I don’t use Untappd anymore, mostly because I don’t want to know how many beers I’ve tried. Needless to say, it’s a lot. An embarrassing number.
Even though I don’t keep track of the beers I’ve tried, I remember the ones that made an impression. But this isn’t a “Best Beers of 2018” list. This is Best Breweries. So in addition to having terrific beer, a brewery that makes this list needs something else that stands out — an impressive aesthetic, stellar service, beautiful bathrooms. And truly, with the amount of breweries we visited this year, a standout brewery needs all of the above.
Below, we’ve listed our top choices. They’re in no particular order except for Threes Brewing, which we happily proclaim our Best Brewery of 2018.
Brooklyn, New York
Undoubtedly. Unanimously. Threes Brewing is the Best Brewery of 2018. In the past few years, Threes has solidified itself as one of the best breweries in the country, let alone New York City. The beer they make is world class, from their pilsners — which all performed well in our blind pilsner tasting — to their juicy hazy stuff, to their mixed fermentation beers, which have attracted the attention of world-class producers like Allagash. On a personal note, we appreciated their work with the ACLU, which rallied some 50+ breweries in support of civil liberties.
The Gowanus brewery has increased production and transformed their once temporary Greenpoint pop-up space into a permanent fixture: Threes @ Franklin + Kent. Hospitality is a big part of why Threes is so revered. The main location features a well-kept bar, restaurant, coffee shop, and record store. The entire Threes experience is comfortable and genuine, guided by a professional, competent, and friendly staff. It helps that we’re a short subway ride away from the brewery, but on a national scale, Threes has proven to be one of the best.
Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
During the Great American Beer Festival, Hop Culture teamed up with a dope law firm to host a brewer’s only event at Black Project, which featured an open bar. Usually, we get one or two of a brewery’s favorite selections at our office, but being inside the taproom (and having someone else foot the bill) was an opportunity to try everything on the menu. We left Black Project confident that they’re one of the best producers of sour beer in the country, and their secret-agent aesthetic and knowledgeable staff makes us happy to call them a favorite of 2018.
Dancing Gnome Beer
Every so often, I make an impromptu call to one of our readers to listen to their likes and dislikes about the brewing industry. During one of my recent calls, someone shared that they hate when breweries are standoffish and rude, and enjoy when their participation in the industry feels like a “warm hug.” I agree. Is there any warmer hug than the one that comes from Dancing Gnome? Founder Andrew Witchey and right-hand-man Mike Dunlay set the tone for how we want all humans to act in 2018, and the staff goes out of their way to make sure everyone has a positive brewery experience. In addition, Dancing Gnome’s beer is simply fantastic.
Burley Oak Brewing Co.
2018 was the year of the J.R.E.A.M. Fruited sours aren’t new to the craft beer scene, but Burley Oak’s rotating J.R.E.A.M. series was genre-defining for the industry. Few breweries can capture the bonkers flavors of a Coquito or a Carrot Cake in a beer. Is it subtle or nuanced? Maybe not. Is it fun as hell? Yes. Besides their sour program, Burley Oak has continued to pump out really solid IPAs and has turned their taproom into a Maryland destination.
The Ale Apothecary
Good beer, made in rural Oregon, with ingredients foraged from the forests, that supports a beautiful, genuine family in their effort to make good beer in rural Oregon with ingredients foraged from the forests. We visited The Ale Apothecary earlier in the year, and putting them on this list was an absolute no-brainer.
Calusa didn’t get onto our radar until this year, but after finally trying a few of their beers, we realized we’d been missing out. A family-owned operation “inspired by Florida’s rich aquatic heritage & culture,” Calusa made some of the year’s best sours and IPAs. If you’re in western Florida, be sure to check them out!
