The Arkansas beer community has seen a lot of changes and plenty of growth since last year's Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival. More breweries have opened in Northwest Arkansas and others are getting ready to open. The Fayetteville Ale Trail has taken off as a popular activity for the region's beer lovers. Central Arkansas is playing catch-up with a number of new breweries making plans to open soon.
While all this has been going on in Arkansas, distributors have been hitting the hops trail pretty hard to bring many of the nation's best brews to our shelves and tap walls. End result? You'll need a scorecard — which we provide on page 24 — to keep up with this year's beer festival. You'll also need tickets, which you should buy in advance to avoid being on the outside looking in once the festival inevitably sells out. Get them at arktimes.com/craftbeerfest. A $35 ticket ($40 at the door) allows for all the sampling you want and includes food from nine restaurants, including Arkansas Ale House, Bravo! Cucina Italiana, Cafe Bossa Nova, Cregeen's Irish Pub, Crush Wine Bar, The Fold Botanas and Bar, Old Chicago NLR, Butcher & Public and Whole Hog North Little Rock.
Below, find quick previews of the participating breweries.
Apple Blossom Brewing Co.
Fayetteville's Apple Blossom Brewing Co. has been a welcome addition to the Northwest Arkansas craft beer community, and its beers are starting to make their way to Central Arkansas. I've visited Apple Blossom on three different occasions and each time has been more rewarding for my taste buds than the previous. You won't have to drive up scenic I-49 to try Apple Blossom for yourself as the brewery will be pouring its Fayetteweisse, Armstrong American Pale Ale, Triple IPA and possibly some Hayride Pumpkin Porter or Oktoberfest.
Blue Canoe Brewing
This upstart nano brewery and taproom is still in the planning stages for the River Market District, hoping to open later this year. Founders Laura Berryhill and Patrick and Ida Cowan plan to locally source as many ingredients as they can to create their beer. For example, Pinnacle Blossom Wit Beer is named for local honeysuckle blossoms. Berryhill and the Cowans will be pouring three beers at the festival that they hope will be mainstays year- round at their taproom: Paddler American Wheat, 4x4 Pale Ale and Whittler Milk Stout. They also plan to rotate seasonal and experimental beers.
It's been a huge year for Springdale's Core Brewing. CEO Jesse Core says Core is approaching nearly 470 locations where its product is sold, and he hopes to start selling it in Mexico in 2015. Core also recently opened a beautiful new taproom in Rogers and as it's also a distillery, expect for a barrel-aging program to start gaining steam as well. Just this month Core also added another power hitter to its starting line-up with the addition of former Apple Blossom brewer Nathan Traw, as director of brewing. Despite its Northwest location, Core's beers have been easy to find in Central Arkansas since the brewery's debut. Core will pour plenty of its most popular beers, including Behemoth Pilsner, Leg Hound Lager, ESB, Hilltop IPA, Imperial Red, Oatmeal Stout and a seasonal beer.
It's been a great year for Diamond Bear Brewery, now in its 14th year of production in the state. In June, it opened a huge shiny new brewery in North Little Rock, complete with the Arkansas Alehouse, a brewpub restaurant. Also this summer, Diamond Bear jumped into the world of craft cans, canning Southern Blonde for fans to take on lake trips, golf rounds or just wandering around the Arkansas outdoors. Not only will you be able to find Arkansas Alehouse's food at the festival, you'll also get to sample Southern Blonde, plus Diamond Bear's 2007 Great American Beer Festival gold medal-winning Pale Ale.
Here's another Little Rock brewery that's on the rise with big plans for the upcoming year. It's trying to secure a location for a brewery with an eye on opening in the early months of 2015. At the festival, Flyway will have all four of its planned year-round lineup of beers. Look for Migrate Ale, Free Range Brown Ale, Early Bird IPA and Shadow Hands Stout to all be flowing.
Ben Mills, a graduate of Gravette High School, began making wine during his college years at Arkansas Tech. It wasn't very good wine apparently. "My friends said, 'Maybe you should make something we can actually drink.' That's when I got started home-brewing," he said. He went on to complete a six-month brewmaster school at the University of California Davis before opening up Fossil Cove Brewing in Fayetteville, which recently celebrated its second anniversary. Fossil Cove's tap room is on my "must do" list every time I get up to the hills, not just for the beer, but for the wonderful laid-back environment. You can find Fossil Cove's taps around Central Arkansas already, but with the recent addition of a 20-barrel fermenter and 20-barrel brite tank carbonator, expect to see plenty more. Start by checking out Fossil Cove's La Brea Brown, Blizzle Black IPA and Paleo Pale Ale.
