- In the book Our Towns: A 100,000-mile journey into the heart of America, the authors write that craft breweries are a useful indicator of the local economic and social vitality of cities and towns across the country.
- American craft brewers added $79.1 billion to the economy in 2018 and provided more than 550,000 total jobs, according to an industry trade group.
- “It has become a nation-wide version of local branding,” author Jim Fallows tells Business Insider. “Every place had a shopping mall 50 years ago — now every place has a brewery, and that is more interesting to me.”
- Business Insider highlights 16 small breweries (and one bonus) that are shaping the American craft beer landscape and having a local impact.
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Craft breweries are arguably the best way to gauge whether a town is in excellent health. Just ask James and Deborah Fallows of The Atlantic, who spotted the trend in their journey to cities all over the country for their book Our Towns. The Fallowses traversed the nation in a sedan-sized airplane on a journey to visit smaller cities and towns and take the pulse of places often considered “flyover country.” For the Fallows, it’s fly-to.
The husband and wife team visited more than two dozen towns, many of which were still recovering from economic shifts, including the Great Recession. The writers identified several indicators of an area’s “civic energy,” a term they use to encompass local concerns like economic growth, political engagement, and social well-being.
Places like Burlington, VT, and Greenville, SC, topped their list of towns with high civic energy, what with their strong community engagement and thriving local economy — while towns like San Bernardino, CA, and Allentown, PA, have farther to go to return to their former glory. Wherever they went, the most promising places had one thing in common: craft breweries.
Breweries are “one of the most reliable signs of civic energy,” James Fallows writes. “A town that has them also has a certain kind of entrepreneur and a critical mass of mainly young (except for me) customers. It sounds like a joke, but it explains a lot.”
“It has become a nation-wide version of local branding,” he said in an interview with Business Insider. He explained further how in the days before refrigeration and modern logistics, most towns in the US had their own distinct brewhouses that reflected the local character.
That all ended with Prohibition in 1920, and remained dormant for years after the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st. Some regulations continued to outlaw craft production until 1979, when President Jimmy Carter legalized home-brewing.
Now, production is booming. There are more than 7,400 craft breweries in the US, according to the Brewers Association trade group, and craft brewers added $79.1 billion to the US economy, provided more than 550,000 total jobs, and produced more than 25 million barrels of beer in 2018.
“Every place had a shopping mall 50 years ago,” Fallows said. “Now every place has a brewery, and that is more interesting to me.”
Breweries have served as catalysts for local development around the country, as brewers rehab underutilized properties for production. From Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Duluth, MN, Fallows has witnessed spectacular growth in the past 20 years, driven in part by local beer-makers.
Fallows recommended that beer-lovers try the Untappd mobile app to locate near-by craft brewers, but to whet your palette, here are 16 brewers from Maine to California that are having a local impact and are shaping the American beer landscape.
Sasanoa Brewing — Westport Island, ME
- Location: 50 miles from Portland, ME
- Town population: 718
- Brewery founded: 2019
Farmers Kyle DePietro and Angie Trombley brew local, sustainable beers using ingredients sourced from or near their farm on the coastal island in Maine.
Shipyard Brewing Co. — Portland, ME
- Location: Downtown Portland
- Town population: 66,700
- Brewery founded: 1994
Shipyard started out as the Kennebunkport Brewing Co. in 1992, and its upstairs restaurant Federal Jack’s was one of Maine’s original brewpubs. The company has since scaled up output to more than 100,000 barrels per year.
Night Shift Brewing — Everett, MA
- Location: 4 miles from Boston, MA
- Town population: 46,324
- Brewery founded: 2012
Three friends founded Night Shift after bonding over a passion for homebrewing. The company now has two locations in greater Boston, and hosts seasonal pop-up beer gardens in the area.
Cisco Brewers — Nantucket, MA
- Location: 24 Nautical miles from Cape Cod
- Town population: 11,327 year-round (up to 50,000 in Summer)
- Brewery founded: 1995
Cisco Brewers is part of a craft beverage family that includes a vineyard and distillery. Cisco’s products are distributed from the island to 12 states, and growing.
Athletic Brewing Co. — Stratford, CT
- Location: 66 miles from New York City
- Town population: 52,112
- Brewery founded: 2017
Athletic came about after co-founder Bill Shufelt quit drinking and was disappointed by the available non-alcoholic beers. The company makes a full array of alcohol-free classic craft styles, available at its taproom and a growing number of retailers in the northeastern US.
