely hopped aroma of beers like Rodney Dangerfield IPA, or the imperial IPA Original Dankster showcase intense layers of different hop flavors, and are standouts in the IPA paradise of California. While the hoppy brews have won the small brewery many fans, the brewery shows off versatility with their inventive saisons and bold stouts. Cellarmaker is small and regional, but if you’re anywhere near San Francisco you should put it on the top of your list.
Beer Recommendation: There is so much going on at this brewery at any given night of the week (kiwi saisons and smoked porters)—if you’re looking for a compass in this sea of goodness, our own Jim Vorel called their Coffee and Cigarettes smoked imperial stout with coffee the best coffee beer at this year’s Great American Beer Festival. -John Verive.
Highland Park Brewery
Los Angeles, Calif.
highland park facebook.jpg
Photo via Highland Park/Facebook
The greater Los Angeles area saw over two-dozen new breweries open in 2014, and small, neighborhood-focused breweries are thriving. The revitalized historic neighborhood of Highland Park in northeast Los Angeles is now home to a small and adventurous brewery catering to the local palates. Built into the backroom of favorite local watering hole The Hermosillo, and helmed by the jovial Bob Kunz, Highland Park Brewery’s beers are simultaneously rustic and refined. Demand for hoppy beers is unquenchable, and Kunz is busy brewing a revolving line of IPAs and hoppy pale ales. Proving that you don’t have to go big to make an impact, Highland Park Brewery is the kind of neighborhood operation that LA needs more of.
Beer Recommendation: While the West Coast is still crazy for hoppy ales, Highland Park is also staking its territory in sours. Lazy Susan—a sour wheat ale refermented with over 300 pounds of California’s best peaches and nectarines that is earth, fruit, tart and funk in equal measure—is already an early success for this young brewery.-John Verive.
Side Project Brewing
St. Louis, MO.
side project tim botchen.jpg
Photo by Tim Bottchen
Either Cory King doesn’t sleep or he’s got, like, six body doubles; it’s really the only explanation. When King isn’t fulfilling his duties as Perennial Brewing Company’s head brewer, which would already be enough to earn him a star on the Mash Tun of Fame, he’s pulling off some mad scientist shenanigans with Side Project, a mostly-sour, sometimes-wild, usually barrel-fermented brewing venture. Though the projects have been in the works for some time, King’s barrels have only begun to yield up their bounty in the last twelve months or so.
Beer Recommendation: Tickers’ hearts palpitate for beers like Fuzzy, a sour peach ale, and Blueberry Flanders, but don’t sleep on the less-hyped Grisette, a 4% ABV table saison fermented in neutral Chardonnay barrels then aged with a brettanomyces cocktail. Get thee hence to St. Louis. -Josh Ruffin
creature comforts facebook.jpg
Photo via Creature Comforts/Facebook
Making the best straight-up IPA in Georgia is a pretty good way to introduce yourself as a new brewery, and that’s what Creature Comforts did in 2014. Their lineup encompasses currently popular brewing trends, with a tart, refreshing year-round Berliner Weisse, but also explores classic styles in equal measure. They even won an immediate bronze at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival for their American brett beer, Curiosity No. 2, in one of the most sought-after categories. All these accolades have made them one of the most promising breweries not just in Georgia, but in the entire Southeast.
Beer Recommendation: The aforementioned IPA, Tropicalia, is the beer bringing Creature Comforts much of its attention. Juicy, tropical fruity and easy drinking, it’s a hoppy-sweet expression of new-wave hop flavors. -Jim Vorel
Bissell Brothers Brewing
bissell brothers facebook.jpg
Photo via Bissell Brothers/Facebook
We’ve waxed ecstatic about Bissell Brothers before, with mega-hopped session ale Baby Genius claiming a spot on our Best New Beers of 2014 list. The bros actually opened the doors of their nano-brewery late in 2013, but this year has seen them gain considerable momentum; The Substance IPA continues to sate Portland-area hopheads, and hoppy amber Bucolia didn’t do too bad a job either, but Bissell Brothers really spread its wings this past month with the release of Angels with Filthy Souls, an Amarillo-laced milk porter that should immediately assuage any fears of a redundant portfolio on the brewery’s part. If expansion is not on their radar, then the rest of us are worse off for it.
Beer Recommendation: To appreciate this brewery, you’ve got to go back to the beginning, to the aptly named Substance Ale—the flagship beer for Bissell Brothers. This IPA is brewed weekly to maximize freshness, and has the potential to become the next great IPA that beer junkies travel hundreds of miles to get their mitts on. —Josh Ruffin
blue jacket facebook.jpg
Photo via Blue Jacket/Facebook
Bluejacket, one of DC’s newest breweries, is the brainchild of Greg Engert, the only beer professional ever dubbed Sommelier of the Year by Food and Wine. At their flagship brewery/restaurant near the Nationals baseball park, the emphasis is on heady experimentation. For every IPA on the perpetually changing menu, you’ll also find tart and funky, Brett-influenced ales, spiced and sweet stouts named after Mexican radio, and a list of cask ales.
Beer Recommendation: Bluejacket may have nailed the DC/Beer apex when they released the doppelbock Butcher, a beer that was crafted to mirror the taste of the half smoke—DC’s signature sausage sandwich. Working with DC’s Red Apron Butchery, the beer used a variety of smoked grains as well as the Butchery’s propriety half smoke spice blend to make something wholly unique in a city awash in crazy beers. And it’s really, really good—if you can find it on tap.—Nathan Borchelt
Spencer Trappist Ale
Photo via Spencer Trappist
Picture a little slice of Belgium right here in the states—that’s Spencer Trappist Ale, a 36,000-square foot brewery run by monks in the tiny town of the same name. Spencer opened at the beginning of 2014, making it the first and only certified Trappist brewery in the U.S. (there are only nine Trappist breweries in the world), meaning the beer is made in a monastery by the monks. I believe the kids on the street call that, “legit.” The monks at Spencer did their homework too, apprenticing for two years at Pretty Things Beer and Ale in Somerville, Massachusetts, and traveling to Belgium for research.
Beer Recommendation: You’ve only got one choice, but it’s a good one. Spencer Trappist Ale follows the “table beer” tradition that the Belgian monks established centuries ago—it’s light, fairly easy drinking but pack with fruity notes, dry like champagne and carbonated out the bejeezus. -Graham Averill
Photo via Fonta Flora
Fonta Flora may be brand new (they opened their doors in October 2013), but the Morganton, N.C. brewery has roots. The brewery was named after an African-American farming village that was flooded when nearby Lake James was created. They use local ingredients whenever possible, often foraging from the surrounding neighborhood and hills, finding figs for a saison, carrots for an IPA…they’re even hosting a festival this summer for other breweries that rely heavily on local fauna and flora in their brews. None of which would matter if the beer wasn’t good. Luckily, it’s great. The trio behind the brewery are as adept at brewing a stellar IPA as they are a Belgian blonde with local kiwi. Of all the beers I tasted at the Massive Beer Camp finale in Mills River, North Carolina, Fonta Flora’s IPA was a clear standout.
Beer Recommendation: The tap list shifts with the seasons (and the whims of the brewer), but you’ll probably be able to find Hop Beard Mountain Man IPA on tap. It’s West Coast through and through—juicy, sweet, bitter—and one of the best beers I had at Beer Camp this year. -Graham Averill