Taproom visits are on the rise. According to a recent Nielsen survey, 42 percent of respondents said they increased their visits to taprooms, tasting rooms, and brewpubs over the previous year.
Brewery visits are not only a good time, though. They help grow the beer industry. Beer consumption has been decreasing over the last decade, which is why stopping into your local brewpub — or, if you’re like us, planning entire vacations around them — is essential to the health of the craft beer industry.
Luckily, supporting local breweries is relatively easy. As the Brewers Association points out, the U.S. is now home to 7,000 breweries and counting, with 85 percent of drinking-age adults living within 10 miles of a brewery. This means it’s easier than ever to support a nearby brewery, or travel out of town for a tour.
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With that in mind, VinePair polled our staff and readers to create a list of the best breweries of the year. They didn’t have to be new in 2018, but they sure had to be notable. Choices range from geeky to accessible, big city to mountain town, and multi-location to lone cabin in the woods. Like last year, requirements were that the brewery has a taproom open to the public; that the taproom is open more than one day a week; and, of course, that the beer and vibe impress in equal measure.
Here are VinePair’s top 10 breweries of 2018.
GREAT LAKES (IL, IN, MI, OH)
Half Acre Beer Co. (Lincoln)
Chicago is now the beer capital of America, home to more breweries than any other city in the U.S. Half Acre opened on Chicago’s Lincoln Avenue in 2008 and launched a second location in Balmoral in 2015, followed by the Balmoral Tap Room & Garden in 2017. We’re partial to the original Lincoln location, with its beautiful natural light, walls made of upcycled grain silos, and friendly giant bear head above the bar. There’s also a shop next door where visitors can pick up merch and beer to go.
MIDWEST (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)
Side Project Brewing
St. Louis, Mo.
What started as a literal “side project” of former Perennial Artisan Ales brewer Cory King and wife Karen is now one of St. Louis’s best breweries. In fact, the only criticism we hear about the beloved brand is its limited distribution, since Side Project beer is sold almost exclusively in its own taprooms. All the more reason to pay the brewery or cellar a visit. Oak-aged, wine-inspired wild ales, sours, and stouts are Side Project’s specialties. Derivation, a series of barrel-aged imperial stouts, is a crowd favorite. The most recent, Blend #8, features a blend of stouts aged for one to three years, then blended and infused with coffee, coconut, and vanilla.
WEST (CA, HI, NV)
Long Beach, Calif.
Not only did Beachwood’s Funk Yeah! place among our 50 Best Beers of the year, that same lambic-inspired brew took home a GABF gold medal in 2018. The brewery has medaled at the festival 12 times, including five golds, and won awards for brewpub and brewer of the year in 2013 and 2014. Beachwood’s footprint includes a restaurant and bar in Seal Beach; a taproom in Huntington Beach; and a brewpub in Long Beach; but our pick is Beachwood Blendery, also located in Long Beach. This location showcases the brewer’s knack for méthode traditionnelle, with artful interpretations of Belgian lambic- and gueuze-inspired, barrel-aged wild ales. Popular potions include Chaos is a Friend of Mine, a Belgian lambic-style blend aged in neutral French oak barrels with Beachwood’s house culture for up to 14 months; and Cosmic Caravan, a barrel-aged, mixed-culture saison.
NORTHWEST (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY)
The Ale Apothecary
If ever there were a magical place in the mountains to taste beers unlike any you’ve had before, The Ale Apothecary in Bend, Ore., is it. The brewery began as a cabin in the woods in 2011, launched officially in 2012, and debuted a proper tasting room last year. Its sophisticated, complex beers such as Sahalie, Sahati, and Ralph are all wild-fermented, long-term barrel-aged, 100-percent bottle-conditioned, and totally unforgettable. The beer’s wooded origins are evident in the decor throughout, and a glass case of medicinal memorabilia will charm any patron.
