My favorite brewery overall in 2020: Hightower Brewing

My favorite brewery overall in 2020: Hightower Brewing

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I don’t know who the mayor of Rayland, OH is, nor much about the leadership of the small town of just 417 residents (according to the last census), but they should certainly consider changing the name of the town to GREGland, OH.

Rayland, OH is a small village located along the Ohio River, just south of Steubenville, OH. It has a few small businesses (including a Dairy Queen and car wash), a marina, and is home to a baseball field named after the 1960 World Series legend, and former Rayland resident, Bill Mazeroski (known simply as ‘Maz’ around town).

It’s a very small town but, in my opinion, it’s a special town… and it’s special for two reasons.

First, it’s currently home to some amazing people (more on this later.)

Second, it’s home to some of the best craft beer in America.

That’s a bold claim; I certainly understand that. But, if you’ve ever experienced the liquid that comes out of Rayland’s only brewery, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

On top of a hill in Rayland, on a road that has a ‘number’ instead of a name, and just beyond a horse crossing sign, sits Hightower Brewing Company, a 100 BBL (you read that correctly) craft brewery that’s literally located in the owner’s front yard.

An aerial shot of the Hightower Brewing property. Photo courtesy of Hightower Brewing (Facebook)

Inside the doors of Hightower lies an experience like only few breweries can provide… and that’s why I talk about this place so much.

My first time at Hightower

I discovered Hightower Brewing in early 2019 when some members of our Facebook group started talking about their beer. I was intrigued and immediately headed out to Rayland to talk to Greg Whiting and his wife Megan, the owners of the brewery.

I do have to admit that as I was driving to the brewery for the first time I uttered to myself a few times things like “where the heck am I?”, “is that a horse crossing sign?”, and also, “why am I in the middle of nowhere with perfect cell service?”.

Nonetheless, when I arrived at the brewery, my opinion of it changed almost instantaneously. Greg and Megan were some of the most-welcoming hosts I’ve ever experienced at a brewery.

Greg proceeded to give me a tour of their brewery, which I believe was close to only 20 BBLs in capacity at the time. Megan proceeded to pour me a flight of their beers, making sure I got to try out the entire spectrum of their lineup.

My first beer from Hightower was Yama, I believe. After the first sip, I knew this was going to become a regular brewery in my rotation.

Actually, after my first meeting with the Whitings, I knew Hightower was going to play a pivotal role in the future of Fueled By Hops. I was 100% correct.

You can listen to Hightower Brewing on the Fueled By Hops podcast by clicking here.

It’s like Cheers, but better.

One of the most impressive things about Hightower, aside from the beer, is the “homey” feel of the brewery.

I want to say that walking in to Hightower is like walking in to Cheers, but it’s actually more like walking in to your best friend’s house to grab a beer and watch the game.

When you walk in, you’ll likely be greeted first by some friends (likely locals) who are enjoying a beer at one of the tables. They’ll probably playfully heckle you with some lines like “look who finally decided to show up?” or “well, I guess it’s time to go now”.

Don’t worry, that’ll quickly dissipate, once they bust your chops a little, in to something more welcoming like “we have a seat for you right here, just tell Jerry to move over.” (I know this because it happened to me.)

Me and Jerry (a Hightower enthusiast) enjoying a bottle release a WHILE back.

You see, the secret to what makes Hightower so special isn’t fully the beer they produce; it’s the people that enjoy it.

What Hightower has done is create an amazing community of craft beer fans who have all united in their love of Greg and Megan’s liquid. This comradery stretches beyond the walls of Hightower’s building and has expanded online to digital spaces, even though the brewery doesn’t have it own’s website.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that Fueled By Hops’s Facebook community is made up of a ton of Hightower regulars.

Heck, they even have a fan page on Facebook now.

The liquid will keep you coming back

I used to say that Hightower Brewing was the best kept secret in craft beer. Unfortunately, that’s not the case any more.

Even in the middle of a global pandemic, Hightower was able to increase their brewing capacity from 45 BBLs to 100 BBLs during 2020.

For that reason, it’s hard to imagine a brewery that has had a better year. And, also for that reason alone, I should probably admit that the secret that is Hightower Brewing is now out.

From their uber-popular Through My Lens sours series to their Yama IPA series to their A Bedtime Story barrel-aged stout series, Hightower is firing on all cylinders when it comes to putting out beer.

Some cans from the Through My Lens series. Photo courtesy of Hightower Brewing (Facebook)

Jokingly, I refer to Greg Whiting as the DJ Khaled of craft beer, because every time he releases a beer, I hear the phrase in my head: “Another one.”

We often hear of breweries who are particularly good at making one certain style of beer, but we rarely hear of a brewery that can consistently create high-quality liquid from a bunch of different styles. Hightower is one of the exceptions.

I don’t think it’s possible for Greg to make a bad beer, though I’m certain he would disagree with me on that statement.

I have never made a beer with Greg before, but from what I can gather from the times I’ve spoken to him, he has an impeccable attention to detail.

If you think I’m kidding, take a walk through his brewery and notice how perfectly clean each piece of equipment is and how well-organized the entire back-of-house is.

The front-of-house is always equally as impressive.

Further more, Greg has told me on multiple occasions that if his beer is “up-to-snuff” with him, it’s going down the drain. Impressive.

Why Hightower is the best overall brewery of 2020

Ok, so I’ve told you all about why I love Hightower, but let’s talk more about why it’s the best brewery overall in 2020.

First, the brewery had spectacular growth in 2020. As I mentioned before, Hightower has grown from a 45 BBL capacity to a 100 BBL capacity in just 12 months.

Second, I don’t think they put out a bad beer all year. Now, I know this is a bit of a subjective comment, but the brewery currently has an average score of 4.19 on Untappd, so I’d say their fans agree with me.

Third, they’ve given back to amazing causes. As most of you know, giving back is very important to me and something we do A LOT of here at FBH. Hightower has done a few charity beers this year including their Abstract Life series which benefits children with autism.

Abstract Life cans with some Through My Lens cans. Photo courtesy of Hightower Brewing Co (Facebook)

Fourth, and probably most importantly, they did all of this from a small town in Ohio. I know this may come off weird, but Hightower is doing some amazing things from a small, little town in Ohio. They don’t have the benefit and exposure of a large city like Pittsburgh.

To me, it’s so incredible to see a brewery like Hightower shine when they are located so secluded from the main craft beer scene.

We’ve heard the phrases “location, location, location” before. Unfortunately, that’s not something Hightower can bank on.. yet they’re still pumping out amazing beers and still selling out their releases.

People from all over the area and beyond (including one FBH member who was going to drive up from Florida) to get their hands on this beer.

Quit reading and just head to Rayland

I’ve been trying to think of so many ways to wrap up this article in a manner that tells you, the reader, how much I love the Hightower Brewing experience. Unfortunately, nothing I come up with will do the job.

Therefore, I’m urging you all to just put this blog post down, get in your vehicles, and head to Rayland, OH to enjoy it for yourself.

Hightower is more than just a brewery; it’s an experience…

It’s the early mornings waiting in the parking lot, sharing beers and laughs with great people, just for a chance at scoring some of their amazing bottles.

It’s the excitement, and immediate “fear of missing out”, that comes with every Through My Lens flavor release.

It’s hearing the stories of the “old days” of drinking beer in Greg’s garage, where the brewery started, from all the locals.

It’s the 2pm rush to the grilled cheese food truck to grab food after the stouts start hitting EVERY TIME I spend a Saturday afternoon at the brewery.

It’s the jokes and laughs that come from characters like Jerry, Matt, Dan and Kevin, some of Hightower’s regulars who have become friends of mine.

It’s the welcoming community of folks who don’t care who you are, where you’re from, or what you do.. so long as you enjoy great liquid.

It’s Greg and Megan sacrificing their weekends, and their front yard, to bring together some of the finest craft beer fans in America.

And, most importantly, it’s the beer. The beer that I’d stack up against any major ‘hype’ brewery in America.

They truly deserve it.

Cheers, yinz.

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