Leap of Faith Brewing
Sometimes when you have a dream you just have to take a leap of faith, and that's what local homebrewers Dave Ragan and Joe Mains are doing as they plan another upstart brewery in Central Arkansas. They'll be sharing some of what they hope to have in store for you soon, like Righteous Indignation, Highgarden Brown Ale, Country Monks Farmhouse and the hops monster called Thor's Hammer IPA. Take the leap!
With much rejoicing from local beer lovers, former Vino's brewmaster Josiah Moody launched his own label this summer, which he cleverly dubbed Moody Brews. He's taken a proven successful route (see Evil Twin and Prairie Ales) of "gypsy brewing" by brewing and bottling his new beers at Choc Brewing Co. in Krebs, Okla. The first official beer to come out of Moody Brews is an Imperial IPA called Half Seas Over, which you can find in four-pack bottles and on draft at several Central Arkansas watering holes. It's a wonderfully aromatic tropical hop blast with a flavor to match, coming in at 80 International Bittering Units (IBUs). The 8.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) seems big, but it sure is hidden well as the beer finishes as smooth as a session IPA.
Ozark Beer Co.
Ozark Beer Co.'s motto of "Hard Work Makes Honest Beer" could easily be replaced with "Hard Work Makes Delicious Beer" because that what you get with this Rogers brewery. Brewmaster Andy Coates worked at Great Divide Brewing Co. and Goose Island Beer Co. before moving to Arkansas in 2010 with his wife, Lacie. It was a homecoming for Lacie and a new home in the Ozarks for Andy. He made a name for himself locally as the brewer at Fayetteville's West Mountain Brewing Co. before Ozark Beer Co. was born with partner Jeff Baldwin, just north of Fayetteville. Ozark will pour its Belgian Golden and Cream Stout.
Another Little Rock brewery in the development stages, Rebel Kettle recently announced a mid-2015 opening at space on East Sixth Street. The future brewery's location is pretty much directly between Stone's Throw (402 E. 9th St.) and Lost 40 (McLean and Capital, east of I-30), so Central Arkansas's version of an Ale Trail could have a lot more walking involved. Rebel Kettle has been pouring at festivals in recent years and has already earned a reputation for making tasty beers that ignore style limitations. See for yourself by trying Popfly Popcorn Cream Ale, Dirtbag Brown Ale, Moontower Cream Stout and Liquor & Peaches, a bourbon and peach imperial porter.
Having toured the Springdale brewery a few times, I wasn't at all shocked when TripAdvisor named Saddlebock to its 2014 Top Wineries & Breweries Worth Traveling For. It's a really neat three-level brewhouse that looks like a barn and is ultra-environmentally friendly, from gravity-fed grain all the way through to a naturally cooled cellar. It's an interesting tour in a beautiful location, outside the city beside the scenic White River. I highly recommend stopping by on any visit to Northwest Arkansas. Look for Oktoberfest, Late Summer Shandy, Bock and my favorite, the super refreshing Blueberry Tart, at the fest.
Stone's Throw Brewing
At last year's festival, Stone's Throw had been open merely a few months in its downtown Little Rock location just a stone's throw from the River Market. Here we are a year later and it's doubled twice now since brewery operations began on July 4, 2013. The most recent additions in September — three fermenters and a brite tank each with a six-barrel volume — will allow the brewery to make its most popular beers available for longer periods. Beers that need more time to ferment, like lagers and high- gravity recipes, will also have increased availability. Stop by its table and check out Ichabod Pumpkin, Big Damn Horn O'Plenty Imperial Oktoberfest, Amer Belge Belgian IPA and Petit Jean Pear Cider.
Vino's Pizza Pub Brewery
There was a lot of change for Vino's this year, with former brewmaster Josiah Moody leaving to start Moody Brews, but it will continue to make consistent quality beer like the people of Little Rock have come to expect for over 20 years. Nobody else can lay claim to over two decades of beer making and selling in this state. Vino's is also one of only two breweries in the state with multiple Great American Beer Festival awards. It will be serving up Oktoberfest, Red Wolf Ale, Dopplebock and Dunbar Garden Table Beer.
