Class of 2011: 22 of the Best New Breweries in the US

Feature by | Jan 2012 | Issue #60

Illustration by Greg Puglese

Brewers are a rare breed. They’re business-savvy science nerds and artistic dreamers; pillars of their communities and culture fanatics nurturing a lifelong case of wanderlust. And with the economy still deep in recession, the folks who broke ground on their first breweries this year have to be just a little bit crazy, too.

But who knew there were so many of them? In 2011, breweries opened up in warehouses and garages across the country faster than anyone could track. This generation of entrepreneurs has hung their hats on the support of craft beer fans, and consumers have stepped up, with craft sales higher than ever before. True, no one knows what lies ahead—but if these intrepid small-business owners are any indication, craft beer will be just fine.

Here are just a few of the stories that made 2011 one of the best years for craft beer in the country’s history.  —C.C.

Baxter Brewing Company
Lewistown, Maine | Opened: January 2011
After being open for just 90 days, Baxter Brewing, the only brewery in New England to release its beers exclusively in cans, made plans to double their capacity, and are now poised to break the 5,000 barrel mark. “It’s a perfect storm of the beer itself, good packaging and a good brand all coming together,” says founder Luke Baxter of their success, adding that the three year-round releases (Pamola Xtra Pale Ale, Stowaway IPA and Amber Road) are easy-drinking, balanced beers that are distributed in Maine and Massachusetts. A mixed 12-pack and seasonal program are in the works. As far as distribution plans, Baxter says it depends on capacity, but they’d like to enter the rest of the state of Massachusetts and begin distributing to New Hampshire sometime during 2012.

Port City Brewing Company
Alexandria, Va. | Opened: January 2011
“About four years ago, it dawned on my wife and I that we buy all of our vegetables locally and all of our meat from local farmers, but all of the beer we were drinking came from the West Coast,” says Bill Butcher, founder of Port City. So in 2009, Butcher crossed over from the wine industry, where he had been working in sales and distribution for 18 years, and founded the brewery with his wife, Karen. Then they recruited head brewer Jonathan Reeves, a five-time Great American Beer Fest medalist. Working on a 30-barrel system, Port City distributes in 12-ounce bottles and on draft at nearly 400 points in Greater DC. With the addition of two 90-barrel fermentation tanks, Butcher says they plan on doubling their production next year, from 3,000 to 6,000 barrels, and distributing all along the Mid-Atlantic, from South Carolina to Pennsylvania.

Urban Chestnut Brewing Company
St. Louis, Mo. | Opened: January 2011
German-born brewer and Urban Chestnut co-founder Florian Kuplent trained at small German and English breweries, then developed beers for Michelob’s craft beer side. The 20-barrel brewery is housed in an old car garage and, harking back to a Bavarian tradition, has chestnut trees planted out front that shade the beer garden. “A lot of people who have traveled and who have tasted German- and English-style beers go back to their style once they have had the real stuff, and they enjoy getting something similar here in St. Louis,” Kuplent says. The brewery has two series: Revolution and Reverence, part of a philosophy Kuplent calls “beer divergence.” The Revolution line features bold American twists on traditional styles, like Winged Nut, which is brewed with milled chestnuts. On the Reverence side are European and British styles.

Tequesta Brewing Company
Tequesta, Fla. | Opened: January 2011
Florida had a bit of catching up to do when it came to craft beer, and since opening last January, Tequesta Brewing Co. has been helping to bring the state up to par. Founder Matt Webster got the craft beer bug while living in Denver for 17 years. He started selling beer on a 1-barrel system in a local restaurant, then moved up to a 15-barrel brewhouse. At Tequesta, Webster brews three standards—an American Pale Ale, a Kölsch and an American Brown Ale—plus specialty beers. Tequesta sold 30 kegs of their pumpkin beer in 12 days, and Webster’s Double Bock Rye won a GABF silver.