Hudson Valley Brewery
Beacon, New York
New York City can be a grind, which is why we love traveling to the Hudson Valley for weekend getaways. The air is clean, the mountains are pretty, and the beer is terrific. In fact, last year we even called the Hudson Valley one of our Top 5 American Beer Cities — despite the fact that it’s a region, not a city. The area is anchored by Hudson Valley Brewery, masters of design and creators of some of the most unique beer we tried in 2018.
The Referend Bier Blendery
Hopewell, New Jersey
“A place where people stare at their phones to neo-jazz music,” reads a framed Google review in The Referend’s taproom. That review isn’t all that far off. The Referend, hidden away in New Jersey, makes some of the most interesting, complex, and flat-out great beers in the country. Visiting the blendery is not unlike a religious experience, and the taproom an altar to the lambic tradition. The beer is superb, the taproom is warm and inviting, and the trip is transformative.
Hoof Hearted Brewing
There’s no other brewery like Hoof Hearted. For one thing, the brewery’s name is a fart joke. For another, they’re creating some of the best beer in the country. Hoof’s Columbus kitchen and brewery is stylish and provides a wild and wonderful experience. Hoof Hearted has also released some really tasty nitro cold brew and coffee beans. Earlier this year, the brewery completed their Marengo taproom, offering fans another venue to worship at the altar of weird. They’ve also recently expanded production so we’ll be seeing plenty more Hoof in 2019. From parking lot skate jams to full-on concerts and beer fests, Hoof Hearted is authentic and amazing.
Alvarado Street Brewery
2018 was a big year for Alvarado Street. Their Contains No Juice earned a bronze medal at GABF in the highly competitive “Hazy or Juicy Double IPA” category. For a brewery known for its high energy (check out their Instagram), we were thoroughly impressed with the restraint in a lot of their beers… and their jetski jockey box.
Allagash Brewing Company
They might have a larger distribution footprint than the other breweries on this list, but no operation in the world has managed to grow with more grace and integrity than Allagash. Every time I wear one of their shirts, I feel proud to support an organization that in turn supports their employees, their community, and provides an unparalleled taproom experience. Despite being a well-established brewery, Allagash continues to innovate with canned releases hitting the market and an increased distribution of brewery favorite: Coolship Resurgam. There are few breweries we could name that have never made a bad beer. Allagash might be one of them.
Great Notion Brewing
It’s difficult to stand out in Portland, Oregon — one of the best beer cities in the country, if not the world — but Great Notion makes it look easy. Paul (the businessman), Andy (the scientist), and James (the artist) are not only neighbors, but business owners that perfectly complement each other. Great Notion’s Alberta Street Brewpub is warm and inviting (and next to Proud Mary, our favorite coffee shop in the country), and the brewery is currently breaking ground on a new 20,000 square foot production facility that’ll give them expanded capacity.
“This place isn’t usually what people expect when they walk in here. It’s a lot shittier. But the beer makes up for it.” So said Steve Luke during our recent interview — though, as I noted, he sells himself short. The taproom might not have all the bells and whistles of a fancier craft brewing operation, but it has an authentic charm. And the beer is truly something to tell the world about. We can’t wait to try more Cloudburst beer in 2019!
Southern Grist Brewing
I’ve been impressed with every beer Southern Grist has sent to our office, but it’s Southern Grist’s new production space that secured them a spot on this list. Along with Bearded Iris (another top contender for Best Breweries of 2018), Southern Grist has helped light a fire under Tennessee’s growing craft beer scene. Their new space is perfect for food truck rallies, events, and making creative beer — Fluffernutters, anyone? Catch them at their bonkers anniversary party on February 23rd, 2019.
Outer Range Brewing Company
Remember that “warm hug” we talked about in our Dancing Gnome blurb? Outer Range is another brewery that makes you feel like you’re hanging with best friends. Earlier in the year, our writer Grace Weitz waxed poetic about her visit to the mountain brewery, and we’ve only had beautiful interactions with family-oriented owners Emily and Lee Cleghorn. If every business were like Outer Range, the world would be a better place!
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