What does it mean, in the beer world, to be called one of the best breweries “of the decade”? The 2010s have been a period of such rapid change; of such tumultuous growth and then turmoil, that the beginning of the decade hardly seems connected at all in some respects to where we are today. When the 2010s began, craft “gose” in the U.S. wasn’t a thing. Sour styles in general were still on the niche side of the equation. “IPA” implied a bone dry, massively bitter style, a far cry from today’s saccharine juice bombs. And your average brewery was still aspiring, more or less, to grow as fast as possible into a regional powerhouse.
Suffice to say, things have changed, and changed quite a bit. So how, then, can we choose the breweries that best represented the spirit of the decade? How can we suss out those ones that made major contributions to the field, rolled with the punches, innovated and improved the scene around them? Because it’s those breweries who truly deserve the title most.
To this end, Paste writers and editors sat down to discuss various nominees for inclusion, and settled on the basic criteria below as the driving force behind our selections:
— How strong is the brewery’s beer game today, and how strong has it been throughout the decade? To truly be an assessment of the best breweries of the entire decade, we have to attempt to weight contribution made at the beginning of the 2010s the same as we would contributions made toward the end of the decade.
— How consistent was the brewery during the decade?
— In what areas did the brewery innovate during the decade? What kind of role did they place in the emergence of new styles, or the evolution of old ones?
— How important was the brewery to its local beer community, or to the larger craft beer sphere? What X factors might come into play with this particular brewery that increases or decreases our esteem for them?
— Ultimately, we decided that in order to qualify for this list, a brewery had to (in almost every case) have been around for at least half the decade, in order to truly make its impact. And if a brewery was founded in 2015, it had to make that much more impact in a shorter period, in order to truly distinguish itself.
And so, with that in mind, allow us to present Paste’s 50 best breweries of the 2010s, a direct follow-up to a piece we first published 10 years ago, which ranked the best breweries of 2000-2009. But first: a whole bunch of honorable mentions. Obviously, there are even more breweries we wish we could include, and I’m certain there are likely some we forgot, but a tip of the cap to all of the breweries below.
Honorable mentions: American Solera, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., Avery Brewing Co., Bale Breaker Brewing Co., Bissell Brothers Brewing Co., Boneyard Beer Co., Boulevard Brewing Co., Brew Gentlemen, Brooklyn Brewery, Casey Brewing and Blending, Epic Brewing Co., Fieldwork Brewing Co., Fonta Flora Brewery, Hi-Wire Brewing, Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, The Lost Abbey, Metropolitan Brewing, Monkish Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co., New Glarus Brewing Co., Night Shift Brewing, Odell Brewing Co., Parish Brewing Co., Prison City Pub & Brewrey, Proof Brewing Co., Sixpoint Brewery, Stone Brewing Co., Surly Brewing Co., Threes Brewing, Upslope Brewing Co., The Veil Brewing Co., Victory Brewing Co.
50. Ballast Point Brewing Co. (Constellation Brands)
Original location: San Diego, CA
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Sculpin IPA, Grunion Pale Ale, Victory at Sea
Did any American craft brewery have more of a violently up-and-down decade than Ballast Point? They entered the decade as one of San Diego’s most beloved IPA producers, with a flagship in the form of Sculpin IPA that was one of the industry’s most purely sought-after examples of the style, and an array of other well-regarded beers such as the Victory at Sea imperial porter. The brewery’s fame then exponentially increased after the first release of Grapefruit Sculpin in 2014, kicking off the industry’s brief obsession with fruited IPAs, some of the characteristics of which eventually merged into the profiles of modern hazy/juicy IPAs. It’s easy to look back right now and scoff at this particular moment in craft beer industry history, but Grapefruit Sculpin was ultimately a very important, catalyzing event that occurred at the same time as earlier examples of NE-IPA were beginning to emerge. The beer might not have ultimately retained its staying power in many craft circles, but the thought process that produced it was arguably ahead of its time, presaging many aspects of current IPA, for better or worse. We will freely admit it: When we tried Grapefruit Sculpin for the first time in 2014, we were in love as much as anyone.
Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine. The company’s 2015 sale to Constellation Brands, for the gaudy total of $1 billion, seems all but assured to go down in history as the single most overvalued acquisition of the craft beer boom era—the ultimate example of investment into the field by a company that seemed certain that growth wasn’t about to stall anytime soon. Only four years later, it seems impossible to think that signs of the segment’s slowdown wouldn’t have been more apparent at the time, but you know what they say about the clarity of hindsight. In the years that have followed, multiple Ballast Point taproom locations have closed and the company has contracted, even as it introduced a ceaseless wave of new Sculpin variants, to less and less effect. These are no doubt hard times for Ballast Point, but at the same time, it would be wrong to not recognize the company as among the best breweries of the decade, considering the way its influence is still being felt.