60Feature2Logsdon Farmhouse Ales
Hood River, Ore. | Opened: February 2011
A hundred cherry trees, nearly an acre of organic Fuggles and Goldings hops, six Scottish Highlander cattle and a 14-barrel brewhouse sit on David Logsdon’s farm in Hood River, Ore. “Even though they’re Belgian influenced, we’re brewing Oregon beers in the Cascade Mountains,” says Logsdon, a founder of Full Sail and Wyeast Laboratories. Unsurprisingly, two Saisons are among the first offerings: Seizoen and Seizoen Bretta. Logsdon and his brewing partner, Charles Porter, blended the Seizoen Bretta with organic peaches from a neighboring farm. They’re also working on pilots of Lambic and blended Gueuzes. While the 750-milliter bottles are only distributed in Oregon for now, Logsdon says they plan on distributing nationally and internationally, as well as expanding to 10 acres of hops and up to 1,000 cherry trees.

Sound Brewery
Poulsbo, Wash. | Opened: February 2011
As a Northwestern brewer, Sound Brewery co-founder Mark Hood “was tired of the IBU contest,” he says. So when Hood began playing around with Citra hops as an aromatic in his homebrews, he came up with Monk’s Indiscretion, “a really, really insanely hoppy” but balanced beer that clocks in at 46 IBU. That’s typical of what Hood and his brewing partner, Brad Ginn, want to make—creative, balanced beers that showcase underrepresented styles. Up next: what Hood calls a “Belgian Russian Imperial Stout.” They’re brewing on an 8.5-barrel system now, but have space to double in size. Hood says they plan to continue distributing 22-ounce bottles and kegs across Washington and are considering canning some beers as well.

Austin Beerworks
Austin, Texas | Opened: May 2011
Founded by four childhood friends—Adam DeBower, Will Golden, Michael Graham and Mike McGovern—Austin Beerworks is brewing beer that Graham says stands out from other Lone Star state breweries. “Most Texas breweries make more malt-forward beer, but we like more West Coast-style beers,” Graham says. Their year-round releases—a Pale Ale, Schwarzbier, German-style Pils and an IPA—come in 12-ounce cans, while their specialty beers, like the Russian Imperial Coffee Oatmeal Stout, will be released as tallboys. Since opening in May, Graham estimates they’ve brewed 1,000 barrels, and that number will only climb as they install their two new 90-barrel fermenters and the new canning line, which arrived in December.


Jackalope founders Robyn Virball and Bailey Spaulding.

Jackalope Brewing Company
Nashville, Tenn. | Opened: May 2011
For a couple of New England natives, Bailey Spaulding and Robyn Virball have had no problem carving out a niche for themselves in the Nashville beer scene. In just seven months, they’ve made the leap from a half-barrel Sabco system to a 15-barrel system, on which they crank out three year-round brews: Thunder Ann, an American Pale Ale that’s wet hopped with Citra; Rompo, a sessionable Red Rye; and Bearwalker, a Maple Brown Ale, made with maple syrup from Vermont (naturally). Jackalope is also one of the few female-owned breweries in the US, although Spaulding doesn’t let it get to her head. She says, “It wasn’t something we did on purpose, but it speaks to the trend that more women are brewing today.”

Founders Ben and Dan Engler

Occidental founders Ben and Dan Engler.

Occidental Brewing Company
Portland, Ore. | Opened: June 2011
How does a brewery stand out in Portland, where there are 50-plus breweries? Well, if you’re Occidental Brewing, you don’t offer an IPA. Instead, Occidental specializes in European, mostly German, beers. “We get a lot of people in the taproom thanking us for offering something different and using hops in a different way,” says Ben Engler, who founded the brewery along with his uncle, Dan Engler. The core lineup features a Bavarian-style Hefeweizen, a Kölsch-style ale, an Altbier (which is on the hoppy side to appease the locals) and a Dunkel. A barrel program and one-off Belgians are coming soon. Says Ben, “What we both really appreciate in beer is a well-balanced beer, and that’s what the German styles are.” Ben estimates that they will do between 1,000 and 1,200 barrels in 2012, all of which is distributed in the Portland area. As for plans to offer an IPA? There are none, says Ben.


