The Who’s Who of Beer Cool

While craft beer’s initial boom may be in the rearview, it still moves at a breakneck pace. Hundreds of breweries still open every year. Brewers innovate. New substyles continue to emerge. Some of those styles succeed (oh, hey, New England IPA), some sputter out (R.I.P., brut IPA), some that were previously discarded find themselves re-embraced (cheers, rauchbier). So, if you want to keep track of what breweries to pay attention to, you’ve got to take craft beer’s temperature every few years. 

Our last look at which breweries best capture the craft beer zeitgeist was in February 2020. Life’s really come at us fast since then. The pandemic arrived, impacting drinking preferences while throwing down a gauntlet for breweries: Adapt—in the form of more distribution, more classics, more experiments, more new categories (like hard seltzer and RTD cocktails)—or eat dust. Breweries now face more competition than ever. They’ve got to do something really special just to keep the lights on, let alone excite jaded connoisseurs.

With that in mind, we not only looked at the beer menus of some of the country’s best-loved beer bars and scrolled Instagram endlessly for gushing beer posts, but we also checked in with writers, editors, podcasters, educators, beer bar owners and members of the brewing community. What breweries are making the most in-demand beers? What breweries are making a cultural impact in the industry? What breweries are so hot, with such hard-to-get beer, that experts plan travel around touching down in their taprooms? In 2023, here’s who to know in beer.

Known for: IPAs
Can to Know: Hop-Fu! DDH West Coast IPA

North Park opened in 2016, but acclaim for founder and head brewer Kelsey McNair’s beers has recently reached a fever pitch. The brewery took the Brewery of the Year award (for breweries producing 2,000–5,000 barrels annually) at 2022’s Great American Beer Festival, and has been collaborating with fellow hype breweries, putting them on menus as far away as New York. Before opening the brewery, McNair’s Hop-Fu! IPA became the single most award-winning homebrew recipe in history, and he’s extended that same touch with the brewery’s many IPA substyles.

Joe Stange, managing editor of Craft Beer & Brewing magazine, asserts that although the West Coast IPA is currently enjoying a resurgence, North Park continues to set the standard for the style. “[McNair] is a great tinkerer of recipe and process, borrowing hazy-juicy tricks for his crisp beers and vice versa, dialing them in to exactly where he wants them.”

Known for: Czech-style lagers
Can to know: The only two cans, Pale Lager and Dark Lager

American craft beer has become crowded: with breweries, with options, with adjuncts within those options. Many beer drinkers now look to the satisfying simplicity of time-honored styles. Enter Sacred Profane, a minimalist brewery born from founders Michael Fava and Brienne Allan’s unmatched dedication to Czech-style lagers. Both are preceded by their reputations for making excellent beer and eschewing fads. Allan is also known for having sparked craft beer’s own #MeToo movement and following that up with an ongoing initiative encouraging breweries to install meaningful codes of conduct. That trailblazing spirit is also applied to the beers at Sacred Profane. Fava and Allan brew on an authentic Czech-made tankpub system with side-pour taps, and learned the Czech art of lager serving on-site at a Pilsner Urquell program to boldly focus on just two beers: pale lager and dark lager.

“I think beer had a big maximalism phase, and I love seeing folks pull it back and just focus on quality,” says Ash Croce, a Brooklyn-based writer who’s also worked in the trade. “I love that [Sacred Profane] is committed to these traditional lagers and just perfecting them.”

Known for: Classic styles reimagined with Middle Eastern ingredients
Can to know: Persian Blue Lager

When Zahra Tabatabai launched Back Home Beer in Brooklyn in 2021, the brand’s compelling backstory drew people in; the beer made them stay. Tabatabai was born to Iranian immigrants and began homebrewing to recreate the kind of beer her grandfather made for her family in Iran before alcohol was banned. Inspired by the results, she hit the pavement with her Persian Blue Lager and Sumac Gose, now on shelves and menus and in shops in New York and Washington, D.C. Made with blue salt from Semnan, Iran, the Persian lager represents how creativity and cultural influences can make a tried-and-true style feel brand new. 

“The deeply personal nature of [Back Home’s recipes] really comes through,” says Hannah Kiem of the podcast “Brews with Broads.” “Back Home is more than a beer brand, it’s generations of tradition being brought to the can in your hand—how can you not be obsessed with that?”

Known for: IPAs
Can to know: BPLB Hazy IPA

Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter’s Crowns & Hops Brewing Co. began seven years ago with their instantly popular “Black People Love Beer” tees, representing a mission to push for equity, access and inclusion in craft beer. When their brand evolved into a brewing company, they debuted with a stellar lineup. Their HBCU IPAs, whose names pay homage to historically Black colleges and universities, are intended to highlight the diversity of hop expression in both West Coast and hazy styles, while their 8 Trill Pils is not just a beautifully made pilsner, but its proceeds benefit its namesake nonprofit founded by Ashburn and Hunter.

“Their beer, branding and presence speak for themselves,” says Chris Maestro, who owns Brooklyn beer bar BierWax with wife Yahaira Gil-Maestro. “Everything we’ve poured from them has been excellent. What really sets them apart, though, is their commitment to diversity … both Beny and Teo have inspired countless brewers and craft beer entrepreneurs of color, including Yahaira and myself.”

Known for: Traditional European lagers and ales
Can to know: Good Night Bamberg Rauchbier

While Art History’s pursuit of traditional European styles is three decades old, husband-and-wife founders Tom and Cindy Rau’s beers are exactly what drinkers want right now. With head brewer Carolyn Stephens, they’ve provided a break from the constant crush of more-is-more IPAs and sours, instead making a case for what made Baltic porter, rauchbier and best bitter styles loved for centuries. (That’s not to say they don’t make a mean NEIPA, too.) 