49. Rhinegeist Brewery
Original location: Cincinnati, OH
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Cheetah Lager, Dad Holiday Ale, Calfé
It has become very difficult—almost impossible, really—to turn breweries founded in the 2010s into the sort of regional/national powerhouses that were built much more easily in the generations that came before. The crowded marketplace, slowing growth rate and successful push to instill preference for “small and local” in many consumers has limited the possibilities for breweries to expand past a certain size, which made the seemingly unstoppable trajectory of Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist that much more impressive. Here is a brewery that really captured the attention of “average” Midwestern craft beer drinkers in the 2010s, and they rode that wave all the way from a 2013 opening, well past the 100,000 barrel mark.
At its core, Rhinegeist has a lot of things going for it. They have a fabulous brewery in a gorgeous, expansive setting in one of Cincy’s most popular neighborhoods, complete with a lovely roof deck. They have a solid stable of core beers (their lager Cheetah was just outside the top 10 of our last blind tasting), less on the flashy side and more of the dependable, people-pleasing variety. And they have an almost unprecedented level of local support, which only the likes of Wisconsin’s New Glarus Brewing Co. can really match. By the time we do this post again in another 10 years, they could well be one of the biggest craft breweries in the country.
48. Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
Original location: Denver, CO
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Von Pilsner, Vielle, Nightmare on Brett
Crooked Stave is one of those breweries that might not get a lot of play in the modern hype cycle, when wild ales of all description can be found on seemingly every street corner, but considering these guys first started selling beer in 2010, they really were quite far ahead of most of their competition—founded the same year as contemporaries Jester King, in fact. The complications of contract brewing arguably slowed down the brewery from reaching the size that it might have, but it would be a mistake to overlook the lasting effect their saisons and sours had on Colorado’s Front Range beer scene, a decade later.
If anything, the Crooked Stave lineup might be better balanced today than ever, with a solid array of IPAs, an underrated pilsner (top 10, the last time we blind tasted pilsners ), and dependable workhorses like the Surette saison, fruited petite sours or the decadently barrel-aged Nightmare on Brett, which has come in a few delicious variations over the years. It’s a brewery whose best beers—like the wonderfully balanced Vielle saison—sometimes escape conversation, but we haven’t forgotten them.
47. Deschutes Brewery
Original location: Bend, OR
On 2009 list?: Yes
Our favorite beers: Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Obsidian Stout, The Dissident
Hanging onto a top 10 spot within the Brewers Association production rankings for craft breweries is Deschutes, another major regional player whose 2010s experience mirrors what was experienced by so many of their peers—seemingly boundless growth, followed by a pullback and subsequent struggles. For Deschutes, that resulted in job cuts and the postponement of construction of an East Coast brewing facility in 2019, but the brewery seems confident that there’s light at the end of this particular tunnel.
In terms of a portfolio, there are certainly few national breweries who have had such a well-rounded slate of beers for such a long time as Deschutes. Several are among the consistent answers you’d receive when looking for stylistic benchmarks, whether it’s Black Butte as an archetypal robust porter, or Mirror Pond—a beer we wrote an essay of admiration about last year, in fact—as a classic American pale ale. Their IPA game has gone through more evolution during this period, understandably, with a varying degree of success, but who doesn’t appreciate a pint of Fresh Squeezed IPA? So too are many of the brewery’s yearly releases still beloved, whether it’s Jubelale (one of the only essential American “Christmas ales”) or The Abyss, one of the earliest buzz-worthy imperial stouts. In fact, the company even released a particularly eye-catching whiskey version of Black Butte in 2019, opening up an exciting new avenue of exploration.
46. SweetWater Brewing Co.
Original location: Atlanta, GA
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: SweetWater IPA, 420 Pale Ale, The Pit and the Pendulum
The Southeast’s largest craft brewery seems to have weathered the industry’s slowdown better than most, rolling with the punches even as it has continuously modernized in the face of changing consumer tastes. Although there have been some sad losses along the way (we still miss Exodus Porter as a year-rounder), SweetWater’s growth into a regional powerhouse never undermined the quality of core offerings like SweetWater IPA and 420. And with their placement into all Delta flights nationwide, the brewery was exposed to a bigger audience than ever.
On the innovation side, SweetWater constructed its sour and wood-focused Woodlands facility this decade, transforming a brewery primarily known for pale ale and IPA into one equally well-liked for brettanomyces beers and a variety of increasingly ambitious wild ales. It was an evolution of the brand’s most basic ethos that seemed to happen in an organic, unforced way, and has produced some excellent beers, such as the peachy Pit and the Pendulum. So too has SweetWater more recently managed to tap into the growing national fervor for cannabis with its very successful series of “420 Strain” beers, led by G13 IPA, which have explored the conjunction between “dank” flavors and IPA in a way much more literal than what can be done with hops alone. All of these factors have helped keep SweetWater more relevant in national beer geek conversations than many of their similarly sized competitors.
