BJ Pichman / Forbidden Root
Imagine, if you will, the world’s biggest beer store. It’s so enormous, it has rows and rows of fridges with beer from every single craft brewery in the country. This store (one I desperately wish were real) is like 1000 Walmarts combined. It has to be huge, because there are over 5200 craft breweries in America. You probably know a good chunk of them by name -- breweries like Great Divide, Green Flash, and Elysian. But there are so many new ones popping up all the time, it’s tough to know which brewery will become the next Great Divide, Green Flash, or Elysian.
That’s why we rounded up brewmasters and founders of some of the top breweries in five major beer hubs in America (Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Denver, and San Diego, specifically) to ask them a single question: which up-and-coming brewery in your region will have a huge 2017? And we made it especially tough on them by requiring them to stick to breweries that are already packaging, but don’t quite have a significant national presence. Yet.
Watch out for these five breweries that’ll be huge in 2017...and beyond.
align:center credits:"Modern Times Beer"
Modern Times Beer
San Diego, California
Erik Jensen, brewmaster of the stalwart West Coast IPA makers at Green Flash Brewing, loves Modern Times for two reasons that make sense -- and one reason that seems a little nuts.
First, Jensen says that Modern Times makes “inventive, delicious beer.” Not only that, “they roast their own coffee beans, too. Pretty cool.” He’s not wrong about any of that. Those coffee beans go into Modern Times’s beloved Black House stout, and MT claims it’s one of the only breweries to roast its own beans (rather than teaming up with a local roaster, as other breweries do). But considering this is the same brewery that opened a “fermentorium” (i.e. a taproom) by raising $65,471 via Kickstarter, Modern Times isn’t about taking the easy route. Meanwhile, the brewery’s distinctive can lines are emblazoned with minimalist writing that seems both, umm, modern and timeless. (It also has monthly releases in 22oz bombers.) The beer inside those cans (and bottles!) is inarguably delicious, especially selections such as Blazing World, a hoppy amber with 85 IBUs.
Secondly, Jensen cites its brewmaster Matt Walsh, a guy he personally hired when he was at Karl Strauss, and likes quite a bit. That Blazing World beer? It’s made with Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand, an expensive hop variety. You don’t see NZ hops being used in many beers in the States because they’re more expensive and less readily available. And uncommon ingredients make for unique beer.
And the last reason Jensen gave is strange, but Modern Times was his pick, so we have to trust him on this one. “I think they might be a cult,” he says. “Really!” That doesn’t seem right. What kind of a cult would give away its recipes for free on the internet? I mean, unless it’s a sophisticated recruitment tool designed to get you hooked on its beer before…. Perhaps we’ve said too much.
Port Townsend, Washington
Located two hours north of Seattle in a town of just 9,000 people, this nanobrewery is the definition of a small business. A small, small business. “One guy brews, and his girlfriend tends the bar,” says Joe Bisacca, co-founder of Elysian Brewing. How the heck do they serve all 9,000 of those people every night?! Makes you wonder. Bisacca lauds the Propolis Brewing folks for their bottle conditioned farmhouse beers that often use adjuncts from the woods behind the brewery -- like spruce, in the aptly named Spruce Golden Saison. It’s worth pointing out that of the last 100 beers you’ve drunk, likely none of them were brewed with foraged ingredients. “They’re innovators,” Bisacca says. “And it’s not just innovation because they can -- it’s because it’s the right thing to do. The saison, for example: They’re not making a gingerbread blueberry beer just to sound outrageous.” Though that gingerbread blueberry beer doesn’t sound terrible, either…
And it’s not just the spruce brew that’s beloved. Among the other standouts are the beers in Propolis’s line of saison Brett brews, like the Zephyros. That’s an elderflower saison Brett brewed with New Zealand hops and aged for more than two years. Bear in mind that Propolis is such a small brewery that keeping up with the variety of new (literally) funky beers is a glorious chore. Take the recent Kriek offering: a Flemish golden ale aged with black cherries and Brett. No matter which brew you try from Propolis, the bottom line is this, according to Joe Bisacca: “The beers are beautifully balanced, maintaining delicacy while having nuanced depths.”
You’ve probably heard of Not Your Father’s Root Beer: a super sweet, hard root beer you can enjoy over ice. About an hour southeast of where that beer is made, Forbidden Root also pours a root beer that’s extraordinarily different. This “root beer” (also called Forbidden Root), has 20+ natural extracts to create a super complex flavor profile, including cardamom, nutmeg, wintergreen, vanilla, and sandalwood. It’s one the favorite brews of Pipeworks Brewing co-founder/brewmaster Gerrit Lewis, who had plenty of great things to say about Chicagoland’s botanical brewery.
