Some destinations around the world are synonymous with beer. Some of the obvious ones include Germany (hello, Oktoberfest), Belgium, and the Czech Republic. Sadly, there aren’t many United States destinations that make the cut. This means you probably aren’t taking too many beer vacations here at home.
But maybe you should be.
The last few years have seen a swell in breweries (and especially craft breweries) in some of America’s best destinations. Statistics (from 2013) show there are nearly 3,000 craft breweries in America. They also indicate there has been an 11 percent increase in craft breweries in the last decade. Many of these new beer spots are located in some of my favorite cities. Below I feature some of the best cities in America for beer.
With nicknames like Beer City, Brew Town, and Beertown, it’s no wonder that Milwaukee makes the list of the best beer cities in America. The city has one of the longest histories of beer in America, having been the birthplace of notable brands such as Schlitz, Pabst, and Miller. Milwaukee even was the top beer-producing city in the world decades ago. The last few years in this city have yielded dozens of craft breweries. This has made the destination a great spot for travelers, especially because of the numerous festivals such as Milwaukee Brewfest, Milwaukee Firkin, and the World of Beer Festival.
With more than 200 breweries overall, the “Denver Beer Triangle” of Boulder, Denver, and Fort Collins has established itself as the “Napa Valley of Beer.” A couple of my favorite breweries in the world call Denver home, including Wynkoop and Great Divide Brewing. Both of these breweries offer tours. Also worth the drive is a tour of Coors Brewery, located just outside of Denver in Golden.
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What I love most about beer in Portland (beyond the beer itself, obviously) is that tapping (pardon the pun) the scene feels like a real experience. There are several “brew ‘n’ view” theaters that run everything from classics to second-run films to new releases. Being the outdoorsman that I am, I appreciate Travel Oregon’s self-guided bike and brew tour. However, the most unique experience involves group bicycling tours. A couple of different local companies, including Pedalounge and BrewCycle, feature multi-person bicycles that take guests on an active brewery tour of Portland so you don’t feel quite so guilty after a vacation of imbibing.
Brewing beer in Seattle truly is local, since approximately 75 percent of America’s beer hops come from the nearby Yakima Valley. Some of Seattle’s best craft breweries are concentrated in the Ballard and Fremont neighborhoods, located just north of downtown. For a behind-the-scenes local’s take, go on a brewery tour with Road Dogs, who visit three Seattle breweries (and give every participant his or her own pint glass and t-shirt). One of my favorite beer experiences in Seattle takes place at Pyramid Alehouse, which features a beer garden, live music, and bar games across the street from Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field on the days of Mariners’ and Seahawks’ home games.
While California has been a wine state for centuries, the state has started to establish itself as a beer state, in part because of San Diego’s craft beer presence. This friendly city is home to nearly 100 craft breweries and brewpubs. The history of beer here actually dates back more than 100 years, as the first commercial brewery, San Diego Brewing Company, opened in 1896. Many of San Diego’s best craft breweries are actually located in North County, along what’s become known as “Hops Highway.” Some of the more notable breweries also are among the largest craft breweries in America, including Stone Brewing Company, Karl Strauss, and Ballast Point (each of which features its own brewpub).
Underrated Beer Cities
Don’t try this at home…Flight tasting at L.A.’s Eagle Rock
Los Angeles isn’t on the same level as Seattle, Portland, and San Diego, yet an increasing number of breweries have opened to put L.A. on the West Coast beer map. My personal favorite: Golden Road Brewing in Pasadena, which features a large brewpub (with bar games such as foosball, cornhole, and giant-sized Jenga), weekend brewery tours, and more than 20 revolving taps. In downtown Los Angeles there’s Angel City Brewing, which comes from the same folks who started Magic Hat. This brewery hosts a number of events, including a Sunday morning run, and a yoga and beer session for just $10. Another bonus to beer in Los Angeles: Beer festivals in other cities happen in the summer, but L.A. Beer Week comes in the fall.
While craft beer is new to many smaller cities, Asheville, North Carolina, has been doing it for years, as the city is home to the most breweries per capita in the United States. There are about 20 breweries in Asheville overall, but my favorite of the experiences is the “brew ‘n’ view” at Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company, which includes a trifecta of the house craft beer, pizza and $3 movies (because some movies are just better with a little buzz). One of the most renowned breweries in the area is just north of Asheville in Black Mountain; Pisgah Brewing Company, also hosts live concerts in its taproom.
Montana ranks No. 2 in America (behind Asheville) for craft breweries per capita, and a lot of that craft brewing takes place in Missoula. One of my favorite beers of all time is a nitro ale, Cold Smoke, which comes from Kettle House Brewing Company in Missoula. A couple of newcomers to the city’s craft beer scene include Thirst Gear, a 15-passenger bike similar to those offering beer tours in Portland, and Tap Room Tours, which does home and hotel pick-ups for tours of breweries in and around Missoula.
What are your favorite beer cities in the United States, and why?