It is a sure sign that the pioneers of the American craft- brewing movement now have more than a few grey gray hairs. Last year Sierra Nevada celebrated its 30thth anniversary with a special four- beer series. Brewers like Avery (18), Great Divide (17) and Stone (15) are closer to their milestone 20thth anniversary than you might think.
In San Diego, Stone Brewing has been making anniversary beers for 15 years—starting with the very first birthday of the brewery.
It is also a sign that craft beer has put down roots and will be a part of the American culinary landscape for generations to come.
As brewers celebrate significant anniversaries, more labels with Roman numerals will start popping up. These beers are often limited- edition affairs, but some develop such a fan base that breweries are compelled to bring them back as part of their normal stable of brands. For fans of a brewery celebrating a milestone, these are must- have vintage brews.
“It is a chance to be experimental. We’re brewing a finite amount, not trying to a build a brand per se,” says Adam Avery of Avery Brewing in Boulder, CO, which started its anniversary tradition in 2003 to mark the brewery’s 10tenth year in business.
Avery says the “ballsiest” anniversary beer ever made at Avery Brewing was to mark the 15thth celebration. “It was the largest Brettanomyces beer ever created” and was spiced with hibiscus, black pepper and black mission figs. “It was a binary beer. You either loved it or hated it.”
Firestone Walker Brewer brewer Matt Brynildson says that when the brewery started in 1996, it “was kind of going in the opposite direction of most breweries at the time” by eschewing high- gravity brews in favor of session ales.
“We were kind of playing our own game and resisting the urge to brew big beers,” Brynildson says, noting the company was building strength in a three- county trading area around Paso Robles, CA, where 90 percent of Firestone Walker beers are sold. “Then as we prepared for our 10thth anniversary in 2006, we brewed a Russian imperial stout as a pilot batch.” More experimentation followed with a barley wine and imperial brown ale soon in the wooden Burton Union- style fermenting tanks.
“We were doing months of trial beers and started wondering what we were going to do with all of that beer. The only place to go with the beer was to put it in barrels,” Brynildson says. “A light bulb went off:; Wwe could make a blend.”