Maybe you picked up a brewing habit in lockdown. Or maybe you just prefer artisanal tastes to mass-market ones. Either way, home-crafted alcohol is beloved around the world, whether it’s bottled sake or intensely fermented kombucha. Let’s look at some of the most popular specialty beers in the USA. Some are pre-packed, others you probably shouldn’t try in your crockpot!
But first a primer. Beer is – generally speaking – any malt drink fermented with yeast and flavored with hops. They can be ales (e.g. porter, stout, wheat, etc. fermented using warmer top fermentation where yeast settles above the vat) or lagers e.g. (pilsners, Helles, etc. fermented using colder bottom fermentation where yeast sinks to the bottom of the beer barrel).
These specialty brews are sometimes marketed as artisanal beer or craft beer, so we’ll use these terms interchange-ably. And while some of us are happy to start the beer-making process from scratch, most of us are content to crack open a ready bottle or pop open a pre-chilled can. So here’s a list of 31 specialty beers in the USA. We’re sure you’ll find one in a bar near you!
1. Ommegang Brewery, New York – Witte Ale
For lots of people, beer and Belgium are synonymous. So if you’re in New York and looking for crafty brews, try Ommegang. They have a café and restaurant for social drinking and fun nights out. But they also have a delivery service and curbside pick-up. If you haven’t had their beer before, Witte Ale and Three Philosophers are popular suggestions for gluten-friendly novices.
The venue has an old-school rustic feel, authentically mimicking a Belgian barn. Ommegang beer is brewed in five series including limited editions and GoT. The Ommegang Brewery sits in Milford. This former farmland once grew hops on its 136-acre grounds, located a little south of Cooperstown. The area is sometimes called Nova Belgium, and they host beer festivals regularly.
2. Ithaca Beer Company, New York – Flower Power IPA
IPAs (India Pale Ales) are often brewed on the West Coast of the US. This is because hops were originally grown in that area. Depending on what stats you check, the figure is quoted as anything from 75% to 97%, mostly in Yakima Valley. But Ithaca Beer Co. is a North East Coast crew that makes a mean artisanal beer. They even named their flagship after the hops flower.
Ithaca Flower Power IPA has an ABV of 7.4% and is flavored with pale honey malt. It’s a fruity beer with hints of clover, grapefruit, and pineapple. Its psychedelic product label echoes the swinging sixties tribute in its name. It’s considered the best IPA in New York and ‘hopped and malted’ every quarter, earning itself bragging rights and proving its tagline as a year-round beer.
3. Stone Brewing Company, California – Bueneveza Lager
With quirky product names like Bueneveza and Scorpion Bowl, Stone Brewing is among the top ten artisanal beer producers in the US. They have two bases in California and Virginia, so they cover both traditional growing spots. Their IPAs are legendary, and the company is also known for its limited-edition releases. Stone IPAs are available year-round with ABV as high as 8.5%.
The company also has smaller facilities in Napa and Liberty Station, as well as several restaurants and beer taprooms. Their gargoyle mascot logo represents their brewing philosophy and quality. So whether you want double artisanal ruination or you prefer the tropical thunder of gargoyle lager, you can find Stone Beer in all 50 states plus 40 foreign countries.
4. Alaskan Brewing Company, Alaska – Smoked Porter
Depending on your demographic, Alaska might bring to mind ice caps, global warming, 6-month nights, moose, or paranormal romance – mostly husky werewolves. But Alaskan Brewing is also known for their Smoked Porter. It has an ABV of 6.5% and is smoked by hand. Many Alaskan brewers use the same smoker for their beer, fish, and meat, so the flavors are sure to mingle.
This may not sound pleasant, but it works because Alaskan Smoked Porter pairs better with food than other porter brands. This specially smoked beer can also withstand prolonged sub-zero temperatures. This is partly due to the hand-smoked malt used to brew these beers. One of their newer offerings is a berry-based IPA they’ve labeled Berry Milkshake. It has an ABV of 7%.
5. Allagash Brewing Company, Maine – Allagash White
Based in Portland, Maine, Allagash Brewing is best known for its Belgian wheat beer – Allagash White. They have other brands like River Trip ale and North Sky stout. The brewery also offers a line of ‘spontaneously fermented’ Coolship series and fruity Little Grove sparkling session ale. Allagash was the 2019 winner of the James Beard Outstanding Beer and Wine Pros.
