The Best Craft Brew Cities in the U.S.
Nothing brings a town to life like a hopping craft beer scene—and not just because everything seems more fun after you throw a few back. With home-grown ingredients and indie alchemists, local breweries give you a real flavor for a place.
And while we wouldn’t dare dispute the hoppy contributions of certain Midwest biggies, right now we’ve got our eye on nine of the nation's hottest craft brew cities. Of course, none of them relies on beer alone. If they did, we’d tell you to save money and drink in your basement. Each will keep you plenty entertained after your first buzz wears off—and is worth hopping a plane for this National Beer Day.
It’s a food city, it’s a pot city, and it’s certainly a beer city. On the brew front, Denver has been climbing the national ranks ever since 1984, when the Great American Beer Festival first came to town with about 3,000 people (last year’s attracted 62,000). The city seems to have a notable taproom on every block, but if you want to go straight for the icons, try Great Divide, TRVE Brewing, and Denver Beer Co. Then there’s Wynkoop Brewing Company—aka the one that started it all. (Lest you have any doubt about the cofounders’ ambition, one of them became governor and is now going for POTUS). Though this LoDo legend is a destination unto itself, it also pairs well with newer neighborhood breweries on the 1.5-mile Denver Microbrew Tour. Beer + the great outdoors is about as Coloradan as it gets.
It obviously dominates the country’s coffee scene (you’ve heard of Starbucks, right?). But Seattle seems to handle its booze just as well. With more than 170 breweries and a prime patch of Washington’s hop-growing region, Seattle churns out hyper-local beers that range from crisp pilsners to hoppy IPAs. On rainy days (insert Seattle weather joke here), cozy up at Fremont Brewing or Redhook Brewlab, where the food and fireplaces will warm you up quicker than a 8% ABV. Or if you happen to catch a lucky spot of sun, head to Stoup Brewing’s colorful, dog-friendly patio.
San Diego, CA
With its laid-back surfer vibe, San Diego predictably nails the whole craft beer thing—and is home to some of the country’s most respected breweries (Green Flash and AleSmith are standouts). If you’re going to hit the local Hops Highway—and for the love of beer, please do— don’t miss the IPAs (or garden seating) at Stone Brewing Co. If ale isn’t your particular poison, pick one of the 16 options on tap at Modern Times Tasting Room; or visit the 32-tap (!) tasting room at White Labs. And don’t forget to soak up some of that booze with a plate of tacos—Barrel Republic and Encinitas Ale House can certainly help you with that.
North Carolina was seriously into Prohibition, so the state’s brewing culture is relatively young. But what the scene lacks in years, it more than makes up for in quality. See: Asheville (which has quantity going for it, too). Sample sour brews in the morning, IPAs in the afternoon, and sweet porters come sundown—and in the South Slope Brewery District, do the whole boozy journey on foot. Buzzy Funkatorium (an offshoot of Wicked Weed) is the place for all things…well, funky—expect the likes of Lieutenant Dank and Beer of the Walking Dead on tap. Burial Beer Co. and Wedge specialize in local, small batch beers, while Tasty Beverage Co. is your one-stop shop for souvenir bottles. Don’t feel like walking? Get from place to place aboard the Brews Cruise, Asheville’s popular (and perfectly named) brewery bus tour.
Much like the city itself, Austin’s craft beer scene is diverse, exciting, and consistently on the rise. The styles run the gamut, from the Pecan Porter at 512 Brewing, to the Black Metal Stout at Jester King (bonus: brisket pizza!), to the Pale Mosaic IPA at Hops & Grain. And if you still can’t find a watering hole you totally love, wait 10 minutes: The city births great brewpubs pretty consistently—see: Oddwood Ales and Suds Monkey—so your new favorite barstool is never far off.
Welcome to Beervana, home to more than 70 breweries and yes, a thousand hipster stereotypes. Get over the latter and just start sampling: After Widmer Brothers and McMenamins helped put Portland on the craft beer map, Upright, Breakside and others have kept the city relevant to ale connoisseurs. And given the frequent beer festivals—not to mention great gastropub food and a respectable cocktail scene—even non-IPA snobs will be happy here.
Though we’re staying neutral in the Portland-on-Portland battle for tap town supremacy, we'll note that the one in Maine is also among the nation’s best beer scenes. Allagash and Shipyard have been pumping out legendary microbrews since the 1990s, while newer (and smaller) contenders Austin Street and Rising Tide keep the scene exciting. From May to October, sample the city’s best beers and views on the Summer Feet’s Bike and Brew tour.
Sports fans, lit lovers and mall hounds are flocking here already. Craft beer drinkers should, too, stopping first at the OG Surly Brewing Co. for hoppy lagers and citrusy pale ales, then at Dangerous Man Brewing Co. for dessert: Chocolate Milk Stout and Key Lime Milkshake IPA. (Despite the aggressive names, you’ll find those “Minnesota nice” locals at both spots.) But for the best sense of how hands-on and innovative the local beer scene is, head to the Fair State Brewing Cooperative, where members can contribute to new beer products while non-members can sample new creations in the taproom.
Even before the so-called Rust Belt Renaissance, seriously good beer flowed from the region’s taps. And though Milwaukee and Grand Rapids have well-established reps, Cleveland seems to be stealing the spotlight of late. To see why, head to Butcher & the Brewer, where rich beers pair well with charcuterie boards; Market Garden, where $6 gets you a brewery tour and four tastings; and Nano Brew, where the 24-tap selection keeps you busy in the outdoor beer garden. But any proper Cleveland beer crawl should begin at Great Lakes Brewing Company: Open since the 1980s, the brewpub continues to impress with its Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale.