Fantasy Brewery Scouting Reports: Tier Two

Alex Fossi, January 29, 2014

Tier one was pretty straightforward. Most readers are going to be pretty familiar with Stone, Founders, or Russian River, I would think. As we move into the lower tiers, though, you'll see more unfamiliar names. For these fantasy beer scouting reports, I'm going to try and focus on the breweries you're less likely to be familar with; after all, you don't need me to tell you about Sierra Nevada.

One strategy point to keep in mind: unlike tier one, tier two doesn't have many options that will contribute across the board. You can get a brewery that releases many beers in different styles, but they probably won't also raise your Style+, or vice versa. This just means that you need to be aware of the areas you're weaker in as you move on to your lower-tier picks and use those to paper over the gaps.

The Kernel (188 BAR) - Now here's a brewery that I'd never come across. They're based in London and distribute primarily to Europe. While they have some of the bitters and porters you'd expect from a London brewery, they also appear to be putting a lot of their effort into American-style IPAs. Of particular importance for fantasy purposes are their rotating single-hop pale ales and IPAs--each release counts as a separate beer that you score for. They stick to a fairly limited set of styles, so don't count on much variety, but they'll likely put up a solid total BAR.

Tired Hands (187 BAR) - Tired Hands is a small nanobrewery just outside of Philadelphia, but don't let their limited brewing capacity fool you. They make for a decent fantasy choice, thanks to consistently solid releases and a breakneck release schedule that figures to provide a number of new beers for your fantasy team. Like the Kernel, they're a better pick for BAR and Style+ than variety of styles, as they stick to saisons, pale ales, and IPAs for the most part. One superficial plus: anyone who picks Tired Hands shouldn't have trouble coming up with a fantasy team name, since they'll inspire you with beers such as We Are All Infinite Energy Vibrating At The Same Frequency, The Light That Spills Out Of The Hole In Your Head, Phantom With Three Different Colored Eyes, and Emerald Skeletons Listening To Your Footsteps.

Lagunitas (171 BAR) - I said I'd focus more on smaller breweries, but I wanted to mention Lagunitas because I was just reminded on Twitter that they're in the process of launching their Chicago location. A new location means more beer, of course; specifically, it means that Lagunitas can produce an additional 250,000 barrels of beer per year. One would expect that more capacity also means more new beers, which is good news for their fantasy stock. Given that they have 89 beers on the leaderboards, you might think that they aren't the most prolific when it comes to new releases, but keep in mind that those are only the beers that get at least 50 checkins. You can still score for beers that don't meet that minimum, and when you count those as well, Lagunitas has a total of 371 beers recorded on Untappd--a more promising total. If you're leaning towards selecting a "big little" like Bell's, Sierra Nevada, or Deschutes, I'd say the Chicago brewery makes Lagunitas a stronger candidate.

BrewDog (162 BAR) - Scotland's largest independent brewery is perhaps best known for their TV show and mega-high-ABV (28%! 35%! 55%!) releases. In part because of this publicity, they've managed to negotiate several rounds of crowdfunding through their "Equity for Punks" program. We aren't talking small amounts, either--they raised £750,000 in 2009, £2.2 million in 2011, and in 2013 they launched a third campaign seeking to raise an additional £4 million. In case you're wondering, "shareholders" get discounts for life and access to special events and beer releases--not sure I'd pay the £95 that they charge, but there's no denying that it's worked for them so far.

For fantasy purposes, BrewDog could make for a good pick, though they're something of a one-category star. They're prolific, bizarre, and all over the place as far as styles go; their top 25 beers by Style+ include 19 different styles, so they're a solid pick if you need more style variety. They won't help much in Style+, as their median Style+ score is just 99, and this in turn caps their BAR potential, but there are few breweries that experiment with more styles and based on that alone they could be a useful pick.

3 Fonteinen (135 BAR) - Just about six percent of the beers on our leaderboards have a Style+ higher than 110. 3 Fonteinen is a standout in this category; 13 of their 31 beers meet that criteria. Only a single one of their releases falls below 100 in the Style+ category. As such, you might be able to talk yourself into picking them as a one-category stud. The problem is their release schedule, or lack thereof. While it's impressive that their median Style+ is 110 and the average BAR for their beers is over 4, how many beers can you really expect them to release? Two, maybe? They're the brewery equivalent of a .300 hitter with no power or speed--a solid contributor for Style+, but don't expect anything else. One other concern: what if they just don't add anything new to their lineup at all?  I don't think they'd go several months without a single new release, but it's not outside the realm of possibility, and that risk seems too high for a tier-two pick, especially given the limited upside.

Saint Arnold (133 BAR) - I'd never heard of these guys, but it seems like I should have. Texas' oldest craft brewery dates all the way back to 1994, taking their name from Arnold, the patron saint of hop-pickers and beer brewers (as you can see here, he's often shown with a mash rake).

Moving onto the actual fantasy info: at a glance, Saint Arnold seems like a poor pick. They've been around a while, but they've only got 68 beers listed on Untappd. However, they have been expanding in the past few years, and last year released something in the neighborhood of ten new beers. Also, they've announced plans to increase capacity from 90,000 barrels to 240,000--it's unclear if that will happen in time for fantasy owners to benefit, but I'd say these guys are at least worth a second look if you had written them off for their low total release quantity.

Pipeworks (128 BAR) - If you're looking for a "breakout" pick, Pipeworks might be your brewery. They're just two years old, but they've already accumulated enough BAR to make it into tier two, which is no mean feat. There's no reason to expect a slowdown, either--they've stated that they want to continue to release new beers every week or so. It's safe to expect a variety of styles and a high total BAR from Pipeworks; the only area they might not help in is Style+, as half their beers are below 100 in that category. Still, they make for a very worthy pick owing to the sheer quantity of their releases. If you can make up the Style+ deficit with some lower picks, these guys can really help out in both BAR and variety.

You can find Alex on Twitter @AlexanderFossi.