When it comes to beer tourism, the usual suspects are always international—Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands—but one of the best countries for beer is right under our noses. According to the Brewers Association (BA), an organization of American brewers, the number of domestic breweries surpassed 5,300 in 2016. Of that number, 5,234 are regional craft breweries. And demand is keeping pace with the brewery boom. The BA estimates that, in 2014, more than 10 million people toured small and independent craft breweries in the States. “The U.S. is now the number one destination for beer on Planet Earth,” says Julia Herz, the BA’s Craft Beer program director.
As cities across the nation invest in promoting their beer culture and tourism, small, local—that is to say, craft—breweries are becoming increasingly important. “The U.S. is evolving past production of mostly American lager and toward independently owned breweries with a face behind their brands,” says Herz. “Ownership matters to many when it comes to beer, and that drives the desire to sample beer fresh at the source.”
Whether you’re looking to get in on the action with a good pint on your next trip or planning an all-out “beercation,” be sure to check out these five craft beer–loving cities—from established beer destinations to up-and-coming hot spots—and a few of their can’t-miss brews.
Every fall since 1982, breweries from around the country gather in this preeminent beer destination for the Great American Beer Festival. Over 800 breweries and 3,800 beers will be featured at this year’s festivities. The 2017 festival is sold out, but there are plenty of amazing breweries to visit on a city beer tour at any time of year.
Begin at the city’s first brewpub, Wynkoop—its “Rail Yard” amber ale is known for its caramel flavors and aroma of sliced apples. Then head over to the hop vine–covered courtyard at Denver Beer Company for a flight of brews that includes the award-winning “Sun Drenched” American ale. Next, grab a ride share to the RiNo district, where there’s a brewery on practically every corner. Don’t miss the spacious 4,000-square-foot patio at Ratio Beerworks, or Barrel Bar, home of the award-winning Great Divide Brewing Company.
One of the most fertile and productive hop growing regions in the world is just 142 miles east of Seattle. In 2015 and 2016, the Yakima Valley surpassed Germany as the world leader in hop production. Half of the hops grown in the region will be used for craft beer production, according to researchers at Washington State University.
Start your beer-centric Seattle trip with a tasting tour of the Pike Brewing Company in the iconic Pike Place Market. Its award-winning beers include the “Pike Doubble Hopulus,” a double IPA that won a silver medal at the U.S. Open Beer Championship. Next, walk a few blocks to the open-air taproom at Cloudburst Brewing where delicious brews have offbeat names like “Happy Little Clouds” (a Bob Ross–inspired German pilsner). Continue your tour at the family-run Reuben’s Brews in the brewery-filled Ballard district. Reuben’s Brews is the most-awarded brewery in the state; its Gose, a traditional German sour ale, won gold at the Great American Beer Festival the past two years. Round out the day with Freemont Brewing’s award-winning session pale ale while snacking on apples and pretzels.
To say that Austenites love their beer would be an understatement. In the past 10 years, the number of craft breweries in central Texas expanded from seven to 57 with more in the works. This year, craft breweries in the area are expected to produce 29.5 million bottles.
The first stop on any Austin beer-hop should be Hops & Grain. Its German-style brown ale, “ALT-eration,” won the World Beer Cup gold medal just a few months after it opened in 2012. Lazarus Brewing, a swanky taproom housed in an old gas station, is known for such signature brews as the “Shackleton” English bitter. Other brew highlights include the “Shamus The Fiddler Irish Red Ale” from newcomer Hi Sign Brewing; the “FireEagle” IPA at Austin Beerworks, the silver medal–winner at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival; and Thirsty Planet’s amber ale, “Thirsty Goat,” which has the cutest label in town. Sour beer lovers can’t miss Jester King’s gorgeous Hill Country taproom on the outskirts of Austin.
For this southern city, 2011 was a big year for the craft beer scene. A grassroots nonprofit called Free the Hops promoted beer-friendly legislation, which eventually lead to the game-changing Brewery Modernization Act, which removed key restrictions on brewpubs and allowed breweries to open taprooms more easily. Within the year, three taprooms opened: Good People Brewing Company, located across from Regions Field, home of the city’s minor-league baseball team; Cahaba Brewing Company, a large taproom that features free Skee-Ball; and Avondale Brewing Company, which hosts concerts on its large patio. Since 2012, three more breweries have opened: Trim Tab Brewing, Ghost Train Brewing Company, and Red Hills Brewing Company.
Birmingham may have only a handful of breweries, but its innovative beers and taprooms make it stiff competition for the other cities on this list. Whether you’re looking for an oatmeal stout or a peach saison, you can find it in Birmingham.
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
No beer lover can resist visiting Beer City, USA, which some people know as Asheville, North Carolina. The town has more breweries per capita than any other place in the country, and one weekend is not nearly enough time to try all the different local breweries. Be prepared to make multiple trips.
Your first stop should be Highland Brewing, the first legal brewery in Asheville and the largest family-owned brewery in the Southeast. Relax on the rooftop bar with one of its small batch releases like the “Karate Kat” wheat ale. Stop by Green Man Brewery, another of the state’s oldest breweries, for a malty, award-winning ESB. Next, grab a pint of Hi-Wire Brewing’s “Zirkusfest Oktoberfest” lager, a 2016 Great American Beer Festival gold medal winner, at one of the brewery’s two taprooms. Toast to a day of beer tasting with scoops of beer ice cream at the Hop Ice Cream Café, which features rotating flavors like Fat Tire white ale with peppercorn.