Maine grants Benefit Corporation Status (B-Corp) to green companies that keep staff, customers, the community, the taxman, and the environment happy. As an artisanal beer specialist, Allagash became the first company certified by the B Lab. All their beers are brewed in the Belgian style, from their seasonal limited offerings to their year-round bottles.
6. Victory Brewing Company, Philadelphia – Easy Ringer IPA
Not everybody brews beer in their bathtub. Or at least they don’t stay that way. Some artisanal beer companies have quite a large footprint. Victory Brewing is one such example. It started as a 1985 friendly home brewing ‘contest’ between childhood buddies Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet. They eventually opened a brewery together in 1996 and they now source 33.
They trained under Theo DeGroen, a German brewer at BBC (Baltimore Brewing Company) and Old Dominion Brewing Company before venturing out on their own. Victory’s flagship is HopDevil IPA, but their lo-cal Easy Ringer ‘diet beer’ is popular too. One of their four taprooms – the one in Parkesburg – has a raised platform where guests can view the brewing process.
7. Founders Brewing Company, Michigan – All Day IPA
With specialty beers in the USA (and elsewhere), it’s more than just the taste or the buzz. It’s about the experience. That’s why many artisanal brewers have taprooms in addition to supplying stores, homes, and bars. Founders has a taproom at each of its breweries. The taprooms open from Wednesday to Sunday, 11 am to 9 pm though you can’t get in past 8.15.
The taprooms (and breweries) in Detroit and Grand Rapids provide tours and brewing classes too. As for their offerings, Founders has seven lines of beverages that include a series of flavored seltzers and a mothership series of limited edition bottles. Check their website for availability.
8. Dogfish Head Brewery, Delaware – Slightly Mighty IPA
Specialty beers are a bit like rock bands – half the fun is in the name. So, for example, everyone has heard of catfish, but dogfish? As a beer? Yes. And they lead with a lo-cal IPA called Slightly Mighty that packs a measly 95 calories per can and just 3.6g of carbs, 1g of protein, and 4 ABV. This bitter drink has the sweet, fruity accents of pineapple, mango, coconut, and citrus.
In 2020, Dogfish IPAs are rated by brewing time, so they have a 60-minute, 75-minute, 90-minute, and 120-minute offering. As they heat their hops, they periodically add batches to the boiler at least once a minute. So the 60-minute IPA will have hops added 60 times. This gives the beer its bitter taste. Dogfish also produce other ales, stouts, and lagers all year round.
9. Bell’s Beer, Michigan – Best Brown Ale
Deep in the heart of 1970s Kalamazoo, Michigan, a baker named Larry Bell discovered fun new things to do with yeast. As a staffer at Sarkozy Bakery, he began experimenting with brewing techniques and eventually opened Bell’s in 1985. It started as a local liquor store with a soup pot that brewed 15 gallons. It later grew into a brewery – Kalamazoo Brewing Supply Company.
They started with Amber Ale and currently have four beer lines – year-round, specialty, seasonal, and Larry’s Library of limited edition bottles. The brewery offers a convenient 12-month availability calendar on its website so you can check when your preferred brand is on tap. For Fall 2020, their seasonal brew is Best Brown Ale with its trademark owl mascot.
10. Geary Brewing Company, Maine – Geary’s Pale Ale
Do you believe in (un)lucky numbers? Well, Geary Brewing was founded in 1983 as the first craft brewery in New England. Their lucky license number is #13 and their flagship was 1986 Geary’s Pale Ale. They offer Beer Garden services in the summer, and their specialty beers are divided into five categories of heritage (i.e. vintage), cotemporary, year-round, and seasonal beverages.
The company brews both British-style and American-style craft beer served on tap, 12-oz bottles, or 16-oz cans. Some of their beers come in 12-oz cans as well. The brewery has perfected both open and closed fermentation systems. This specialty brewer is committed to conservation and sustainability. They use renewable energy and donate their used grain to Portland farmers.
