10 Breweries on the Bubble
Cigar City's Tampa-based brewing operation tips its hat to that city's acclaimed cigar industry, right down to ageing beer in barrels of Spanish cedar--the same wood used to make most cigar boxes. (Photo: Darin Crofton)
Cigar City Brewing
This buzzy young brewery pays homage to Tampa's storied cigar industry, among other Florida iconography. Owner Joseph Redner and brewer Wayne Wambles meld local influences with classic beer styles and in just three years have become one of the country's most respected new breweries. Their nicely hoppy, keenly crafted Jai Alai IPA is a great place to start. Better yet, try it aged with Spanish cedar--the wood used to make most cigar boxes--as part of Cigar City's Humidor Series. And for an outstanding interpretation of a French farmhouse ale with a tropical bent, sip a Guava Grove: It's a tart, lightly fruity refresher fermented with pink guava puree. Cigar City's tasting room is open daily; stay for a pint or take a 64-ounce growler to go.
Using a single-barrel brewing technique, rare even by small-batch standards, Barrier Brewing (based in Long Island) has carved a niche with fresh takes on porters and pale ales. (Photo: Courtesy Barrier Brewing Company)
Barrier Brewing Company
Barrier founders Evan Klein and Craig Frymark honed their brewing skills at Brooklyn favorite Sixpoint. Now they've set out on their own, opening an endearingly scrappy operation on Long Island. The ambitious pair turn out some of the region's best beer on a single-barrel brewing setup, modest even by craft-brewing standards.
Well-made takes on classic styles such as pale ales and porters showcase their attention to technique: The sweet and spicy Sanity IPA is perfectly balanced thanks to Munich malt, rye grain and a mix of Pacific Northwest hops. The Barrier boys are happy to show you around and run you through their process; just call ahead to be sure they're around.
Revolution Brewing proudly carries the banner of Windy City independent brewer, producing almost three dozen year-round and seasonal beers. (Photo: Courtesy Revolution Brewing Company)
Beer geeks were outraged last year when Anheuser-Busch bought Goose Island Brewing, one of Chicago's (and the country's) most respected craft breweries. Thankfully, its lineup hasn't changed much, but for those looking to support a humbler Windy City brewer, Revolution fits the bill. Former Goose Island brewer Josh Deth mans the brew kettle at this bustling brewery and brew pub. Deth and his team brew more than 35 year-round and seasonal beers, including hop-heavy IPAs, earthy saisons and the creamy Very Mad Cow Stout, which picks up hints of wood and whiskey thanks to aging in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels. Revolution's new brewery and taproom opened this spring in northwestern Chicago and will be offering tours. Or you can stop by the original brew pub and pair your beer with refined pub fare. Seriously consider the bacon-fat popcorn.
This heartland brewery and pub has shopping-mall neighbors, but the Nebraska Brewing Company has amassed an enviable collection of ales and drafts. (Photo: Courtesy Nebraska Brewing Company)
Nebraska Brewing Company
This greater Omaha brew pub might share a shopping center with a bevy of suburban chain stores, but its approach to beer is anything but generic. Nebraska Brewing pubgoers can sample an impressive collection of drafts such as Hop God, a spicy, citrusy Belgian/Californian crossbreed. But it's the outstanding Reserve Series that sets Nebraska Brewing apart from so many other craft breweries: Hop God's more mature sibling picks up a perfectly subtle woodiness thanks to a rest in French oak chardonnay barrels. Another barreled highlight is the outstanding Melange A Trois, a tart, complex Belgian strong ale joining fine wine atop the hierarchy of sophisticated beverages. NBC's brew pub is open daily.
Bret Stetka is a frequent contributor to MSN Local Edition.