12. SIERRA NEVADA CELEBRATION ALE
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale isn’t the oldest surviving IPA, but it’s probably the oldest that tastes as bold today as it did when it was first released. Originally brewed in 1981, it still bursts with the 65-IBU intensity of Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops. Celebration has always been sold as a seasonal winter holidays release, and not just because no one knew what to do with an IPA back in the ‘80s. The beer is brewed in fall because that’s when the first fresh hops are picked, meaning when Celebration hits the shelves in October, it’s ready to unleash its intense aromas and flavors in the lead-up to Christmas. “Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, for me, is the finest ‘big’ IPA in the world,” says Philadelphia bar owner Brendan Hartranft.
16. ALLAGASH COOLSHIP RESURGAM
About ten years ago, American beer lovers started to become interested in tart, Belgian-style lambics and Gueuzes. Because they require aging (sometimes three years or more) and specialized equipment, brewing these beers involves significant risk and upfront costs. Because these beers were just beginning to catch on in the States, it was a bold move when, in 2007, Allagash Brewing Company built America’s first commercial coolship—a vessel that allows brewers control over unpredictable, wild-yeast fermentations that are necessary to brew these types of beer. The brewery’s signature take on a Gueuze, Coolship Resurgam, wasn’t released to the public until 2012. By then, whether the results were worth the effort (they were!) was somewhat beside the point: Allagash had brought one of Belgium’s most unique pieces of brewing equipment to American shores.
15. OSKAR BLUES DALE’S PALE ALE
Not all innovation happens in the brewing process. In 2002, Colorado’s Oskar Blues did something with a solid, but otherwise unassuming pale ale that changed craft beer forever: They put it into cans, becoming the first craft brewery to do so independently. Dale’s Pale Ale launched a movement (currently 2,162 beers strong, according to CraftCans.com) and this once-lowly container now holds some of the world’s most coveted beers.
14. CELIS WHITE
The tale of Celis White, deemed by many to be America’s seminal Belgian-style wheat beer, could be seen as a true craft beer tragedy. “Pierre Celis brought Belgian Wit beer to America in 1992 when his Austin, Texas brewery began production. The beer was sensational and inspired many imitators,” explains Michael Roper, owner of Chicago’s Hopleaf Bar. One of those imitators was Coors, which in 1995 released what has become the best-selling wit in the U.S., Blue Moon. That same year, Celis sold his brand to Miller Brewing Company. In 2000 it was shuttered, “breaking Pierre’s heart and sending him back to Belgium,” Roper says. (For the record, a 2001 piece in the Austin American-Statesman declared that, after returning home to do what he loved, the brewer had once again become “a happy man.”) Brewers have revived the Celis brand multiple times over the years, but sadly the beer is still a shell of its former self. “I wouldn’t currently drink a Celis White if you paid me,” laments Philadelphia bar owner Brendan “Hartranft,“but when Pierre Celis opened up his brewery in Austin by way of Belgium, the beer landscape was forever changed.”
13. NEW BELGIUM LA FOLIE
In the past decade, sour beer has gone from esoteric to essential in any serious beer bar’s lineup. So it’s amazing to think that way back in 1997, New Belgium Brewing Company turned to an expert from old Belgium to make a true sour foeder beer right here in the States. That year, with the help of former Rodenbach Brewery brewer Peter Bouckaert, the Colorado brewery introduced La Folie, a Flemish-style brown sour aged in big oak barrels (aka foeders). “Some in Belgium said that these beers could never be made anywhere else,” says Michael Roper of Chicago’s Hopleaf Bar. “La Folie proved them wrong.”
10. NEW ALBION ALE
11. ANCHOR STEAM
Many beer scholars hold that the modern American craft beer movement began in 1965. That was the year Fritz Maytag bought a majority stake in Anchor Brewing, saving the San Francisco brewery, founded in 1896,
9. VICTORY PRIMA PILS
from bankruptcy. Upon his purchase, Maytag rethought everything about the company including its flagship Anchor Steam beer, which was notable for a unique brewing process that uses lager yeast at warmer temperatures in open-air fermenters. Though Maytag maintained the traditional production technique, he improved the equipment and the quality of the brewing process before reintroducing the beer in 1971. “It’s a classic beyond classic,” explains Stephen Hale of St. Louis’s Schlafly Beer. “We all know this story.” Indeed, the folklore that describes Maytag’s success with Anchor is a seminal modern beer tale that’s provided inspiration for aspiring brewers ever since.
The American craft brewing renaissance was, in part, a rejection of fizzy yellow lagers, a market-dominating style derived from traditional German pilsners. So in 1996, when Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing Company released Victory Prima Pils, the beer was an absolute revelation: a pilsner bursting with herbal hop flavors that resolved into piney, tongue-tickling bitterness. While other breweries were competing with pale lagers from the flanks with IPAs and stouts, Victory took the style head on—and wound up giving the craft beer movement its signature pils.
This legendary brew was, sadly, unappreciated in its time. We’ll let craft beer legend Jim Koch, who founded Samuel Adams, tell the story: “In the late 1970s, a homebrewer named Jack McAuliffe built his own small-scale brewing equipment and opened a brewery in Sonoma, California, where he brewed New Albion Ale—a full-flavored pale ale made with the now-popular Cascade hops and a two-row pale malt blend.” Koch says. “At the time, it was the only beer of its kind, and is recognized by beer experts as the original American craft beer.” The New Albion Brewing Company opened in 1976; by 1982, it was defunct. But the folklore surrounding McAuliffe’s brew refuses to die. “In my opinion, Jack started the most important failed brewery,” Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, said in 2012. “He demonstrated that the new brewing model could work and despite the fact that it didn’t last long and failed spectacularly, his influence played a significant role for the first successful batch of microbrewers.” New Albion Ale has been reissued twice in recent years, once in 2013 by Koch’s Boston Beer Co., and again the following year by Platform Brewing Co. in Cleveland.