No matter how much you love beer, good luck keeping track of all the new craft beer brands sprouting up in the U.S. There are more than 3,000 breweries nationwide.

Fortunately, we've singled out five of the fastest-growing artisanal breweries making a name for themselves in the crowded beer market. Not that you necessarily need an excuse to grab a cold one. 

Austin Beerworks

Mike McGovern founded Austin-based craft brewery Austin Beerworks with three friends in 2011 after multiple years of brewing his own beer for fun. Two of McGovern's co-founders, Adam Debower and Will Golden, met while working at Maryland-based Flying Dog Brewery.

In addition to Austin Beerworks's four year-round beers, three of which have won medals at the Great American Beer Festival, the company offers draft-only seasonals, an IPA series and something new in its tasting room every month, McGovern says.

To fit the Texas climate, Austin Beerworks's brews tend to be on the dry side, with between 5 and 6 percent alcohol. Its best-selling beer is a German-style pilsner called Pearl Snap that takes twice as long to ferment as the company's ales. "It's a tough beer to make," McGovern says. "If there are any flaws, they become really apparent."

Last August, as a tie-in for Labor Day, the company introduced a 7-foot-long 99-pack of its Peacemaker Anytime Ale. The promotional item took on a life of its own, according to McGovern, attracting orders from as far away as Germany.

Between 2011 and 2012, Austin Beerworks's production grew from 1,051 barrels to 5,188. Since then, the company has continued to expand at a fast clip, growing its volume roughly 70 percent last year.

"We've been adding people as fast as we can train them," McGovern says. During the past four years, the company has grown from four employees to 27. "If you told me four years ago that we'd have 27 employees today, I wouldn't have believed you."

Price: Six-packs retail for between $8 and $10.

Back Forty Beer Company

Gadsden, Alabama-based Back Forty Beer Company was founded in 2009 by Jason Wilson, a former logistics and supply-chain director for paper manufacturer Georgia Pacific. 

Named after an old agricultural term referring to the 40 acres of land situated furthest from the barn, Back Forty specializes in southern-inspired interpretations of classic beer styles.

"Our strategy was, we were going to come to the market with a brand that was unpretentious and that said loud and clear from day one that we are the deep south," says Wilson, who is president of the Alabama Brewers Association.

Back Forty's flagship beers include Naked Pig Pale Ale, Freckle Belly IPA, and Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale, which is brewed with wildflower honey and won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival.

During the past five years, revenue has grown from $52,000 to $2.2 million. "This year, we're trying to take a breath and get ready for the next leap," Wilson says.

Today, Back Forty is the largest producer of alcohol in Alabama, producing more than 30 percent of all beer brewed in the state, and has distribution throughout the Southeastern U.S.

Price: Six-packs retail for between $8 and $10.

DC Brau Brewing Company

Washington D.C.-based DC Brau was founded in 2009 by Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock, two former DJs with experience in both brewing and beverage distribution.

The first brewery to operate inside the District of Columbia since 1956, DC Brau has won awards from the Great American Beer Festival, the Beverage Testing Institute, and the Brewer's Association Craft Brewers Conference. Part of the company's strategy involves embracing simplicity in both its product and its packaging.

"We knew that we wanted to be a can brewery and have a can identity," Skall says. "We also knew that we wanted to feature a strong lineup of pale ales."

The company's three flagship beers are the Citizen, the Corruption, and the Public.

"Our regular IPA, the Corruption, was a fun project for us because we got to tap into the underbelly of politics," Skall says. "The idea was to make a really nice, really bitter IPA that would corrupt the palate, so to speak."

DC Brau has increased its production roughly 60 percent per year since inception. Between 2013 and 2014, the brewery grew from 8,500 barrels to 11,600. In 2015, the company is targeting 16,000 barrels. 

Price: Six-packs retail for between $10 and $12.

Fremont Brewing

Seattle-based Fremont Brewing is a family-owned craft brewery founded in 2009 that brews small-batch artisan beers made with local ingredients.

Founder Matt Lincecum is a former attorney who started the company after 15 years of home brewing, during which time he worked meticulously to perfect his recipe for Universal Pale Ale.

"I felt like I had hit that moment where I could take that beer and form a company around it," he says. So that's what he did, sourcing his hops from Washington State's Yakima Valley.

Though Fremont's beer is only available in Washington State, the company is the 11th best-selling craft beer in a can nationwide and releases roughly 30 beers a year.

In addition to its Universal Pale Ale, Fremont is known for its Bourbon Barrel Abominable, an 11 percent alcohol winter ale with notes of bourbon, wood, and vanilla.

Fremont's total production grew from 3,800 barrels in 2011 to 18,000 in 2014, and the company is targeting 25,000 this year, according to Lincecum.

"Our goal is to be forced out of every state, meaning that we've done as much as we possibly can to get people exposed and hold on to customers," he says.

Price: Six-packs retail for between $10 and $11.

Mad Tree Brewing 

Cincinnati-based Mad Tree Brewing was founded in 2013 by Kenny McNutt, a former engineer at aerospace and defense corporation Northrop Grumman, with friends Jeff Hunt and Brady Duncan.

The two-year-old brewery has distribution in 51 counties--48 in Ohio and three in Kentucky--and takes a somewhat unconventional approach to brewing. 

"We don't necessarily produce beers according to style," says McNutt. "We produce beers according to what flavor profiles we're looking for."

For example, the company's Happy Amber is hoppier than a standard amber, its Gnarly Brown tastes like a mix between a brown ale and a porter, and its Identity Crisis beer almost defies categorization. "We named it Identity Crisis for a reason," McNutt says. "It's somewhere between a Cascadian dark ale, a hoppy porter and a black IPA."

Mad Tree has not been in business long, but it's already seeing healthy growth. Production has gone from 2,800 barrels to 11,000.

"Our expectation is to do 20,000 barrels this year," McNutt says. "And that's just to satisfy the existing 51 counties." 

Price: Six-packs retail for between $10 and $12.

How to Turn Your Hobby Into Your Business
Published on: Mar 17, 2015