45. Great Notion Brewing Co.
Original location: Portland, OR
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Ripe, Space Invader, Double Stack
In order to truly be one of the best and most relevant breweries of the decade, you really need to have existed for at least the majority of the decade … but of course, there’s always an exception to the rule. In creating this list, we originally planned to require that the breweries on it exist by at least 2015, but upon realizing that would exclude Great Notion (they opened in 2016) we reconsidered. After all, when you win the largest blind tasting we’ve ever conducted, as Great Notion did when Ripe reigned #1 out of 324 IPAs, you’ve earned some of the most elite esteem we’re able to convey. After all, is there any plaudit more genuinely impressive than finishing #1 when you completely remove preconceptions and hype from the equation?
All the more important, because Great Notion most certainly possesses a lot of hype status within its Portland, OR beer community, which has been rocked by a turbulent wave of closures of older breweries in 2019—just look at this piece from Jeff Alworth, which makes the devastation clear. It’s not hard to see some of the similarities—the breweries to close have been of the older variety, making “safer” beer styles than the likes of Great Notion, which focuses with particular intensity on hazy IPA, fruited and big stouts, with the occasional lager for balance. This makes them a very “modern” brewery indeed, which begs the obvious question of whether changing tastes could one day lead to a reversal of fortunes. At the end of the day, though, even though they haven’t been around long, Great Notion is executing several of these modern styles—and especially hazy IPA—as well as any other brewery in the world today. We would like to assume that quality will be applicable toward whatever style happens to be hot by the time 2030 rolls around.
44. Funky Buddha Brewery (Constellation Brands)
Original location: Oakland Park, FL
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, Last Snow, Floridian Hefeweizen
When we call 2010 a decade in which beer gimmicks tended to run amok, we usually don’t mean it as a compliment. Funky Buddha, however, is one of the few breweries that has ever managed to take a “gimmick”-heavy portfolio and make something transcendent from it. For years, we’ve been referring to these guys as the masters of “flavored” beer, and it’s honestly been the brewery’s biggest contribution over the last decade to the overall scene. They’re not without the inevitable misfires, but no brewery does kooky flavor concepts more deftly than these guys.
Take, for instance, the now classic Maple Bacon Coffee Porter (or the barrel-aged version, Morning Wood), a concept that could go so wrong in the hands of so many other breweries, but which Funky Buddha handles with immaculate balance. Is it smoky? A touch. Roasty? Just enough. Rich? Certainly, without being cloying. It’s the best case example for what “maple bacon coffee porter” could reasonably be expected to be, and the fact that they regularly pull off these kinds of combinations is remarkable. Not to be lost, of course, is a solid complement of core beers, especially the year-round hefeweizen Floridian, which finished at #5 in one of our wheat beer blind tastings. But when we think of Funky Buddha, we think of fearless experimentation and improbable successes, as with this year’s cocktail-inspired Manhattan Double Rye Ale. You can always count on them to push the envelope.
43. Tired Hands Brewing Co.
Original location: Ardmore, PA
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: HopHands, SaisonHands, Various milkshakes
Milkshake IPA is a beer style we’re unlikely to ever list among our favorites, but if the entire beer industry handled the style with the skill and creativity of the progenitors at Tired Hands, that’s a sentiment we’d probably reconsider. Although the Pennsylvania stalwarts have brewed a wide variety of styles (including some lovely saisons) right from the start, it’s difficult to separate them from their most famous creation, and if there’s a beer style that sums up the zeitgeist of the 2010s more than milkshake IPA, we haven’t seen it. The thought to use lactose in a style where it was practically a foreign substance was a clever one, allowing the Tired Hands brewers to boost the creamy texture and subtle sweetness of their IPAs in a way that worked beautifully with an array of fresh fruit purees. In comparison with the imitation that followed from so many other breweries, Tired Hands milkshake IPAs always seem to strike the ideal balance between fruity vivaciousness and at least a modicum of balance, avoiding the tooth-stripping sweetness that bogged down so many others in our increasingly saccharine beer world. It will never be a style for everyone, but Tired Hands has always illustrated what something like milkshake IPA looks like at its best. Sadly, they’re a brewery we’ve had a chance to sample at Paste far less than some of the others on this list, but hopefully that will one day change.
42. Wicked Weed (AB-InBev)
Original location: Asheville, NC
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Golden Angel, Pernicious IPA, Milk & Cookies
We have never been shy at Paste about expressing our disdain for Anheuser-Busch InBev, or trying to codify why formerly craft breweries selling out to the world’s biggest beer conglomerate is a bad thing for the rest of the industry. At the same time, we also believe in recognizing beer quality in as objective a way as possible—it’s why we conduct blind tastings, where brands owned by AB-InBev have routinely placed near the very top in certain styles. In short, we believe in giving credit where credit it due, and it would be a lie to argue that Wicked Weed belongs outside of the best breweries of the 2010s. Their contributions to American wild ales alone put them in some pretty exclusive company, regardless of current ownership.
