Looking Back Post #5: U.S. Brewery of the Year

(This is the third of several posts detailing what I found to be the breweries of the year for 2011 in various regions. Note that there is no science to the choices I have made, just my own highly subjective reasoning as detailed in each post. The first post, highlighting my Brewery of the Year for Ontario, is available here, while the Brewery of the Year for Canada is introduced here.)

I sampled a lot of beers from a lot of American breweries this past year, much of it in preparation for the writing of my and Tim Webb’s forthcoming World Atlas of Beer, and as such have numerous contenders in mind for this crown. Sun King Brewing of Indianapolis impressed the hell out of me, for instance, as did St. Louis’ new Urban Chestnut Brewing and the ever popular Boulevard Brewing of Kansas City. Out west, Green Flash made a very strong impression, as did The Bruery and Utah’s Squatters, and in the middle, more or less, New Belgium continued to turn out strong seasonals and special editions. And that’s not even scratching the surface of my notable reviews of 2011.

In the end, though, one brewery did stand out as my pick for the U.S. Brewery of the Year for 2011: Stone Brewing.

I suspect some will consider this a suspect pick, since Stone’s apologetically in-your-face ways with hops and marketing can be a bit too much for some people, and understandably so. But if there is a brewery that more consistently releases hop-forward beers with balance, I don’t know of it, and besides, as illustrated by several of their releases in 2011, notably the Elysian-Stone-Bruery collaboration pumpkin beer, La Citrueille Celeste de Citracado, this is also a brewery that can quite comfortable handle subtlety.

Add in the consistently convivial atmosphere of their World Bistro and Gardens,  their remarkably frequent, and frequently remarkable, collaboration beers, and their aggressive attitude towards growth, and you have what I consider a worthy winner of the 2011 title.

7 Replies to “Looking Back Post #5: U.S. Brewery of the Year”

  1. Nice! I don’t think about Stone enough. Their Stone IPA is great and so is the Arrogant Bastard (still looking to try the Oaked AB). As a matter of fact I have never had a bad Stone beer. Lets hope 2012 keeps the Craft Beer industry growing…cheers

  2. With balance? Really? Hop-forward they are, but balance isn’t a virtue I’d credit them with. It’s impossible to disagree with another person’s “best,” so I won’t do it. But I do think that balance thing is worth quibbling about. Stone makes my ears bleed–which, admittedly, I sometimes like.

    1. Not all of their beers, Jeff, but enough since Mitch Steele came on board that I think my assessment is valid. Then again, it all depends on how you define “balance,” I suppose.

      1. Stone likes to put an edge on their beers, even the ones that aren’t super hoppy. Sometimes they do it with oak, sometimes with what tastes like tannins from the grains. Credit where credit is due. Over the summer, I organized a small beer fest and we had a keg of Levitation (which was a tad burly at 4.4%, but just under the 4.5% ceiling) and it was lovely.

        But those very qualities I find somewhat objectionable are what give Stone its house character and are the reason so many love their beers. Variety is good, and variety means there are some beers and breweries that just aren’t in my wheelhouse. I get that.

  3. Good point about the definition of balance. I remember describing a heavily hopped (and huge) oatmeal stout as “dynamically balanced,” in that it was huge, and teetered on a narrow point of not-too-much, not-too-little…but pulled it off.

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