The number of craft beer makers in America is growing at record speed. More than 400 new craft breweries opened their doors in 2012, according to the Brewer’s Association. Craft brewers still make up only 6.5% of the total beer market. But enthusiasts are confident that number will continue to grow. This past week, the Brewers Association released its list of the top craft breweries in 2012, based on sales volume. We put together some information on the top 20, which beer lovers should keep on their radar. Share some of your favorite breweries with us in the comments section below.
20. Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
Location: Paso Robles, Calif.
About: The brewery was founded in 1996 by a pair of brothers-in-law. It’s now a four-time World Beer Cup champion.
Beer buzz: Firestone Walker’s Parabola Imperial Stout is coming out this month. The beer is a doozy at 13 percent alcohol by volume and is noted for its “bold bourbon, espresso and tobacco aromas.”
19. Great Lakes Brewing Company
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
About: The brewery was founded in 1998 by Daniel and Patrick Conway. It jumped from producing 1,000 barrels of beer its first year to 125,000 barrels annually today.
Beer buzz: The company’s Burning River Pale Ale has won a gold medal at the World Beer Championships eight times. The name hails from the infamous 1969 burning of the Cuyahoga River.
18. Long Trail Brewing Co.
Location: Bridgewater Corners, Vt.
About: The brewery got its start in 1989 in the basement of a woolen mill. It’s focused on environmentalism and gives its used grain and hops as a feed supplement to local dairy cows.
Beer buzz: The company has an interesting story behind its 5.5 percent Pumpkin Pale Ale: “During colonial times malted barley would be in short supply so the colonial brewers would use a wide assortment of whatever organic ingredient was handy. Pumpkin was in abundance so it was one of the most common of the random ingredients.”
17. New Glarus Brewing Co.
Location: New Glarus, Wisc.
About: This small-town brewery is owned by Dan and Deborah Clarey. Deborah is noted as the first woman to found and operate a brewery in the U.S.
Beer buzz: The beer’s year-round Spotted Cow Ale showcases Wisconsin’s farmers with “a hint of corn.” Some of its best pairings are noted as steak, bacon and eggs and cheese curds.
16. Alaskan Brewing Co.
Location: Juneau, Alaska
About: The brewery was founded by Marcy and Geoff Larson in 1986, Juneau’s first brewery since Prohibition. The website says its beer still have many aspects of the beers brewed during the Gold Rush era.
Beer buzz: Alaskan’s seasonal Smoked Porter is known for the smoke in its bottles, which allows the beers to age much like wine. After being kept in the bottle for three or four years, it’s said to have “sherry, currant, raisin, and toffee-like nuances.”
15. Shipyard Brewing Co.
Location: Portland, Maine
About: The brewery was founded in the 1990s by Fred Forsley and Alan Pugsley. It’s one of New England’s largest microbreweries.
Beer buzz: Shipyard is best known for its Pumpkinhead Pale Ale. Last July, the company started brewing the ale at a second location in Memphis to help it meet the high demand. The fall brew is now packaged in cans as well.
14. Abita Brewing Co.
Location: Abita Springs, La.
About: In 1986, this brewery got its start outside of New Orleans. It now brews more than 151,000 barrels of beer and 9,100 barrels of root beer.
Beer buzz: Abita generated some attention last summer when it started packaging its beers in cans, a tactic most craft brewers don’t yet use. The company also came out with a new 4.4 percent summer brew this season, Lemon Wheat.
13. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Location: Milton, Del.
About: Dogfish Head got its start in 1995 by Sam Calagione, named after a city in Maine. The company, which also makes spirits, produces mainly “extreme” beers that often have quirky flavors and are highly alcoholic.
Beer buzz: One of Dogfish’s most notorious brews is its 90-Minute IPA. The beer is 9 percent alcohol by volume and is continuously hopped for a strong IPA flavor.
12. Boulevard Brewing Co.
Location: Kansas City, Mo.
About: Boulevard’s first beers were brewed in 1989 by John McDonald and delivered to a local restaurant in the back of a pickup truck. Now, the company distributes its beers in 24 states and is the largest specialty brewer in the Midwest.
Beer buzz: The company recently paired with Farmland Foods to create a new beer brat. The sausages are made using Boulevard’s Pale Ale and Unfiltered Wheat beers and will be available inside the Kansas City Royals stadium.
11. Brooklyn Brewery
Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.
About: The brewery was founded by 1988 by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter. It recently doubled its capacity and is expanding even further this year.