Since its genesis in 2012, Wicked Weed has done a remarkable job of evangelizing the novel flavor avenues that the average consumer can explore via wild and sour ales. They may be the brewery that had the single highest degree of influence in converting wide swaths of non-sour drinkers into people with a passion for wild ales in the last 8 years or so, whether it was done via more approachable fruited sours like Medora or the over-the-top decadence of the entire “Angel” series. At the same time, they also took a novel approach to more desserty sours in the form of beers like Silencio, and crafted one of the better flagship IPAs in the game with Pernicious. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a GABF medal winner for nothing. Although Wicked Weed’s esteem in its native Asheville is understandably lower these days than it once was, when viewing the decade as a whole, they loom large as one of the most important players. Certainly, of all the AB-InBev acquisitions, this was the one that stung the most.
41. Founders Brewing Co. (Mahou San Miguel)
Original location: Grand Rapids, MI
On 2009 list?: Yes
Our favorite beers: Founders Breakfast Stout, Porter, Mosaic Promise
The relationship between beer geeks and Founders has become more complicated in the last few years, especially in the light of the (now settled) racial discrimination lawsuit brought against the company by a former employee. That unpleasant ordeal arguably knocks them down a little bit on this sort of list, but we also don’t want to overlook the contributions made by Founders to the industry in terms of their beer. Few breweries had such a hand in shaping multiple styles, as they exist today.
Not to gloss over the brewery’s all-time classics (Founders Porter, Breakfast Stout), but barrel-aged beers were one of the arenas in which Founders helped change the game. Kentucky Breakfast Stout is, along with Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout, one of the two most important barrel-aged beers of all time, and was instrumental in starting the American barrel-aging renaissance. In the last few years, KBS production has ramped up, ending the artificial scarcity once created by its limited release. Predictably, beer geeks have responded by claiming that the product is now lesser than it was, but in our eyes it’s the rest of the industry that has continued to evolve, rather than KBS itself being somehow diminished.
Also not to be overlooked: All Day IPA, a beer that both presaged the bloom of “session IPA” and “low-calorie IPA” all at once, as well as providing a template for how craft breweries could use economies of scale to sell in larger packaging, such as 15-packs of cans.
40. Jack’s Abby
Original location: Framingham, MA
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: House Lager, Post Shift Pilsner, Copper Legend
Sure, in our current craft beer scene, the “lager is life” and “crispy boi” crowds have steadily pushed for the establishment of a thriving undercurrent of lager, helles and pilsner in the majority of brewery lineups, but this was by no means the truth at the beginning of the decade, when breweries like Jack’s Abby (and Chicago’s Metropolitan) were just getting started. These guys faced a completely different beer market, so often hungry for bitter-as-hell IPA and bruising imperial stouts, and the thought of trying to market any style of lager frightened away the vast majority of craft brewers at the time. Many were the instances when I begged for pilsner from _____ brewery, only to be told that “craft breweries can’t make lager profitable,” thanks to the longer turnaround on tank time. The likes of Jack’s Abby? They showed exactly what was possible within the humble world of lager.
And truly, Jack’s Abby did it with a passion and verve that was infectious. They never allowed the traditional concepts of lager styles to hold them back from making whatever kind of beers they wanted to make. You still want American hops? They’ve got an IPL to suit that desire. Prefer imperial stout? They’ll come up with a big, black, bruising lager that will make you question what you thought you knew about yeast. Whether creating perfect versions of classic styles like rauchbier or maibock within their ongoing kellerbier series, or venturing off the beaten path with “cranberry Berliner lager” or the like, Jack’s Abby has never been short of fearless. Their tireless larger advocacy has helped increase the diversity of the average brewery lineup, and there’s few accomplishments better than that.
39. Westbrook Brewing Co.
Original location: Mt. Pleasant, SC
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Westbrook Gose, One Claw, Mexican Cake
Truly, in the craft beer world, it can pay to get in on a trend early and become one of the most visible progenitors for an emerging style. It’s always a gamble, of course—an investment of time and resources into an emerging style that just as likely as not will end up going nowhere. But in certain instances, it turns out like it did for Westbrook and gose.
Gose, of course, had been around in Germany for centuries before a South Carolina brewery helped popularize it in the U.S., but combined with the influx of kettle sours that arrived in the middle of this decade, gose perfectly matched the climate of the moment. And indeed, Westbrook’s gose ultimately went a long way in setting the mold as to what made American goses different from their Continental forebears—they were more pronouncedly tart, with a burst of lemon juice-like acidity, a whiff of coriander and a healthy degree of salinity. As in so many other “American” styles that came before, we took a European beer style and upped its intensity and assertiveness. Truly, when it comes to craft beer, this is the American way. But to circle back: Westbrook Gose was a smash, and for many it was the first beer labeled “gose” they ever sampled; impressive for a style that is now completely ubiquitous only a handful of years later.