11. New Glarus Brewing Company, Wisconsin – Coffee Stout
This is a relatively young maker of specialty brews in the USA. The company started in 2017 by Dan and Deb Carey. Daniel studies brewing in university, including an internship in Germany. Deb specializes in marketing and entrepreneurship. So far, the company produces six beer brands, all listed on their beer schedule. The company offers brewery tours as well.
Dan creates limited edition Thumbprint beers a few times a year. It keeps his spirits up, pun intended, and you can check the beer calendar to see what’s available when. Their seasonal offerings include Cabin Fever, Coffee Stout, and Totally Naked. Use the Beer Finder on the brewery’s website to find a retail supplier near you. New Glarus currently has one location.
12. Anchor Brewing Company, California – Anchor Porter
Fritz Maytag sounds like a made-up name. Especially if it’s closely followed by ‘bunging’ and ‘kräusening’ because they sound equally invented. They’re not though. Fritz was the owner of Anchor Brewing in 1977 when they moved to their current premises. The brewery was initially a beer-and-billiards salon owned by Gottlieb Brekle in gold-rush California. He opened in 1871.
In 1896, the saloon was renamed Anchor Brewery by its new owners, Ernst F. Baruth and his son-in-law, Otto Schinkel, Jr. Otto was married to Ernst’s daughter. The brewery closed during the 1920 prohibition but re-opened in 1933 and still brews beer in traditional copper pots to date. Bunging and kräusening are brewing techniques, and Anchor’s flagship is Porter.
13. Widmer Brothers Brewery, Oregon – Hefe IPA
You may have noticed from this list so far that Portland (both in Oregon and Maine) is a popular brewing sot for specialty beers in the USA. And that IPAs are a must-have item on their taproom menus. Widmer Brothers is part of that club, owned and run by Kurt and Rob Widmer. They started brewing at home when it became legal in 1979 but didn’t open the brewery until 1984.
Initially, they distributed directly to pubs and bars. They were the first specialty brewers to start releasing seasonal beer in 1986, and they launched the Oregon Beer Fest in 1988. Up until 1996, they operated beer taps, but they started bottling in 1996. Today, they have 24 taps in their Widmer Brothers Pub and the IPA, Hefeweizen (better known as Hefe) is their current flagship.
14. Elysian Brewing Company, Washington – Superfuzz Pale Ale
Companies that make specialty beers in the US have a template. They’ll release 4 or 5 series that include multiple IPAs. Possibly because their fruity flavors leave lots of wiggle room for signature recipes and formulations. Elysian takes the opposite approach. They have launched over 500 craft beers since 1996. All with quintessentially American names like Space Dust.
Elysian has three venues in Seattle. Two are restaurants and one is the brewery taproom. This contemporary brewery s big on quantity, so they produce a new beer brand every week. They’ve won three awards for Large Brewpub of the Year, presented at the Great American Beer Festival.
15. Lagunitas Brewing Company, California – Hazy Wonder IPA
Lagunitas is popular among the podcast crowd. Tony Magee started brewing beer on his stovetop in 1993 before moving his formal brewery site to a nearby storage shed. Today, Lagunitas has three taprooms in Petaluma, Seattle, and Chicago, all with a strong heritage of supporting locals. They routinely host live bands and even global headliners. Plus, they curate Spotify playlists.
Beer wise, Hazy Wonder is among their top seasonal IPAs, but if you want to explore specialty beers in the USA, consider trying their Hi-Fi Hops, a fusion of liquefied cannabis and fruity ale. It’s sparkling, has no alcohol, no carbs, and no calories. It comes in three flavors with varying THC: CBD ratios – Tuner (18:1), Unplugged (55), and Reverb (10:0).
16. Pizza Port/The Lost Abbey, California – Cuvee de Tomme
If you’ve ever doubted the importance of copyright, learn that lesson now. When brewer Tomme Arthur developed his Cuvee de Tomme in 1999, he set his rights right. So when he moved to a new brewer, he was able to carry his treasure with him. He developed this beacon of specialty beers in the USA while working at Pizza Port Brewery. It’s a brown ale with cherry accents.
The fruity infusions in this beer include raisins, malted barley, candi sugar, sour cherries, aromatic vanilla, and dusty cocoa. The beer id pre-fermented then aged in oak bourbon barrels. This beer has won numerous awards, and if brewed using Brettanomyces yeast as a disinfectant.