Beer buzz: The brewery’s Brooklyn Blast! IPA uses both English and American hops. According to its website, “Minerally hop bitterness is followed by a shock wave of flavor and aroma. You won’t even know what hit you.”
10. Stone Brewing Co.
Location: Escondido, Calif.
About: Stone Brewing was founded in 1996 in Southern California. Its CEO Greg Koch and President Steve Wagner describe themselves on its website with the taglines “Fizzy yellow beer is for wussies!” and “High priest of yeast.”
Beer buzz: The company’s Arrogant Bastard Ale gets a lot of attention, and the company likes to brag about it. Its described online as an “unprecedented and uncompromising celebration of intensity.”
9. Harpoon Brewery
Location: Boston, Mass.
About: Harpoon opened its doors in 1986, run by college friends Rich Doyle and Dan Kenary. At the time, it was the first brewery to operate in Boston in more than 25 years.
Beer buzz: The company’s strongest beer is the Imperial IPA, at 10 percent alcohol by volume. Its brewed with pale and caramel malts and is said to “pack a whallop.”
8. Matt Brewing Co.
Location: Utica, N.Y.
About: This company has been in business for more than a century. It was founded by a German immigrant and is currently run by family descendants, Nick and Fred Matt. Their main label is the Saranac line of beers.
Beer buzz: The Saranac White IPA is one of the brewery’s core beers. It gives a twist on a typical IPA with hints of orange peel, wheat malt, oats and coriander.
7. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
Location: Galesburg, Mich.
About: Larry Bell founded Bell’s in 1985. According the website, his first batches were brewed in a 15-gallon soup kettle and self-delivered by employees. Now, the company brews more than 500,000 gallons of beer each year.
Beer buzz: The company’s fruity Oberon Ale is one of its most well-known, coming out during the spring and summer. The brewery also produces an exclusive “remarkably drinkable” double IPA in the winter called Hopslam, which packs a punch at 10 percent alcohol by volume.
6. Lagunitas Brewing Co.
Location: Petaluma, Calif.
About: The company was founded by a team of brew fans from across the nation in the mid-1990s. Its owned by Tony Magee and now also operates a brewery in Chicago.
Beer buzz: Lagunitas’ brews are known for their tongue-in-cheek descriptions. The company’s Maximus IPA contains “flavor so hoppy it threatens to remove the enamel from one’s teeth.”
5. Deschutes Brewery
Location: Bend, Ore.
About: Deschutes got its start in 1988 by Gary Fish. The company encourages the public to drop by the breweries in Bend and Portland to meet the “beer-obsessed folks” behind the brews.
Beer buzz: The Mirror Pond Pale Ale earned a gold medal at this year’s International Brewing Awards. The beer is the company’s recommended starter for beer beginners and is known for being brewed “unmistakably right.”
4. The Gambrinus Co.
Location: San Antonio, Texas
About: The company started as a beer importer when it was founded in 1986 by Carlos Alvarez. It now owns craft breweries including craft breweries including Trumer Brauerei Brewery and BridgePort Brewing Company.
Beer buzz: BridgePort’s Blue Heron Pale Ale was named for Portland’s official bird. It ranks high on maltiness and low on hoppiness.
3. New Belgium Brewing Co.
Location: Fort Collins, Colo.
About: New Belgium got its start in Jeff Lebesch’s basement in 1989 with his Abbey and Fat Tire beers. Lebesch no longer works at the company, but the craft brewery continues to be successful.
Beer buzz: Fat Tire, an amber ale, remains one of the brewery’s most famous beers. It has sweet and caramel malts and a “flash of fresh hop bitterness.”
2. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Location: Chico, Calif.
About: Ken Grossman founded Sierra Nevada in 1979 near his favorite hiking grounds. He started with the Sierra Nevada Stout, which has kept the same basic recipe since.
Beer buzz: The company releases speciality Beer Camp brews each year. The beers are developed during a literal “beer camp” by some of Sierra Nevada’s biggest fans and released as solely on-tap specialties.
1. Boston Beer Co.
Location: Boston, Mass.
About: Boston Brewing is most famous for being the creator of Samuel Adams. The beer was first released in 1985 by Jim Koch, who came from a family of five generations of brewmasters.
Beer buzz: The company’s most famous brew remains the Samuel Adams Boston Lager. But it has a fleet of more than 20 other beers, including the Grumpy Monk Belgian IPA and Blueberry Hill Lager.