Where are the best local breweries?
All around the country, old warehouses, abandoned auto repair shops and industrial sites are being flipped into the hippest, most happening places in town. Local breweries, serving up a unique array of ales, IPAs, stouts, porters, lager and other varieties of beer have changed the way Americans drink — and think — about beer.
The explosion of local breweries is not only a triumph of taste, but a triumph of the small business mentality – that gusto to create a better product and disrupt an industry, no matter how entrenched it might be.
Just think, a little more than a decade ago, American beer was considered a pale, watery swill pumped out by a few oversized brewing companies who weren’t too interested in changing their product.
Now, there’s no way to pinpoint just what American beer is. It’s a delicious patchwork of local flavors, brilliant brew masters and passionate brewery owners.
Every microbrew has a story. To celebrate National Beer Day on April 7, let’s take a quick road trip across the country and meet the owners of seven of the coolest local brewhouses.
1. The Ale Apothecary, Bend, Oregon
Paul Arney and his barrels. Photo courtesy: Facebook/The Ale Apothecary
Let’s begin in the Pacific Northwest, where microbrews were a thing before microbrews were a thing. At the edge of the Deschutes National Forest, Paul Arney is bringing historic brewing methods to the modern world. Nearly every step of the process is done in wood — the mashing, fermentation (primary and secondary) and aging. He takes his devotion to his craft to an extreme, and thousands of beer lovers thank him for it.
2. Bad Weather Brewery, St. Paul, Minnesota
Owners Joe & Zac of Bad Weather Brewery. Photo courtesy: Facebook/Bad Weather Brewery
Growing up in Minnesota, you get used to all sorts of weather: snow, lightning, tornadoes, freezing rain and sometimes – between the May blizzards and nine months of winter – a few sweet days of sunshine. Founders Joe Giambruno and Zac Carpenter wanted to brew beer that had the range and unpredictability of the weather in their home state. They got started sharing a space with a couple of other breweries, growing their reputation until they attracted investors and were able to open a taproom. Like many, Zac worked at a corporate gig before fleeing to the world of beer; and Joe, well, he was studying puffins in the North Atlantic. Turns out puffins are not as interesting as beer.
3. Wicked Weed Brewing, Asheville, North Carolina
Owners Walk and Luke Dickinson enjoying some Wicked Weed brews and grub. Photo courtesy: Facebook/Wicked Weed Brewing
When Walt and Luke Dickinson decided to up their home-brewing game and turn it into a business, they had to reckon with the fact that they weren’t the only game in town. To woo skeptical investors, they made the decision to offer unique varieties of Belgian and French brews, along with some West Coast styles that weren’t being poured around town. Several years into the game and they’ve pushed this business model further, opening the Funkatorium, the East Coast’s first sour-and-funky-beer-dedicated taproom.
4. Monday Night Brewing, Atlanta, Georgia
Head Brewer & Barrel Program Director Peter pulling some samples of a blueberry saison. Photo courtesy: Facebook/Monday Night Brewing
Most people don’t go to a Bible study group expecting to start a brewery. But that’s what happened here. Someone had a beer brewing kit, and one Monday, four guys from the Bible study group brewed some beer and made a tradition out of it. They started inviting friends and family over for brewing and beers every Monday night, and after almost five years of doing this, they brought their beer to market and opened a great taproom.
5. Great Lakes Brewing, Cleveland, Ohio
Owners Pat and Dan Conway. Photo courtesy: Facebook/Great Lakes Brewing
In 1986, when brothers Pat and Dan Conway opened up shop, it had been years since the last production brewery had closed in Cleveland. What’s more, they were in a run-down part of the city and the odds were stacked against them. Their success is evidence of the ripple effects small businesses can have in a community. Now, the Ohio City neighborhood where they started is one of the trendiest parts of town, and their business is an established part of the community.
6. Tannery Bend Beerworks, Napa, California
Matt Cromwell (left) and Tyler Rodde. Image courtesy: napavalleyregister.com
In recent years, people have been treating beer like they treat wine, pairing it with the right food and noting the flavor profile. That’s especially true in the heart of America’s wine country, Napa Valley. Inspired by local ingredients, the brewery was founded by two childhood friends, Matt Cromwell and Tyler Rodde. With the help of Lauren Duncan Rodde and Mike Schneiders, they opened their doors a little over a year ago. They intent on making Napa known for its beers as much as its wine.
7. New Glarus Brewing, New Glarus, Wisconsin
Owners Deborah and Daniel Carey. Photo courtesy: MIKE DeVRIES – The Capital Times file photo
Home to some of the biggest, most recognized names in the industry, Wisconsin has brewed tens of millions of barrels of beer. But none have been so treasured or have inspired such a cult-like following as New Glarus beers. Owners Deborah and Daniel Carey started the phenomenon with copper kettles that were slated to be demolished. Now in its third decade, New Glarus has established itself as a major destination for “beer pilgrims,” drawing an estimated 150,000 people a year to its facilities in small-town Wisconsin.
There are hundreds of other breweries across the country for beer lovers to enjoy. Each one is an example of how small, locally operated businesses can change an industry.
Check out even more family owned businesses in different cities with our “Mom & Pop Series.”