17. SweetWater Brewing, Georgia – Trainwreck Hazy Double IPA
How well do you know your specialty beers in the USA? If you’ve dabbled in the space for a while, you know a craft beer with ‘haze’ or ‘hazy’ in its name implies marijuana. These beers infuse cannabis into the beverage. SweetWater Brewing calls its hazy line ‘420 Strain’. It includes five branded ales, IPAs, and lagers, with Trainwreck being a firm favorite.
This 8% ABV drink is available on tap, 12-oz cans or bottles. This dank drink is peppered with citrus orange, pine, and vanilla. It uses Amarillo, Azacca, Bravo, Centennial, and Lotus. The beverage is infused with terpenes that bring out these flavorful strains. You can eat and drink at the newly renovated SweetWater taproom. The bar currently has 24 variants in their beer taps.
18. Anchorage Brewing Company, Alaska – Bitter Monk IPA
Loves of specialty beers in the USA will often try to brew a batch at home. Looking at a typical artisanal brewery is part of that process. You want inspiration, ideas, and an inkling of where to start. Anchorage Brewing has a convenient 3D virtual tour on their website. They invite you to visit the most key corners of their facility without leaving home of dropping the phone.
The company was founded by brewers Bart Chelmo and Gabe Fletcher. Their trademark drink is Bitter Monk brewed in casks of chardonnay oak. It’s a sour beer derived from Belgian yeast. The barrels are treated with wild Brettanomyces and the beer is dry-hopped with Citra.
19. Georgetown Beer, Washington – Bodhizafa IPA
Bodhizafa sounds a lot like bodhisattva, the state of bliss and enlightenment of attaining Buddhahood. It sometimes describes meditating monks who are consciously along their path. As a craft beer drinker, the implication seems cheekily obvious. But whatever the origin, this IPA is brewed from rolled oats rather than wheat, giving the beer a silky feel on your palate.
Coincidentally (or not?) this IPA has an ABV of 6.9% and a rich, citrusy mandarin orange flavor. Every barrel of Bodhizafa is loaded with 5 pounds of hops so the beer has lots of body and lots of bodhi too. The brewery itself does seem rather serendipitous since its founders – Manny Chao and Roger Bialous – got affordable 15-barrel brewing kits from a dying North Carolina brewery!
20. Odell Brewing Company, Colorado – Golden Ale
In the old days, grain elevators were used to transport and store food in silos and towers. One of these elevators – traced back to 1915 – became the brewing base for Odell. The cylindrical structure has good acoustics, which is helpful because Odell routinely hosts live shows. The brewery was started by the Odells in 1989 – Corkie, her brother Doug, and his wife Wynne.
In 2015, the Odells sold most of the company’s shares to its staff, so now it’s an employee-owned set-up. Before starting up the company, Doug worked at Anchor Brewery, which we mentioned earlier in this list. Their first offering was Golden Ale. All their beers start in a 5-barrel pilot system. Once the recipe is perfected, they get officially moved to the 135-barrel production line.
21. Wren House Brewing, Arizona – Spellbinder IPA
With an ingredient list that includes lupulin powder, oatmeal, Citra, and wheat, Spellbinder is a suitable name. This mid-level ale isn’t as dry as British IPAs or as bodied as American ones, creating a happy median. The brew has an ABV of 6.5% and is a home brew in the realest sense.
The owners spotted the abandoned property in Green Gables and snapped it up. They turned the guesthouse and garage into a brewery, converting the main house into a taproom. Brewer Preston Thoeny runs the show, and the homespun feel of this venue adds to the appeal.
22. Rogue Ales & Spirits, Oregon – Combat Wombat IPA
Three Nike executives walk into a bar … and take over from the bartender. Well, not exactly, but they did start a company brewing specialty beers in the USA. They call themselves the Brewers on the Bay, and their headquarters offers a gorgeous view of the marina and has 40 beer taps.
And given the founders’ background, it’s a comprehensive set-up from farm to froth. The Oregon HQ has a brewery, a distillery, and a barrel-making factory in addition to the taproom. Tours are available daily, and beer selections include Combat Wombat and Shavasana Blonde.