Jack’s Abby founders Eric, Jack and Sam Hendler.

Jack’s Abby Brewing
Framingham, Mass. | Opened: July 2011
While on a recent trip to Germany, Jack Hendler, co-founder and head brewer of Jack’s Abby, described his beers to a few German brewers. “I told them about the lagers I was brewing, and they gave me a look like, ‘What are you doing?’” laughs Hendler. That’s because Jack’s Abby’s lagers stray far from traditional styles. There’s Hoponius Union, an India Pale Lager, and limited releases, like the popular Kiwi Rising, a double India Pale Lager brewed with New Zealand hops. Sold on draft and in growlers from Boston to Worcester, the beers will be released in bottles by March. Hendler, who opened the lager-focused brewery with his brothers, Sam and Eric, says he’s going to continue brewing lagers that break down style guidelines. Next up? A sour lager, of course.

Oxbow Brewing Company
Newcastle, Maine | Opened: July 2011
On an 18-acre farm about an hour from Portland in coastal Maine, Tim Adams and Geoff Masland are quietly brewing some wild beers. Oxbow’s first beer, a Farmhouse Pale Ale, is a cross between a Saison and a West Coast Pale Ale. “Basically, all the hops are American and we’re using a Saison yeast,” says Adams. “We find that the two styles come together as one super-beer.” Their specialty beers are equally inspired. There’s Arboreal, a bourbon barrel-aged American Sour Ale, and their collaboration with Stillwater Artisanal Ales, a Belgian Blonde fermented with Brettanomyces. Oxbow self-distributes the beer (often rolling kegs on skateboards) from Camden to Kittery, Maine.

Kane Brewing Company
Ocean, N.J. | Opened: August 2011
Founder Michael Kane says his vision of starting a brewery is two-fold. He wants to brew beers he and head brewer Clayton Brackley (who comes via Victory Brewing) like to drink and brew, and he also plans to use as much local ingredients as possible. So far, he has followed that course—Kane gets his honey from local beekeepers and “super-fresh pitches of yeast” from nearby East Coast Yeast. He also reduced apple cider from a local farm to make a caramelized sugar substance to use instead of Belgian candi sugar in a Belgian-style Red. Kane’s three year-round beers are made in a 20-barrel brewhouse and distributed, draft only, in New Jersey, but Kane says he hopes to eventually have them in New York City and Philadelphia.

60Feature6Denver Beer Company
Denver, Colo. | Opened: August 2011
Since opening Denver Beer Company in early August, Charlie Berger and Patrick Crawford have brewed 48 batches of beers and only two recipes have been repeated—their Kaffir lime-spiced Wheat and their GABF bronze-winning Graham Cracker Porter, which was the fourth batch of beer they ever brewed. “We wanted to produce very seasonal beers and serve them in the taproom,” Berger explains. In February, they plan on tapping a cognac barrel-aged Barleywine and a bourbon barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout. They just started selling kegs to Denver-area bars and restaurants. Currently working on a 7-barrel system, they’re considering adding another 7-barrel tank come spring.

Fargo Brewing Company
Fargo, N.D. | Opened: September 2011
Fargo Brewing co-founder Aaron Hill is quick to point out that while North Dakota consistently ranks in the top three states for beer consumption, the craft beer scene is lagging. But Hill is helping to change that. Fargo’s first release, the awesomely named Woodchipper IPA, already has a loyal following. Fargo Brewing formed after Hill and his friend Jared Hardy joined with John Andersen and his brother Chris, a homebrewer of 10 years who worked as an assistant brewmaster at Ice Harbor Brewing Co. in Pasco, Wash. While they’re contract brewing at Sand Creek Brewing Co. in Wisconsin now, at a rate of about 900 barrels a year, they hope to have concrete plans for a brick-and-mortar brewery in the works by the end of next year.

