RateBeer Best Awards: Midwestern Edition

In Beer News by Karl

So, how’d the breweries around the Midwest fare at this year’s RateBeer Best Awards?


The best new brewery in Illinois doesn’t actually have its own brewery. Not yet, at least. The one-man-show behind Mikerphone Brewing, Michael Pallen, was just named the Best New Brewery in Illinois this weekend by RateBeer at their first-ever RateBeer Best Awards Show in Santa Rosa, California.

Pallen officially started Mikerphone as he took over as head brewer at SlapShot, and brewed his beers out of their facility until just a few months ago. When SlapShot decided recently to close the Little Village brewery and move into the Atlas Brewing production facility on the far South Side, Pallen took their gear and moved it to its new home in Elk Grove Village. Until that brewing facility is up and running, Mikerphone is brewing out of the Une Annee space.

And really, none of that matters as long as the beer is well-received, and per this weekend’s big win, that’s obviously not a concern.

Ratebeer’s annual “Best Of” awards have been growing in stature every year, and this year they took it into the big leagues with their “RateBeer Best Awards Show” over the weekend. Featuring a weekend full of brewer events, an awards ceremony and (naturally) a beer festival featuring breweries from around the U.S. and beyond. The festival includes breweries like Pipeworks, who received worldwide acclaim when they were named “Best New Brewery in the World” a couple years back. The whole shindig is quite a jump from RateBeer’s previous gameplan of “posting them on the website”.

Every year, we help out by breaking down the winners into the Midwest/Great Lakes region. You can find last year’s coverage here, and congrats to all of this year’s victors.

Here’s a look at the awards won by brewers from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. We even through Missouri and Iowa in just for shigs (though Iowa is basically nothing but Toppling Goliath anyways).


The Top Brewers in the World: 

Last year, we trumpeted that three of the ten best brewers in the world are within a quick drive from Chicago. That’s still the case, though this year we swap Toppling Goliath (last year’s #3) for Side Project. The Top 10 Brewers in the World include:

#4: Three Floyds
#8: Side Project
#9: Bells Brewery

Aside from these three, you’ve got to haul ass to the East or West coasts (California and Oregon have five entries, Vermont has the #1 Hill Farmstead) or Europe (Browerij 3 in Belgium).

After the Top 10, the rest are listed in alphabetical order. The Midwest can lay claim to 22 of the top 100:

  • IA: Toppling Goliath
  • IL: Floosmoor Station, Goose Island, Pipeworks, Revolution
  • IN: n/a, other than FFF
  • MI: Founders, Jolly Pumpkin, Kuhnhenn, Odd Side, Schramm’s Mead
  • MO: Boulevard, Perennial
  • MN: Minneapolis Town Hall, Surly
  • OH: Hoppin’ Frog, Jackie O
  • WI: New Glarus, Tyranena

For Chicagoans, we see Goose Island and Flossmoor Station jumping back on, and Half Acre dropping off. In Wisconsin, New Glarus missed the cut last year somehow, but they’re back for this year — Central Waters got the nod last year. Michiganders didn’t love Dark Horse as much this year — they dropped from the list but Jolly Pumpkin and Kuhnhenn jump on.

The Top New Brewers In The World: 

Plan a road trip to Minnesota sometime soon — The #10 in the world went to the Fair State Brewing Collective in Minneapolis. In the non-Midwestern section, we’ve visited J. Wakefield (this year’s #2) and can absolutely endorse it as the best possible thing to do in Miami.

The Top Beers in the World: 

This list of the top 100 rated beers in the world is Michigan heavy with six Bells and Founders out of the 17 midwestern beers. This is basically a list of beers you’d best be conversational with if you ever care to talk about whales, bro. In alphabetical order, we see:

  • Bell’s Black Note Stout
  • Bell’s Expedition Stout
  • Bell’s Hopslam
  • Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout
  • Founders Breakfast Stout
  • Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
  • Goose Island BCBS Barleywine
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
  • New Glarus Serendipity
  • New Glarus Belgian Red
  • Perennial Abraxas
  • Surly Abrasive
  • Surly Darkness
  • Three Floyds Dark Lord
  • Three Floyds Zombie Dust
  • Toppling Goliath King Sue
  • Toppling Goliath Morning Delight

Top Beers, Brewers, New Brewers By Subregion

It’s been years since AB-InBev took over Goose Island, and they’re still at the top of the heap for Illinois. ‘Nuff said.


