NOTE: You can also check out our overall “best breweries of 2016” list here.
When you consider the sheer volume of competition, it’s gotta be tough for a brewery to get noticed in America’s craft beer scene today. At some point, you gotta think another brewery making another IPA or another sour is just white noise. And yet, some breweries manage to come onto the scene and immediately set themselves apart. Maybe they spend all their time and energy trying to nail a specific style or maybe they’ve innovated a new technique altogether, but the young breweries on this list absolutely killed it in 2016. If you’re curious about what the next generation of great breweries will look like, our money’s on the up and coming breweries on this list.
The Brew Gentlemen
If the model to becoming one of the most hyped breweries in the country is to offer incredibly fresh, hazy, hop-bombed IPAs bursting with tropical fruit and pure hop resin aromatics, and to make very small quantities of said beer, then The Brew Gentlemen is perfectly poised to be the next Tree House or Trillium. The maker of our #2 IPA out of 247 blind-tasted in August was a brewery that none of us were really familiar with before the tasting, but thanks to a tip-off from a redditor on r/beer, we ended up discovering an operation that clearly has massive potential. The General Braddock’s IPA we sampled for that tasting is a beautiful synthesis of fresh, pine and resin-driven green hoppiness, with an undercurrent of juicy orange and pineapple that nevertheless stays drier than some of the other “juice bomb” NE-IPA’s. Since then, we’ve tasted a variety of Brew Gentlemen IPAs and DIPAs; none of them less than spectacular. I honestly don’t know if their brewery in Braddock is the kind of place where a line snakes out the door on a daily basis, waiting for bottles that quickly sell out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up that way at some point in 2017. When all of the crowds chasing Tree House and Trillium beer get a chance to try The Brew Gentlemen, demand is sure to go through the roof. —Jim Vorel
Great Notion Brewing
While it started as three neighbors homebrewing in their garages, Great Notion Brewing exploded onto the beer scene in 2016. The brewery has released a number of offerings since opening on January 1, but Great Notion likes to stick to three themes: New England-style hoppy beers, food themed sours, and stouts. Maybe the best of the lot is Double Stack, a breakfast stout that includes local coffee and maple syrup. While 2016 was quite a year for Great Notion, 2017 looks to be even bigger as they open a new 20,000 square foot production facility as well as a new brewpub in Portland next summer. Hopefully that means more crowlers for all of us. —Jason Stein
If you’re a young brewery in Denver’s River North neighborhood, you need to work hard for any chance at getting proper acclaim. That’s the reality of operating in a neighborhood where you can stand on the front steps of any given brewery and physically wave at people heading into the NEXT brewery, half a block down. The neighborhood is operating at a density rarely seen outside the likes of downtown Asheville, North Carolina, and it ultimately means that every brewery needs to work that much harder. Ratio, happily, is one of those stand-outs, not necessarily because they have one home-run beer on a different level from their many neighbors, but because the overall lineup and on-site atmosphere of the place mesh so well together. With a colorful, vibrant tasting room that venerates the spirit of punk rock, there’s something about drinking a pint or seeing a show at Ratio that simply fits like a glove. Moreover, I walked out of my visit this summer very impressed with examples of beer styles that don’t typically excite me, such as Ratio’s Hold Steady, a “chocolate rye scotch ale” that perfectly balances the deep toastiness and caramelization of the style without succumbing to syrupy, cloying sweetness. It’s very difficult to hazard a claim of the “best” brewery in River North, but Ratio is the first one I want to visit again the next time I set foot in Denver. —Jim Vorel
The Answer Brewpub
It’s been a little over a year since The Answer Brewpub began releasing their own beers. The brewpub, which features 56 taps from various breweries around Virginia, has become a staple in the ever-growing Richmond craft beer scene. Despite operating on a small system (5bbl), 2016 was the year that the Answer began to hit their stride, making a name for themselves with their hoppy beers, which are offered on-site and in crowlers to take home. For those that are able to visit The Answer in person, you’re in for a real treat, as you’ll be able to try beers from The Answer’s own invention, the Andall. It’s like a Randall, but more elaborate. Here, owner An Bui has become an artist of adjuncts, creating a system that runs his beers through a keg filled with adjuncts of his choosing and then directly to the line. We are excited to see what 2017 will bring for the Answer, as they look to expand their brewpub into a space they recently purchased.—Jason Stein
Angry Chair Brewing
In 2016 the craft beer community became truly acquainted with Angry Chair Brewing. Based out of Tampa, Angry Chair has continued to wow us with their beers, especially their decadent desert-like stouts. Beers like Imperial German Chocolate Cupcake, and most recently Rocky Road, have taught us there are dessert beers out there that are not only enjoyable, but down right incredible. Beyond stouts, Angry Chair has been able to deliver on a number of sours, and they’re starting to get into the IPA game, trying to hone in their skills on their best rendition of the Northeast IPA. So what’s next for Angry Chair? They have recently purchased an additional space where they plan to triple their barrel program, and introduce mixed fermentation beers into their portfolio. As for those drinkers craving hops, the brewery is toying with the idea of possibly adding a canning operation down the line.—Jason Stein