For my wife and me, no trip to New Orleans is complete without a stop by this brewery in Abita Springs, La., 30 miles north of the Big Easy. Formed in 1986, it now brews 130,000 barrels (and 5,000 barrels of delicious root beer) per year. Abita is now sold in 46 states and Puerto Rico and is the 15th largest craft brewery in the country. You can try its popular Andygator, 2013 medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival in the bock category, along with Lemon Wheat, 2014 Great American Beer Festival medal-winning Oktoberfest, Restoration Pale Ale, Strawgator and Purple Haze, a very popular lager brewed with real raspberries added after filtration. If you're a fan of its Strawberry Harvest Lager — and who isn't — and are sad because it's out of season, give the Strawgator a try, as it's a fusion of that beer and Andygator.
Bayou Teche Brewing
If you like Cajun food, especially of the spicy variety, then Bayou Teche just may be your new favorite brewery. The Arnaudville, La., brewery tends to craft beers that complement the cuisine and lifestyle of Cajuns and Creoles. It's come a long way from its 2009 start in an old railway car, but still remains true to its original intent. Let's call Bayou Teche's brew beers with a Cajun accent. Stop by and try Acadie Biere de Garde, Bierre Pale APA, Bierre Noir Schwarzbier and Cocodrie Belgian IPA.
Boulevard Brewing Co.
Central Arkansas beer lovers are already very familiar with Boulevard Brewing Co. out of Kansas City, Mo., as it was one of our original craft breweries in the area when our scene was just beginning to take off. The brewery has expanded many times over the years; today, it's the largest craft brewer in the Midwest, cranking out over 600,000 barrels a year. In 2013, Boulevard was acquired by Duvel Moortgat Brewery and while terms of the deal were not disclosed, industry analysts estimate the sale price exceeded $100 million. Boulevard will pour some great beers, including Bully Porter, Bourbon Barrel Quad, Bob's '47 Oktoberfest, Entwined and Collaboration No. 4, a spiced Saison from its collaboration with Brewery Ommegang.
What started as a winery in Sainte Genevieve, Mo., has branched into a nice-sized brewery operation with a brand new brewhouse situated in the hills just south of St. Louis, along with the winery and a refurbished 1860s log cabin that serves as a two-room bed and breakfast. I went to visit this summer. My Garmin must have forgotten it was the Show Me State, because it couldn't show me how to get there, but it was worth getting lost once I finally found my way. It's a beautiful place with some super friendly people and a lineup of quality beers (and wines). Look out for Hoptimistic IPA, Half-Wit Wheat, Tornado Amber and maybe a couple of seasonals.
Since last year's festival, a new brewing system has given Oklahoma's Choc Beer Co. a jump in capacity. It's a four-vessel, 50-barrel system was purchased from Atlanta's Sweetwater Brewing Co. that allows Choc to produce more of its own beer as well as more for Prairie Artisan Ales, who, along with Little Rock's Moody Brews, Choc brews on contract. Look for Choc Beer, OPA and Signature Dubbel as well as one or two yet-to-be announced special releases.
Coop Ale Works
Oklahoma City, Okla., has really become a hotspot in the Midwest for craft beer in the last few years, and Coop Ale Works was one of the frontrunners in that movement, opening in 2009. It's been trying to get on Arkansas shelves for about a year, but it's sold so much beer in Oklahoma it hasn't been able to make the jump. December may finally be the time it arrives, so expect some fun surrounding Coop's Arkansas launch soon. Get a preview by sampling Horny Toad Blonde, Native Amber, F5 IPA and DNR Belgian Dark Strong.
Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling Co.
Just south of St. Louis in the hill country not far from Charleville Brewery sits Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling, which not only makes a lineup of beers but also coffee, root beer, spirits and wine. Its handcrafted brews are made on location by Brew Master Jeremy Gilbert in the state-of-the-art 15-barrel microbrewery. Look for Crown Valley to pour Big Bison, Country Carriage Apple Cider, Farmhouse Lager, Gunslinger Double IPA and Strawberry Cider.
Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. was founded by Mark and Leslie Henderson in 2003 in Kiln, Miss. In January 2005 its first batch of beer was brewed and Lazy Magnolia became Mississippi's first package brewery since Prohibition. It's been available in Arkansas for over a year now and has a good footprint throughout the South with a nice lineup of what could be called "Southern Style" beers. Sweet potatoes lend the Jefferson Stout an earthy, faintly sweet character similar to pumpkin, and Southern Pecan is a nut-brown ale made with whole roasted pecans. What's more Southern than pecans and sweet potatoes? Lazy Magnolia will serve up both Southern Pecan and Jefferson Stout plus Southern Hops'pitality, an IPA with "Southern Complexity."
The motto of this small craft brewery northwest of St. Louis is "We Love Beer." I like that. It's just straight forward and right to the point, which goes right along with many of its beers. There's not a lot of smoke and mirrors here, just very solid representations of popular styles of beer. Try 5 Day IPA, Zeke's Pale Ale, Pumpkin, Hemp Hop Rye and Wheach, a delicious wheat/peach brew, at the festival.
Marshall Brewing Co.
Marshall Brewing Co. became Tulsa's first production craft microbrewery since the 1940s when it began operations in spring 2008. Brewmaster/founder Eric Marshall is a fourth-generation Tulsan who studied the art of brewing in Munich, apprenticed in multiple breweries throughout Germany and served as a brewer at the Victory Brewing Co. before starting his own brewery. Marshall will pour staples like Sundown Wheat, McNellie's Pub Ale, Oktoberfest Lager and also a 7.8 percent ABV Belgian IPA called This Machine IPA.
Mother's Brewing Co.
Mother's Brewing out of Springfield, Mo., celebrated its arrival in Central Arkansas in August with a week full of fun events, including a massive 23-tap takeover at The Flying Saucer, a Saucer record. Going all out seems to be the only way Mother's does things. The brewery won't be pouring 23 different beers at the festival, but it'll have plenty, including Towhead American Blonde, Lil Helper IPA, Three Blind Mice Brown Ale, Mr. Pumpkin, Squashed, Oktoberfest, Winter Grind and a brewmaster's special. If you're a coffee beer fan, make sure to try Winter Grind, which I think is one of the best coffee stouts around.
Piney River Brewing Co.
You know what I like about Piney River? Everything. I like that Joleen and Brian Durham founded Piney River Brewing Co. on their farm in South Central Missouri in 2010, after making beer on the kitchen stove and fermenting it in the basement of their 100-year-old farmhouse. I like that they revived a 70-year old barn hewn from oak trees harvested off the farm and use it for their brewery and taproom. I like that when you visit there, you leave feeling like family. Oh, and I also like that their beers are fantastic and have won medals at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup in the last couple of years. They'll pour Float Trip Ale, Black Walnut Wheat, Old Tom Porter and Masked Bandit IPA, a delicious black rye IPA.
Prairie Artisan Ales
Chase Healey and his brother, Colin, founded Prairie in the summer of 2012. They started out by brewing their beers under a contract at Choc Beer Co. in Krebs, Okla. They called on international beer distributor Shelton Bros. when they were ready to hit the market, putting their beer in front of consumers around the country and world. Since then, they've secured their own brewery building in west Tulsa, where they brew anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of Prairie's beer — the rest is still made at Choc. They have also acquired land in Glenpool, Okla., which will become Prairie Farm, part of their vision of a massive brewery expansion combined with a tourist destination and functioning farm. Oh, and the beer? Well these guys are brewing some of the funkiest, wild and sour beers out there. They'll have a nice representation of what they do with Cherry Funk, Standard Hoppy Farmhouse, Birra Farmhouse and Prairie Bomb, an incredible dark, thick stout with hints of coffee, vanilla beans, chili peppers and cocoa nibs.
The Saint Louis Brewery
The Saint Louis Brewery was incorporated in 1989 by Dan Kopman and Tom Schlafly with a goal to create quality local microbrew beer. Their brand, Schlafly Beer, has grown into a monster in the St. Louis area and surrounding states and is now St. Louis' largest locally owned independent brewery and puts out about 50 unique styles of beer. They've been in our state for a bit and have more quality beers in their portfolio than my team, the St. Louis Cardinals, have rings. Look for Pale Ale, Kolsch, Dry Hopped APA, Session IPA, Black Lager, Tasmanian IPA, Pumpkin Ale and Tripel and Oktoberfest at the festival.