  • Top Beer:  Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
  • Top Brewer: Goose Island Beer Company
  • Best New Brewer: Mikerphone Brewing


  • Top Beer:  Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout
  • Top Brewer: Three Floyds Brewing Company
  • Best New Brewer: TwoDEEP Brewing Company


  • Top Beer: Toppling Goliath Mornin’ Delight
  • Top Brewer:  Toppling Goliath
  • Best New Brewer: Firetrucker Brewery


  • Top Beer: Founders CBS
  • Top Brewer:  Bells Brewery
  • Best New Brewer: Pigeon Hill Brewing Company


  • Top Beer: Perennial Barrel Aged Abraxas
  • Top Brewer:  Side Project
  • Best New Brewer: Earthbound Brewing


  • Top Beer: Surly Abrasive Ale
  • Top Brewer:  Surly Brewing Company
  • Best New Brewer: Fair State Brewing Cooperative


  • Top Beer: Hoppin’ Frog Barrel Aged DORIS The Destroyer
  • Top Brewer:  Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery
  • Best New Brewer: Little Fish Brewing Company


  • Top Beer: New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red
  • Top Brewer: New Glarus Brewing Company
  • Best New Brewer: Funk Factory Geuzeria

The World’s Top New Beer Releases: 


According to RateBeer, this list comes from 61,000 different new additions to their lists this year. Damn. Of the 50, nearly a full fifth of those can be attributed to the Midwest, including three from Side Project alone:

  • Goose Island’s BCBS Rare
  • Perrin’s No Rules Vietnamese Porter
  • Pipeworks Lizard King
  • Side Project’s Derivation Blend #1, Framboise du Fermier and Thicket
  • Three Floyd’s Amber Smashed Face and Wigsplitter
  • Toppling Goliath’s SR-71 Blackbird

The only breweries to have more beers in this category are Boston’s Trillium (four listed) and Hill Farmstead (five freaking beers in the top 50).

Best Beers by Style: 

There’s just a whole bunch here, but New Glarus’ fruit beers absolutely owned the Specialty category, and a whopping eight of the 15 top strong stouts are Midwestern. If a category isn’t listed, it’s because there were no Midwestern winners:

  • Pale Lager: New Glarus’ Home Town Blonde, Half Acre’s Gin-Barrel Pony Pilsner
  • Bock, Strong Lager: Founders Dissident Imperial IPL
  • Specialty: New Glarus’ Belgian Red, Serendipity, Raspberry Tart, Strawberry Rhubarb, Thumbprint Apple Ale
  • IPA: Surly’s Todd the Axe Man, Bells Two Hearted
  • DIPA: Bells Hopslam, Surly Abrasive, Toppling Goliath King Sue
  • Belgian Session: Side Project Biere du Pays, Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere
  • Stout: Odd Side Ales Bourbon Barrel Aged Mayan Mocha (it’s true, this was crazy good)
  • Strong Stout: Perennial Barrel Aged Abraxas, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, Toppling Goliath Mornin’ Delight, Founders CBS, Bells Black Note Stout, Bells Expedition Stout, Goose Island BCBS Coffee, Founders KBS
  • Strong Ale: Goose Island BCBS Barleywine
  • Porter: Founders Porter, Willoughby Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter (this beer is so damn good)
  • Germanic Sour Styles: New Holland Incorrigible Reserve
  • Belgian Style Ales: Side Project Saison du Blé, Side Project Saison du Fermier
  • American Amber/Pale: Three Floyds Zombie Dust (listed at #1), Toppling Goliath pseudoSue, FFF Alpha King
  • Wheat Beers: The Livery Bourbon Barrel Aged Wheat Trippelbock, FFF Gumballhead, Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca
  • Dark Lager: Surly Surlyfest, Short’s Bourbon Barrel Soaked Sustenance Black Beer
  • Cider/Perry: J.K.’s Cuvée Winterruption Farmhouse Hard Cider
  • Traditional: Off Color’s Eille
  • Mead: Basically half the list is Schramm’s Mead, and the other half is Superstition from Arizona.

Top Beers, Brewers and New Brewers by Country: 

Not exactly sure how the math was done on this one, but this list includes “The top beers, brewers and new brewers listed by country according to reviews taken last year and weighted by performance within and outside of style, balanced by indicators of depth.”

Whatever that means, Toppling Goliath’s Mornin’ Delight earned top marks for the USA’s beer in this category.

Side note: Interesting to see Guinness’s Export Stout show up for…Nigeria. Data can be weird sometimes, depending on how you slice it.

The World’s Greatest Places for Beer:

There’s a lot to this one, so we’ll let you dive into it on your own if you like, but one main takeaway — Northdown Cafe must have a lot of RateBeer-friendly patrons, as they got the nod for Chicago’s favorite beer friendly restaurant.

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About the Author



Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago, AskMen and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, is now available via Amazon and other booksellers.If you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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