6 Must Visit U.S. Cities for Beer Connoisseurs

Get the scoop on where beer lovers are flocking.

The rapid growth of craft beers and microbreweries in the U.S. over the past two decades can no longer be considered a passing fad. In fact, it has revitalized the food and beverage scene in most major cities across the nation. The following is a short list highlighting some of the most popular, long-established beer cities (Denver, Portland) along with some of the lesser known but soon-to-be-major players on the brewing front (Cleveland, Grand Rapids). The breweries and brewpubs mentioned are only a sampling of what each city has to offer.

ASHEVILLE

Wicked Weed Pub, Asheville, North Carolina

courtesy ExploreAsheville.com

Ever since the arrival of the first brewery after Prohibition in 1994 -  Highland Brewery Company - the city has quickly evolved into an astonishing trendsetter for artisanal beverages and food with an estimated 25 breweries which locals claim is more per capita than any U.S. city. High on the buzz list are Wicked Weed Brewery with two locations (the original downtown Brewpub/Bottle Shop and the Funkatorium which specializes in tart farmhouse and barrel aged sour beers like the Black Angel Cherry Sour); Burial Beer Company (sample one of their flagship brews like the Skillet Donut Stout for a morning wakeup call) and Greenman Brewing where you can try their authentic English-style IPA and other seasonal brews in their taproom. You might also consider a city visit during one of Asheville’s many festivals such as Beer Week May 27-June 4.

CLEVELAND

Great Lakes Brewing Co., Cleveland, Ohio

courtesy Great Lakes Brewing Co., www.greatlakesbrewing.com

Yes, the Rock ’n' Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Museum of Art and other top tourist attractions are here but the city is also drawing steady crowds as one of the most exciting up-and-coming craft beer centers in America. Founded in 1986 by Patrick and Daniel Conway, Great Lakes Brewing Company is a local favorite with a handsome taproom, beer garden and basement pub to accommodate patrons (tours of the brewery are available too). Order a sampler selection which might include their Eliot Ness Amber Lager or the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. Equally impressive is the 35,000 square foot Market Garden Brewery which features everything from their organically hopped Citramax IPA to the award-winning Progress Pilsner. Other stops should include Buckeye Beer Engine offering a continually rotating draft selection of 30 beers and legendary burgers, Nano Brew, an intimate neighborhood brewhouse that specializes in Ohio craft beers and The Butcher and the Brewer, a classy outfit in downtown Cleveland serving locally sourced dishes like smoked lamb ribs with in-house creations like The Repeater (German Kolsch) or Orange Blossom Saison.

DENVER

Great Divide Brewing Co., Denver, Colorado

courtesy Great Divide Brewing Co., www.greatdivide.com

One of the leading pioneers of microbrewery start-ups, Denver continues to expand and improve upon its reputation with such relative newcomers to the scene as Jagged Mountain Brewery and The Yak and The Yeti. The former likes to experiment with unique ingredients for highly distinctive brews like Indian Summer (India Red Rye saison) and Splitboard (oatmeal stout) while the latter wins praise for pairing Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan dishes with home brews like a chai milk stout or a jalapeño pepper beer. Of course, the city’s rebirth as a beer mecca began with Wynkoop Brewing in 1988, created by former mayor John Hickenlooper, and was later followed by Great Divide Brewing Company (two locations - the Ballpark and RiNo) and Breckenridge Brewery which opened its Denver branch in 1992. The landmark Bull & Bush pub which opened in 1971 and started brewing up its own lagers, ales and wheat beers in 1997 is another must-visit and don’t forget the annual Great American Beer Festival every October.

GRAND RAPIDS

HopCat, Grand Rapids, Michigan

courtesy HopCat, www.hopcatgr.com

Michigan has been at the forefront of the craft beer craze from the beginning due to such revered breweries as Bell’s, New Holland, Founder’s and Dark HorseGrand Rapids is quickly becoming the major hot spot with at least 15 working breweries and rumors of more on the way. No trip to the city would be complete without a stop at Founder’s, which has been in operation since 1997 and built its reputation on such best-selling beers as All Day IPA, Nitro Oatmeal Stout and Rubaeus, a tart beer made from fresh raspberries. Another local success story is HopCat with a 48 tap set-up, a massive bottled beer list and a genius for serving their brews with addictive bar food such as their infamous “crack fries.” Other must-visit destinations include The Mitten Brewing Company with its baseball themed operation set inside a historic firehouse (sample the Country Strong IPA or Crown Brown, an English brown beer), Brewery Vivant, specializing in Belgian style beers like Triomphe (an IPA) and Undertaker (dark ale), and Harmony Brewing Company which has a knack for pairing beers like Grapefruit Moon (an IPA Shandy) with made-from-scratch specialty pizzas.

PORTLAND

Widmer Brothers Brewing Co., Portland, Oregon

courtesy Widmer Brothers Brewing, www.widmerbrothers.com

Along with Denver, Portland can lay claim to igniting the entire microbrewery movement and changing the way we drink, taste and talk about beer. The true pioneers of the craft beer craze are McMenamins, Widmer Brothers, BridgePort, and Portland Brewing, all of whom established national reputations for their distinctly different beers during the 1980s and have since diversified, adding their own pubs and taprooms (McMenamins, for example, now operates a chain of pubs, restaurants and historic hotels in the Pacific Northwest). Later arrivals to the scene have become local legends, like Deshutes Brewery with three pub locations serving up year round, seasonal and special brews like the Bond Street and Reserve series and Hair of the Dog, which attracts a cult following for such beers as Adam (a dark dessert beer) and Fred (a golden strong ale). Among the more recent start-ups are Cascade Brewing with a 7,100 square foot emporium that specializes in sour beers and Ground Breaker, a gluten-free brewery that uses hand roasted chestnuts as a substitute for grain and unexpected but flavorful ingredients like lentils and sorghum. The annual Oregon Brewfest in July might be the ideal time to visit. 

SAN FRANCISCO

21st Amendment Brewery

courtesy 21st Amendment Brewery, www.21st-amendment.com

Everyone knows that California is the leading wine producer in the U.S. but in the near future the state could also become the biggest craft beer producer with San Francisco as the prime mover and shaker. Currently the S.F. bay area encompasses over 120 breweries and brewpubs including big outfits like Anchor and Lagunitas breweries and smaller productions like Magnolia, Southern Pacific, Thirsty Bear and 21st Amendment with its two locations and such creatively titled brews as Hell or High Watermelon (wheat beer) and Marooned on Hog Island (stout brewed with Hog Island sweet water oyster shells). The gastropub/beer scene is equally overwhelming with such local treasures as Social Kitchen and Brewery (some of their house brews also become entree and dessert ingredients such as a vanilla ice cream float with Rapscallion, a Belgian golden ale); Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, which has the ambiance of a private Prohibition-era club with 12 rotating beer taps, La Trappe Cafe, a beloved shrine to Belgian beer and food, and Mikkeller Bar, the first American branch of the popular Denmark brewhouse which features 42 taps of domestic and international brews and a secret downstairs room for tasting sour beers. To maximum your experience, plan a trip around either San Francisco’s Beer Week in January 2017 or the San Francisco International Beer Fest this May.

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