Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a combined total of just over a month travelling around the US this year. These travels took me to both coasts, as well as to my usual haunts in the north of Colorado. This has led me to discover some pretty outstanding breweries, many of which don’t seem to get the press they deserve.
This could be for a number of reasons, not least because the US is now home to almost 5000 breweries. The main reason I feel a lot of breweries aren’t getting the level of exposure you’d expect beer of this quality to receive, is because the beer geek community is by nature quite insular. The result of this is that a great deal of energy and exposure only seems to focus on a tiny part of the industry at one time.
Here in the UK that fandom was, for so long, focused on modern-classic beers such as Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and The Alchemist’s Heady Topper. Strong, dark and “rare” beers such as Dark Lord from Three Floyd’s and Cigar City’s Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, held top spots amongst raters for long periods of time. This piece by Aaron Goldfarb for Punch does an excellent job at charting the historical popularity of beers such as these over the past decade or so. It's important to remember that relative scarcity does not always equate to something being good.
While these beers are still highly sought after, much of today’s focus is heaped onto the breweries that reside in New England, in the American North East. It began with The Alchemist and the much-vaunted Hill Farmstead, before spreading to the likes of Boston’s Trillium and Tree House Brewing, also of Massachusetts. The latter are investing $7.7 million (£6.23m) into a facility that will allow them to produce 150,000 barrels of beer per year. Not bad for a brewery that only opened four years ago.
I’m not disputing the fact that these breweries are putting out some very well made beer. My issue is, that having tried a great many beers from relatively new US breweries over the last few months that some incredible outfits are, in my opinion, being criminally overlooked. Although you’ll often find me enthusing that people drink fresh and local, I also think people owe it to each other to explore beer beyond both the local and the seemingly most exciting horizon.
So here is a small pick of seven breweries I personally feel that you should be losing your shit over. I’m well aware people are already losing their shit over output from these breweries but I’d just like to see some enthusiastic folks here in the UK expand their current focus beyond the New England border.
*At present, none of these breweries export outside of the US to my knowledge, so you'll need to get on a plane to experience their beer.
Melvin Brewing, Alpine, Wyoming //
According to Kevin Bolin, owner of The Mayor of Old Town in Fort Collins, Colorado, Melvin Brewing is “The best thing to ever come out of Wyoming.” After trying its beer there is very little in that statement I would dispute. Melvin are doing things with hops that I feel few other brewers’ making modern IPAs are, with perhaps two exceptions being Oregon’s Boneyard and San Francisco's Cellarmaker.
Take for example its Asterisk Double IPA, it’s dank and pungent with modern hop varieties such as Mosaic taking centre stage. The flavours are classically citrus led but followed buy a huge juiciness with a dry, almost savoury finish. It’s also a very clean beer that pours pin bright, at once proving that haze isn’t the only route to big flavour.
Weldwerks Brewing Co, Greeley, Colorado //
Ironically, one of the best “New England” IPA’s I’ve tried this year is made 2000 miles away from New England in Colorado. With it’s Juicy Bits IPA, Weldwerks have taken the juicy blueprint of the New England style and given it a Colorado twist. It’s an IPA that brings all the juice but backs it up with a bitterness that makes drinking it a far more satisfying experience than I get from other beers of this style. They also brew a killer Hefeweizen, which makes perfect sense if you think about it.
Societe Brewing Company, San Diego, California //
Out of all the breweries I visited when I travelled to San Diego earlier this year, two impressed me in particular. The first was Modern Times, which is already making waves with their cleverly made beers here in the UK just as they are on the West Coast. The second was Societe, which had a much more demure persona than Modern Times, but its beer was no less brilliant. What impressed me most about Societe was that they nailed every single style they attempted. Whether it was an IPA, Belgian Pale or Stout, it was a superbly well made and highly enjoyable beer. Add these guys to your “must visit” list when you hit SD.
Ratio Beerworks, Denver, Colorado //
I’ve always been of the opinion that the best brewing in Colorado happens not in Denver itself, but in the fringe towns spread across the length of the Front Range. My last trip to Denver reminded me that the city still has plenty to offer. I was particularly impressed with Ratio as their beers had that particular element of precision to their flavour that marked them above others I've visited (that lime Gose tho.) In fact in terms of both presentation and quality Ratio's output strongly reminded me of Modern Times. Denver’s River North district is an incredible place for brewing at the moment, and a visit to Ratio will soon make you realise why.
Casey Brewing and Blending, Glenwood Springs, Colorado //
You may have already heard about Casey Brewing and Blending, set up by Troy Casey in the Colorado mountain town of Glenwood Springs. That’s probably because they won Ratebeer’s “best new brewery in the world” award at the beginning of this year. You might not have tried their beer though, because short of trading your soul away the only real way to get hold of some is to make the 3-hour drive from Denver to the brewery itself. (Make sure you book first to avoid disappointment.)
Casey’s beers stand out because they are not the in-your-face sours that you’d normally expect from an American brewery producing this style of beer. The hallmarks of these beers are in their softness and balance, in fact they bare far more resemblance to something that was fermented in Belgium, not the US.
I've recently put together a full profile on Casey for Good Beer Hunting and you should be able to read that in a couple of weeks.
Holy Mountain Brewing Company, Seattle, Washington //
I confess I brought a few 750ml bottles of Holy Mountain’s beer because its great branding drew me in. After tasting them my immediate reaction was to head back to the store and buy more. In particular I was enamoured by some of the best American produced Saison I had ever tasted. The Goat, for example, was crisp and soft and satisfying. Should I ever find myself in Seattle, Holy Mountain will be my first port of call.
Tired Hands Brewing Company, Ardmore, Pennsylvania //
I know what you’re thinking. Tired Hands often get name checked in the same paragraph as guys like the aforementioned Trillium and Tree House. However, it’s not enough. For me these guys are bringing the juice like no one else on the East Coast, and that’s before you’ve even cracked the pellicle atop their mixed fermentation beer.
Ardmore is easily accessible by train from downtown Philadelphia with both of the breweries locations being less than a five minute walk from the station. You might not be able to grab any cans while you’re there, but you can work your way through everything on tap as I did, before heading back to your hotel room and falling asleep next to a half eaten pizza. Good times.