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The Best Breweries Of 2020, According To The Great American Beer Festival (Plus What To Order From Each)

Finding the best brewery in America is no easy task. There are over 8,000 craft breweries nationwide. That equates to fierce jostling in the quest for national prominence. Jostling that’s governed by industry groups, associations, and competitions — like the Great American Beer Festival (colloquially called GABF) — which help sort the wheat from the chaff (or the spent grain, as it were).

Each year, GABF awards medals for American craft beers, brewers, breweries, and brewpubs small and large. This year’s results were announced a couple of weeks back and covered 91 beer categories. That equated to over 8,000 entries being judged altogether. Among these, the “Brewery of the Year” competition grouped breweries by their size and function and broke them into categories accordingly. Then judges — industry folks like beer writers, brewers, and experts — picked the best in each subdivision.

This year’s GABF awarded seven breweries the honor of Brewery and Brewer or Brewing Team of the year. We’re breaking them down below with some info on what the brewery is all about with the beer we’d choose if we rolled up on their taproom in the near future.

Very Small Brewing Company: Five Branches Brewing

Location: Tarpon Springs, FL

The Brewery:

This brewery on central Florida’s Gulf Coast is owned and operated by U.S. military veterans. They run a small brewery with an attached bar and, naturally, offer beer-to-go, given that it’s late 2020. Their menu touches on classic styles from pale ales to pumpkin beers to well-aged stouts and lighter German lagers.

The One Beer We’d Order:

This is an easy pick. Five Branches also won a medal at GABF for their Doggin Wrench Imperial Stout. The brew took home silver this year. And given it’s imperial stout season, that’d be our order.

Small Brewing Company: Big ALICe Brewing Co.

Location: Long Island City, NY

The Brewery:

This New York brewery with spots in Brooklyn and Queens has spent the last five years picking up awards. The brews coming out of Big ALICe tend to lean into wild and fruity concoctions to wow your palate. They have 15 beers on tap currently, with an additional nine cans and six barrel-aged bottles to choose from.

The One Beer We’d Order:

Their Biere De Fierte is an annual release that blends the high ABVs of a Belgian tripel (9.8 percent in this case) with lemongrass and ginger before a stint in red wine barrels to mellow it out.

Mid-Size Brewing Company: Lost Forty Brewing

Location: Little Rock, AR

The Brewery:

Lost 40 takes its name and spirit from the wildlands still standing in the rolling, forested hills of Arkansas. The idea is to embrace the fruits of the wilds and fold them into well-made craft beer.

The beers are bright, fruity, and full of Arkansas mountain vibes.

The One Beer We’d Order:

Lost 40 has its annual release of Nighty Night 2020 coming up on November 21st. The imperial stout is a much-beloved release from the brewery and usually draws big crowds looking to taste this year’s suds as early as possible.

Brewery Group of the Year: Three Creeks Brewing Co.

Location: Sisters, OR

The Brewery:

Sisters, Oregon is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. And between that town, Bend, and Redmond, Oregon (all a short drive from each other), there’s an abundance of great craft brewing happening. The brewers keep everything focused on making accessible beers in cans and kegs that you can quaff between mountain bike or ski runs.

The One Beer We’d Order:

Case in point, their Crowd-Pleaser IPA is a great beer to start with on your Central Oregon beer journey. (If you can get there this year, that is.) The beer is a West Coast IPA that lets the Amarillo, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops shine next to a mild malty base. In short, it’s a crushable beer.

Small Brewpub: The Good Society

Location: Seattle, WA

The Brewery:

Good Society is the epitome of a neighborhood tavern. They have a killer in-house beer selection, the most chill of West Seattle vibes, and actually spend their time engaging with their neighbors to make their home a better place. Plus, their Belgian-style and French-style ales won gold at this year’s GABF.

The One Beer We’d Order:

While their Belgian won the award, we’d go with their good old Hausbier. It’s a German Kölsch that just hits the right spot of being bold enough to think about while being drinkable enough to last for a whole session.

Mid-Size Brewpub: Monkless Belgian Ales

Location: Bend, OR

The Brewery:

Back in Central Oregon, amongst the high desert junipers, Monkless Belgian Ales is doing some fine work. While their head brewer isn’t a monk (per the name), he’s as devoted to the science and execution of beer as any Trappist monk in Belgium.

The guy has a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry, which translates to an understanding of beer on the deepest of levels.

The One Beer We’d Order:

This is a no-brainer for this time of year and that’s their seasonal drop Friar’s Festivus. The strong Belgian winter ale clocks in at a hefty 10.2 percent ABV.

The flavors are spot-on for a Belgian winter beer, with citrus, dark fruit, spices, and malty caramel leading the way.

Large Brewpub: The Freehouse

Location: Minneapolis, MN

The Brewery:

This downtown craft brewery and bar in the Warehouse District is a must-stop if you’re in Minneapolis, which is quickly becoming the most fascinating and diverse food and drinking scene in the U.S. And while the vibes of this spot are great, their beers do live up to all the hardware they’ve scored over the years.

The One Beer We’d Order:

I was lucky enough to drop in this place the last time I was in Minneapolis. And the beer is 100-percent worth the hype. But what really stands out are their beer cocktails, with whiskey, rye, and gin from their barrel collaborations. Their gose whiskey sour with J. Carver bourbon and their own gose beer was a nice, unique drink that hit the spot.

Don’t sleep on their brown ale either.

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