I’ll start with this: comparing breweries is a nearly impossible task. I could go on with my disclaimer forever, but just think about this: most of these places I’ve visited one single time, and tried between 4-8 beers.
Breweries are dynamic places, changing all the time, and some brew over 100 different beers. Trying to give an accurate description based on one measely visit is unfair.
Still, people like lists, and I think this helps the average beer tourist, so here are my favorites, based on my experience, biased opinion, and small brain. For more information on how I judged places, scroll to the bottom.
- Tier 5
- Tier 4
- Tier 3
- Against the Grain – Louisville, KY
- Aslan Brewing Co – Bellingham, WA
- Breakside – Portland, OR
- Coronado – San Diego, CA
- Drake’s – San Leandro, CA
- Duclaw – Bowie, MD
- Fate – Scottsdale, AZ
- Flat Tail – Corvallis, OR
- Intergalactic – San Diego, CA
- Karl Strauss – San Diego, CA
- Shipyard – Portland, ME
- Sleeping Lady – Anchorage, AK
- Southern Tier – Lakewood, NY
- Stone – Escondido, CA
- Terrapin – Athen, GA
- Toolbox – San Diego (Vista), CA
- Trinity – Colorado Springs, CO
- Tier 2
- Tier 1 (top favorites)
- Avery – Boulder, CO
- The Bruery – Anaheim, CA
- Cascade – Portland, OR
- Cigar City – Tampa, FL
- Dogfish Head – Milton, DE
- Epic – Salt Lake City, UT and Denver, CO
- Firestone Walker – Paso Robles, CA
- Flying Dog – Frederick, MD
- Hoppin Frog – Akron, OH
- Jester King – Austin, TX
- Lagunitas – Petaluma, CA
- New Belgium – Fort Collins, CO
- Rocky Mountain Brewery – Colorado Springs, CO
- Rogue – Newport, OR
- Russian River – Santa Rosa, CA
- Twisted Pine – Boulder, CO
- Wicked Weed – Asheville, NC
More disclaimer stuff…
Yes, 23 are from California, but CA also represents almost 1/3 of my reviews, so the ratio isn’t that off.
All these craft breweries are great. There’s not a single one I wouldn’t go back to. How to compare
- a brewery visited once to a brewery visited 10 times?
- a brewery where I’ve tried 4 beers to one where I’ve tried 20 beers?
- California breweries (109 visited) to Pennsylvania breweries (11 visited)?
- a 1 million barrel producer to a 1,000 barrel producer?
The list goes on, but the bottom line is that craft beer is great and local breweries are great
For Scoring purposes, these are things I considered, approximately in this order.
- My personal tastes. I’m not an unbiased expert. I’m influenced by my personal preferences, and I like interesting beer. I like sours, barrel aged, weird ingredients, and things I’ve never seen before. Having more of these creations earns a higher score.
- Quantity and Quality. Both are important, and I try to consider them equally. A brewery with 6 great beers, will probably be scored similarly to a brewery with 12 really good beers.
- People. On the exceptionally rare occasion I experience bad service, I don’t let that influence my beer appreciation. On the other hand, if there is truly great service, or maybe the brewer is walking around introducing him/herself, bonus points.
- Atmosphere. A fun/beer-savvy crowd, a beautifully designed building, a picturesque location, or just a place that I really want to re-visit; all those get bonus points.
- Tours. No points deducted for not conducting a tour, but if there is a great one, it is noted.
- Miscellaneous. Maybe the brewery is wind-powered. Maybe 1 single person runs the entire operation. Maybe the brewery donates all it’s proceeds to charity. Maybe there’s a dog on the company payroll. Any of those, and other random great things earn bonus points.