Beer has been a staple of civilized society since early mankind made the first stylings as far back as 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia (Ancient Iraq). Luckily for us, we’re living in the golden age of craft beer with options out there from cities across the globe to satisfy almost any palate.
1. Portland, Maine
With a population of just under 204,000, Portland is Maine’s largest city. However the fact that it’s small shouldn’t mean anything. Not only is it considered to have the most restaurants, per capita, than any other U.S. city, but it’s jam-packed with craft brewery operations and bars that support them.
When it comes to beer, there are the big players — Allagash and Maine Beer Company, to name the best — but there’s also quite a few of the little guys. Bissell Brothers, for instance, founded by Noah and Peter Bissell, has only been around since 2013, but their Substance Ale is on pretty much every tap in the Portland metro area and beyond. This is a city that welcomes people branching off on their own. And if you can brew a good beer, pretty much every bar in town wants to support you.
Novare Res is probably the most necessary place to start your beer tour of Portland. They’ve got all the local ones on 25 rotating taps, plus 500-plus bottles from around the world. From there, Oxbow, Rising Tide and Bunker all have tasting rooms within close reach of each other. There’s also, of course, the Maine Brew Bus, which you can hop on for as low as $55 per person and get taken to basically every place you need to worry about it when it comes to guzzling Maine beer.
2. Puebla, Mexico
Just like the States has moved on from bad beer so has Mexico. Puebla, two hours south of Mexico City, has a growing community of born and raised poblano brewers, all of whom have epic beards, sharing their knowledge and love for beer at events like El Beer Garden and Puebla Beer Fest. The biggest craft brewery is Cervecería 5 de Mayo, based in the nearby pueblo mágico, Atlixco, which brews Saga and Osadía; light and dark Belgian ales. Meanwhile, smaller breweries like Indomitus, Babilonia Alquimia Mexicana, Xochipilli, and San Pascual Baylon, located in the city and neighboring Cholula, are becoming increasingly popular due to their strong flavors and fuck-normal-beer attitude. The best place to try local brews is either Draft Gastropub or The Beerbox. Puebla often gets teased by chilangos in Mexico City for being a “small town”, but poblanos should stand proud especially when it comes to its cerveza artesanal.
3. Munich, Germany
You hear “beer” and immediately imagine an older gentleman sporting the sexy stylings of the lederhosen variety, armed with a stein practically glued to their hand. That’s because beer culture has permeated throughout German society for centuries. More simply put, the annual 16-day Oktoberfest festival is on every beer drinker’s bucket list for a reason.
4. Eugene, Oregon
It’d be all-too-easy to talk about Portland, the obvious choice for the Pac-NW-Beer-Capital-of-the-Nation Crown. But venture just 2 hours South on the I-5 and you’ll hit Portland’s earthier, grossly-underrated cousin, Eugene. For starters, Eugene is home to the Eugene Ale Trail, an 11-brewery-long pub crawl and, frankly, the most Oregonian thing I’ve ever heard of. Plus, nearly every craft beer brewed in Eugene’s numerous breweries (including the globally-distributed Ninkasi, Oregonian-favorite McMenamins, and local legend Brewers Union Local 180) come from exclusively locally sourced ingredients, and water pulled direct from the McKenzie river. So what Eugene may lack in terms of sheer quantity of microbreweries (when compared to Portland), it makes up with a lot of heart, and flavors you can actually sample from the surrounding nature.
5. Tokyo, Japan
Most think of food when their sights turn toward Asia and for good reason. One might be surprised to learn that Tokyo (with imports from across Japan) has grown into a veritable craft beer destination. Deregulation in 1994 launched the boom of microbreweries in Japan, placing an emphasis on where the ingredients come from, a trait consistent with what made Japanese cuisine world renowned. The Hitachino Nest White Ale from Kiuchi Brewery (only two hours from Tokyo by train) often scores as one of the best beers in the world. Elsewhere in the city, you’ll find a number of high-quality craft breweries that will make any North American feel like they’re back home.
6. Waterbury, Vermont
In all fairness, the entire state of Vermont should have its own entry on this list. But if you’re going to pick one city or town from which to base a craft beer mission, it should probably be tiny Waterbury (population 5,000). This is the home of the Alchemist, brewer of one of the most highly rated and sought-after beers in the entire world: Heady Topper, an American Double IPA. The craft beer bars and brewpubs in Waterbury, like Prohibition Pig and Blue Stone, are some of the only places you can (occasionally) find it on draft. But the magic of Waterbury goes far beyond a single beer. Those same local tap lists also feature rotations of dozens of the best beers in the state and New England at large — many of which are on par with Heady Topper, and equally (or even more) rare. We’re talking Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Maine Beer Co., and of course the hallowed Hill Farmstead. All this and Waterbury’s limited size means you can grab a room for the night within a three-minute walk of your bar stool. It doesn’t get much better.
7. Bruges, Belgium
Who doesn’t think of Belgium when they think of beer? In total, you can find around 180 breweries across the country. Specifically in Bruges, simply walking around the city is a beer tour in of itself. Consider getting “Around Bruges in 80 Beers” to do the city right. Make sure to stop in at ‘t Brugs Beertje and Staminee De Garre for two of the city’s most popular craft breweries.
8. Montreal, Canada
Montreal is arguably the most European city in all of North America. Making it feel even more like Europe is the fact that good beer is a staple of the Quebecois capital. Go during Mondial de la Bière for not only a healthy helping of Montreal favorites but also a selection of other Canadian and international brews.
10. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“Liberty and beer” could be the title of Philadelphia’s CliffNotes. You know them for the stylings of Iron Hill and Victory, both brewed just outside of Philly. But as trite as it is to say, it’s true that there’s plenty more where that came from. Free Will Brewing and Sly Fox Beer come to mind.
11. Santiago, Chile
South America doesn’t get much credit when it comes to craft beer, and that’s a shame. So if you happen to find yourself walking around Santiago, try something from Guayacán. Hoppy beers are less popular in Chile, but Rothammer Brewery‘s Brutal Hops seems to be the exception with their double IPA.
12. Denver, Colorado
From Denver to Fort Collins, Colorado knows how to do craft beer to complement the active lifestyle so prevalent alongside the Rocky Mountains. New Belgium Brewing has become one of the most successful craft brewers in the United States. The same can be said for Great Divide in Denver itself. But if you’re feeling indecisive, you can always go during The Great American Beer Festival — the world’s largest beer event according to Guinness World Records with more than 3,000 beers ready to be sampled.
13. Prague, Czech Republic
Czech people love to drink to the tune of over 41 gallons per person annually. Pilsner fans will be especially at home having been first produced in the city of Plzeň in 1842. Today, pilsners account for over two-thirds of the beer produced with the original (Pilsner Urquell) still in production.
14. Tulsa, Oklahoma
Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second city, is known regionally as a hub for arts, culture, livability, but more importantly, as the home of Prairie Artisan Ales… a craft brewery that makes 54 different kinds of craft beers almost all of which are designed to knock you squarely on your ass. If you make it out to Tulsa on a beercation, it would be irresponsible not to sample PAA’s BOMB!, a 13% ABV American Double Imperial Stout and BeerAdvocate’s “Top Beer of the Southwest” by a landslide.
15. Melbourne, Australia
A traveler to Melbourne would be forgiven for thinking they’ve landed in the nation of Publandia. Turn and point along any major intersection, and you’ll likely be looking right at a pub. Australia even comes with some of its own, fun beer drinking vernacular. Grab a “slab,” give everyone “a shout,” and you’ll be the most popular drinker at the bar. Feral, Stone & Wood, and 4 Pines top most lists for the best Aussie craft beer, but there’s plenty more out there to explore.
16. Frederick, Maryland
Nearby DC and Baltimore both have excellent beer scenes, but the real hidden jewel in the area is the relatively tiny city of Frederick. The most famous of its breweries is the country’s only truly “gonzo” brewery: Flying Dog. But the town is also home to Monocacy Brewing, Brewer’s Alley, Olde Mother, and a good deal more. The town is beautiful, quaint, and extremely walkable, making it an excellent spot for a good bar crawl. And the restaurant scene is none too shabby, either: the town is the home of celebrity chef Bryan Voltaggio, and two of his restaurants. Yes: both have bars.
17. Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville was first crowned Beer City USA in 2009 and has gone on to either win outright or finish in the top every year since. Even before the arrival of New Belgium Brewery and Sierra Nevada (#3 and #2 largest craft brews by production volume), Asheville’s beer scene has been solidly rooted with Highland Brewing, Green Man, Catawba, and Asheville Pizza and Brewing, among many others. More recent breweries such as Burial Beer Co and Wicked Weed just keep bringing more attention to the area. My personal favorite place is Wedge; I just love the vibe, the French Broad in the evening sun, the long rows of pub style tables sitting outside.
Special thanks to Joe Baur for his contribution to this article.
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