There is more to Westbrook as well, of course. They’re a well-balanced brewery, trading in hops (all of the excellent “Claw” variants), lagers (try the schwarzbier, if you can) and sought-after stouts (Mexican Cake, another major trendsetter) in equal measure. Certainly, they’ve done their part in promoting South Carolina/Charleston’s brewery community.
38. Bell’s Brewery
Original location: Kalamazoo, MI
On 2009 list?: Yes
Our favorite beers: Two Hearted Ale, Black Note, Arabicadabra
Bell’s feels like the sort of brewery where sheer consistency is both an asset and a criticism lobbed against them by a certain segment of the beer geek blogosphere. To be certain: Bell’s has been a little bit less adventurous and out there over the years compared to local Michigan competitors such as Founders, but they also had the benefit of lots of great recipes that quite frankly needed little tweaking to begin with. Is there a more generally beloved IPA in the U.S. than Two Hearted, even in 2019? Even in an era when drinkers are constantly chasing sweet, juicy, hazy sugar bombs, the dry, floral and lightly citrusy Two Hearted retains an absolutely rabid fanbase, and deservedly so. Cracking open a Two Hearted after not having one for a long time is one of the Midwest’s great beer pleasures.
At the same time, it’s not as if Bell’s didn’t find time to innovate this decade. They did well when it came to themed releases, such as their much-loved series of “planet” beers themed after the composed works of Gustav Holst, or their more recent series inspired by the poems of Walt Whitman. And they even managed to keep growing, despite the slowdown of the market and the difficulties inherent in selling older beer styles such as amber ale, once the brewery’s flagship. All in all, Bell’s just feels like one of those breweries that is built to last forever.
37. Dogfish Head (Boston Beer Co.)
Original location: Milton, DE
On 2009 list?: Yes
Our favorite beers: 90 Minute IPA, World Wide Stout, Raison D’Extra
Dogfish Head might very well be the opposite of how we described Bell’s above. Where a brewery like Bell’s could be said to have “stayed the course” and maintained its excellence in this decade, Dogfish Head was constantly evolving and changing. They proved particularly adept in the 2010s in identifying emerging trends and pouncing on them, while exploring new avenues for the company at the same time. As ever, they know their way around an ingredient gimmick or a marketing gimmick, doing it better than almost anyone else in the business.
As the decade began, Dogfish Head was still the company built around 60 Minute IPA and venerable brands like Indian Brown Ale. As time went on, though, Dogfish Head ran up against many of the same challenges as other major, regional breweries, but consistently displayed more ingenuity than most in evolving with the times. In particular, the 2016 development of session sour SeaQuench Ale put a shot of vitality into the company’s lineup and quickly became its de facto secondary flagship. It also clearly put thoughts of “health and wellness” into the brewery’s braintrust, and has powered its reinvention into what Sam Calagione now refers to as “the number-one active, lifestyle-oriented craft beer brand,” on the back of low-calories IPAs like Slightly Mighty and SuperEIGHT, a beer based around the concept of “superfoods.” And if those beers aren’t your cup of tea? We can happily report that the likes of 90 Minute IPA are as good as ever, and arguably even more relevant in an IPA market that has swung so far in the direction of hazy.
36. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales
Original location: Capitola, CA
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Family Whistle, Bright Sea Blonde, Love’s Armor
Some breweries focus on making “approachable” beer. Others focus on “challenging” or “intense” beer. Sante Adairius, on the other hand, seems to focus on “beautiful” beer. As they put it in their own words, “we focus our attention on producing well-constructed beers with an eye toward simplicity and character.” There’s an earnestness in that phrasing that really sums up Sante Adairius as a brewery—they are absolutely world class in their Belgian beers and farmhouse ales, but they’re not the kind of brewery that would ever revel in the praise directed their way. Their beers are like immaculate, but non-flashy, works of art, as exemplified by the clarity and precision in something like Sante Adairius’ Bright Sea Blonde. When I first tasted it in 2017, I was immediately taken aback by how perfectly balanced it was, for something so seemingly simple as “Belgian-style blonde ale.” When talking about this brewery, one quickly comes to realize that you’re almost always being under-sold.
A yearly staple of the Firestone Walker Invitational, a love for Sante Adairius almost feels like something of a beer geek secret handshake among those who are passionate about saisons and wild ales. Many are the conversations I’ve had with other beer writers about Sante Adairius, particularly at that California festival, and never are they held in anything but the highest esteem.
35. WeldWerks Brewing Co.
Original location: Greeley, CO
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Hefeweizen, Juicy Bits, Medianoche
WeldWerks is the rare occasion when I have actually felt like I’ve followed the rise of a hyped brewery from almost the very beginning—not because I’ve ever physically set foot in the Greeley, CO taproom (I haven’t), but because I first sampled their beer at GABF less than a year after the brewery’s opening, and let’s just say the lines were a lot shorter back then. But from the very beginning, I walked away from the WeldWerks booth feeling like this was an uncommonly delicious brewery, whether they were dealing with humble styles (a killer, medal-winning hefeweizen) or completely over-the-top stouts.
The rest is essentially history—as the hazy IPA revolution arrived in the back half of the decade, WeldWerks was one of the first major players in Colorado to attract critical acclaim for their hop-forward lineup, especially the flagship Juicy Bits, which is every bit as juicy as the name would suggest. That attention likewise led to even more hype for the brewery’s barrel-aged stout releases, especially those in the Medianoche line, which we appreciate for their focus on barrel-derived flavors over more ostentatious pastry stout elements. Today, one might criticize the brewery for prioritizing hazy IPA and imperial stouts a bit too strongly, but when they’re taking home the #1 spot in Paste’s milkshake IPA blind tasting, you can hardly blame them too much. When you’re really, really good at something, you earn a certain degree of leeway. WeldWerks is still one of the younger breweries on this list, but they’ve absolutely earned their acclaim as one of Colorado’s top brewers.
34. Revolution Brewing Co.
Original location: Chicago, IL
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Straight Jacket Barleywine, Rev Pils, Eugene
If I was present for almost all of the ascendency of WeldWerks in the entry previous, I was here for every bit of the rise of Revolution over the course of the last decade, as they became the largest brewery in Illinois not named Goose Island. Living in Illinois, I visited the original Revolution brewpub as often as possible, watching as a handful of late 2000s upstarts (especially the compatriots at Half Acre) built the modern Chicago craft beer scene around them. It’s now easy to forget that compared with early adopters such as San Diego or Portland, the craft beer movement was a little slow in arriving in Chicago. But when it came, it came in force.
From the beginning, Revolution excelled in classic styles. Their Eugene porter became the city’s most dependable, session-strength dark beer. From day one, Anti-Hero IPA was one of the city’s best overall (and now most balanced) hoppy beers. But Revolution also grew and morphed, albeit subtly, to fit the mold of changing tastes. They never abandoned the mold of Anti-Hero, now retro in its own way, but instead continuously expanded the “Hero” lineup until it had something for almost any taste. At the same time, they launched an expansive barrel-aging program that went on to challenge and eventually dethrone Goose Island for the title of the city’s barrel-aged beer kingpin. The results were confirmed by Paste’s own blind tastings, where Revolution’s Straight Jacket barleywine crushed the competition en route to a #1 showing. They may have started as a brewpub getting press for “bacon fat popcorn,” but Revolution used its running start to become one of the most dependably great breweries in the midwest.
33. Other Half Brewing Co.
Original location: Brooklyn, NY
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: All Green Everything, Broccoli Special Reserve, Double Mosaic Dream
This is another case where ranking is a little bit more difficult on account of the fact that we’ve sampled comparatively fewer of Other Half’s beers than most of the other breweries on this list. In putting them here, we’re taking into consideration both the beers we’ve had a chance to sample, and the effect they’ve had in generating enthusiasm for the New York City beer scene.
Because make no mistake, the craft beer scene of NYC was considered oddly underwhelming, not all that long ago. Both New York and L.A. resisted the 2000s boom on some level, establishing far fewer breweries than much smaller cities that embraced the ethos of craft beer in a more enthusiastic way. The New York scene was anchored by a handful of stalwarts such as Brooklyn Brewery and Sixpoint, but it wasn’t until the early 2010s that a younger generation began to emerge who would shape the future. And among those breweries, none were capable of generating excitement quite like Other Half.
Today, they are rightly considered one of the East Coast’s finest producers of hazy IPA, with a singular focus on the style that is perhaps slightly limiting, but common in this day and age. There’s no denying that they make immaculate hazies, if that’s what you’re in the market for, but the brewery’s greatest accomplishment is likely the way it pushed so many of the other NYC brewers to up their games in the process.
32. pFriem Family Brewers
Original location: Hood River, OR
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Pilsner, Helles Lager, Oud Bruin
pFriem, like a few of the other breweries on this list who consistently performed far above average in Paste blind tastings, feels like the kind of brewery that is maybe a bit too easy to take for granted. Since establishing themselves in 2012, their beer has spread far throughout the Pacific Northwest, with entries like IPA and Pilsner becoming staples throughout the region. This of course leads on some level to beer geeks lowering their esteem for the average pFriem year-rounder: The old maxim of “anything widely available must be inferior to something limited.” But put pFriem’s beer into a blind tasting setting, and that’s where it truly shines. Divorced from hype, it’s easy to see that this was one of the best and most consistent breweries of the decade.