SOUTHWEST (AZ, CO, NM, OK, TX, UT)
Live Oak Brewing
Del Valle, Texas
Located on the outskirts of Austin, Live Oak is one of a handful of local brewers excelling at lagers. Its Grodziskie was one of our top picks for 2018, standing out for its historically-driven Polish recipe and lightly smoked flavor. The brewery’s lineup of lagers and other traditional styles sticks strictly to its European origins. You can taste perfectly balanced, consumable history in everything from its Bavarian-style HefeWeizen to its Czech-style Pilz. The space also features a nine-hole disc golf course and its own food truck, the Black Forest, serving up German-style fare.
SOUTH (AL, AR, PUERTO RICO, FL, LA, MS)
Good People Brewing Co.
Our staff and reader poll voted Good People Brewing, which opened in Birmingham’s 5 Points Neighborhood in 2008, and moved in a massive expansion to the Parkside District in 2010, the most-loved brewery in Alabama. Inside, visitors sit right in front of the brewery action as they taste, and the service is fast and friendly. The space is especially action-packed on game days, since Regions Field, a minor league baseball stadium, sits directly across the street. Outside, you might spot a friendly game of cornhole, patrons enjoying food truck fare in the large outdoor patio, or others taking crowlers to go. The beer here is simple and sessionable — the yearly lineup includes a pale ale, brown ale, wheat ale, farmhouse ale, and two IPAs.
SOUTHEAST (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV)
Monday Night Brewing
Monday Night has been on our radar for a while, but we enjoyed its beers more than ever this year. The versatile if eccentric lineup spans one of our favorite golden ales to a quadruple-hopped IPA, and the limited-edition Garage Series delves into barrel-aged experiments like a Berliner weisse aged in wine barrels with peaches, and imperial, adjunct-laden brown and Scotch ales. Its West Midtown location features a public patio with beer-garden-style tables, while its interior is spacious and industrial-chic. A wall covered in neckties reminds patrons of the company slogan, “weekends are overrated.” Its new facility, the Garage, opened in September 2017 to house Monday Night’s more experimental creations.
MID-ATLANTIC (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA)
The Answer Brewpub
There’s no need to question where to begin your Richmond brewery tour: The Answer, a brewpub on the northwestern edge of the city, excels at sour ales, stouts, and everything in between. It also has 56 taps, two bars, a mashup of Vietnamese-inspired food options, and live music. Helmed by the charming and talented An Bui, who happens to be a 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards semifinalist, The Answer is located next door to Bui’s restaurant, Mekong, where the selection of local beers is rivaled only by the caliber of its pho. The jovial vibe at the brewpub and restaurant are visible and palpable, making it a must for any Virginia-bound beer lover.
NEW YORK CITY
Kings County Brewers Collective
The Kings County Brewers Collective, better known to locals as KCBC, won our hearts with its balanced, crisp Bohemian-style pilsner, Janiak Maniac. It also produces on-trend yet expertly restrained IPAs like Dangerous Precedent and the Robot Fish series, and fruited sours like Beach Zombie and Marble of Doom. Better still, it flexed its community muscles in 2017 and 2018, from saving birds with the NYC Audubon Society with its Safe Flight IPA, to revealing its metal side with Morbid Hour, a black pilsner brewed in collaboration with Greenpoint’s Saint Vitus bar, and metal lifestyle show the Six Most Metal Breweries. The taproom is smartly designed and spacious, with a large window looking into the brewhouse behind the bar. The Bushwick brewery also puts out some of the best label art in the business.
NORTHEAST (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, RI, VT)
Industrial Arts Brewing
Located in the pre-Civil-War-era Garnerville Arts and Industrial Complex, in a picturesque corner of the Hudson Valley, Industrial Arts is both one-of-a-kind and historic. Visitors may be surprised by this trendy brand’s home base, marked by a brick-and-smokestack exterior and a glistening interior; atop tile floors in the taproom, a custom-made German brew house churns out beers regularly regarded as some of the best in the state. We’re partial to its Wrench IPA, Metric Pils, and recently released Winter Landscape, a dark lager.