Trendspotting: American Craft Beers

Sour, earthy, funky, floral, herbal. Today's innovative American craft brewers are pushing the boundaries of what beer usually tastes like by experimenting with pucker-inducing wild yeasts and locally sourced ingredients. Here, a guide to the best new beers, plus great gastropubs and beer-spiked food.


In this Article

American Craft Beers: 5 Beer Styles

Fullsteam brewery's Hogwash porter.

© Hector Sanchez

1. Southern Way

Beer is challenging bourbon as a signature drink in the American South. Sean Lilly Wilson of Fullsteam brewery in Durham, North Carolina, uses regional ingredients like sweet potatoes and grits. His robust Hogwash, a hickory-smoked porter, is excellent with vinegary pulled pork.

2. Sour Ales

Belgians have been making tart, dry beers like gueuze for centuries; US brewers are now playing with wild yeast strains and lactic acids to produce funky, earthy bottles like New Belgium's La Folie.

Damian Fagan of San Francisco's Almanac Beer Co.

© Jesse Friedman

3. Farm-to Barrel

Liquid locavorism: Damian Fagan of San Francisco's Almanac Beer Co. buys local fruit for seasonal brews like Almanac Summer 2010, made with four kinds of Sonoma blackberries.

4. Black IPA

An alluring new style that mixes the intense hop hit of an India Pale Ale with the toasty malt-rich taste (and color) of a Guinness. Try Deschutes's Hop in the Dark.

5. Farmhouse Ale

Also called a saison, this light ale was originally brewed from leftover grains for field workers in the French-speaking parts of Belgium. US brewers have fallen in love with the adaptable style, adding everything from lavender to black pepper.

American Craft Beers: Serious Drinking Food


Grain & Gristle showcases local art and local beer.

Courtesy of Grain & Gristle

Grain & Gristle; Portland, OR Beers are hyper-seasonal and food is super-hearty, from the pork cracklings to the house-made pastrami.

The Farmers' Cabinet, Philadelphia Reminiscent of a Victorian saloon, this lounge serves offbeat European beers and goat leg for two. It's building a nanobrewery, too.

Alewife, Baltimore This new gastropub in a renovated old bank has 40 taps and perfect beer food, like duck-fat fries and a smoky bacon-and-Gruyère burger.

Cooking with Beer

Spicy Beer Mustard

Spicy Beer Mustard

Plus: More Ideas for Cooking with Beer

Beer Candy

Beer Candy

© Derek Hatfield

Dark stouts and rich desserts are a classic pairing; Chicago's Truffle Truffle combines them. The company's newest creation: a chocolate-covered, beer-infused marshmallow topped with beer-and-pretzel brittle. $10 for four;

American Craft Beers: Drinking in Style

Great Beer Glasses

Great glasses

© Hector Sanchez

For a BBQ It looks like ordinary tailgate-ready plastic, but this "Beer Cup" is actually made of thin glass. $20;

Nature-Inspired A bug in your beer is a bad thing, but Ted Muehling's butterfly tumbler for Lobmeyr is just the opposite. $570;

Aroma Amplifier Dansk's tulip-shaped glass concentrates a beer's scent, so it's good for aromatic pours like Belgian tripels. $15;

Ripple Effect The ridges on this "Senbiki" glass make it more stylish than the average pub pint; it's a chic all-purpose glass. $23;

Hand-Cut Crystal Ted Muehling makes this etched, mouth-blown crystal glass with a delicate fluted edge. $430;

Beer Bottle Openers

Beer Gnome bottle opener

Beer Gnome An opener is hidden in the base of the "Little Helper." $25;

Cast-Iron bottle opener

Cast-Iron Opener Made of super-strong Japanese metal. $32;

Elephant bottle opener

Pop the Trunk The opener is in the elephant's mouth. $25;

Photos © Hector Sanchez.

American Craft Beers: Top Destinations

For his forthcoming book, The Great American Ale Trail, Christian DeBenedetti tasted his way around the USA. Here, his top beer destinations.

Bayou Teche brewery in Louisiana.

© Jamie Orillion


On a farm deep in Cajun country, Bayou Teche brewery is turning an old train car into a tap room to pour its Belgian-style ales.


The Birch, a new chartreuse-painted beer hall in Norfolk, has a chalkboard menu focused on super-rare Belgians—all available to go in growlers.

New York

NYC's sprawling Eataly just debuted a rooftop beer garden with beer from Dogfish Head and two Italian brewers.

American Craft Beers: Lighter Beers for Easy Drinking

Craft beer importer Dan Shelton makes a case for lower-alcohol brews.

My brother Will and I are regulars at the Moan and Dove in Amherst, Massachusetts, and our loyalty has earned us a great perk: lots of free pours. But too many free pours can be a problem when the choice is limited to typical beer-geek fare: Imperial stouts or double IPAs, hovering between 8 and 15 percent alcohol. More than a few nights at the Moan have ended with Will deciding to sleep in his car rather than drive home.

One such night inspired Will, a brewer himself, to make a pale, dry beer with 4.5 percent alcohol. He called it, provocatively, Beer of the Gods, and gave some to the Moan as an alternative to its "big" beers.

Then something happened: Customers loved the beer, too. It was delicious on its own or with food, unlike "extreme" beers, which often short-circuit the palate with alcohol and sweetness. But the beer snobs detested it. Upon learning the alcohol level was less than 10 percent, many of them wouldn't even taste it.

Here's what the geeks don't know: Their own beer gods, like Russian River Brewing Co.'s Vinnie Cilurzo (who created the first double IPA), actually drink low-alcohol brews at home and at the pub. So I make this plea: Ignore the geeks and try a low-alcohol beer.

The Sheltons import more than 300 beers from around the world. Find out more at

Lighter Beer Picks

High & Mighty

Beer of the Gods High & Mighty's German-style ale, by Will Shelton, is flavorful and has just 4.5 percent alcohol.

Saison de la Senne

Saison de la Senne A bitter, 4.3-percent-alcohol farmhouse ale from Belgium's Brasserie de la Senne.

Notch Session

Session Ale & Pils Notch Session (named after Britain's low-alcohol "session" beers) makes a hoppy ale and a Czech-style pilsner.

Photos (l to r) courtesy of: High & Mighty Beer Co.; Shelton Brothers; Notch Brewing

American Craft Beers: Brew Speak

  • Gypsy Brewers—Tiny producers often can't afford their own equipment, so they roam around, renting facilities from friends. Look for the Pretty Things or Mikkeller labels.
  • Bed and Beer—A beer-centric take on the B&B; rooms at Rogue's farm in Independence, Oregon, have views of its hop fields.
  • Nanobrewery—Grassroots operations like Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend, Vermont, might produce only a few barrels per batch.
  • Collaboration Beer—Beers co-created by pros from two or more breweries are often strikingly original. One to try: Marrón Acidifié, co-produced by Tampa's Cigar City and Orange County's The Bruery, is a dark, sour ale aged for over a year in wood barrels.

Plus: F&W's Beer Lexicon

American Craft Beers: Homebrew How-To

Homebrewing experts William Bostwick and Jessi Rymill

Courtesy of Rodale

William Bostwick and Jessi Rymill, authors of the easy-to-follow Beer Craft, demystify the esoteric process of homebrewing for DIY-ers who want to do things like sparge their own wort. Bonus: interviews with top US beermakers on complex styles and tips on label design.

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