CRAFT BEER in America is more popular than ever. Today’s drinkers become more educated by the day, and the breadth of choices available to them has never been so extensive. This is great for beer lovers, and beneficial on the supply side as well, as a high-quality product created by friendly, local brewers gets consumers to open their wallets a little wider.
It’s no longer uncommon for enthusiasts to plan a brewery visit into their vacation. In fact, the opposite is trending: Plenty of people I know actually plan their vacations around a great beer destination. Remote, highly respected breweries such as Russian River (Santa Rosa, CA) and Hill Farmstead (Greensboro, VT) are regularly hit up by this crowd.
Here are 20 recommended cities to visit on your beer-based travels (listed in no particular order).
San Diego, CA
• AleSmith's consistently excellent IPAs, stouts, porters, and barleywines impress critics year in and year out.
• Right down the road from AleSmith is one of SoCal's better-known craft breweries: Ballast Point, with 27 taps and specialty drafts.
• Green Flash Brewing is also in the neighborhood, and bring your appetite: these guys love their food trucks.
• A short drive east down I-8 leads to the Alpine Beer Company, home of some of the world's best IPAs. I'm not sure why the best IPAs seem to come from rural breweries (Hill Farmstead, Kern River, Alpine), but I don't particularly care. Each is worth the drive.
• 2008 saw San Francisco's acclaimed Toronado open a sister location in San Diego. This craft beer bar has 56 draft lines and an impressive bottle list. Plus, they often unleash top-notch limited brews for their special events.
• (512) Brewing sends kegs all over Austin and South Texas. I enjoy their Pecan Porter.
• Jester King began brewing farmhouse-style ales in 2009 and quickly developed a loyal following. Although state law prohibits them from selling beer directly to customers, the brewery tour is a fun way to spend an afternoon in the Texas Hill Country.
• Live Oak Brewing's focus on a just handful of beer styles pays off: Their hefeweizen is among the best made anywhere.
• Drive about hour south on I-35 to Freetail Brewing in San Antonio. Here, you’ll find an enjoyable mix of traditional American ales with barrel-aged stouts and wild ales. In my opinion, it's the best brewery in Texas.
Grand Rapids / Kalamazoo, MI
• Founders Brewing has mastered the art of producing exceptionally high-quality beer on a macro scale. Their Grand Rapids brewpub is a popular destination.
• In Kalamazoo, Bell's Brewery bottles and kegs an impressively diverse range of beers for all tastes. Some of their best work is only found at the brewpub, however, so stop by to see for yourself.
• Since famously declining an invitation to appear in a Nickelback video, Dark Horse Brewing's fanbase has grown rapidly.
Photo:Emery Co Photo
• Chances are you already know about New Belgium Brewing and their diverse selection of beers. You might not know they were one of the first sour programs in the US, though, so stop by for a tour and a sample or three.
• Oskar Blues led the charge to promote canning in the beer industry.
• Left Hand Brewing's popular Milk Stout gained them notoriety, and a visit to their home base will prove they aren’t a one-trick pony.
• Goose Island still brews some of the very best beer in the Midwest, despite enormous skepticism after their acquisition by AB-InBev in 2011. The north side of Chicago features two excellent Goose Island brewpubs where locals drown their baseball sorrows.
• The Half Acre Beer Company's brewpub on Lincoln Ave is known for its IPAs, particularly the canned Daisy Cutter. But there's more to this brewery than just the canned essentials.
• Just across the border is Munster, IN, home to one of the country's most celebrated breweries: Three Floyds Brewing. The ~40-minute drive from Chicago is worth every minute, and you’ll soon discover why local retailers struggle to keep their beers on the shelves.
• Jump on the Red Line and head north to Hopleaf, a Belgian bar well known to all local beer geeks. Come for the beer, stay for the beer and the food.
• The Map Room's beer bar in Bucktown draws in the faithful from around the city. Although their venue may be small, their selection certainly isn’t.
Detroit / Ann Arbor, MI
• The Warren suburb of Detroit is home to Kuhnhenn Brewing, a unique brewpub and meadery. Ever had a bourbon barrel-aged Banana French Toast Mead?
• Jolly Pumpkin's brewpub in Ann Arbor brings this farmhouse brewery's funky suds to the city. When your palate is begging for a break from hoppy beers, few beverages are more refreshing than a tart JP brew.
New York, NY
• A short drive (or train ride) north to Peekskill Brewing lands you at the new home of Jeff O'Neil, formerly of Ithaca Brewing. They deliver magic in a glass better than anyone else in the tri-state metropolitan area.
• Top Hops Beer Shop on the Lower East Side quickly made a name for themselves by providing friendly, knowledgeable service at their hybrid bar and bottle shop. It's the local beer geeks' go-to spot for highly coveted bottles, draft beer + growlers, and a laid-back environment.
• Tørst only opened its doors in March of 2013 but has already become the destination bar in NYC. Founded by Evil Twin nomad brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, Tørst combines a plethora of fantastic draft beer with the most impressive bottle list I've ever seen.
• Cigar City Brewing built a name for themselves in 2008 and 2009 and have expanded on that success in the years since. Join them in celebrating the opening of their new full-service brewpub.
• Peg's Cantina / Cycle Brewing is a small Mexican food cantina steps from the beach in St. Petersburg. The stouts, Berliners, and IPAs served at this unassuming location make me wonder why beer this good isn't more widely available.
• 7venth Sun Brewing in nearby Dunedin is a relative newcomer to the Tampa beer scene and made a splash by hosting the inaugural “Hunahpu’s Hangover Day” the morning after Cigar City’s annual Hunahpu release. Sip on one of their fruit-infused Berliners while gazing into the Gulf.
• The Tired Hands brewpub in nearby Ardmore opened in the summer of 2012 to much acclaim. Artisan beer and bread are made fresh on the premises.
• Drive two hours west to visit Pizza Boy Brewing (aka Al’s of Hampden) on the outskirts of Harrisburg. Former Bullfrog brewer Terry Hawbaker is quietly turning heads at his new gig, regularly churning out stouts and sours of impressive quality.
• Monk's Cafe is heralded for its incredible draft and bottle selection, and the Philly Beer Week events there are not to be missed.
• Capone's Restaurant houses a highly respected beer bar in the suburbs. If you’re looking for a special-release draft in Philly, chances are Capone’s has it.
• Coming soon to Miami is the much-anticipated J. Wakefield Brewing, a brewpub from the highly skilled amateur-turned-professional brewer. While sours and Berliners are his forte, Johnathan's brewing acumen across all styles has earned him multiple tap lines at Cigar City's Hunahpu's Day for the past three years.
• You'd never know from driving by the nondescript strip mall where it's located, but The Funky Buddha Lounge & Brewery in nearby Boca Raton happens to make some of the best beer in the world. Stop in for a Passionfruit Berliner Weisse or their Imperial Maple Bacon Coffee Stout.
Photo via J Wakefield Brewing
Montpelier area, VT
• Hill Farmstead in nearby Greensboro Bend was recently named the best brewery in the world by RateBeer.com. Drive 30 minutes off the highway, turn down a dirt road for a few more miles, and don’t be shocked to see that a line has already formed for growlers and bottles.
• Take a short drive to Waterbury and stop by The Alchemist, where you’ll discover the other beers they make are often just as impressive as their excellent Heady Topper.
• Head to the seasonal farmer's market in Montpelier or nearby Warren to find imperial stouts and IPAs from Lawson's Finest Liquids. Straight from Sean Lawson's garage to your belly.
Photo via Hill Farmstead Brewery
San Francisco, CA
• Anchor Brewing opened their doors in 1896, making them one of the oldest breweries in the country and one of the very few to survive Prohibition. And they’re still going strong today.
• A two-hour drive north of San Francisco lands you at the Russian River brewpub in Santa Rosa. It’s worth the trek just for this brewery, as they are one of the absolute best in the world.
• The original Toronado bar on Haight Street is one of America's oldest (and best) craft beer bars. Their daily selection puts most bars to shame, and their specialty events are the envy of beer geeks everywhere.
• City Beer is both an impressively stocked craft beer store and a full-service beer bar rolled into one.
• Just across the bridge in Oakland lies Beer Revolution: another first-rate beer bar.
• Across the river from downtown lies Great Lakes Brewing, a well-respected brewery with strong Midwest pride.
• Hoppin’ Frog Brewing in nearby Akron made a splash on the craft scene in 2008 by winning a gold medal at GABF in the hotly contested Russian Imperial Stout category. Odd name, great beer.
• The Brew Kettle sits just north of the I-80 / I-71 intersection, which makes this brewpub a dangerously convenient pit stop for road warriors.
San Marcos, CA
• Walk into the Lost Abbey / Port Brewing tasting room and you might not be impressed by the rugged, industrial-looking surroundings. Your first sip on one of their sours will change everything.
• Churchill’s Pub & Grille is right down the road from Lost Abbey and features a fantastic selection of drafts, bottles, and food. This is the only place you’ll find Churchill’s Finest Hour, an exquisite imperial stout made exclusively for the bar by Port Brewing.
• Stone Brewing was a driving force behind the rise of craft beer, and their expanded tasting room has plenty of space to sample their diverse selection.
• Terrapin Brewing sits about an hour east of the city in Athens. Find out why the locals can’t get enough of this stuff.
• No beer trip to Atlanta is complete without a visit to The Brick Store Pub in Decatur, with its vintage beer room, Belgian beer bar, and extensive bottle list.
• Since opening their doors in 2008, The Bruery has grown tremendously. They now brew dozens of specialty craft beers each year and recently opened a beautiful new tasting room in Placentia.
• Beachwood BBQ & Brewing in Long Beach is a haven for craft beer lovers. Wash down some tasty BBQ with their brews and guest taps.
• Food trucks and craft beer collide at Verdugo Bar in Northeast LA. Their outdoor patio makes this a great venue to unwind after a long week.
• Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank serves tasty sausages and an exclusively Californian draft menu. It's small, so get there early if you want a place to sit.
St. Paul / Minneapolis, MN
• Surly Brewing is on a mission to prove that cans are the best storage medium for good beer. And if you’ve had one of their brews, you understand why people rave about these guys.
• Minneapolis Town Hall Brewing takes great pride in their barrel-aged beers. If you’re looking for a 64oz growler of delicious, high-gravity beer, look no further than Town Hall.
• Few establishments fuse the food, beer, and wine worlds together as well as The Happy Gnome in St. Paul. 75 taps + upscale food and knowledgeable staff.
Photo via The Happy Gnome
• The Hair of the Dog brewpub in downtown Portland is home to an incredibly mature barrel aging program. Order an Adam From The Wood and you'll understand why Alan Sprints' barrel-aged beers get so much press.
• Cascade's Barrel House brewpub has more than a dozen tap lines full of their creative, barrel-aged sours. Fresh fruits, oak, sour yeast, and occasionally bourbon barrels harmonize in the hands of the Cascade team.
• Take the elevator to the basement of a bank building across the Broadway Bridge and you'll be greeted by barrels full of beer from Upright Brewing. This musically inspired brewery focuses on sours and saisons, excelling at both.
• Deschutes, one of Oregon's prominent brewers, opened a brewpub in downtown Portland in 2008. Take a seat outside and enjoy one of their fresh brews on draft.
• Cambridge Brewing Company's casual brewpub atmosphere provides an enjoyable respite from its bustling surroundings. When they have sours on tap, don't miss them.
• Jack's Abby Brewing in Framingham lies on the outskirts of Boston. It takes a brave team of brewers to focus on lagers in today's ale-dominated craft beer market, and Jack's Abby does so magnificently.
• Lord Hobo in Cambridge serves up the finest beers from the New England area and beyond. Their taps and cellar regularly feature the likes of Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, Hill Farmstead, and others.
Photo:Cambridge Brewing Co.
• Crooked Stave is one of the hottest young breweries in the country and boasts a highly respected sour program.
• Downtown Denver is home to Great Divide Brewing, which is best known for producing high-quality stouts on a macro scale.
• Avery Brewing Company's barrel-aged series has turned heads nationwide; the short drive up to Boulder is worth the effort. Photo:cogocogo
This post was produced in partnership with our friends at New Belgium Brewing, whose Rampant Imperial IPA is now part of the year-round lineup.
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