23. Perennial Artisan Ales, Missouri – La Bohème
The definition of specialty beers in the USA varies. But generally, beer is considered artisanal if it’s a domestic operation or a small facility without the backing of ‘big corporates’. Some may dismiss Rogue Ale and embrace Perennial based on this criterion, since the Rogues and ex-Nike.
Perennial opened in 2011. Its weirdly named beers include Grapefruit Spare Parts IPA or Lunchbox Treasures, a strange-sounding combination of vanilla, marshmallow, nutmeg, and cinnamon brewed into a stout. But Belgian La Bohème is recommended by first-time visitors.
24. Oskar Blues Brewery, Colorado – Dale’s Pale Ale
Microbrewing isn’t always about size. But many craft beers stay local and tapped. They don’t go into bottling or even canning. Oskar Blues made the leap though. In 2002, it became the first specialty beer in the USA to be served in a can. Of course, this brewing crew is much larger now. They have breweries in Texas, North Carolina, and the Colorado HQ. Pale Ale is their top seller.
25. Russian River Brewing Company, California – Pliny the Elder DIPA
You probably know the acclaim of Russian vodka, but this dude brew packs a mean punch, pun intended. In 1997, a company called Korbel Champagne Cellars started RRBC. But after 6 years, they weren’t feeling it anymore so they sold the beer brand, its recipes, and its equipment to staff members Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo. Their top seller is Pliny Double Dry-Hopped IPA.
26. Great Divide Brewing Company, Colorado – Collette Farmhouse Ale
There’s an urban legend that American beer is weak because initially, its ABV hovered at 3.5% while the global intoxication preferences were 4% to 6%. Today, Great Divide prides itself on craft beers as high as 7% or more. Its taproom offers 16 beer taps and if you want a bite to go with your booze, you can buy something from the numerous food trucks and popup stands.
27. Blue Moon Brewing – Blue Moon
In some parts of the world, Blue Moon is a brand of low-grade vodka. But it’s among the top-selling specialty beers in the USA. Its history is controversial though. Blue Moon beer is a knock off by Coors, reverse-engineered off Pierre Celis Wit, a Belgian beer he introduced in 1992.
Pierre sold his Celis Wit brand to Miller Brewing Company in 1995, but they discontinued it in the year 2000 because they couldn’t challenge Blue Moon. Both beers are fermented in Belgian style using wheat malt (as opposed to American-style wheat beers that are left unfiltered).
28. New Belgium Brewing Company, NC – La Folie Sour Brown Ale
You might have picked up a few things from this list. Like the popularity of craft beers in Michigan, Oregon, Cali, and Philly. Or how many of these craft beers come from Belgium. La Folie is one such Flemish import. Its name translates as ‘the madness’ or ‘the idiocy’.
This might refer to the perceived folly of brewing Belgian beer in the states, but it ended up being a clever gambit. It has hints of cherry, plum skin, and green apple in oak barrels.
29. Boulevard Brewing Company, Missouri – Quirk Spiked & Sparkling
As their Quirk sparkling seltzers are … picking up steam … pun intended, the brand is getting bigger. Usually, seltzers are a chaser, but these seltzers are ‘spiked’ with 4.2% ABV. Quirk comes in blackberry and pear. Boulevard Brewing also offers cannabeers like Phantom Haze. Their first canned Smokestack Series brand is Tank 7, an artisanal ale with an ABV of 8.5%.
30. Goose Island Beer Company, Illinois – So-lo IPA
In 1988, John Hall went on a European tour, feel in love with their beer, and brought some back home. He launched his craft brewing company in Chicago, and in 2011, Anheuser-Busch acquired Goose Island. But the brand remains crafty and artisanal, including their popular brand of diet beer, So-lo. It carries 98 calories per can and but has a dismal ABV of just 3%.
31. Shock Top Brewing, Missouri – Belgian White
We’ve mentioned several times that strange names seem prerequisite for specialty beers in the USA, and Shock Top certainly qualifies, right down to its mohawked tangerine mascot. Belgian White (5.2% ABV) is its flagship. That makes sense because Anheuser-Busch (AB InBev) is their mother company. Shock Top also comes in ruby fresh and lemon shandy variants.
Do you have a bottle or can of your favorite specialty beer? Show us a photo in the comments!
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