A lot of current beer culture revolves around the idea of chasing trends. I'm guilty of it too in seeking out the latest and greatest of South Florida's beer community to share with you, dear readers.
But there is also the side in which a brewery establishes itself, grows into its own, and may move on to different pastures, again chasing after that limited whale for its Instagram collection.
This week, since it's American Craft Beer Week, we should take a look back at some of our roots — perhaps breweries that first got you into craft beer in the first place or older breweries that you might have passed by on your way to the latest local brewery opening.
So as you ponder your vacation plans for the summer, perhaps you should get out a map and plot a great American craft beer road trip, a bucket list of the ten breweries that launched the modern craft-beer movement. Or maybe you already know you're gonna be schlepping the kids to Grandma's and need to know the best place to sneak off to for a good brew.
Or maybe you're not going anywhere but Total Wine for a virtual craft-beer road trip in six-pack form.
Whatever your personal plans, here are ten breweries, all from outside Florida, to discover or to revisit and enjoy old favorites. Reconnect with a solid American standard. This list is for you, beer lovers!
Bell's was established in 1983, making it as old as I am (fun fact). The brewery is perhaps best-known for producing the incredible IPA Two Hearted Ale, and people go crazy every time there is a Hopslam release, its limited-supply imperial IPA. If kicking back with a Two Hearted doesn't get you into the craft-beer mood, then try a darker Bell's Expedition Stout, its big, chocolatey, Russian imperial stout.
Founders Brewing Co.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
The brewery was founded in 1997 by Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers and has become known among beer geeks for the releases of Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) and Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS), beers aged in bourbon barrels and bourbon barrels that have aged maple syrup, respectively. However, its core lineup brings some of the country's best beers to the table, including the coffee-forward Breakfast Stout, Centennial IPA, and the indomitable Backwoods Bastard wee heavy. Its entry into the Florida market two years ago was a time of celebration. Let's celebrate again.
Boulevard Brewing Co.
Kansas City, Missouri
Though we began receiving distribution of Boulevard beers only in 2014, the brewery has been a Midwest staple since 1989. Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale is a staple at any food-oriented gathering (and if it's not, it should be for your next one), and the 80 Acre Hoppy Wheat is a perfect example of how much hop culture has influenced brewing.
Dogfish Head Brewery
This world-famous brand began with humble roots back in 1995, and owner Sam Calagione has been pushing the envelope on American craft beer ever since. From standards like 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPAs to beers from its Ancient Ales series (Midas Touch, Theobroma, and more), Dogfish Head is constantly trying to balance between the line of crazy and genius... though it's usually on the side of genius. There's nothing quite like a 60 Minute to remind how a solid American IPA should taste.
Stone Brewing Co.
Arrogant Bastard. It was probably the intriguing craft beer of choice for a lot of people of a certain age, especially when finding it in a store that usually carried the generic macrobeers. With a name like that, how could you not pick up a bomber? Owners Steve Wagner and Greg Koch opened the brewery in 1996 and changed palates with the introduction of Stone Pale Ale. It's recently gone under a revamping to turn into version 2.0, in a sign of how craft-beer culture has changed in the past 20 years. With beers like the enamel-stripping Stone Ruination, the recently rolled-out Stone Enjoy By IPA, and the big and bold Old Guardian Barley Wine Style Ale, Stone keeps producing quality beers even though it's one of the largest craft breweries in the country.
Weyerbacher Brewing Co.
Weyerbacher is an East Coast brewery famous for producing high-gravity beers. When starting to get into craft beer, one of the early double-digit heavy-hitters to sample was Blithering Idiot, an 11.1 percent alcohol-by-volume barleywine. Maybe that or the 9.3 percent Merry Monks tripel. Dan and Sue Weirback opened the brewery in 1995 and attempted to brew lighter standards, like an ESB and pale ale, but quickly moved into the big-beer game. This week, why not revisit one of these monsters?
Harpoon IPA was one of the first hoppy beers I ever tried, and I will continue to buy a six-pack here or there for old time's sake. It's the brewery's most popular offering, though it has become known for the UFO Hefeweizen and UFO White styles as wheat beers have grown in popularity. Since Harpoon's founding in 1986, it's provided the Northeast (and onward as it has expanded) with standards and unique beer offerings like the Harpoon Leviathan Imperial IPA and the Harpoon Leviathan Triticus wheat wine. Oh, and it's now an employee-owned company, which is pretty damned nifty.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Famed homebrewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi founded Sierra Nevada way back in 1979, at the very beginnings of the resurgence of the American craft-beer scene. It is now one of the top breweries in the United States, and the ever-present Pale Ale is the second-highest-selling craft beer in the country. The Torpedo Extra IPA is one of the most cost-effective hoppy IPAs on the market, yet the quality isn't crap. The brewery continues to innovate on beer styles and is recognized as an impressively environmentally friendly business.
North Coast Brewing Co.
Fort Bragg, California
Scrimshaw Pilsner and Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout are just two of the mainstays of this northern California brewery that have remained in the craft drinker's lexicon for years. Since opening in 1988, North Coast has been bringing impressive beers to the market year after year. Beers like the Belgian-style pale ale PranQster, Acme pale ale, the aforementioned Old Rasputin and Scrimshaw, and the Anniversary series have been making beer aficionados happy since their introductions.
Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Lagunitas began in 1993 when Tony Magee decided to start making beer. In the span of six years in the 2000s, the company tripled capacity and was the fifth-highest-selling brewery in 2013. The brewery's famed beer story involves one of its highest-rated beers, Lagunitas Sucks (Brown Shugga Substitute Ale), which was a substitute when it was having production shortages. "It’s a mess that we cannot brew our BrownShugga’ this year, and we suck for not doing it. There is nothing cool about screwing this up this badly, and we know it. Maybe we can sue our own sorry selves. There is no joy in our hearts this holiday, and the best we can hope for is a quick and merciful end. F*@& us. This totally blows. Whatever." As for its other beers, it has kept those a bit more on track. Brews like A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale prove there's no such thing as too many hops for a wheat beer.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.
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