Art History came out of the gate strong, says Chicago-based Cicerone Shana Solarte, “but they really came into their own last year when they started making the first-ever house beers for the legendary [beer bar] Hopleaf.” Art History recently opened another project, Geneva Lager Works, further flexing its traditional-brewing muscles. “I think they’re really making a mark on the local industry,” Solarte says. “I’m eager to watch them continue to grow.”

Known for: Pilsners and saisons
Bottle to know: Haladuda Special Pilsner

Otherlands ticks every box on the list of things that make a brewery in-demand in 2023. The taproom is more “cozy friend’s house” than industrial warehouse, there’s a vegetarian food menu, and the beer embraces Old World brewing and serving traditions. Wife-and-husband founders Karolina Lobrow and Ben Howe apply international influences and brewing experience to a beer list that offers a quick trot around the globe (think an unfiltered Polish pilsner, a saison updated with a modern American penchant for hoppiness, and a Franconia-inspired amber kellerbier). 

“What Ben and Karolina have put together in this lager brewery of note is truly remarkable,” says author, All About Beer editor and podcast host John Holl. “It’s like stepping into an airy European house, filled with simple décor, a staff that genuinely enjoys working there, and a menu that is sneakily vegetarian and completely delicious.”

Known for: IPAs and stouts
Can to know: Shadowstepper Milk Stout

Located about 30 minutes by car from the center of Chicago, Rabid Brewing has become a destination for beer fans—from in and outside the Midwest. Beer writer and podcast host David Nilsen explains husband-and-wife founders Tobias Cichon and Raiye Rosado set Rabid apart by “leaning into their own quirky personalities,” collecting “a merry band of weirdos that have fueled the brewery’s growth.” That means everything from selling Rabid beer at roller derbies to an annual Feast of the Goat Queen festival. (“Picture an ancient fertility festival, but with less sex and more ska music,” Nilsen says.) 

Of course, as Nilsen notes, this “loosely controlled chaos” would be “pointless without great beer.” The founders and head brewer Joe Sterbenc differentiate themselves by sourcing coffee and craft chocolate for indulgent stouts, zeroing in on perfect amounts of lactose to bolster varied bright fruit notes in IPAs, and tackling less-expected flavor combos like blood orange and chocolate in a wheat beer. After the brewery’s expanding distribution was curtailed by the pandemic, the current focus on taproom and surrounding community sales has only made Rabid’s beer more coveted.

Known for: Mixed-culture ales
Bottle to know: Region Sauvage d’Arizona

Jonathan Buford, Patrick Ware and Brett Dettler opened Arizona Wilderness in 2013, but the brewery’s continued evolution has kept excitement among beer fans fresh. They’ve added locations, stayed ahead of the pack with eco-friendly initiatives, launched a nonalcoholic IPA and continue to innovate with their mixed-culture program. Importantly, though, Arizona Wilderness sets itself apart through a commitment to sourcing local ingredients, sustainability and terroir. 

One example? Buford and Ware use drought-resistant hops and an innovative barley called Sinagua Malt, used to replace high water-use crops so local farmers can maintain their livelihoods while water is conserved. This brewery is one to watch not only for its beer, but for its efforts bettering the industry’s future by “working to decrease their environmental impact and increase positive community connections,” says beer writer Ruvani de Silva.

Known for: Pale ales
Can to know: Hip-Hops and R&Brew Pale Ale

Funkytown launched in October 2021 and quickly rocketed to national relevance. Founders Richard Bloomfield, Zachary Day and Gregory Williams set out to brew beer that would engage people of color and women, groups too frequently left out of the craft beer conversation. They do this by brewing accessible, classic beer styles exceptionally well, marketing with recognizable can labels and tying beers to themes that represent their interests, like hip-hop. Chicago-based beer blogger and podcaster Chalonda White, aka AfroBeerChick, calls Funkytown a “breakout brewery,” noting how quickly after launching (with brewery incubator Pilot Project) it’s grown to be distributed in over 200 Chicagoland locations, all before even having its own brick-and-mortar location. 

Bloomfield, Day and Williams demonstrate a notable knack for pale ales. The brewery’s best-known example, Hip-Hops and R&Brew, strikes a pitch-perfect balance between fruity hop flavors and refreshing drinkability, while Gym Shoe Weather is intriguingly complex with hints of sweetness and spice.

Known for: Czech-style lagers and Belgian ales
Can to know: Gest Czech-Style Dark Lager

Well-known breweries like Monday Night Brewing and hyped lager producers like Halfway Crooks often steal the craft beer spotlight in Atlanta, but Elsewhere Brewing, which opened in fall 2020, is finally gaining some well-deserved attention on a national scale. Founders Sam and Sara Kazmer explored younger craft beer scenes in South America and storied brewing traditions throughout Europe, and, with director of brewing operations Josh Watterson, make timeless beers that represent these different regions.

Elsewhere’s beer list includes a little bit of everything, but each style is brewed as meticulously as the next. Especially popular are Czech-style dark lager Gest, West Coast IPA Viridity, and Belgian-style tripel Tripel. “Every beer captures not just the style but also the taste of place for each style,” says Jen Blair, an Atlanta-based podcaster and educator. Blair and beer writer Stephanie Grant point out Elsewhere’s culture, too, as reason to embrace the brewery. It’s veteran- and woman-owned, promotes inclusivity with regular drag events and, with the launch of its Elsewhere Adventure Club, is dedicated to promoting beer tourism. Perhaps the best motivation for traveling to explore different beer cultures, though, is working one’s way through the wildly diverse Elsewhere tap list.

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