Weekend Trips for the Beer Lover
Create your dream beercation with must-do brewery tours, beer festivals and bars.
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Oregon is a major player in the nation’s craft beer scene, with almost 200 breweries across the state. There are at least 60 in Portland alone, earning its “beervana” nickname and (unofficial) title as beer capital of the world. Widmer Brothers Brewing was among the first on the scene in 1984. Award-winning Deschutes Brewery, based in Bend (another craft brew hotspot and with its own ale trail) operates a brewpub in downtown Portland, while Hair of the Dog Brewing Co. is heralded for its unusual beers. With 99 craft beers on tap, beer hall Loyal Legion is a great way to sample local offerings, including newer brewers Burnside Brewing and The Commons Brewery.
Or join an organized beer tour: BeerQuest PDX offers walking tours, Brewvana provides small bus tours, and Pedal Bike Tours combines the best of biking and tasting. For festival buffs, the Oregon Brewers Festival, now in its 29th year, attracts 80,000 beer aficionados to one of the longest-running craft beer fests in the country.
Asheville, North Carolina
Although there are more than 100 breweries and brewpubs across the state, Asheville is the epicenter with the most breweries per capita, earning it the title of “Beer City, USA” four times in a row. As such, beercation options abound. You can start by following the Asheville Ale Trail, which provides options by car, bike or on foot. Wicked Weed Brewing is a favorite for its hoppy ales and barrel-aged sour beers. Visit its Funkatorium location, a barrel house and tasting room all in one.
Download the Dig Local app for the city’s latest beer happenings, or let an organized tour, whether the original Brews Cruise or small group Asheville Brewery Tours, do the work for you. Depending on the time of year, try to include the long-running Brewgrass Festival for live music alongside favorite local brewers, or the Winter Warmer Beer Fest to partake in some of the best breweries from around the state.
Milwaukee was once considered the beer capital of the world, but few of the old guard, such as MillerCoors, remain. Though the city may have lost certain bragging rights, a strong craft beer scene has emerged. The new guard includes Sprecher Brewery, the city’s first craft brewery, Lakefront Brewery, a microbrewery that pioneered organic and gluten-free options, and Brenner Brewing Co., a newer brewer heavily involved in the arts and music scene. Even better, each one offers tours.
Take your pick of festivals: the Wisconsin Craft Beer Festival, held at the Harley-Davidson Museum, is a weekend–long event with classes and tasting sessions with the top nationwide craft beers. Admission to the Milwaukee Brewfest includes unlimited sampling of more than 100 craft and major name beers, while Where the Wild Beers Are focuses on wild and sour ales, generally defined as tart-tasting beers brewed with “wild” yeast.
As one of the top U.S. producers with more than 200 breweries crafting the whole gamut, this beer-soaked state is awash in suds. Choose between the Denver Beer Triangle, a trifecta stretching between Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins and home to at least 60 brewers, or follow the Denver Beer Trail, with a more manageable 20 breweries. Highlights along the latter trail include award-winning Great Divide Brewing Company, beloved for favorites like Yeti Imperial Stout, and must-stop Breckenridge Brewery, which was among the state’s first craft breweries when it opened in 1990.
Crooked Stave is newer to the scene, but has already won awards for its sour Wild Wild Brett Rouge. Denver’s also home to the Great American Beer Festival, a Guinness World Records’ holder for the world’s largest beer festival. That record is hard to dispute since this year’s fest will feature more than 700 breweries offering 3,500 varieties of beer.
San Diego, California
California and wine are synonymous, but the state is also a brewery heavyweight with about 500 statewide. San Diego alone is packed with more than 70 breweries; and standouts encompass Stone Brewing Co.: its beautiful Escondido location offers 45-minute tours followed by a tasting at its outdoor beer garden. You can sample draft beers from Stone’s own line, along with some of the city’s other top brewers. Green Flash Brewing Company is notable for its West Coast IPA and 4,000-square-foot tasting room and beer garden. Stop by one of Ballast Point Brewing Company’s five tasting room locations for its award-winning Grapefruit Sculpin IPA.
Avoid drinking and driving by joining Brewery Tours of San Diego for either public or private tours of the city’s top breweries, or designate a driver and navigate this self-guided tour. If you fancy a festival, the San Diego International Beer Festival is the largest one of its kind on the West Coast, with more than 400 international beers from around the world, including some of California’s most highly regarded breweries. If you can’t commit, the San Diego Brewers Guild holds year-round events revolving around craft beer.
