Rating the best breweries in the world—even the top 100 breweries—is impossible. America now has over 8,000 breweries, up from fewer than 1,600 just twenty years ago; the United Kingdom has seen its count explode to over 2,000. And those are just the two numbers I know off the top of my head: From Sweden to Argentina, craft breweries are still popping up everywhere. But that hasn’t stopped the crowdsourced beer rating website RateBeer from trying to tease out the best breweries out there. Since 2001, the site has released the RateBeer Bests, digging through its user data to attempt to as-objectively-as-possible determine who the best brewers in the world are.
“RateBeer Best examines more than 640,000 beers by over 33,000 brewers around the world,” Co-founder Joe Tucker says of this year’s results before discussing the difficulty of landing a spot. “Our RateBeer Best Best Top Brewer awards go out to fewer than one-third of 1 percent. These are highly coveted and hard earned medallions. It’s our community’s pleasure to honor each one of our winners in our RateBeer Best for the year 2019.”
Tucker then adds an important update. “While every year prior, brewer awards were based on performance mostly of the last year and considering their entire historical record, this year we’ve updated our formula to better assess the brewery in today’s times. We’re taking an approach that’s provided more relevant, meaningful results by considering the last four years with an emphasis on performance in the last year.”
It’s a distinction worth noting, especially when looking at how the results have changed since last year. And here were go (with ownership notes included by RateBeer, which itself is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev). The top ten breweries—out of the entire top 100 that can be found here—are…
Hill Farmstead Brewery (Greensboro, Vermont)
Side Project Brewing (Maplewood, Missouri)
Trillium Brewing Company (Boston, Massachusetts)
Tree House Brewing Company (Charlton, Massachusetts)
Cigar City Brewing (owned by CANarchy Craft Brewery Collective) (Tampa, Florida)
AleSmith Brewing Company (San Diego, California)
Founders Brewing Company (owned by Mahou San Miguel) (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Cloudwater Brew Co (Manchester, Greater Manchester, England)
Sante Adairius Rustic Ales (Capitola, California)
Firestone Walker Brewing (owned by Duvel-Moortgat) (Paso Robles, California)
Compared to last year’s list, many things remain the same. Hill Farmstead holds steady at the top, now for an impressive seventh straight year. Side Project jumps to #2 from #9. Trillium stays at #3. Tree House and Cigar City swap places at #4 and #5 while AleSmith remains at #6. Cloudwater returns to the top ten after missing it last year. Sante Adairius moves up from #10 to #9. And Founder and Firestone Walker—two beloved breweries which have both been bought up by larger breweries over the years—also prove their long-lasting legacy by landing in the top ten.
The only major surprise is Russian River Brewing, last year’s #2 and a perennial favorite, dropping out of the top ten. They were 37th this year—but hey, they’re Russian River, so they’ll be alright.
Overall, as I began, no top brewery list is perfect—and RateBeer certainly doesn’t have the magic formula to solve that issue. But as far as lists go, this year’s list certainly spins the hits—like telling someone who’s never heard Led Zeppelin to go listen to the band's fourth album. If you’re just looking to get into craft beer for the first time, these ten breweries are as good of a starting place as any. And if you’re willing to work your way through the top 100, there’s plenty more to discover.