When it comes to beer, there are many levels of fame. Anheuser Busch InBev and MillerCoors earned theirs by the size of their market domination. Brewers like Lagunitas and Samuel Adams helped spark a revolution. And names like Russian River (creator of Pliny the Elder), The Alchemist (Hedy Topper) and Trillium (who jump started the New England IPA style) have earned national reputations from the word-of-mouth acclaim of beer drinkers.
This last measure of fame is a particular favorite of craft brewers. It’s authentic and not something that can be achieved with clever marketing or distribution tricks. And at the Great American Beer Festival, currently taking place in Denver, brewers are hoping to capture or stoke that spark to take them to the next level.
So who’s building a reputation and could become the next big thing in beer? It’s a crapshoot, honestly. Beer lovers are a finicky bunch, and loyalties can shift without warning. But here are a few brewers who, based on industry chatter and lines at their booth, are worth keeping an eye on.
Scofflaw – This Atlanta brewer certainly had the pedigree to turn the heads of beer nerds. Head brewer Travis Herman put in time with The Lost Abby and Russian River before headed to the East Coast. Opened one year ago, this is an IPA-focused brewer that is quickly winning over local and regional fans. An expansion is underway, which will increase annual output from 16,000 barrels per year to as many as 25,000. But the brewer has no broad ambitions for a national (or even regional) expansion.
“We want to get as big as Georgia will let us,” says JP Watts, head of sales for Scofflaw.