A typical byproduct of any growing industry is a series of separate identities that arise from a hyper-local adaptation of the product. This is especially true when it comes craft beer, which, like a fine wine or even coffee, tends to reflect the mindset or those who produce it and the available ingredients pulled from a specific region’s natural resources. We see this from heavily hopped West Coast IPA styles down to the Caribbean-influenced craft beer movement coming out of America’s Sunshine State. All of which, however, boast their own unique flavor from coast to coast.
It’s with this notion in mind that we set out to discover several of the most prominent beer towns in the US – ones that have both been at the forefront since the very beginning as well as those which continue to innovate even as craft beer becomes continuously mainstream. These are the cities and towns – both large and small – where even an extended weekend wouldn’t provide enough time for a full tour. However, the quality of these local breweries matches and sometimes even exceeds the quality of beer brewed and drunk by the lucky handful to call these 12 best beer towns home.
Hippie Roots, Hoppy Aromas
Cradled within the southern Appalachian Mountains in the western expanses of North Carolina, Asheville is without a doubt an alternative mountain town that loves their beer. Here, we find a new-age mindset, rolling hills, and earthy beer that’s both hop-forward and small-batch produced by those who know the area best. Additionally, with a lively music scene, a handful of bars, venues, and a lively college campus all centered in town, there’s rarely a dull moment in this mountain escape that’s ideal for those who want to get away from the big city for a few days.
Lone Star Craft Culture
Home not just to one of the largest music festivals of the year, the Texan capital boasts enough culture, live music, and delicious craft beer to keep you entertained for weeks on end. That is, if you have that much time to explore the urban sprawl of a city. Combine that with a warm to downright hot spring and summer, and it’s not surprising most Austinites find themselves either spending the dog days of summer in and around one of many rivers and swimming holes located throughout the region or in an air-conditioned bar sipping on some Jester King.
Thanks to the presence of The Alchemist – one of our all-time favorite breweries – located just nearby in the town of Waterbury, Burlington is most certainly a go-to beer town for anyone who happens to enjoy a couple cold ones after hitting the slopes all afternoon. It also doesn’t hurt that Magic Hat calls this Northeastern town home either. However, if the larger more established breweries aren’t calling your name, we’d suggest taking a look at Switchback, Infinity and even the Vermont Brewery & Pub that happens to be the oldest one in the state.
Not Just For Deep Dish
Some say the best remedy for the cold is a few beers and a warm pub in which to enjoy them. If that’s the case, Chicago definitely has it made. Apart from the cocktail scene, jazz music, Prohibition-era bars, and an overall hustling urban center, the city has a ton of breweries to boot. Most notably, of course, is Goose Island, famous for both their session-friendly India pale ales as well as their meaty and highly sought after Bourbon County lineup released each year in limited quantities.
Home of The Great American Beer Festival
One word of advice when drinking in and around the mile-high city – proceed with caution. For the altitude may creep up on those used to imbibing at lower elevations. And while you may be wondering why we opted for Denver rather than say Ft. Collins or Breckenridge, it’s because, in addition to a solid lineup of breweries, Denver is both easily accessible and home to the Great American Beer Festival. Possibly the largest beer festival in the US, this three-day-long event features over 800 different breweries and often times over 3800 different beers in the city’s convention center. Talk about options.
Grand Rapids, MI
Odds are if you’ve been in the craft beer scene for any amount of time you’ve enjoyed a beer from Grand Rapids. And while Grand Rapids may not necessarily be the hottest destination on this list, we have deep respect for the city thanks to the likes Founders Brewing. Indeed, this staple brewery is most certainly a draw for outsiders, however, its smaller counterparts offer just as tasty a pint. Also, if you’re up for a little road trip, just an hour down the road in Kalamazoo is Bell’s Brewing, yet another nationally-known powerhouse churning out tasty ales and lagers.
Keeping It Weird
Known as one of the OG”s of the craft beer world, this youthful and hip urban/suburban center is home to plenty of walkable or bikable craft breweries ranging from the Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House to Base Camp Brewing right across the Willamette River in Buckman. Unlike the larger players in this list, what’s great about Portland is it’s relatively small size – allowing those dedicated enough hit most of the town’s key offerings in a weekend away. That, combined with the endless supply of record shops, arcades, museums and art galleries make Portland a contemporary adult playground for the culturally inclined.
Southern Fried Experimentation
The Old Dominion’s capital city isn’t without its fair share of sordid histories. However, thanks to a growing university and helpful state law signed into effect back in 2011 allowing for breweries to sell their beer on-site, Richmond has seen sizable growth in its beer industry. From small mom-and-pop operations to larger nationally-know breweries like Stone recently setting up shops on the city’s eastern bank along the James River, things are happening in this river city. Also, be sure to check out Legend Brewing for a killer view of the city from across the river, Hardywood Park for a solid dose of local food trucks and live music, and Strangways Brewing if you’re looking to get weird during your stay this former tobacco mainstay.
San Diego, CA
Hop Heads Unite
Requiring little to no introduction, San Diego is the one place where you’re practically guaranteed to drink beer while the sun is still shining. That’s because this warm and sunny destination in California’s southern tip boasts a seemingly endless supply of outdoor beer gardens, patios and the like to keep the palates quenched and the vitamin D supply strong. If/when you do visit, be sure to not miss out on Stone Brewing’s exquisite Escondido location – quite famously known as one the most elegant beer garden’s in the world.
San Francisco, CA
Bay Area Brewing Heritage
With the state’s world-famous wine country within earshot of the city, you’d think craft beer would take a backseat to such esteemed vineyards. Fortunately for those who favor grains over grapes, San Francisco boasts no shortage of well established nuanced breweries looking to shake things up a bit in true SF fashion. Here, age-old Anchor Brewing and craft beer staple 21st Amendment are two offerings that surely won’t disappoint. Pair that with world-class dining, a music scene nearly unmatched by any other city in the country, as well as a lively cocktail culture to boot, there’s no shortage of attractions and leisurely activities in the bay area.
Endless Variety in the Emerald City
With no shortage of a music or culture scene, it’s no secret Seattle has a lot to offer in the realm of craft beer. This comes in addition to both their coffee and wine empires as well. Needless to say, if there’s a vice that draws you in, odds are Seattle has it on tap. Here, we have a ton of breweries that specialize in recipes featuring the aroma forward hop profiles of the Pacific Northwest but with enough variances to make your head spin. And with a handful of neighborhoods in and around the city, breweries like Fremont, Cloudburst, Epic Ales and Black Raven all serve as communal spaces for the hop heads and locals alike.
Not surprisingly, Florida’s gulf coast isn’t the first region that comes to mind when talking craft beer. However, thanks to the likes of their local mainstay and now renowned craft brewery Cigar City, Tampa has entered into the foray of notable craft beer towns – this time in a more tropical setting. Here, in addition to the sultry sun and lush palm vegetation, white sand beaches are now home to craft beer enthusiasts enjoying unique citrus IPA’s and various island-inspired beers that could even pair nicely with, you guessed it, a cigar.
12 Best Beer of the Month Clubs
Not the traveling type? No worries. Luckily there’s a handful of beer of the month clubs that will deliver the goods directly to your doorstep.