Brooklyn Brewery — Williamsburg, NY
- Location: 5 miles from Midtown Manhattan, NY
- Neighborhood population: 150,713 (in a city of 8.6 million)
- Brewery founded: 1996
Long before Williamsburg transformed into the trendy enclave it is today, Steve Hindy, Tom Potter, and Garrett Oliver were brewing their creations there. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani cut the ribbon on the Brooklyn brewhouse in 1996 and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, the beer and the borough are widely known as a focal point of influences from around the world.
OH Beatty Berry Brew — Columbus, OH
- Location: Ohio’s 3rd Disrict
- Town population: 2.1 million
- Beatty’s Brew founded: 2017
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) teamed up with brewers from her district (Anheuser-Busch) to make a custom IPA flavored with Ohio raspberries for a tasting competition with 8 other members of Congress in Washington, DC, where this image was made.
The Veil Brewing Co. — Richmond, VA
- Location: Scotts Addition, Richmond
- Town population: 1.3 million
- Brewery founded: 2016
The Veil was chosen as last year’s best craft brewer in Virginia by Thrillist. The brewery releases new beers every Tuesday, and hundreds of customers wait in line for a case.
Craft Maltsters Guild — Charlotte, NC
- Location: Home of Jen Blair
- Town population: 2.6 million
- Guild founded: 2013
Jen Blair loves beer. In addition to drinking it and making it, she is the Executive Director of the North American Craft Maltsters Guild, current President of the Carolina BrewMasters and a member of the American Homebrewers Association Governing Committee.
Tequesta Brewing Co. — Tequesta, FL
- Location: 91 miles north of Miami
- Town population: 6,133
- Brewery founded: 2011
Tequesta Brewing features hand-made beers in a wide variety of styles and flavors, for craft connoisseurs at their tasting room near Jupiter, FL. The company may still be young, but they serve their taproom patrons across a bar-top that is over a century old.
El Segundo Brewing Co. — El Segundo, CA
- Location: 20 miles from Los Angeles
- Town population: 16,719
- Brewery founded: 2010
El Segundo features an IPA named for former WWE wrestler ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, seen here guzzling some of his namesake product during a visit to the brewery.
Den Sake Brewery — Oakland, CA
- Location: West Oakland
- Town population: 425,195
- Brewery founded: 2017
Brewer Yoshihiro Sako crafts his small-batch sake with a combination of traditional methods and novel techniques. Den Sake Brewery is the first sake brewery in Oakland, and was a semi-finalist for the prestigious James Beard culinary award.
Barley Brown’s Beer — Baker City, OR
- Location: 130 miles from Boise, ID
- Town population: 9,757
- Brewery founded: 1998
Barley Brown’s is the Brown family’s award-winning brewery and restaurant in eastern Oregon, with 24 Great American Beer Festival medals, and the 2013 trophy for best small brewery in the nation.
Brewability Lab — Engelwood, CO
- Location: 7 miles south of Denver
- Town population: 34,690
- Program founded: 2016
Brewability Labs came about when former special needs teacher Tiffany Fixter saw a need for job training for adults with disabilities, like assistant brewer Devon Agan (pictured). Given the popularity of brewing in Colorodo, Fixter saw an opportunity to train adult students for careers in the craft industry.
SOURCE: Denver Post
Pink Boots Society — International
- Location: US, Canada, and 9 other countries.
- Membership: 1,900
- Society founded: 2007
Emilie Stewart (center, with cap), of the Pink Boots Society, talks with women brewers during an event at Blue Moon Brewery in Denver. The Society has chapters around the world dedicated to advancing the education and careers of women brewers.
Oskar Blues Brewery — Longmont, CO
- Location: 35 miles north of Denver
- Town population: 96,577
- Brewery founded: 2002
Most known for its Dale’s Pale Ale, Oskar Blues was one of the first craft brewers to sell their product in cans. Since 2002 the company has expanded to brew in three states and distribute its range of beers across the US and in 17 other countries.
Coors Brewery — Golden, CO
- Location: 15 miles from Denver
- Town population: 21,254
- Brewery founded: 1873
As the makers of the number two beer in America, Coors is far from a craft brewer, but the employees pictured here are highlighted for a different reason. In June 2019, Jacqueline Harman, Sean Nash, Travis Cordova, Mike Harris, and Louis Gomez (along with Christian Zelenak) saved the life of a woman who was inner-tubing down Clear Creek and was swept away by the rushing current, according to the Denver Post.
And that’s not all. Many micro-brewers prefer classic American lagers like Coors after a long work-day of creating more flavorful and potent brews, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“It’s hard to drink six Fat Tires,” said Lindsay Barr, a former scientist with Fat Tire-maker New Belgium Brewing Co., in an interview with the WSJ. Given the choice between a session with Fat Tire and a Coors, she said she’d stick with the banquet beer.