Forty years ago, America was at its beer nadir, with the lowest number of breweries since Prohibition: a mere 89. Today, there are more breweries than that in Massachusetts alone.
Philadelphia, 2017. As I glanced across the table, something caught my eye: I knew every beer being served at this rehearsal dinner, and whatever the opaque, cloudy brew in this gentleman’s glass was, it wasn’t one of them. Curious, I asked what it was. “This? I doubt you know it,” he said. “It’s from Boston.”
He was stunned. “You know their beers?”
We were instant brethren.
Forty years ago, America was at its beer nadir, with the lowest number of breweries since Prohibition: a mere 89. Today, there are more breweries than that in Massachusetts alone, including modern legends like Tree House Brewing Company, which helped put the juicy New England–style IPA on the map, and Jack’s Abby, which proved that lagers could be as exciting as ales. Both opened in 2011. Trillium Brewing Company, founded in 2013, is part of the same wave. That’s what has happened to craft beer in the past decade: an unstoppable profusion of breweries, their ever-changing lineups marked by endless experimentation, with diehard fans lining up hours in advance for rare releases. Forget fake advertising debates like “tastes great” versus “less filling.” Instead, what you find is me and my newfound friend cheerfully arguing over which version of Trillium’s Dialed-In Double IPA was clearly superior.
The current boom really started around 2008. Thanks to people’s renewed interest in artisan products, dedicated beer drinkers’ weariness with mass-market brands, and a wave of state-by-state deregulation, by the end of 2017 the number of breweries in the U.S. had quadrupled from around 1,500 in 2008 to more than 6,300—an average of almost 130 per state.
It’s a revolution marked by two key trends. First, many of the best new breweries aren’t even bothering to try for a national market. Instead they’re focusing on their own communities. Want cans from Brooklyn’s heralded Other Half Brewing? Go to Brooklyn. And now beer lovers travel from all around just to do that.
Second, these new brewers are playing to their own obsessions—and beer fans are willing to follow them down whatever path they take. Once-dying beer categories—like the slightly sour, slightly salty German gose—have not only been revitalized, but normalized. Meanwhile, styles made popular during America’s initial craft beer revolution in the 1990s have been pushed to new limits. Consider IPAs. Once, being hoppy was enough. Now, an IPA might be accentuated with oats, left unfiltered and hazy, or double dry-hopped to achieve a delightful burn.
As that rehearsal dinner was winding down, my new buddy reached into a bag to pull out some cans from Other Half, another unexpected sight in Pennsylvania. We bonded over an appreciation for not just these brews but for the dedication it takes to make drinking them a reality. How the beer world had changed! On his way down from Boston, he’d made a lengthy detour through Brooklyn, simply to bring these beers down with him. So it was easy to imagine that, a few miles away, someone like us was busy stocking up at Tired Hands Brewing Company in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, so they could bring those beers back, like treasure, to their friends.
5 Groundbreaking Beers Worth Traveling For
Tree House Brewing Company, Alter Ego IPA (Charlton, Massachusetts)
Jack's Abby, Smoke & Dagger Black Lager (Framingham, Massachusetts)
Mikkeller Brewing, NYC Beer Geek Breakfast Oatmeal Stout (Queens, New York)
Other Half Brewing, Double Citra Daydream Double Dry-Hopped Imperial IPA (Brooklyn, New York)
Tired Hands Brewing Company, Nothing Nitro Black Beer (Ardmore, Pennsylvania)