Back on Sunday, we started this event with 68 breweries and now we’ve narrowed the list to just eight in TNIAAM’s 2020 Beer Bracket. Things have gotten interesting, as you may have noticed, with fans of several breweries around the country launching online campaigns to vote their favorite spot to a win. It’s worked, by and large. And it’s made this a lot more entertaining than perhaps we anticipated.
During Wednesday’s Sweet 16, we saw some down-to-the-wire voting for the East top seed, Hill Farmstead, holding on to beat Other Half 51%-49%. In the West, Crooked Stave came back to tie upstart Wayfinder, and advanced via Untappd rating. Modern Times also upset Russian River. Upsets were also sprung by Mortalis (over Tree House) and Cigar City (over Brewery Bhavana). So yeah, the whole thing’s on fire now.
Still, we continue to the Elite Eight to crown the top breweries in each region. Below are all four remaining matchups, with some actual descriptions included. Voting closes at 11 p.m. ET once again.
1. Hill Farmstead (Greensboro, VT) - from Aaron Goldfarb
I still remember the first time I ventured to Hill Farmstead back in 2011. Google Maps didn’t work on the Vermont dirt roads so you needed to print out Mapquest directions. On that Friday afternoon, the only other people in the small tasting room were two locals, both overall-clad farmers. The beers were mind-blowing across the board, whether crisp pales ales, juicy IPAs, or funky saisons. Truly better than anything else out there. Nearly a decade later, Google Maps will most certainly now get you to their state-of-the-art facility, where you’ll find hundreds of other beer fans visiting this certain kind of mecca.
Today, there are people making IPAs that might be as good as Hill Farmstead. Breweries making farmhouse ales that might be in the ballpark. Certainly breweries making better stouts. But there’s no other brewery on planet earth making such a wide breadth of beer styles and types, all of which are state of the art. It’s trite to say, because it’s been said forever: but Hill Farmstead remains the best brewery in the world.
14. Mortalis (Avon, NY) - from Steve Haller
Mortalis Brewing has been a pretty rapidly rising star on the brewing scene. They opened their doors in August of 2018 and have gone nowhere but straight up. To see them mentioned in the same breath as the beers in this bracket and go head to head with the champ in Hill Farmstead is a testament to where their mark of quality is.
Started out of a combination of a local Livingston County contest to start a brewery, and a successful Kickstarter campaign, Mortalis has dove headlong into the deep end and come up swimming.
Steeped in Greek Mythology, the breadth of styles they produce is impressive. Beyond their baseline of IPAs, the most sought after gems come in the form of their Hydra series; fruited sours that combine a multitude of fruits and flavors (the heads of the hydra), into unique combinations that taste delicious. The crème de la crème, that I’ve had, has to be their coffee stout, As Above So Below, which they also do in a barrel-aged variant that I have not had the pleasure to try.
Other series of note are their Medusa berlinerweisse, Icarus golden stouts, Tears of the Goddess sour IPAs and Venus milk stouts. Each of these runs is ripe with a variety of variants and adjuncts.
While I can’t say what will happen against Hill, and the styles of brewery are so drastically different, I can say that I’d put up Mortalis with the best around.
Which brewery wins the East Region?
This poll is closed
1. Side Project (St. Louis)
In theory, it would seem difficult to create a well-renowned craft brewery in St. Louis, the home of beer monolith Anheuser-Busch. And yet, Side Project’s pulled it off by way of an experimental collection of barrel-aged saisons, wild ales and stouts. Unlike many of the entrants remaining, Side Project’s specialty is perhaps its ability to think differently about beer and incorporate new taste combinations that push the boundaries of what we know. Selections like Terroir Project show a willingness to try new things, get wine involved and also make some damn good beer.
What started as a home brew affair for Cory King prior to his work at fellow St. Louis brewery Perennial Artisan Ales has now become one of the country’s go-to beer spots under the ownership of Cory and his wife, Karen King. Existing in the shadow of A-B actually ends up being a bit of a bonus here. Side Project is able to tap into a local culture that understands and desires beer, while also making a much better alternative to what the city was long known for.
2. Funk Factory (Madison, WI)
It’s no secret that Madison — or the entire state of Wisconsin — knows how to drink. But Funk Factory Geuzeria isn’t just for any drinking. As the name implies, it specializes in lambics and lambic-inspired styles and actually isn’t technically a “brewery” at all. For those not familiar, it’s a blendery, in that it spontaneously ferments wort (the liquid extracted from the brewing process). The results can go a number of different ways based on the barrel and any adjunct flavors involved. In Funk Factory’s case, most of those ways are pretty great.
Given the funky nature of these brews, founder Levi Funk’s last name is perhaps advantageous to getting the point across. If you ever have the pleasure of visiting the establishment, you’ll certainly see it first hand with a variety of fruit-infused Meerts (also a Lambic-type style) that impress one after another.
Which brewery wins the Midwest Region?
This poll is closed
2. The Veil (Richmond, VA) - from BeerControl
The South’s no. 2, but if you ask them, that ranking was a sign of disrepect. Since 2016 over 600 unique beers have been brewed there. With their ever-changing menu, the Veil keeps customers on their toes.
You want world class IPAs at different ABVs with all the favorite and experimental hop combinations? Try Dirt Nap.
Maybe you are in the mood for heavily fruited kettle sours, with or without lactose, single or combined fruits or additives? Never Again³.
How about a stout, from milk stouts, to adjunct to pastry to barrel aged of both? Try Pallbearer.
Feeling a lil funky today, want an American wild ale, often brewed with like minded brewery friends, usually fruited. Try the Open Up & Love Again Series — the Dry Hopped was my favorite.
Pilsners, Lagers, Saisons, Wheat, and Barleywines... yeah, they brew those well too. The Veil knows they are good, you’d be hard pressed to find many, maybe any breweries who can do all of those styles at world class levels.
No disrespect to Cigar City, an OG in the craft game, but they haven’t been cutting edge since the early 2010s. They still make good beer and nothing wrong with enjoying them, but Double Barrel Hunahpu’s (2014) isn’t walking through that door to save them.
9. Cigar City (Tampa, FL)
Cigar City’s widely available at this point in part due to the popularity of regular selections like the well known Jai Alai IPA, and in part due to Colorado’s Oskar Blues purchasing it in 2016. Most reading probably know Jai Alai, Maduro, Florida Cracker and several other standard brews in their lineup. They’re all good, and all hold up against most you’ll see on the shelf in a local grocery store/big box spot.
Where Cigar City’s status in the beer community (read: obsessives) comes from, however, is Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout — brewed once a year to much fanfare and at one point, a hype on the beer trading scene that made it among the tougher brews to come by. Dark fruit, cinnamon and spice come through for the rich and roasted beverage. It’s a treat, and remains a unique and impressive brew that spawned numerous copycats over the years.
Which brewery wins the South Region?
This poll is closed
3. Modern Times (San Diego)
Modern Times started off pretty modestly with a handful of staple styles, and since then, they’ve grown into one of the country’s best breweries with a slew of can’t-miss IPAs, sours and stouts that can hold a candle to anyone’s. I mean, they beat Russian River, after all — something I personally didn’t think was going to happen coming into this event.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit any of their excellent venues around the West Coast, I do apologize, but it’s really the best way to fully appreciate them. Along with some excellent food at some of them, there’s also a strong collection of new and experimental brews. Yes, the steady stream of IPAs and sours (Fruitlands remains a favorite of mine) gets headlines, but barrel-aging is perhaps where they’re most impressive. Devil’s Teeth and its numerous variants are a major winner for me, and as more breweries try to get into the growing pilsner game, they’re one of a handful setting the pace in Southern California.
4. Crooked Stave (Denver)
Crooked Stave doesn’t create exclusively wild ales and saisons, but it’s a large portion of what they do — and they do it quite well. While you don’t need a degree in brewing and distilling from Scotland to start a brewery, founder Chad Yakobson has one and the background it’s given him in the science and art of creating greats beers (and great beers with sour profiles) certainly helps.
The brewery’s focus on Colorado ingredients and creative additions make for sours that have long stood out on the market as well balanced while not necessarily embracing the heartburn induction sours were trending toward about five years ago. I’ll also commend them for utilizing Brettanomyces (“Brett”) better than most, stopping it from completely taking over saisons and wild ales — no easy feat if you were giving anything with Brett a try last decade.
Which brewery wins the West Region?
This poll is closed