If you want proof that craft beer is still a relatively nascent phenomenon, take a look at the oldest breweries in each state. You might be surprised to find out that say, Alabama doesn’t have a single currently operating brewery that opened before 2008. Or Delaware, before 1995. Or Arizona before 1994. In fact, there are 22 states that don’t have a currently operating brewery older than 25 years: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
What we should take away from this is that making it to a 25th anniversary is a hell of an accomplishment in the beer world. Looking at those breweries that have reached the milestone, it becomes clear that very few have made it so far by simply remaining monoliths that rely solely on flagship brews and nostalgia. Most of the breweries that have lived to reach 25 have done so by evolving to meet demand and reinventing themselves to stay both relevant and beloved, while simultaneously taking advantage of their built-in cred as pioneers.
Unsurprisingly, many of these breweries have grown large in the years since their foundation, becoming regional powerhouses and appearing on lists of the largest American craft brewers. Some, however, have made the transition better than others, and fit in better among the latest generation of breweries as a result. Still others started small and have held true to their original visions as brewpubs or local hangouts. In this list, we’ll give credit where credit is due by recognizing a collection of those breweries that have made it to 25 years old while still making great beer.
Alaskan Brewing Company, 1986
Alaskan Brewing Co. is one of Alaska’s elder statesmen in the beer world, but they’re a great example of the sort of regional brewery that has learned to grow, change and adapt to the modern craft beer market without ever losing sight of their identity. They may be a large brewer (just shy of the top 10 biggest regional craft breweries now, actually), but their under-the-radar offerings are largely consumed by rank-and-file beer drinkers while being all-too-often ignored by the craft beer literati—with the possible exception of their classic smoked porter. Even we at Paste probably didn’t have the highest expectations for Alaskan’s beer until they started sending things down for blind style tastings, and a funny thing happened—they pretty much always exceeded expectations. In porter, they finished #2 of 35 beers for the aforementioned smoked porter. In IPA, #46 of 116. In DIPA, a very impressive #25 out of 115. Those are really impressive numbers for a big, regional brewery that doesn’t get much hype. I mean seriously, if someone says “name a good DIPA,” how many people have you heard throw Alaskan Brewing Co. into the mix? And that’s a brewery celebrating its 30th anniversary now.
Bell’s Brewery, 1983
Bell’s is one of the truly iconic Midwestern breweries—what Sierra Nevada or Anchor might represent to a lot of West Coast drinkers, that’s close to the fondness that many in the Great Lakes region have for Bell’s. They’re definitely a brewery that leans hard on their classics—around 50 percent of Bell’s production is their classic IPA, Two Hearted Ale—but our own blind tastings have verified that it still deserves all that attention. When we blind-tasted 116 IPAs last year (soon to be repeated), Two Hearted made the finals, placing at #15 with its formidable combination of floral and citrus flavors. Add to that the sought-after special releases, such as the genre-expanding DIPA Hopslam or the hedonistic Bell’s Black Note barrel-aged imperial stout, and you have a brewery that tends to exemplify the best of classic American craft beer styles.
Boulevard Brewing Company, 1989
You’d be hard-pressed to find another brewery older than 25 years making such a varied, sought-after and top-tier lineup of beers as Boulevard. Unlike some of the other older-school regional breweries, Boulevard is still very much a name welcome in more hyped beer geek circles, thanks to their very reliable barrel-aged series. Sours such as the yearly Love Child release, or Rye-on-Rye are hotly anticipated annual releases, but even with some modicum of hype, the truth is that the year-rounders Boulevard puts out, and the year-round releases in the Smokestack Series, do still tend to be undervalued at times. Beers such as their The Calling DIPA and Dark Truth Stout remain both delicious and distinctive, and one shouldn’t overlook the influence of their very popular Tank 7 in helping increase the popularity of farmhouse ales in the Midwest. Boulevard isn’t a brewery just responding to the craft beer market; they’re still very much actively shaping it.
Broad Ripple Brewpub, 1990
The oldest brewery currently operating in Indiana is this small, humble brewpub, the veritable seed of what has become the excellent beer city of Indianapolis. Unlike so many others on this list, BRB never grew into a large regional player—in fact, they don’t even package their beers. What you’ll find here is a balanced mix of classic styles with the occasional concession to modernity—brewpub classics like IPA, dark mild and hefeweizen, supported by slightly more unexpected fare, such as a lightly refreshing blackcurrant sour. But through it all, this place has remained a comfortable neighborhood staple, even as Indy’s Broad Ripple neighborhood gentrified and expanded to become a hipster and family enclave. With a surprisingly large menu that draws from a variety of cuisines, it’s a must-stop while passing through Indy for a pint and platter of fish & chips or chicken schnitzel.
Brooklyn Brewery, 1987
We should never take for granted how much Brooklyn Lager did for craft beer in NYC. That beer became a rallying cry around which the city’s beer scene flourished, and Brooklyn’s brewmaster Garrett Oliver has been an institution ever since, a literal symbol of the industry. We’re still regularly surprised by Brooklyn, even by some of the year-rounders. In our very recent blind-tasting of 62 pilsners, for instance, we were pleasantly surprised when Brooklyn parked itself at #6 with a seriously underappreciated classic pils. It’s a brewery that wears its history with gravitas, in the same way one always expects to see Oliver in a dapper suit when in public—but at the same time, Brooklyn keeps the spirit of innovation very much alive. They’re currently putting out some of the most interesting “concept beers” on the market, which was hammered home to us only recently while tasting the brewery’s “Improved Old Fashioned” released at the beginning of 2016. Truly channeling the spirit of rye whiskey, fruit and Angostura bitters, it’s one of the most unique and satisfying expressions of “cocktail-inspired” beer we’ve ever come across.
Deschutes Brewery, 1988
From Black Butte Porter to Mirror Pond Pale Ale, it’s easy to see how Deschutes’ exemplary year-round beers carried them to a #8 berth in the largest craft breweries in the U.S.—personally, I’ll take the Obsidian Stout. At the same time, Deschutes helped pioneer some of the iconic substyles of modern craft beer, such as wet-hopped harvest ales with their annual Hop Trip or the American style of Christmas ale/winter warmer with their well-liked Jubelale. And then of course there are the high-gravity monsters, with The Abyss Imperial Stout forever standing as one of the best pure examples of the style. Deschutes was also the first brewery whose labels I ever saw bear a “drink after” dating, which told me that this was a company that wanted the best possible experience for its drinkers. Unsurprisingly, there’s still some Black Butte XXVII in my closet, putting on age and waiting for the right moment to make its appearance.
Empyrean Brewing Co., 1990
Another dependable Midwestern brewery to recently celebrate its 25th anniversary, Empyrean is Nebraska’s local purveyor of classic American craft beer styles. It began its life as a brewpub, Lazlo’s Brewery & Grill in 1990, before demand enabled the construction of a full production facility that became Empyrean. Their lineup retains most of those brewpub classic styles—Scottish ale, IPA, vanilla porter, etc—while the brewery uses its seasonals and one-offs to explore territory that can be surprisingly adventurous. Recent one-offs have included everything from a mango IPA to a peanut butter stout to a blueberry stout, beers that have helped Empyrean keep pace with the younger generation of up-and-coming Nebraska nano brewers. It would probably be a shock to the original Lazlo’s drinkers to try Empyrean’s chardonnay barrel-aged wheatwine, but that’s evidence of how far this company has come over the last few decades.
Free State Brewery, 1989
Free State was the first legal brewery in Kansas in more than 100 years when it opened its doors in 1989, reviving a professional brewer’s art that had become more or less extinct on a local level. Unsurprisingly, that meant challenges in acclimating local drinkers to classic beer styles such as American pale ale, but Free State persevered. They’re beloved over the Great Plains for their approachable, easy-drinking, sessionable beers, from the aforementioned Copperhead Pale Ale to the iconic Ad Astra Ale, which is probably best categorized as a cross between American amber ale and German altbier. They’re not the kind of brewery to inspire lines for special releases, but local fans will tell you that the Old Backus Barleywine is certainly line-worthy if any beer ever was.
Great Lakes Brewing Company 1988
Great Lakes is one of those great regional craft breweries that doesn’t feel like it’s approaching its 30th anniversary, because they’ve managed to keep their core lineup feeling dynamic and fresh despite not changing an awful lot over the years. And really, when you examine “core lineups” of year-rounders, it’s pretty hard to top the consistency and excellence of Great Lakes. They’ve been making perhaps the best porter in the Midwest (either them, or Founders), the legendary Edmund Fitzgerald, since 1991, which is an absolute eternity. Their takes on classic styles, including pale ale, dortmunder lager and Irish red ale, are all revered. It’s a brewery with a core portfolio so strong that they reasonably don’t even have to experiment, but they thankfully still do. Seasonal releases such as Chillwave DIPA and Blackout Stout are simply icing on the cake. Great Lakes isn’t necessarily flashy, but their batting average is through the roof.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company, 1989
Before Stone Brewing and Ballast Point and AleSmith put San Diego on the craft beer map, when an amber ale was considered a daring style to brew, the Karl Strauss brewpub opened and offered a range of flavorful beers. Started by Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner in 1989 with the help of a cousin: the eponymous Karl Strauss. The German brewmaster had already made a mark on American beer—helping to reformulate Pabst Blue Ribbon in the ‘50s—and he’d lend his expertise and talents to the ambitious startup brewery. San Diego has since grown into the crown jewel of American beer cities, and it’s easy to forget how innovative Karl Strauss is. With nearly a dozen brewpubs in Southern California, and an expanded flagship production brewery and beer garden that still draws crowds of beer lovers, Karl Strauss remains a force in the San Diego beer scene. Mosaic Session IPA and the new Aurora Hoppyalis IPA show that Karl Strauss isn’t stuck in the past. The aroma-driven brews are vibrant expression of modern hop varietals, and although the iconic Amber Ale is still a cornerstone of Karl Strauss’s lineup, the brewers continue to innovate and develop new offerings tailored for today’s marketplace. – John Verive
Lakefront Brewery, 1987
Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery is the sort of place that is absolutely beloved by locals but doesn’t exactly get a lot of attention on a national level. Part of this is due to their fairly unassuming beer portfolio, which is more lager-heavy than most—only sensible in German-influenced Milwaukee. But most of those lagers are terrific, from the Klisch Pils to the wonderful takes on Vienna lager and dunkel. And it’s not like they can’t do classic American styles just as well—the Fixed Gear in particular is an hoppy American red ale that the brewery wisely began calling a “red IPA” to better fit the current parlance. Regardless, it’s a wonderfully balanced beer, and that’s what Lakefront has always been about. Known for running one of the very best brewery tours in the biz, they’re a place to visit when you’re quite thirsty—and hungry as well. Visit on Friday for polka and a damn good fish fry, and you’ll see why Milwaukee has shown the place so much love over the years.
Millstream Brewing Company, 1985
The expectations for Iowa’s Millstream probably weren’t that high when they opened in 1985; it had been 101 years after Amana’s last local brewery had brewed beer. Time, however, makes fools of us all. Particularly in this case, as Millstream has proven that we should’ve expected great things from them. Millstream has been brewing varied and mostly true to style craft offerings for over three decades with few accolades beyond The Hawkeye State’s borders. From the clean, crisp German Pilsner to the everyday Iowa Pale Ale, Millstream is reliable where they need to be, and experimental when the situation calls for it. It’s what you think of when you think of Midwestern beer. – Loren Green
New Belgium Brewing Company, 1991
New Belgium just celebrated their 25th anniversary in time to be included on this list, and once they were of age, there’s no way to deny them a spot. Fat Tire, of course, is a hallmark beer of the craft brewing industry, but anyone who’s been paying attention for the last decade knows full well that New Belgium has gone far beyond. At any given time, it’s impossible to even begin to guess at what kind of beer will roll out of their Lips of Faith series next, except that it’s likely to make one raise an eyebrow in surprise. It’s a craft brewery whose huge stature (#4 in size) has been used to fuel experimentation that, on any given day, may or may not work out … but their size allows them the luxury of being able to find out. One should also mention that New Belgium has been widely admired for its corporate culture, conservation efforts, energy-efficient brewhouse and employee ownership. New Belgium now faces stiffer competition than ever in its local Colorado market in particular, but it’s a company that almost universally generates goodwill.
Odell Brewing Co., 1989
It’s easy to forget that Odell is a brewery founded in the ‘80s, given how well they’ve masterfully adjusted to every new phase of the craft beer game. They’re rock-solid on every level: Great year-rounders such as Odell IPA and Myrcenary (two of the best from a regional brewery on the market), a varied portfolio and even a commitment toward fresh and engaging graphic design. But just look at their special releases and sour program in particular, and one can’t help walk away impressed—10 years ago they likely wouldn’t have believed the beers they’d be making now. We recently drank their new apricot sour Zard-Alu in the Paste office at the end of a work day and were delighted to find a tactful, juicy, brettanomyces and lactobacillus-influenced fruit sour that would have fit in right alongside examples from Wicked Weed or Jester King. There just doesn’t seem to be any style that Odell can’t do well.
August Schell Brewing Company, 1860
25 years? Try 150 for Schell’s, one of Minnesota’s German legacy brewers. Unlike companies with names like “Busch” and “Pabst,” though, Schell’s has actually come into its own in recent years by reinventing some of their classics. We were shocked—truly shocked—when we first tasted their Cypress Blanc, a Berliner weisse that the brewery is making in cypress beer tanks used since 1936 to make their classic Deer Brand lager, now infused with brettanomyces. Dry hopped with Hallertau Blanc, a new hop varietal known for its bright, white winey characteristics, it’s a beautiful, moderately tart take on Berliner weisse that one can scarcely believe is coming from a 156-year-old American brewery. There’s almost no company you can even compare them to—it’s like if Yuengling just decided to start making excellent sours one day. How bizarre would that seem? And yet August Schell is completely changing opinions originally set more than a century ago. That is quite the achievement.
Saint Louis Brewery/Schlafly, 1991
Saint Louis Brewery is the company much better known as Schlafly, and like New Belgium, they’re also celebrating their 25th birthday this year. There’s nothing we don’t love about Schlafly—while not the flashiest, it’s a brewery with a humble, Midwestern ethos that seems to proclaim hard work, reliability and versatility. From the excellent coffee stout to one of the best seasonal pumpkin ales on the market, it’s a brewery that knows when to be bold and when to be subtle. They’re equally at home with an intensely aromatic, juicy, tropical beer such as their T-IPA as they are with more obscure, less-acclaimed continental styles such as biere de garde. Their taprooms are two of Saint Louis’ most reliable places to grab a bite and a pint while appreciating a draft-only beer you won’t see anywhere else. One of my fonder St. Louis memories is enjoying an unexpected pint of Belgian single (who expects a patersbier here?) while waiting for a Schlafly Bottleworks tour to begin.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, 1980
Without Sierra Nevada, there is no conception of American pale ale and IPA. It’s that simple. Who among us doesn’t have some kind of visceral emotional attachment to the green bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale? It’s the beer that introduced the American palate to the Cascade hop varietal, and in doing so established a certain flavor profile as “classic” or “base” American pale ale/IPA: Floral, piney, grapefruit citrus. What if the brewers had chosen a classical English hop variety instead? Where might we be today? It’s reasonable to conclude that things might have gone very differently indeed, because the influence of SNPA really is that strong. Today, the brewery continues to offer up new flavors, such as the prickly pear-infused Otra Vez gose, or their unique, uniformly solid line of Ovila abbey-style ales.
Summit Brewing Company, 1986
No one is ever really going to refer to Summit as bold and experimental. They’re not New Belgium, ever inventing new quasi-styles. And they’re not Boulevard or Deschutes, reveling in high-gravity and barrel-aged monsters. They’re just damn good at what they do, which is making friendly, approachable beers that have been converting Midwesterners away from macro brews for the last 30 years. It’s fitting that the best beer we’ve ever had from them—and the #2 pilsner we blind-tasted out of 62 —would be a kellerpils they made specifically to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Where most breweries would use such an anniversary date to make the biggest, grandest of beers, Summit instead remains true to the core of their identity. How can you not admire that sort of philosophy?
Vermont Pub & Brewery, 1988
Vermont Pub & Brewery is Vermont’s original brewpub, but in a lot of ways, this place is the “original American brewpub” as well. No, it wasn’t the first, but no other brewpub has likely done as much for American beer culture as this one has. Brewmaster Greg Noonan was a legend on multiple levels, before he even opened the place in 1988. His 1986 book Brewing Lager Beer became part of the official homebrewing canon, right alongside Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, and inspired many brewers who went on to become professionals. He’s personally credited by most with having invented the style of black IPA in the early ‘90s, pouring Black Watch IPA for Vermont Pub & Brewery drinkers who must have been pretty confused by what they were tasting. And despite passing away in 2009, his legacy thrives both at other breweries (such as The Alchemist, run by his protege John Kimmich) and the original brewpub itself, still an absolutely beloved staple of the Vermont beer scene.
Wynkoop Brewing, 1988
The Wynkoop, founded (among others) by future Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, is Colorado’s original brewpub, and a massively influential one at that. One never needs to look far in order to find fingers pointed at Wynkoop as one of the initial factors that led to the revitalization of Denver’s “LoDo” neighborhood, but suffice to say, the fresh beer certainly didn’t hurt. This is one of America’s truly iconic brewpubs, a cross between classic American brewery and neighborhood watering hole that never fails to provide what you’re craving, be it food or drink. They get a fair amount of press to this day for the Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout (made with real bull testicles) in particular, but the real heart and soul of the place is its menu of gastropub delights, classic comfort food and perfectly paired beers. Don’t miss out on the soft roastiness of the excellent B3K schwarzbier, a classic take on the German black lager style that is a testament to the technique and skill of Wnykoop brewers.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter.