During the last month, we’ve already talked about the best new beers of 2015, and rounded up the winning beers from all of our massive blind taste tests. In the process, we’ve detailed some amazing beers, and all that’s left as we rapidly approach 2016, is to talk about the breweries themselves—those mad scientist/artists that actually create all these amazing beers. So we asked our beer writers to pick their favorite breweries—the shops that knocked it out of the park in 2015. Here’s the completely subjective, but totally incredible list that they came up with, in no particular order.
Grimm Artisanal Ales
Brooklyn, New York
Look, nobody at Paste had ever even tasted a bottle of Grimm before the huge double IPA blind tasting. The bottle showed up sans label. Just a sticky note, the same way your buddy labels his half ass home brew. And yet, Grimm’s Lambo Door ruled the day with its schizophrenic fruit notes, and full-throttle hop character. Grimm is a nomad brewery operating out of Brooklyn, distributing scantly and never promising to make the same beer twice. Fickle artists. And if you think it was a fluke that such a small shop toppled craft beer giants in the blind tasting, consider this: Grimm had another beer, Tesseract, that landed in the top five of that same blind tasting. That’s no fluke. That’s just awesome. -Graham Averill
Great Raft Brewing
It’s roughly two years old, but Great Raft Brewing already feels like the undisputed champ of the Louisiana craft scene. Evidence certainly continues to mount with things like Chef John Besh wanting these folks as collaborators. That resulting line of beers, Provisions and Traditions, pairs Great Raft with a specific Besh restaurant and challenges the brewery to use local ingredients, create a perfect pairing for varying cuisines, and keep things appropriately seasonal. (It’s all done in the name of culinary charity to boot.)
The results? This year’s Edition II was a summer Gose that used Avery Island salt and complimented Mexican dishes, and Edition III was an Oktoberfest with the state’s famous cane syrup to compliment your fall brats. If these one-offs are any indication, people beyond Shreveport should be counting down the days until the brewery’s other experimental offerings—say, it’s Christmas-seasonal, an 8.0% ABV Belgian Dark Strong Ale called Awkward Uncle—are delivered far and wide. Luckily in the meantime, fans around Louisiana have Great Raft’s unparalleled standard lineup to tide them over: Southern Drawl (Pale lager), Reasonably Corrupt (Black lager), and Commotion APA (American pale ale). Naturally, each is well above average for its style.—Nathan Mattise
Paso Robles, California
Like so many of the big regional breweries struggling with distribution challenges and production limitations, Firestone Walker looked towards outside partnerships in 2015. But instead of selling to a mega-brewing company or international conglomerates interested more in branding than brewing, Firestone chose a quiet and measured “partnership” with the well-respected Duvel-Moortgat company (who also own New York’s Ommegang and Kansas City favorites Boulevard Brewing). The arrangement gives Firestone Walker the ability to continue to grow their Paso Robles, California brewery and better service their expanding distribution footprint, and it gives Duvel another marquee American brewery and access to one of the fastest growing brands of craft beer (Firestone’s once locals-only 805 Blonde Ale). But FW’s business savvy isn’t what makes them one of the best breweries in the world — it’s the beer. Firestone does it all, and they do it all extremely well. The core lineup (including highly ranked Union Jack IPA and Pivo Pils, one of the flat-out best craft brewed lagers in America) is stellar, their spirit barrel-aged brands are superlative (Parabola anyone?), and their satellite Barrelworks facility produces a steady trickle of wild ales that are as excellent as they are innovative. Firestone Walker is the Bo Jackson of the beer world, so good at every aspect of their game that they make the rest of the industry look kinda like slackers. —John Verive
