When a great brewery emerges, it can inspire a whole new beer scene. The business may bring awareness and excitement to a region, and encourage others in its community to fire up the kettle and get in on the action. Often, the company that starts such a trend may grow so large that other incredible local breweries are unfairly overlooked.
The following eight fantastic breweries happen to share smaller cities with giants and legends. They deserve a share of the spotlight too -- and we’re happy to give it to ‘em.
Santa Rosa, California
When your city calls Russian River Brewing Co. home -- and the surrounding county births Bear Republic Brewing Co. and Lagunitas Brewing Co. -- it’s easy for a brewery to play second fiddle. But with Santa Rosa long established as a destination for beer lovers thanks to the annual release of Pliny the Younger (among RR’s other legendary offerings), the city’s cultivated myriad other breweries have a high bar of excellence to meet. Right down the road from RR in a hyper-modern brewery/taphouse, Third Street has been pouring amazing beers since 1996 -- a year before Russian River even tapped its first barrel -- which include its fantastic Blarney Sisters’ Irish-Style Dry Stout (which has snagged gold at the Great American Beer Festival three times) and their Allendale Pale Ale (a one-time gold medalist). While Russian River has the lines, Third Street’s the forerunner of Santa Rosa’s beer renaissance, and deserves its share of love for laying the groundwork for great breweries like Fogbelt Brewing Co. and Plow Brewing Co.
It’s strange to think that a brewery responsible for a stout that rocks a perfect score on beer rating sites would be overshadowed...but here we are. Akron, Ohio, is a city where Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. holds court, pumping out barrel-aged favorites and more quaffable, hoppy fare from an enormous old brewery with a 30,000bbl capacity. Meanwhile, Akron itself stands in the shadows of Cleveland, which itself is fast becoming one of the nation’s best beer cities. And between the two of those giants is Hoppin’ Frog, located in what at first glance appears to be a storage space near the Goodyear Blimp off the highway. But venture in and you’ll find arguably Ohio’s finest brewery, whose B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher oatmeal imperial stout alone is worth a pilgrimage. Though, their Karminator dopplebock and Outta Kilter wee heavy scotch-style red ale are juggernauts, too. The legend is real. It’s just hiding in plain sight off the highway, ready to completely blow unsuspecting minds.
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Stone Brewing has rightfully become synonymous with Escondido’s beer scene (that tends to happen when you, you know, create it). But visit the SoCal beach town, and you’ll find breweries that focus on styles beyond the slate of typical West Coast hoppy beers. Jacked Up is the brightest of the bunch. After merely five years in business, the rustic, stripped-down taproom that exists almost as the antithesis to the World Beer Gardens doesn't have any crazy experimental beers or insane collaborations to offer. But you will find fantastic takes on the classics: among them, a bready Red Rye Ale and a Porter that’s become a fan favorite thanks to the cherrywood-smoke kick they put on the grain. It’s simple, delicious, and served up by beer lovers in a tiny taproom that fits perfectly with the laid-back vibe of Escondido.
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Yes, it sounds silly to call a brewery that sells its wares in seven states overshadowed, but when the neighboring brewing giant casting that shadow is Bell's Brewery, it’s just a way of life. Now, Kalamazoo is positioning to give Grand Rapids -- home of juggernauts like Brewery Vivant and Founders Brewing Co. -- a run for its Michigan beer-cred money. Those who are lucky enough to know Arcadia’s portfolio are already in love with year-round options like the fruity Mango Surprise IPA and the World Beer Cup-winning Loch Down Scotch Ale. But specialty releases like the explosive Cereal Killer -- named so because nearby Battle Creek (the location of their original production facility) is home to Kellogg's -- get a mega-boost from a bourbon barrel-aging process. Add a few draft-only offerings like the stellar Nut Brown and the exemplary session ale Big Finish, and Arcadia alone makes a trip to K-Zoo well worth it.
Hood River, Oregon
Hood River has an embarrassment of beer riches for a town of less than 10,000, with breweries like Full Sail Brewing Co., pFfriem Family Brewers, and Double Mountain Brewery calling the tiny Columbia River Gorge hamlet home. In any other town, a brewery like Big Horse would be the main draw, thanks to a solid roster that includes the funky, 9% ABV Belgian Triple Crown, and the yin to its candi-sugar’d yang, a 3.5% ABV Belgian Table Saison. Throw in a solid roster of pale ales and a gorgeous panoramic view of The Gorge (the place is a three-story, old public house mounted on one of Mt. Hood’s foothills overlooking the expansive waterway), and you’ve got a brewery that would stand tall in any city.
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Fort Collins, Colorado
Only in a beer-rich state like Colorado can a brewery create a milk stout made with 35lbs of Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch and still fly under the radar -- but such is the story of Black Bottle, which happens to reside in the same Colorado bordertown as legends New Belgium Brewing Co. and Odell Brewing Co. But take heed: for the past five years, Black Bottle has been like a playful cousin to Boulder’s Avery Brewing Co., dumping things into barrels that seemingly make no sense together and coming up with magic: from heady brown sours to the pitch-black Aviation Cocktail black rye IPA. The staples, too, manage to take familiar styles to unexpected places, be they the peppery There Goes The Neighborhood Belgian rye saison or the GABF medal-winning Friar Chuck Kölsch. Soon, Black Bottle could be the one casting the shadow. And it'll likely smell like cereal.
Over the years, Snake River Brewing has emerged as the go-to craft beer for Wyoming, while Melvin Brewing's 2x4 has become one of the most sought-after DIPAs in the west. Long before all that happened, Grand Teton opened just down the highway in the tiny town of Wilson, WY. And while their beers have become widely available, and they've since moved to Victor, Idaho, their status has still been overshadowed by newer operations. The craft beer world owes a debt of gratitude to Grand Teton: It's largely credited with the revival of the growler, which it began selling in 1989 as a means for thirsty travelers to take away the amazing beer it's been pouring all along. That history alone makes it a treasure. That you can fill it with the GABF gold medalist Sweetgrass APA makes it a destination many forget to visit while they’re busy getting Melvined. (Is that a verb yet? It should be.)
Salt Lake City, Utah
The folks at Uinta Brewing and Epic Brewing Co. have emerged as the heroes of the Utah beer scene for good reason: their inventive, bold beers have taken tired "they don't drink in Utah" stereotypes, burned them into a fine ash, and then used that ash to make great, giant beers. SLC is now a nationally respected beer city. Before it was, though, Wasatch had been putting up a fight by brewing bold ales and playing an instrumental role in lobbying to make brewing legal in the state. It worked! Since 1986, Wasatch has been brewing amazingness, among them the legendarily smoky Polygamy Porter and the GhostRider White IPA, while the city continues to grow around it. Tourists often flock to the bigger names, but Wasatch serves as a proud father to the city's entire beer culture, quietly continuing to craft incredible beer in a scene it all but created.