Colfax Avenue stretches almost 50 miles through Denver—from the plains to the mountains—and was once dubbed by Playboy as “the longest, wickedest street in America.” While the strip has become less colorful and more gentrified over the years, the drink of choice on many stretches is still a tall boy in a brown paper bag. Not so for Colfax denizens between Colorado Boulevard and York Street thanks to Cerebral Brewing. Cerebral celebrated their one year anniversary back in November, a little more than a month after adding some new taproom décor in the form of a Great American Beer Festival silver medal for Dreamy Thing—a farmhouse pale ale fermented with Brettanomyces and aged in Chardonnay barrels for five months—in the Brett beer category. Housed in a former car mechanic shop, the taproom is industrial and airy, longer than it is wide with the accents of a working laboratory. While the actual brewhouse space is enviable in size, there has been a creep of new stainless steel and oaky vessels as the brewery increases production and expands its barrel-aging program. In the near future, Cerebral plans to have more Brett beers—both stainless and oak aged—along with their first sour offering in bottles. It’s not just about bugs at Cerebral though, they’ve also elevated the art of dry hopping, imparting grisettes, saisons, even the aforementioned Dreamy Thing with distinct and inviting hop aromas (stay tuned for a soon to be released dry-hopped Kviek conditioned on cranberry puree). It would be an oversight not to also mention the many juicy, tropical-tinged American-style IPAs and DIPAs on tap, like Rare Trait (and a double dry-hopped version, obviously), Strange Claw and Tandem Jetpack. It doesn’t take much intellect to deduce that Cerebral has a good thing brewing. —Matt Sandy
We’ve been writing about WeldWerks since the first time I tasted their beer at GABF in 2015, when the brewery took home a silver medal for their well-balanced hefeweizen. At that time, I mentally filed the brewery away as one to watch, but after their IPA Juicy Bits finished at #8 out of 247 in our blind tasting this past August, it was clear they had officially arrived. Intensely citrusy and tropical, Juicy Bits stands as proof that fantastic, NE-style IPAs are coming out of all corners of the country these days, including the front range of the Rockies. The beer has already become a sought-after whale of the Colorado beer scene, and the attention that Juicy Bits has generated has likewise brought much more attention to the rest of the WeldWerks lineup. With a little something for everyone, WeldWerks feels like the rare Colorado front range brewery not located in one of the bigger cities (Denver, Boulder, Ft. Collins) that could end up thriving in the national market. Let’s just hope they can make enough Juicy Bits to keep up with demand. —Jim Vorel
If you’re looking to establish a baseline of quality, as well as a pedigree in IPA that will make hardened beer geeks sit up and take notice, then there aren’t many ways better than hiring a former brewer from Russian River. That’s what Scofflaw Brewing did, and it’s no surprise that they’ve surged ahead in the Atlanta beer scene in 2016 to become the hyped new sensation. IPA tends to be the name of the game here, and they have a seemingly endless procession of them, nicely varied in style between drier, more bitter West Coast IPAs and even IPAs with a more significant than expected malt balance. Star of the show, though, are of course the juicier, Northeast-influenced IPAs, such as the brewery’s surging flagship beer, Basement IPA. Juicy, tropical and easy drinking, it looks to give Creature Comforts’ Tropicalia a serious run for its money in 2017 as the state’s most sought-after IPA. But before you write off Scofflaw as simply a new IPA factory, consider one more thing: The brewery’s best overall beer might be its winter seasonal coffee stout, Interrogation. And any brewery that can make outstanding examples of those two styles at the same time is deserving of a closer look. —Jim Vorel
New York City
We haven’t tasted quite as many beers from Finback as we would like, but we’ve tasted enough to see that there’s a really interesting, individualistic brewery developing here in New York City. When they sent a trio of beers down to the Paste office in October, I initially scoffed at the fact that ALL THREE were IPAs, but I then began to see the value in this little tasting the brewery had constructed for us. They were giving us a clear illustration of their own diversity within the context of a single style—a style that just happens to be the driving force in American craft beer. The lightest of the IPAs, Knoll, stretched the definition of what you can get away with calling “IPA” rather than pale ale or session IPA, clocking in at only 5% ABV but absolutely bursting with juicy tropical fruitiness. The two larger IPAs, meanwhile, each gave us truly unique, unusual flavor profiles that ably mixed disparate elements of resin, fruit and herbaceousness. There are a whole lot of breweries in NYC that I’d like to see represented more often in our blind tasting series, but Finback stands out in particular as one I think could absolutely thrive in the blind tasting setting. —Jim Vorel