Their dominance is especially impressive within lager beer styles, where they regularly cleaned up in our blind tastings. You don’t finish at #2 in a blind tasting of 102 non-pilsner lagers, and then #6 in a blind tasting of 134 pilsners by accident. The only way you repeat those kinds of numbers is with technical mastery, and pFriem has it in spades. We also appreciate their interest in brewing classy versions of classic Belgian styles that have fallen out of vogue in the modern hype cycle, such as oud bruin, kriek or Belgian Christmas ales, giving the brewery a versatility that many of their peers now tend to lack. In general, there are few breweries where we’re more confident that every release will be well above average for the style.
31. Live Oak Brewing Co.
Original location: De Valle, TX
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Hefeweizen, Pilz, Oaktoberfest
There’s not a lot of call for simplicity or subtlety in the craft beer world these days. Nor has Texas always been a market where traditional “craft” beer styles have received quite as much admiration as they perhaps deserved. In short, Live Oak Brewing Co. was pretty much always fighting an uphill battle since they slapped caps on their first bottles more than 20 years ago. They sought to bring truly balanced, authentic German beer styles into a scene that was mostly filled with cheap, mass-produced imitation, and along the way they played a major part in educating southwestern craft beer drinkers on what they’d been missing out on for decades. You want influential beers? Look no further than Live Oak Hefe, or Pilz. God only knows how many others in their own mold they’ve inspired over the years.
Live Oak is, more than anything, an uncompromising brewery. They don’t tweak their releases to suit changing styles and preferences—they do what they’re good at, what they have a passion for, and they rarely deviate from the classics. German lagers, German ales, executed with a deference to history and technical acumen that rivals anyone else in the game—that’s the Live Oak way. Although finding an outstanding, authentic pilsner isn’t such a difficult task in the craft beer world these days, it might very well be without the guiding light of breweries like Live Oak. The last decade has shown the fruits of their labor in how eagerly their passions have been adopted by so many other breweries and drinkers, and in the end, that’s the greatest victory Live Oak could ask for. That, and a #1 finish in Paste’s blind hefeweizen tasting.
30. Perennial Artisan Ales
Original location: St. Louis, MO
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Abraxas, Vermillion, Maman
Without a doubt, this was a great decade for the St. Louis beer scene. The 2010s began with only a handful of reliable, workhorse breweries (Schlafly, etc.) calling the city home, and quickly grew to encompass a wide array out outstanding brewers, from Perennial and Side Project to Urban Chestnut, Civil Life, 4 Hands, Narrow Gauge and 2nd Shift. They quickly turned the city from a beer scene associated with foreign-owned Anheuser-Busch and the legacy of the Busch family into one teeming with promising young breweries making beers in a bevy of different styles.
Of that class of this decade, Perennial just might be the most balanced and consistent of the bunch. There’s almost no style that Perennial isn’t willing to tackle, even if our favorite selections from these guys over the years have often fallen into the realms of imperial stout, Belgian ales and barrel-aged saisons. That isn’t to say they don’t know their way around IPA, or even lager styles as well—Perennial is one of those breweries you can expect to do most everything well. With that said, they rightfully are well respected in the beer community for now-classic beers like the Abraxas imperial stout, which made a heavy impression in the wave of “Mexican hot chocolate” stouts that followed throughout the 2010s, along with barrel-aged bruisers like Maman, which are among the most purely flavorful in their class. Perennial is just one of those breweries we’re always happy to see submit something for a blind tasting, as the result invariably elevates the field.
29. Creature Comforts Brewing Co.
Original location: Athens, GA
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Tropicalia, Tritonia /w Cucumber & Lime, Duende
Another influencer, this time on the Georgia beer scene (which Paste knows pretty well, being based in Atlanta), Creature Comforts attained “it” brewery status very quickly after opening and has pretty much never let up, always finding new ways to put themselves into the national conversation despite limited distribution. The Athens location ultimately served the brewery very well, making sought-after beers like the flagship Tropicalia IPA that much more difficult for Atlanta residents to attain, and driving visitors to make the trip to bring some home with them, much as a Chicagoan might drive across the Wisconsin border to score some culty brews from New Glarus. And that is ultimately how a rabid fandom is built.
Hoppy styles were Creature Comforts’ earliest strength, with the mildly juicy and super approachable Tropicalia leading the way, and ultimately leading to the development of killer DIPAs like Duende and Cosmik Debris. Over time, though, the brewery ventured out in new directions to supplement their IPA game, beginning a series of dynamite wild ale releases and eventually finding a great appreciation for lager as well. Visiting Creature Comforts today, a drinker is likely to find a bevy of great IPAs, along with a few intriguing mixed fermentation beers, some way above average kettle sours, a few cool, pils-adjacent beers, and (if you’re lucky) a grandiose imperial stout. As I so often observed while living in Athens, GA in 2018/2019, if they just added an outstanding, standard-strength, year-round dark beer to the portfolio, it would essentially be the perfect lineup. Not that we’re complaining, mind you.
28. Oskar Blues Brewery (CANarchy)
Original location: Longmont, CO
On 2009 list?: Yes
Our favorite beers: Dale’s Pale Ale, Ten Fidy, Hotbox Coffee Porter
A decade ago, when Paste’s editor compiled our best breweries of the 2000s, we were already giving obvious credit to Oskar Blues for the role it played in reclaiming the image of canned beer, but who could have predicted even then the impact that the return to cans would eventually have on the industry? Where would the hazy IPA revolution be, without the likes of Dale’s Pale Ale to ultimately guide it in the direction of the ubiquitous 16 oz sticker can? Can you even imagine a bottle of Tree House Julius, or what have you? It seems like sacrilege to even imagine at this point.
Beyond their role as the godfather of the canned beer revival, however, Oskar Blues did literally everything you’d want an older brewery to do in this decade to keep themselves perpetually relevant. They kept up with the rate of IPA experimentation, delivering at every step of the way (the newest Can-O-Bliss releases are definitely solid) while keeping Dale’s as the pristine classic it will always be. They increased the role of Ten Fidy as a flagship imperial stout, introducing a plethora of barrel-aged variants that pushed an already decadent stout to the next level. Along the way, they expanded several times, but never lost track of that particular Oskar Blues identity.
We should acknowledge that today, Oskar Blues finds itself under the collective wing of the Fireman Capital-operated CANarchy group, an association that seems to have markedly benefited pretty much all the breweries that have been acquired to date. Earlier this year, CANarchy launched its Asheville, NC “Collaboratory,” a shared space wherein beers from all the CANarchy breweries—plus a number of collaborations with other breweries—are all poured from the same set of taps. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this model continue to thrive in the decade to come.
27. Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.
Original location: St. Louis, MO
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Schnickelfritz Hefeweizen, Stammtisch Pilsner, Oachkatzlschwoaf
From the beginning, the basic concept of St. Louis’ Urban Chestnut was a brilliant one. Interested in both classical interpretations of beer styles and twists with an experimental flair, the brewery sub-divides all of its efforts between two series: “Reverence” and “Revolution.” The latter delivers American ingenuity, playfully expanding the boundaries of familiar beer styles, while the former is one of the country’s greatest lineups of flawless European (mostly German) beer styles. In doing so, they offer a little something for everyone and a degree of variety we appreciate, but at the end of the day we’ll always come back to the same observation: These guys do classic German lager and ale styles with a consistent quality that almost no other American brewery (Live Oak is a good comparison) can match, and have rarely received the attention or praise they deserve for it.
The latter is not surprising. Although pilsner has certainly seen a heartening revival in recent years, classical German beer styles have never been “sexy” to the American craft consumer, and likely never will be. You can make the best goddamn hefeweizen in the world (UC was #2 in our blind tasting of them), and a lot of the beer bros will still yawn and ask when the next hazy IPA release is due out. The same is still true of pils, where Urban Chestnut has placed in the top 10 in two different Paste blind tastings. Or märzen, which UC predictably makes into a transcendent experience. This is the curse of the European-style brewer—to never truly attract as much attention as you should. But when the beers are so consistently fabulous, that’s sort of its own reward, is it not?
26. Modern Times Beer
Original location: San Diego, CA
On 2009 list?: No
Our favorite beers: Fortunate Islands, Black House, Fruitlands
If there exists a template for what a “successful 2010s brewery” looked like, then surely it must resemble what Modern Times accomplished in the last 7 years. For most breweries, if they’ve expanded once during that kind of time period, something must be going well. For Modern Times, on the other hand, it’s now six locations and counting.
On its own, that is of course no real indicator of quality, but the overall aesthetic of the brewery was so often imitated this decade that they’ve started to literally feel like the mold from which many post-2013 breweries were built. That is especially true of their now-iconic, minimalist packaging, which flew in the face of the busier, artier labels of the day to focus intently on clean lines and key words to describe each beer. One look around the can-o-scape at your local bottle shop will show how influential that particular aesthetic has been. It’s simply an aptly named brewery—in every aspect of their business, from their early embrace of “nitro” coffee to their 2017 move to an employee ownership model, they’ve almost always been leading the way.
Even their core lineup of year-rounders seems perfectly calculated to expertly slake any thirst. In only six beers, you’ve got an American wheat, an oatmeal coffee stout, a dank amber ale, a hazy IPA, a fruited gose and a crisp pilsner. Those are like the beer food groups, as far as we’re concerned, and we wouldn’t mind seeing other breweries continue to imitate, if it means lineups that don’t have 8 different IPAs in them.