Plenty of brewers boast that their beers go great with food. But at Fieldwork Brewing, the beer is the food. The Berkeley- based brewery is notorious for raiding fridges and pantries for inspiration, earning a reputation for churning out beers that are as head-scratchingly weird as they are fun to drink. Chocolate Milk brown ale tastes almost exactly like its namesake. There is a porter reminiscent of French toast, a cherry parfait–inspired sour, and a summery farmhouse ale infused with cucumbers and French sea salt. One of its most memorable, and delicious, concoctions is Eliza, a strong and silky milk stout that’s a twist on the hangover-busting New Orleans–style iced coffee. Organic cane and milk sugars balance out bitter chicory, and whole coffee beans deliver an enlivening jolt—so much so that you may be tempted to reach for it first thing in the morning.
This imperial stout from Oskar, the canned-beer behemoth that also has breweries in Texas and North Carolina, spends a year aging in bourbon barrels, lending notes of vanilla and oak. Despite its boozy heft (12.9 percent ABV), it drinks super smooth.
Germany’s unfiltered, traditional keller (German for “cellar”) pilsners retain their yeast and proteins, giving beers such as the grassy, lemony Gather—one of America’s top interpretations of the Old World style—deep, full-body flavors.
As in every industry, collabs are key, and, in the beer world, this year’s strangest alliance is the pairing of Dogfish Head and the Flaming Lips—yes, the band—who created this pale ale with dragon fruit and yumberry.
In 2010, Florida home brewer Johnathan Wakefield unleashed a mind-blowingly concentrated tropical fruit sour that he chris- tened Miami Madness. Created in the 16th-century German style known as Berliner weisse, Wakefield’s version had one crucial update: Instead of the usual syrup, he added fresh guava, passion fruit, and mangoes during fermentation, infusing the beer with a rolling-down-your-chin fruity freshness. It was an instant hit and soon became the best-known example of the new “Florida weisse” category: wheat beers brewed with local tropical fruits.
To look at Wakefield, a husky, bearded ex-CPA who played offensive guard at Robert Morris University, you wouldn’t expect him to be a guy brewing candy-pink beers. “When I was first getting into craft beer, in 2004, it was like, ‘No fruit in beers,’” he says. “Fruit beers are for wusses.”
But as an avid cook, Wakefield knew the key to great flavor was fresh ingredients. He only had to look out at his backyard, where sun-kissed mangoes ripen on a tree, to recognize Florida’s richest natural bounty. “Some of the best fruit in the world grows down here,” he says.
The success of Miami Madness, and of his dragon fruit Florida weisse, DFPF, gave Wakefield the confidence to quit his day job and open his own brewery, in 2015, in Miami’s Wynwood arts district. With its 35-foot-long Star Wars murals and 15 taps, the spot has become ground zero for Miami’s craft-beer scene. To help engage the community, he throws an annual festival, Wakefest, strictly limited to small, independent brewers, and hosts CrossFit-affiliated boot camps that earn participants a free beer. In the parking lot outside the brewery, it’s not unusual to find muscle-bound bros sipping the kind of fruity beers that hopheads of yore might have sniffed at, or worse.
“Nowadays people are crumpling up the old guidelines and throwing them out the win- dow, which is fine by me,” says Wakefield. “I think trying to pigeonhole people into drinking certain styles is a way of the past.”
As marijuana’s legality expands nationwide, brewers are taking cues from buds, not Bud. To mimic the legendary G13 marijuana strain—minus its mind-altering effects—SweetWater paired dank Columbus and Simcoe hops with hemp flavor and terpenes, the essential oils that give pot its distinct aromas. The result is an IPA that tastes like a parking lot at a Phish concert—but in a good way.
The “P” in this IPA stands for potatoes, specifically Idaho-grown russets. Tubers are trending in brewing because their proteins boost a beer’s body and foam retention, adding a fluffy head and fuller mouthfeel, as with this balanced, moderately bitter ale. French fries might have found a new best friend.
To give its products a sense of place, farm-based Scratch grows and forages the ingredients found in its beers, including the tart Spring Tonic. It’s flavored with bitter dandelion and carrot tops, while ginger adds a spicy zing.
For 18th Street owner and founder Drew Fox, crafting a broad-shouldered stout like the Hunter Vanilla Double Milk wasn’t just about creating a good beer—it was a matter of local pride. Fox grew up on the West Side of Chicago and moved to Gary 10 years ago, drawn by the affordable real estate and good schools in nearby Hammond. Having cut his teeth working at Chicago’s Pipeworks Brewing, he arrived with grand ambitions of opening Gary’s first-ever brewery. At the time, few residents were even familiar with the concept of a brew- pub, and the idea was initially met with some skepticism. But Fox was convinced that if there was anything that could give Gary, which has long struggled economically, a boost, it was beer. “Breweries,” he says, “have a long-standing tradition of bringing communities together.” So with the encouragement and backing of local leaders, Fox opened 18th Street’s first storefront in 2013, in a former dry cleaning shop.
At that time, there were only five businesses on the street; today, that number has nearly tripled, making the brewpub a poster child for entrepreneurship opportunities in Gary. A big part of 18th Street’s success are signature beers like the Sinister Double IPA and the Hunter Milk Stout, which boasts a creamy texture with a mix of smoky malts and chocolate and caramel flavors, thanks to cacao nibs and whole vanilla beans. “I knew in order for me to make my mark,” says Fox, “I had to come out of the gate swinging.”
As national figures, including Chicago artist Theaster Gates, have also helped spur development in downtown Gary, Fox has remained committed, coaching young entrepreneurs and offering his storefront as a free space for community events. “I wanted to show that an African- American brewery owner in a predominantly African-American city could showcase a world-class brewery in a Rust Belt town,” says Fox. “And that’s exactly what we did.”
This summer, Portland-based Bissell Brothers opened its long-awaited brewery in the founders’ tiny hometown of Milo, where it serves local food and a premium selection of beers, like this potent double IPA.
When Fair State CEO Evan Sallee decided to open a brewpub in Minneapolis in 2011, he looked to a business model popular among Midwest farmers but practically unheard of in the beer world: the co-op, in which members own part of the brand, vote to elect a board, and get a share of the profits. Fair State began with about 250 members and now has more than 1,300, whose benefits include limited-production beers, a VIP happy hour at the tap room, and access to community events sponsored or put on by Fair State.
It’s been so popular that the brewery recently expanded to a new 40,000-square-foot facility to keep up with demand for brews like the tropical pale ale Pahlay’ahlay. It’s even offered counsel to other new co-op breweries, a growing roster that includes Seattle’s Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery, and Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op, in New Mexico.
“Once people see this model and realize that it can exist, they kind of have the same reaction we did,” says Sallee. “Which is, why doesn’t this exist where I live?”