“Forbidden Root is really just starting to scratch the surface of how ‘barks, stems, flowers, herbs, spices, leaves, roots, and other foraged flavors' shape a beer's flavor profile beyond what you can achieve with hops or traditional brewing adjuncts,” he says. He’s got a point. While many breweries these days are throwing fruit into an IPA and calling it a day, FR has the WPA (Wildflower Pale Ale), packed with elderflower, marigold, and sweet osmanthus flowers. Expect grassy (duh) and citrusy notes. Lewis singles out FR in part for its head brewer, BJ Pichman, who he says “has a truly unique and innovative approach to brewing.”
It’s hard to disagree with that assessment after learning about Fernetic, an imperial black ale made in collaboration with the Fernet-Branca family meant to ape the flavor profile of the beloved liquor. Speaking of beloved liquor, FR also brews Cherrytree Amaro, made with cherry stems and almonds. For a brewery that’s only been releasing beers since 2014, Lewis sees it as having a huge influence. “Botanical brewing offers a completely new avenue for beer drinkers that we haven’t had in our lifetime,” he says.
credits:"Baerlic Brewing Co."
Breakside Brewery has been making fantastic beer for the Portland-area for around seven years now, which practically makes them an OG. That’s why we went to its brewmaster/founder Ben Edmunds to learn of the breweries he had high hopes for. He wanted to select Sunriver Brewing, about 3.5 hours outside of Portland in Sunriver, Oregon, which he says has earned its GABF and World Beer Cup medals, in addition to brewing “beautifully hoppy beers.” But since we deemed that a little too far outside of Portland, he went with the equally deserving Baerlic (pronounced Bear Lick!), a brewery earning his praise thanks to its impressive barrel-aged beers. Among those beers are WoodWorker Harshmellow Mountain, a Belgian blonde aged in neutral and gin barrels with Brettanomyces bruxellensis before being dry-hopped. The IBUs on this beer are hilariously labeled as “enough,” though hopheads might beg to differ.
Edmunds also singles out the classic beer styles available in the brewery, including the Invincible IPA with Nugget, Cascade, Chinook, and Amarillo hops, and the Cavalier Cream Ale brewed with Himalayan basmati rice. As classic as the cream ale is, it’s clear Baerlic doesn’t brew anything in a straightforward manner. But don’t necessarily expect to see it chosen as a popular pick on beer review sites. “I don't think they make the sort of beers that necessarily 'tear it up' with folks on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer,” says Edmunds. “But their focused, drinkable beers are endearing them to the Portland market.” And even though Edmunds estimates they produced just over 1,200 barrels in 2016, he sees the brewery expanding its reach and “becoming a beloved player in the Portland scene in 2017.” As the Portland scene goes, so goes the nation. Expect a gin barrel-aged Belgian blonde at your local craft beer bar any day now. (Okay, any decade now?)
credits:"WeldWerks Brewing Co."
WeldWerks Brewing Company
About an hour northeast of Denver, Greeley (a town of just 100,000) is an unlikely home to the next big thing out of the Mile High area. But Brian Dunn, founder of Great Divide Brewing, says that WeldWerks is one to watch. “They’re going to have a big 2017,” he says. There are two big reasons for that: Juicy Bits and Extra Juicy Bits. “They’re amazing IPAs,” Dunn notes. “Full of hop flavor and aroma, they’re well-made, fun beers to drink.” Especially if you dig the New England Style IPA as much as everyone else does these days. Juicy Bits is a hazy delight with just 45 IBUs, as its citrus notes take center stage over any serious hop bite. Extra Juicy Bits, as you might have guessed, is an imperial version of the original, with a steeper 78 IBUs. It’s not brewed as often. Hell, the brewery is so small that it has a tough time keeping enough Juicy Bits on tap in its own taproom.
Despite the shortage of product, the brewery has begun canning its traditional Hefeweizen (which won silver at GABF in 2015) and offers crowlers of everything else from its taproom. It also does small bottle releases, including the Mexican Achromatic, an imperial stout Dunn loves. If it’s gotten approval from the guy behind one of the best stouts in America (the Oak-Aged Yeti and all its delicious varieties), it’s worth seeking out. The beer is meant to recall Mexican hot cocoa, and is thus brewed with TCHO cacao nibs, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla beans. But if you want a beer that’s super heavy on the vanilla notes, it’s worth tracking down Weldwerks’s Vanilla Medianoche, an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels for a year with Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla. Tasty.
We expect big things in the coming year from these breweries, but their success doesn’t happen without you. So get out there and buy some beer from Modern Times, Forbidden Root, Propolis, Baerlic, and WeldWerks, and then you can brag that you knew ‘em before they were huge. You trendsetter, you.