Creature Comforts continues to be one of the most sought-after young breweries in Georgia, and each time you taste one of their new beers it’s easy to understand why. Staples like Tropicalia IPA are how the brewery continues to build its perception in the public eye, while working on interesting, experimental beers like the ridiculously maple-tastic See the Stars, a barrel-aged imperial stout. I had a moment of revelation recently, however, when I tasted the brewery’s Automatic, a seemingly simple American pale ale, during a bottle share at the Paste office. In a night when 100 different, crazily rare bottles of beer were opened, one of my biggest takeaways was that this simple pale ale from Creature Comforts was one of the best examples of the style I’ve ever had. It was that good.—Jim Vorel
Side Project Brewing
St. Louis, Missouri
I have had so very few beers from Side Project, but I know all too well just how amazing this brewery is. I was beside myself with excitement when we received beer from them to include in blind-tastings such as our saison and American sour ale rankings, and their results did not disappoint, as they showed dominance across the board. I confess that I tend to get annoyed or turned-off by ultra-tiny breweries with cult-like fanbases and a lack of accessibility, but the saisons and immaculate sours rolling out of St. Louis really do justify the Side Project hype. The flipside, of course, is that the hype is very well known now. When I attended the Firestone Walker Invitational earlier this year, it was equal parts amusing and horrifying to watch general admission ticket-holders get through the gates and sprint to the Side Project booth so they could taste beers like Saison du Fermier. Having had that beer, though, I can understand the desire. -Jim Vorel
It was difficult for me to not include a beer from Sheboygan, Wisconsin’s 3 Sheeps Brewing on my list of 2015’s best beers. After a fairly tepid start a few years back—launched with the now much-improved Really Cool Waterslides IPA, a defunct witbier, and an amber—they hit the ground running at the start of 2014, and haven’t quit since.
Besides making probably the world’s best packaged nitro beer with Cashmere Hammer, a medium-strength rye stout, 3 Sheeps served notice to hop savants like Toppling Goliath and 3 Floyds with Happy Summer IPA, a Citra/Mosaic tropical fruit bomb, and a beer I easily bought a case of. They’ve gotten perhaps no greater mileage, however, out of an unnamed base beer, an imperial black wheat ale. Essentially an imperial stout with wheat, it has served as the foundation for Hoedown (cherry and chili pepper), Paid Time Off (coconut, cocoa nibs, and walnuts), and Midnight Bourbon, a straight barrel-aged iteration, three of the brewery’s best beers.
For 3 Sheeps’ sake, I hope they don’t remain a secret for much longer. For my sake, I hope they do. -Josh Ruffin
Newington, New Hampshire
I didn’t seek out Stoneface Brewing. I’d never heard of them until early this year when a kind-hearted soul with whom I was trading for some Bissell Brothers cans (imagine that) included a bottle of the Stoneface Russian Imperial Stout as an extra in the box. Aged on vanilla beans with cold brewed coffee added, the beer itself is no genre-busting game-changer, but holy hell that execution: coming on like a silkier, brighter take on the Victory at Sea riff, the vanilla and coffee do just enough to enhance, but not overshadow, the amazing base beer.
Since then, I’ve had their flagship IPA, porter, and Mozaccalypse, a Mosaic/Azacca imperial IPA, and they were knockouts across the board. With a barrel-aging program up, running, and releasing, plus their proximity to the vibrant, world-class New England brewing scene, expect Stoneface to only, scarily, get better. -Josh Ruffin
Maine Beer Co.
Okay, Maine Beer Company didn’t win our blind IPA tasting. Nope, they didn’t get the top spot. They only managed to land two beers in the top five of that particular blind tasting, besting massively successful IPAs like Grapefruit Sculpin in the process. And here’s the thing about Maine Beer Co. and those two home run IPAs that dominated a stacked field of home run IPAs—they’re completely different beers. As our News Editor and beer critic Jim Vorel put it, the two winning IPAs Lunch and Another One “are both equally great in completely different ways. Where Another One is intensely citric and juicy, Lunch is more subtle…awash in all kinds of hop flavors.” Oh, and wait a minute, Maine Beer Company also won our blind tasting for Best American Stout, with Mean Old Tom. Dominating IPAs? Fine, but dominating IPAs and stouts? Now they’re just showing off. And we love it. —Graham Averill