The Best Craft Beer from Every State
It’s an exciting time to be a craft beer drinker. Cicerone (aka beer expert) David Nilsen shares his guide to the very best breweries and beers from around the country.
Photo: Shutterstock/Trong Nguyen
There has never been a better time to be a beer drinker in this country. With more than 5,000 breweries across the 50 states and more opening every week, beer lovers are spoiled with great options. All this variety can get a little overwhelming. And since I’m always looking for creative ways to get into arguments with strangers online, I’ve decided to pick each state’s best brewery, plus a beer or two to try, to help you narrow down your options.
Good People Brewing
While some young upstarts are threatening their crown, Birmingham’s Good People Brewing is still the best and most recognizable brewery in the state. Try their Snake Handler IPA, or (if you dare) their 13.9% ABV El Gordo Russian Imperial Stout.
The largest state in the union doesn’t make most folks think of great beer, but that’s beginning to change. Anchorage Brewing is one of the country’s not-so-hidden secrets right now. Its Bitter Monk Belgian IPA is formidably strong but smooth and complex.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing
The folks at Arizona Wilderness produce a stable of great beers, but DC Mountain Double IPA is the most coveted, with its massive additions of classic American hops.
Ozark Beer Company
Ozark’s Onyx Coffee Stout is brewed in collaboration with Onyx Coffee Labs, which provides Onyx Red Queen and Mexican Zongozotia cold-brewed coffee that gets blended with a milk stout base to create a unique and delicious brunch beer. (Try pairing it with one of these coffee desserts.)
Russian River Brewing Company
It’s hard to spill a beer in California without it splashing on the walls of a great brewery, but one rises above the rest. Santa Rosa’s Russian River produces some of the most coveted beers in the country, and none has a loftier reputation than Pliny the Elder, a deceptively easy-drinking Double IPA bursting with hop aroma and flavor.
Great Divide Brewing Company
While breweries like Crooked Stave, Avery and others are producing excellent beer, Great Divide takes the Colorado crown with a broad portfolio of classics, including Hibernation, an Old Ale released in early winter to get drinkers through the long, cold months before spring. (These winter squash slow cooker recipes can help with that, too.)
New England Brewing Co.
I really only need to tell you my chosen beer’s name to settle this argument: Fuzzy Baby Ducks IPA. Honestly, I feel like most arguments could probably be settled by drinking this New England Brewing beer and repeating its name until all combatants are giggling.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
One of the country’s largest craft breweries is also one of its most innovative, regularly releasing experimental brews that no one sees coming. Despite all its bizarre and supersized beers, Dogfish Head’s classic 60 Minute IPA is still the brewery’s most iconic.
Cigar City Brewing
Tampa’s legendary Cigar City releases more than one coveted rarity, but it’s the spiced Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, named for the Mayan god of chocolate and aged on cacao nibs, vanilla beans, chilies and cinnamon, that makes the cut here. (Try this Mexican hot chocolate for an alcohol- and chili-free option.)
Creature Comforts Brewing Co.
This brewery’s Tropicalia IPA is extremely sought after, but there are enough IPAs on this list, so let’s look instead at Creature Comforts’ limited release Southerly Love, a tart and hoppy ale brewed with the wild yeast species brettanomyces, which produces some unexpected and complex flavors.
Maui Brewing Company
It feels wrong to pick a Hawaiian beer unless it has a taste of the tropics, so let’s go with Maui Brewing’s Coconut Hiwa Porter. Brewed with toasted coconut and giving off chocolate notes from the dark malt, this is a Hawaiian dessert in a glass, and its moderate strength won’t have you passing out under a palm tree. (Try it with one of these coconut desserts.)
Grand Teton Brewing Company
Not too many American brewers tackle the doppelbock style, a German lager that was once brewed by fasting monks during Lent as a stand-in for bread. When done well, it can be a winning style, and the folks at Grand Teton keep their eyes on the prize with their Double Vision Doppelbock.
I argued with myself for a while over the best of Chicago’s many incredible breweries, and then decided to just go with my heart and pick tiny Scratch Brewing from the opposite end of the state. Brewed with seasonal ingredients foraged from their rural property, including mushrooms for Chanterelle Biere de Garde, Scratch’s beers are unlike any you’ve ever tasted.
3 Floyds Brewing
While time essentially stops in the Munster area every April for Dark Lord Day—the one-day release of 3 Floyds’ vaunted Imperial Stout—many of their six-pack beers are also highly prized, including Zombie Dust, an American pale ale bursting with citrusy hops.
Toppling Goliath Brewing
Not too many breweries can ever hope to generate the buzz Toppling Goliath has enjoyed recently. Check out PseudoSue (if you can find it), a bright, fresh American pale ale named in honor of a legendary Tyrannosaurus skeleton. (And while you’re enjoying that, offer the kiddos some of these dinosaur egg treats.)
Tallgrass, a brewery from Manhattan, Kansas, is known for several of its year-round offerings, including 8-Bit Pale Ale and the amusingly named Buffalo Sweat Oatmeal Cream Stout.
Great Raft Brewing
This Shreveport brewery has a number of beers that make it worthy of inclusion here, but Great Raft’s India Pale Lager (yes, that’s a thing) takes the day. At Arm’s Length is liberally hopped but easy-drinking, perfect for the steamy Louisiana heat.
While Maine Brewing Company would have been a worthy choice, it’s hard to argue against Allagash, one of the oldest and best American breweries focusing on Belgian styles. Classic Allagash White set the standard for witbiers by which all other American brewers of this style are judged.
It’s nearly impossible to pick between Stillwater’s numerous excellent beers, so let’s cheat and go with the best of the numerous excellent beer labels. Even that’s difficult, with the revenge-themed Of Love and Regret making a strong showing, but in the end it’s the impish and creepy Folklore Belgian Strong Dark Ale that gets the nod.
Tree House Brewing Co.
Few breweries in the country enjoy the hallowed adoration the Tree House team has received in recent years, especially for New England-style IPAs. These juicy beers can be as cloudy as orange juice and just about as packed with fruit and citrus flavor. Try King Julius if you can get your hands on it.
There are more incredible breweries in Michigan than I can count, and while my heart might lean to Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, Bell’s Brewery puts out one of my favorite beers in the world—Two Hearted Ale, which Zymurgy magazine readers recently voted as the best beer in the country.
Yalobusha Brewing Company
While Mississippi has been slower than other states to jump on the craft beer train, things are changing. Yalobusha‘s Testify, a supersized milk stout, leads the charge for the Magnolia State. (Did you know that was Mississippi’s nickname? I did not know that was Mississippi’s nickname.)
Perennial Artisan Ales
When you think of great beer states, Missouri may not spring to mind, but it’s surprisingly hard to narrow down the state’s great breweries. Perennial Artisan Ales, Side Project and Urban Chestnut all hail from the Show Me State, but in the end we’ll go with Perennial and its stable of excellent farmhouse ales, including the elegant Savant Blanc. (Know what goes great with a farmhouse ale? A farmhouse dinner.)
Zipline Brewing Co.
Zipline’s Copper Alt won the gold medal in the German altbier category at the Great American Beer Festival in 2015, and that’s a style I’d love to see more of.
Brasserie Saint James
Reno isn’t exactly a hot spot for farmhouse brewing traditions, but don’t tell the folks at Brasserie Saint James. Daily Wages Saison is the perfect reward after a long day, even if you don’t work in the fields.
While a number of great small brewers are plying their trade in New Hampshire, sometimes it’s best to stick with a classic. Smuttynose Brewing’s Robust Porter is one of the best examples of one of American craft beer’s favorite styles.
There are several top-notch Garden State breweries flying under the national radar, but I’m going to give the nod to Carton Brewing and Cafe y Churro, a coffee-infused imperial cream ale. Yes, that’s a made-up style, but a glass or two of this 12% ABV beer and you’ll start believing in fairies, unicorns and any kind of beer Carton’s brewers offer you. (Did you know you can make your own churros pretty easily?)
La Cumbre Brewing
Albuquerque’s La Cumbre takes hops very seriously, with an esteemed line of IPAs and double IPAs. Check out Project Dank IPA if you get the chance.
NYC’s awesome breweries aside, New York has a thriving farmhouse brewing culture, with small but mighty operations like Plan Bee and From the Ground making headlines. The best one you have a chance of finding outside New York is still Ommegang, a Belgian-focused (and now Belgian-owned) rural brewery churning out classics like Hennepin, a delicious saison.
Burial Beer Co.
North Carolina has one of the best beer scenes in the country, with everything from foraged-ingredient farmhouse breweries like Fonta Flora to Asheville’s cutting-edge Burial Beer and line of Ceremonial Session IPAs.
Laughing Sun Brewing Co.
If you find yourself in Bismarck, check out Laughing Sun and grab a pint of Belgian Golden Strong Ale Sinister Pear if it’s on tap.
Jackie O’s Brewery
I’ve lived in Ohio for 27 years now and love so many of our Buckeye breweries, but in the end I have to go with Jackie O’s in Athens. This prolific and versatile brewery does just about every style well, but the barrel-aged beers are out of this world. If you can find it, grab some Bourbon Barrel Oil of Aphrodite, an imperial stout brewed with Ohio black walnuts. (And then tackle these awesome black walnut cookies.)
Prairie Artisan Ales
The aptly named Prairie Artisan Ales make a whole lot of amazing beers, but there’s no point in overthinking this. Bomb! Imperial Stout is the absolute…well, you know…bomb!
Hair of the Dog Brewing
Picking the best brewery in what many folks consider the best beer state in the union is just asking to make enemies. Deschutes is the best known, and Logsdon, de Garde and Cascade are all pushing the boundaries of sour and farmhouse brewing. In the end, I’m going to go with Hair of the Dog Brewing and its revered Adam, a very strong beer from the obscure adambier style (that’s a real thing).
Victory Brewing Company
Victory Brewing from near Philadelphia is one of the biggest and most reliable craft breweries in the country, and one of the few to feature a Belgian tripel as a flagship offering. Golden Monkey is strong and flavorful, but goes down easy, so watch yourself.
Proclamation Ale Company
Penultimate Unicorn. That is the name of a beer Proclamation Ale Company makes. Do you need to know anything else about it? Fine. It’s a double IPA, and it’s really good. And its name is PENULTIMATE UNICORN.
In addition to a portfolio of other excellent beers, Westbrook makes one of the best goses in the country with Westbrook Gose. This once obscure German style, which features mild tartness and a touch of salt and coriander, has exploded in popularity in recent years. (It would go really well with this spice-rubbed salmon.)
Blackberry Farm Brewery
There are a surprising number of top-rated breweries in Tennessee, but it’s secluded Blackberry Farm Brewery that wins here. Blackberry Farm makes a range of uniformly excellent farmhouse and Belgian-style beers, including the transcendent Noble Cuvee Saison.
Jester King Brewery
Austin’s city motto is Keep Austin Weird, and Jester King Brewery in the rolling Hill Country south of the city is doing its best to follow that mandate, using mixed fermentation techniques and unusual ingredients to create truly singular beers. Atrial Rubicite, brewed with raspberries, wild yeast and bacteria, is both bizarre and delicious. (Here are some other delicious things you can make with raspberries.)
One of our smallest states presents quite possibly the biggest challenge of this list, as two of the most sought-after breweries in the country call Vermont home: The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead (and that’s without mentioning Lawson’s Finest Liquids). I’m going to give Hill Farmstead the nod for its broader offerings, but please don’t ask me to pick a beer. Pound for pound, Vermont is the best beer state in America.
While you might not have heard of Richmond’s Hardywood Park, you only need to hear two words to be on board with this pick: Gingerbread Stout. (If you’re still hankering for more gingerbread, here are 15 gingerbread recipes.)
This Seattle brewery makes some big, bruising beers, many of them well over 10% ABV, but it’s one of the smaller offerings that makes our list. Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop Ale is made with regional organic hops that go from farms to Fremont’s kettles within 24 hours of being harvested, providing an annual avalanche of fresh hop flavors and aromas.
Bridge Brew Works
Brewed in collaboration between Charleston’s Moxxee Coffee and Bridge Brew Works, Moxxee Coffee Stout is low on alcohol but big on flavor, showing off a blend of single-origin coffees and dark roasted malts.
New Glarus Brewing
You’ll have to travel to America’s Dairyland to get your hands on the unquestioned champ of Wisconsin beer, because New Glarus only distributes within its own state. When you start seeing spotted cows, you can start looking for Wisconsin Belgian Red, brewed with Wisconsin cherries. (Here are 10 great cherry recipes to go with it.)
Melvin Brewing and its partners just won Brewing Group of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival, so you’re in safe hands here, especially with 2×4 Imperial IPA. And it’s here that I’m contractually obligated to make a joke about the hops in this beer hitting you in the face with…well, you get it.