Chicago’s suds scene is quickly catching up to more established hubs, thanks to at least 50 breweries within city limits, and more than 100 in greater Chicagoland. Goose Island Beer Company has become synonymous with the city’s craft beer movement, and it’s still producing the coveted line of Bourbon County Barrel Stouts even though it was acquired by Anheuser Busch in 2011. Although it’s only been around since 2010, award-winning Revolution Brewing has already become a fixture; try the popular Anti-Hero IPA.
Half Acre Beer Company, known for its rough micro beers, is another one of Chicago’s beloved craft makers. Moody Tongue Brewing Company, which calls itself a culinary brewery, represents the newer creative class (e.g. Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner). Many individual brewers also offer tours. For something different, beer snobs can geek out at the Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers, where more than 90 breweries will be serving 300 barrel-aged beers. Chicago Craft Beer Week is another great introduction to the best in local beer.
We’d be remiss to leave Washington off the list, as it’s currently the leader in hops production, stouts and IPAs. There are more than 300 breweries dotted across the state, and at least 20 call Seattle home. Founded in 1989, The Pike Brewing Company is an early pioneer, and offers tours of its 30-barrel brewery. Newcomer Holy Mountain Brewing Company has already developed a cult following for its seasonal and limited-edition lagers, while Fremont Brewing is popular for its beer garden and award-winning beers, from barrel-aged to pale ale.
Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood in particular has experienced a brewery boom: nano-brewery Populuxe Brewing might have a limited selection, but if possible, order its award-winning Cinderblock CDA. For tours, Road Dogs provides a good overview of the city’s craft scene. Time permitting, detour to the Yakima Valley for the annual Fresh Hop Ale Festival.
Portland, Oregon might be considered the beer capital of the world, but with 17 microbreweries for less than 100,000 people, Portland, Maine ranks as one of the highest per capita. Allagash Brewing Company, nationally known for its Belgian-style beers, helped launch the city’s craft scene in 1995. Of those that followed, Peak Organic Brewery is known for its hoppy organic beers, while Bissell Brothers Brewing Company has also garnered acclaim for its hop-forward ales. To navigate, Maine Beer Tours offers numerous tours of the city’s breweries. Now in its 23rd year, the Maine Brewers Festival is a celebration of all things craft beer.
Brooklyn, New York
Believe it or not, Brooklyn was once one of the country’s top beer producers at the turn of the 20th century. As with the rest of the country, Prohibition was one of the major factors behind the industry’s decline. Brooklyn Brewery heralded the industry’s resurgence when it opened in 1996, and today its beers, including the popular Brooklyn Lager, can be found nationwide and abroad. Venture to hipster-haven Williamsburg for a free tour and tasting.
Other breweries that you can visit include Threes Brewing, which consists of an on-site brewery and a full bar with 20 taps. Recent newcomer Other Half specializes in IPAs and gives appointment-only tours. Tørst has become a destination for craft beer imbibers; across the river in Manhattan, Blind Tiger Ale House, one of the city’s best craft beer bars, serves a curated tap selection that includes renowned Brewery Ommegang from upstate New York.
For guidance, Urban Oyster offers craft beer walking tours and craft beer crawls. True beer lovers shouldn’t miss the annual NYC Beer Week, a 10-day event celebrating local beer with everything from trivia nights to secret events.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Rapids’ craft beer industry may still be in its infancy, but beer experts are keeping a close eye on the city that gave birth to internationally acclaimed microbrewer Founders Brewing Company, and is home to more than 40 breweries. Of these, Brewery Vivant is a sustainable producer of Belgian-style beers operating out of a former funeral home. The Mitten Brewing Company resides in a Victorian-era firehouse and adds a twist on classics—for example, Label Up is a brown ale made with toasted pecans and maple syrup.
Harmony Brewing Company represents the up-and-comers, and now has two locations serving IPAs, stouts and lagers. For more, consult the Beer City Ale Trail for a self-guided tour, or hand the reins over to Grand Rapids Beer Tours. Either way, factor in visiting HopCat, regarded as one of the best brewpubs in the county for its extensive collection of local craft beers (and equally beloved for its beer-battered "Crack fries"). For even more options, the annual Winter Beer Festival features more than 100 Michigan breweries pouring about 1,000 different craft beers.