Southern Star Brewing
Southern Star Brewing Co., which arrived in Arkansas in the spring, was founded in July 2007 in Conroe, Texas, and was the first craft brewery in Texas to provide canned craft beers to consumers from its 10,000-square-foot warehouse. Southern Star is currently clearing land for a new $5 million brewery that founder Dave Fougeron, former head brewer of Houston-based Saint Arnold Brewing Co., hopes will not only expand capacity but also attract more visitors for tours, special events and, perhaps at some future date, overnight stays in an adjacent bed-and-breakfast. Southern Star will be pouring Buried Hatchet Stout, Bombshell Blonde, Pine Belt Pale Ale and Walloon Grissette, a farmhouse-style ale.
Located in Shiner, Texas, Spoetzl was founded way back in 1909, and is the oldest independent brewery in Texas and the fourth-largest craft brewery in America, based on 2013 beer sales volume. It produces the popular line of Shiner Beers, including the flagship five-time Great American Beer Festival medal-winning Shiner Bock, a beer which many people claim as their "gateway beer" into craft beer (including me). Spoetzl will pour its White Wing Belgian White, Bohemian Black Lager Schwarzbier and either the seasonal Oktoberfest or Holiday Cheer, a Dunkelweizen with hints of peaches and pecans.
Anchor Brewing Co.
Today's craft beer craze owes a lot to San Francisco's Anchor Brewing Co., one of the original craft breweries. Founded in 1896, Anchor Steam derives its unusual name from the 19th century when "steam" was a nickname for beer brewed on the West Coast under primitive conditions and without ice. Today, Anchor Steam has trademarked "steam" as the singular process and taste of its flagship brand. The brewery will serve its namesake along with California Lager, Liberty Ale and a Porter.
Boston Beer Co.
America's largest craft brewery, based on 2013 sales volume, is better known as Sam Adams. Co-founder Jim Koch raided his savings, took out a second mortgage, and borrowed from friends and family to start the operation in 1984, brewing the first batch in his kitchen. In the 40 years since, the brewery has grown to now sell over 2.5 million barrels of more than 50 different beers per a year. Among those that'll be at the festival: Fat Jack, Harvest Pumpkin, Rebel IPA, Winter Lager and 2014 Great American Beer Festival gold medal winner Tetravis Belgian-Style Abbey Ale.
Colorado has over 150 craft breweries today. Breckenridge Brewery was the state's third, founded in 1990. It's grown from a small, 3,000-barrel-a-year brewpub into one of the most successful craft beer and restaurant companies in the nation, now brewing well over 52,000 barrels of fresh beer annually, ranking it the 40th-largest craft brewer in the nation. At the fest, the brewery will pour 471 IPA, Agave Wheat, Autumn Ale, Oatmeal Stout and Vanilla Porter.
Brewery Ommegang, located on a 136-acre farmstead in Cooperstown, N.Y., is regarded by many as the most beautiful brewery in America. The company opened in 1997 to brew fine Belgian-style craft beers, now distributed in 45 states. Founded by Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, owners of the Vanberg & DeWulf beer import company and three family-owned Belgian breweries including Duvel Moortgat, Ommegang will not only pour from its fantastic lineup of Belgian inspired beers, it will also bring some Duvel Moortgat lines as well. Look for Ommegang's Game of Thrones Valar Morghulis, Ommegang Scythe & Sickle Harvest Ale, Ommegang Three Philosophers Belgian-style quadrupel, La Chouffe Golden Ale and the incredible Maredsous 10 Abbey Tripel.
Caldera Brewing Co.
Canned beers are really popular in the current craft beer climate, and one of the original breweries to get this movement started was Caldera. Incorporated in Ashland, Ore., in 1996, Caldera was only available in draft until June 2005, when it became the first microbrewery in Oregon to can its own beer. Caldera has only been in our market since summer. Try its Lawnmower Lager, Hop Hash IPA and delicious Caldera IPA — a tribute to American hops.
Crazy Mountain Brewing Co.
A recent addition to the Arkansas beer scene, this brewery hails from ski resort heaven Vail Valley, in beer-rich Colorado. Look for Amber Ale, Lava Lake Wit, Mountain Livin' Pale Ale, Boohi Red Ale and Crazy Mountain's 10 percent ABV and an 80 IBU barley wine, Lawyer's, Guns & Money.
Evil Twin Brewing
Not a standard physical brewery, Evil Twin is more a beer production company, commonly referred to in the craft beer world as a "gypsy brewery." All the beers from Evil Twin are prepared in "10 of the best breweries around the world." Founder Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Denmark creates recipes for beers that are as unique as their names, possibly in competition with his twin brother, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø of fellow gypsy brewery Mikkeller. Stop by for some Evil Twin's Falco IPA, I Love You With My Stout, Freudian Slip Barley Wine and Bikini Beer, an amazing low-alcohol offering that has a big beer hoppy flavor.
Finch's Beer Co.
Chicago-based Finch's is another brewery leading the canned beer revolution with a whole line of pint cans available on local shelves. With an expanded facility established in 2013 and plans for a new brewery and tasting room by 2016, Finch's is on pace to be one of the largest microbreweries in the Midwest. At the festival you'll get to check out some of Finch's best: the robust Secret Stache Stout and super hoppy Hardcore Chimera double IPA, which clocks in at 9 percent ABV. Let's hope it will have some cans of its winter seasonal, Nuclear Winter, as well to share.
Founders Brewing Co.
Local beer lovers rejoiced back in the spring when this Grand Rapids, Mich., brewery finally arrived in Arkansas. It's the 26th-largest craft brewery in America by sales volume as of 2013 and has been ranked among the top breweries in the world by Ratebeer.com for several years running. Founders flat-out makes quality beer and will be pouring All Day IPA, Dirty Bastard, Centennial IPA, Porter, Breakfast Stout and Dissenter Imperial IPL.
Goose Island Beer Co.
When Anheuser-Busch InBev swallowed Goose Island for $38.8 million in 2011, diehard fans worried that the quality of beer would drop off. Things couldn't be farther from the truth in the three years since, in my experience. It seems deep pockets have given Goose Island brewers space to grow the brewery's more experimental lines of beer, while the quality of its staples hasn't suffered in the least. The brewery will be pouring an impressive lineup, including Honker's Ale, IPA, 312 Urban Wheat, 312 Urban Pale Ale, The Muddy Imperial Stout, Pepe Nero and three varieties of Bourbon County Stout (regular, coffee and barleywine).
Green Flash Brewing Co.
Headquartered in the Mira Mesa neighborhood of San Diego, Green Flash was founded in 2002, and its beers have garnered 10 medals at the Great American Beer Festival since, including a bronze this year for Le Freak. Green Flash's focus is on very hop-forward beers, which the West Coast is well known for delivering. You'll get to try its amazingly good, game-changing West Coast IPA (which accounts for about 50 percent of sales), Road Warrior Rye IPA, Citra Session IPA, Le Freak (a cross between a Belgian-style tripel and an American Imperial IPA) and Double Stout, an 8.8 percent ABV imperial stout.
Laughing Dog Brewing is a craft beer brewery based in Sandpoint, Idaho, run by a yellow lab named Ben. Well, Fred and Michelle Colby are really the ones behind the curtain, but the three often discuss new ideas for brews and flavors, and Ben gives his OK by one bark, or a no by two barks. He must know his beer because Laughing Dog has some good ones. The brewery will be pouring its Sneaky Pete IPA, Dogfather Bourbon Stout and Rocketdog Rye IPA.
Left Coast Brewing Co./Lucky Buddha
Left Coast began operations in its 5,000-square-foot warehouse in January 2004 in San Clemente, Calif., about three miles from the beach. In 2012, the brewery expanded operations, adding two new 120-barrel fermenters and one 120-barrel brite tank. It now distributes across the country as well as Japan and New Zealand. Stop by Left Coast's table to try Voodoo Stout, Hop Juice Double IPA and imported Lucky Buddha Lager from Sydney, Australia.
New Belgium Brewing Co.
New Belgium was opened in Fort Collins, Colo., in 1991. In 2013, it generated $190 million in revenues and is now the third-largest craft brewery in the country based on volume of beer sales. And with a second production facility in the works in Asheville, N.C., scheduled to be open by winter of 2015, New Belgium could soon become even bigger. You like winners? The brewery won nearly 30 medals at the Great American Beer Festival. Its flagship Fat Tire is very well known, but New Belgium has a huge lineup of other quality beers as well, which it'll pour at the festival: Ranger IPA, Rampant Imperial IPA, Snapshot Wheat, Transatlantique Kriek, Wild2 Dubbel, LeTerroir Dry Hopped Sour Ale, Salted Belgian Chocolate Stout and some of the Folly Pack canned beers.
North Coast Brewing Co.
Another pioneer in the craft beer movement, North Coast Brewing Co. opened in 1988 as a local brewpub in the historic town of Fort Bragg, located on California's Mendocino coast. Under the leadership of brewmaster Mark Ruedrich, North Coast has developed a strong reputation for quality, having won more than 70 awards in national and international competitions. Its beers are available in 47 states now, ranking it the 45th-largest craft brewer in the U.S. North Coast will have Acme IPA, Le Merle Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Old Stock, Prankster and Brother Thelonious to share.
Shock Top Brewing Co.
Another brewery under the Anheuser-Busch InBev umbrella, Shock Top is focused on making sessionable, spicy wheat-style beers. Shock Top's original beer, a traditional Belgian-style wheat ale, started collecting medals back in 2006, and quite a few offshoots with different fruit twists have come along since then. You'll get a chance to try Belgian White, Raspberry Wheat, Honeycrisp Apple Wheat, Honey Bourbon Cask Wheat, Spiced Banana Wheat and Shockolate Wheat.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
I'm pretty sure the good people at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. laugh at the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," because this Chico, Calif., brewery is one of the old dogs, established back in 1980, but it still continues to change the industry. This year it set the craft beer world on fire with an unprecedented seven-city traveling beer festival called Beer Camp Across America, followed by the year's most exciting mix-pack, a partnership with a dozen exceptional craft breweries that led to a 12-pack featuring 12 different beers. If you missed it, you can catch the beers from the 12 packs at Sierra Nevada's table in addition to its Pale Ale, a classic and the industry standard in my opinion, as well as Torpedo IPA, Ovila Tripel and Narwhal Imperial Stout, a malt-forward monster that clocks in at 10.2 percent ABV.
Summit Brewing Co.
Summit Brewing Co., of Saint Paul, Minn., is another brewery that launched with fanfare in the Natural State in 2014 and received a strong reception. It was founded in 1986 in an old auto parts warehouse and now ranks 23rd on the list of biggest craft breweries. Summit will be pouring most of its beers that are available here, including its 2014 Great American Beer Festival medal-winning flagship Extra Pale Ale, Saga IPA, Horizon Red IPA, Great Northern Porter and Herkulean Woods, which is brewed with spruce tips and Minnesota maple syrup.
Tallgrass Brewing Co.
Tallgrass Brewing Co. is based in Manhattan, Kan., a town nestled in the Flint Hills and surrounded by the Tallgrass Prairie. In 2010 Tallgrass began packaging its beers exclusively in cans instead of bottles. The beers brewed by Tallgrass are now sold in cans and on tap in 14 states, mostly in the Midwest, and it's getting close to moving into a new, larger facility across town. You can try the brewery's Buffalo Sweat Oatmeal Cream Stout, Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweat, Ethos IPA and 8-Bit Pale Ale at the festival.
What's about 2 feet tall, grizzled, lives underground, wears miner's garb, commits random mischief and knocks on mine walls to warn of cave-ins? Tommyknockers, of course, according to Welsh folklore. So it only makes sense that Tommyknocker Brewery is nestled in the beautiful mining town of Idaho Springs, Colo., 30 miles west of Denver. The brewery has won 17 medals at the Great American Beer Festival alone through the years. Tommyknocker will pour Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale, IPA and A Half, Maple Nut Brown and Jack Whacker Wheat.
This Canadian brewery is so good it almost makes up for the whole Justin Bieber thing. Almost. It produces a wide range of beers, although there is a focus on Belgian-style brews. Located in Chambly, Quebec, most of Unibroue's beers are bottled "on the lees," or containing yeast sediment. This practice provides additional fermentation after bottling and results in a beer that ages well if kept in the dark and unrefrigerated. It will be serving up samples of La Fin Du Monde, Maudite, Trois Pistoles and La Terrible, a 10.5 percent ABV Belgian Strong Dark Ale. Do yourself a favor and get out to Unibroue's website and read the wonderful stories behind the names of these beers.