Golden Road Brewing
Los Angeles, Calif. | Opened: September 2011
Golden Road’s 15-barrel brewery, founded by Tony Yakow, of Tony Dart’s Away and Mohawk Bend, and Meg Gills, of Oskar Blues via San Francisco’s Speakeasy, was built and opened in under five months. After releasing their two flagships, Point the Way IPA and Golden Road Hefeweizen, in 16-ounce cans, they already have plans to scale up to a 50-barrel system next summer. Golden Road is focused on bringing fresh beer that’s distinctly Californian to the Los Angeles market, says head brewer Jon Carpenter, a former Dogfish Head brewer. As a nod to the traffic-dense city, they decided on a low-ABV, full-flavored IPA that you could put back a few of and still be able to drive home. Carpenter is working on a series of rotating styles of IPA and experimenting with tequila barrels.


Transforming a manufacturing showroom into Red Hare included installing a draining system and a boiler.

Red Hare Brewing Company
Marietta, Ga. | Opened: September 2011
Roger Davis and Bobby Thomas took over a former patio-enclosures manufacturer / showroom, transforming it into their 20-bbl brewhouse. “The building is broken down into three areas,” says media coordinator Tonya Vots, “an 11,000-sq.-ft. brewery / storage area, a 2,000-sq.-ft. area for a tasting room, and the rest is offices / restrooms.” The largest projects included installing the draining system in the existing concrete floor, and getting the boiler set up. Red Hare served their first beer Labor Day weekend, 2011.


Draught Works before and after eight months of construction on a 1930s-era warehouse.

Draught Works Brewery
Missoula, Mont. | Opened: October 2011
Paul Marshall and Jeff Grant began construction on this 1930s warehouse in March 2011; eight months later, they opened their doors. After pulling up the wood-planked floor, they had neighbor Blue Dog Furniture build doors, table tops and railings, even their bar, which “is made of a salvaged log from the bottom of Flathead Lake that sunk roughly 100 years ago,” Grant says. They also drilled a hole in Missoula’s aquifer and use the water to control the temperature of the concrete slab in the taproom. After Draught Works gave the city the land next door to expand Missoula’s bike trails, many customers started walking or biking to the brewery instead of driving. Says Grant, “We often see customers walking home, carrying a couple of growlers.”

Somerville Brewing Company
Somerville, Mass. | Opened: October 2011
“We want to know everything about what goes in our beers,” says Somerville Brewing Company co-founder Caitlin Jewell—and she means it. Jewell and her husband, head brewer Jeff Leiter, recently visited the blood orange growers in California who raise the fruit for their Happy Sol, a Hefeweizen fermented with juice from 1,000 blood oranges. They also make a Porter that’s dry-hopped with chocolate nibs from their neighbor, Taza Chocolate. Leiter has been studying the products for years, says Jewell, in order to understand all the brewing possibilities they offer. Says Jewell: “I swear he’s put just about everything they’ve ever made into a beer except the wrappers and the aprons.” The beers are sold in 22-ounce bottles and on draft around Massachusetts under the temporary name “Slumbrew,” and soon they can be found in Illinois, Texas and Vermont, according to Jewell.

60Feature7Fulton Beer
Minneapolis, Minn. | Opened: November 2011
Fulton Beer’s first upgrade was from a one-car garage to a two-car garage. But they didn’t stop there. They launched a contract brewery, and finally opened a 20-barrel production brewery, the first one in downtown Minneapolis, this fall. Having a physical space, says Fulton president Ryan Petz, will allow them to brew more styles at once, as well as give them more freedom to play around. “We have a number [of experimental beers] in development—an American Bitter, a Mild, a Barleywine and a Saison,” says Petz. And thanks to Minnesota’s “Surly Bill,” which passed in May, Fulton will be able to sell its beer on site; they hope to have their taproom open by early spring.

60Feature8Forest & Main Brewing Company
Ambler, Pa. | Opened: Projected December 2011
A rustic, Victorian house may not be an obvious setting for a brewpub, but Forest & Main founders Dan Endicott and Gerard Olson saw an opportunity to launch a neighborhood pub where they could serve their beer fresh and pair it with local, sustainable food. The 50-odd-seat brewpub with a brewery out back will be split between two traditions: Endicott, who studied brewing at the University of Sunderland’s Brew Lab in England, will be doing British-style Bitters, Milds and cask conditioning, while Olson, a former assistant brewer at McKenzie Brew House in Malvern, will be brewing beers in the Belgian farmhouse tradition.

Pacific Brewing Laboratories
San Francisco, Calif. | Opened: December 2011
Every other week for the last two years, Patrick Horn and Bryan Hermannsson of Pacific Brewing Laboratories brewed a different beer and invited people over to their small garage space in San Francisco’s SoMA neighborhood to try it. “It pushed us to be experimental with our ingredient choices and techniques,” says Horn of the brew nights. The most popular offering was the Hibiscus Saison, what Horn calls “our version of a Rosé.” Among the most experimental was one brewed with Szechuan peppercorn, dried Goji berries and candy ginger. Their first commercial beer, which they brew in 20-barrel batches at Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company, is a hoppy black ale called Squid Ink, says Horn, adding that they plan to “put a lot of stuff out there and see what sticks.”

60Feature9Pipeworks Brewing Company
Chicago, Ill. | Opened: December 2011
Pipeworks started at Chicago’s famed West Lakeview Liquors, where Beejay Oslon and Gerrit Lewis met as co-workers. Then it took a detour to Belgium, where the pair worked at De Struise for a winter. And finally, Pipeworks came back to Chicago, where they started brewing test batches and raising money through Kickstarter to open a brewery. They’re not sure what beer they’re going to brew first—Lewis said they might brew a different beer every week. But he does promise they plan to do “everything from a Berliner Weisse to a barrel-aged Imperial Stout.”

60Feature12The Pre-Frosh of 2012
By Courtney Cox

Mystery Brewing
Hillsborough, North Carolina
Founder Erik Lars Myers embodies that special combo of outside-the-box artist and total science geek. With plans to open in January, Mystery has already secured a loyal following via a Kickstarter campaign and their “Irregulars” members’ club.

Harvester Brewing
Portland, Oregon
James Neumeister brews exclusively gluten-free beers on his 7-bbl system, though he’s keeping the ingredients a secret for now. He plans to release his Pale Ale in early 2012, with a Dark and an Amber on its heels.

Ohana Brewing
Los Angeles, California
Owner Andrew Luthi and head brewer Chip Baker are both just 23 years old. If their just-approved Black Dahlia IPA label is any indication, they’ll be brewing up some sexy, off-the-wall beers come wintertime.

Night Shift
Everett, Massachusetts
Construction on their nanobrewery began in December; co-founders Robert Burns, Mike O’Mara and Michael Oxton will be brewing their complex recipes in 3.5-bbl batches and self-distributing in Greater Boston come late February / early March.

Ore Dock Brewing
Marquette, Michigan
Husband-and-wife co-founders Wes and Andrea Pernsteiner built two brewing systems: a production brewhouse with a 10-bbl capacity, and a 1-bbl “R&D” system. Anticipated opening: April.

Reuben’s Brews
Seattle, Washington
With 30–40 recipes ready to go—like his Old Ale aged on Port-infused oak, a Roggenbier, and a Bourbon Pumpkin Rye Ale—award-winning homebrewer Adam Robbings is set to open his small-batch brewery in June with his wife, Grace.

And even further ahead …

Spencer Abbey
Spencer, Massachusetts
Spencer Abbey, of the Cistercian order, is currently known for their Trappist Preserves jams, but the abbey will soon be host to the first Trappist-recognized brewery outside of Belgium and the Netherlands. Plans have been in the works since 2008; the monks have tentative plans to distribute by 2013.