With the rise of craft breweries, 103,585 jobs have been made in the United States both inside the breweries and at local brewpubs, according to the Brewers Association. Craft beer is making a name for itself, and it’s starting to become less of a hidden gem and more of a part of popular culture. Breweries celebrate their craft by participating in various festivals, award ceremonies, beer dinners, and tastings. It’s no longer seen simply as a college staple for inebriation, but a drink to imbibe on with food as you would pair wine with dinner. If you’re thinking about doing a tour of the most frothy cities in the nation, there are eight that stand out among the rest as must-see destinations.
Alaska has a very limited road system, and some of the towns are only accessible by water or air. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population in Alaska for the 2010 census was only 710,231. Yet, Alaskans are diehard about their beer. The Brewer’s Association states that Alaska has the seventh highest number of breweries per capita in the United States. Alaskan Brewing and Bottling Company was listed among the top breweries nationwide, even when ranked against big-name breweries along the lines of MillerCoors. It also won three Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festivals in January each year, with over 200 beers and barley wines from across the United States.
According to the National Beer Wholesalers Association, the beer industry in Oregon supplies 25,696 jobs, paying $761,652,866 yearly in wages total, making beer extremely important to Oregon’s economy. Portland, the wonderfully wacky city that is home to breweries such as Full Sail Brewery, Cascade Brewing, Deschutes Brewery, McMenamins, and Bridgeport Brewing, is also where a number of beer festivals occur throughout the year. Some of these include The Oregon Brewer’s Festival, Portland International Beer Festival, and Portland Beer Week. An article published in the LA Times stated that Portland has surpassed Munich, Germany as the brewing capital of the world. Aside from the prolific amount of beer in the area, Portland locals also know their beer, and often have distinguished palettes.
You should never make a trip to San Diego without at least visiting Stone Brewing Company, The Lost Abbey, and Ballast Point Brewing Company. There are over 30 breweries in the San Diego area alone, not including all of the brewpubs that also brew their own beer along with delicious pub fare. BeerAdvocate magazine called Stone Brewing Company the “All-Time Top Brewery on Planet Earth.” San Diego was chosen to hold the 2012 World Beer Cup, touted as the “Olympics of Beer.” San Diego sports some of the most innovative, adventurous beers in the country, with bold, bitter beers and sour ales. San Diego Beer Week entices beer lovers from all over to enjoy 10 days of beer tastings, pairings, and live music. Likewise, San Diego breweries continually take home medals from the Great American Beer Festival, boasting a total of 17 medals from 2010’s GABF. San Diego’s local homebrewing club, the Quality Ale Fermentation Fraternity has been named “Home Brew Club of the Year” by the American Homebrewers Association going on three years now. Many hail San Diego as a dignified beer mecca, and it should definitely be included in any beer-centric road trip.
The Mile High City of Denver, Colorado is often called “the Napa Valley of beer,” and for good reason. Home to the Great American Beer Festival, Denver owes its ever-expanding beer scene to its historical roots in Golden, Colorado, 15 miles west of the city. In 1873, Adolph Coors founded his brewery, now largest in the world. However, craft beers have taken the forefront in Denver today, with breweries such as Great Divide Brewing, Breckenridge Brewery, and Strange Brewing Company. According to the Colorado Brewers Guild, there are currently 18 breweries in Denver, up from eight five years ago, with 15 more in the works. Part of the success could be accredited to Colorado’s specific alcohol laws. Since Colorado state law requires convenience stores to sell only low-alcohol beers, independent liquor stores with full-strength beers receive a boost in sales. They are also allowed to serve their product in their tasting rooms without offering food. The Denver Post even has a weekly column called Mr. Beer to keep Denver beer nerds in the know.
Asheville has been voted as “Beer City USA” for three years in a row in a poll conducted by renowned Charlie Papazian. It is home to 11 craft breweries currently, with serious plans for growth. It has plenty of beer events, including Beer City Festival, Asheville Oktoberfest, and Asheville Beer Week, to name a few. Asheville is also buzzing with recent craft beer news. Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, the second- and third-ranked craft breweries in the nation, are both opening second breweries in Asheville. As “Beer Guy” Tony Kiss puts it, “It’s as if Asheville landed two major league baseball teams in the same season, as if the Yankees and Braves both relocated here.”
Austin, Texas, with its self-proclaimed slogan “Keep Austin Weird” is the hippie haven of Texas, where you can run a 5K in gorilla costume for the Austin Gorilla Run, visit the Cathedral of Junk, or celebrate Eeyore’s forgotten birthday. So it isn’t entirely shocking that a city that prides itself on liking offbeat things would also have a budding and impressive craft beer scene. Some of the Austin breweries include (512) Brewing Company, Austin Beerworks, Independence Brewing, and Jester King Craft Brewing. Of course, Austin sports its own Austin Beer Week as well as Texas Craft Brewers Festival. In 2011, Austin launched its own beer magazine, called Austin Beer Guide. Austin’s breweries have also helped change beer legislation in Texas. Earlier this year, Jester King Brewing won a lawsuit against the TABC that has changed antiquated, oppressive Texas beer laws for the better. For example, breweries can now tell people where their beer is being sold, and they can actually label beer by the style instead of lumping it into “ales,” “malt liquor,” or the extremely unspecific “beer” based on alcohol content.
In 2011, Esquire Magazine named Philadelphia among seven of the top beer cities in the country, as a brewery that is “revolutionizing the way we drink hops.” Philadelphia caters to beer aficionados with Philly Beer Week, The Greater Northeast Philadelphia Beer Festival, and is among this year’s slated cities for The International Great Beer Expo. Some of Philadelphia’s craft breweries include Victory Brewing Company, Nodding Head Brewery, and Philadelphia Brewing Company, with Dogfish Head nearby. The local bar, Monk’s Cafe was reputed to be beer writer Michael Jackson’s favorite dive and often hosts beer dinners with some of the rare, inventive craft beer varieties. Philadelphia is also ripe with beer history. John Wagner brought lager yeast from Bavaria to Philadelphia in 1840, which was used to brew America’s first lager beer and pave the way for the American beer industry.
Munster, Indiana makes the cut for cities to visit on your craft beer tour across America almost exclusively because of a little event called “Dark Lord Day.” Munster is home to Three Floyds Brewery, which makes a legendary beer called Dark Lord Russian Imperial stout, reputed to be one of the best beers on Earth. Dark Lord Day is the only day you can get your hands on this beer, and of the 6,000 golden tickets sold, each person is allotted only four wax-sealed bottles. Last year, tickets sold out for the festival in a mere four minutes online. Clearly, Dark Lord Day is something beer drinkers take very, very seriously. Aside from the coveted imperial stout, attendees to the festival can enjoy beer tastings from around the world, including some rare finds. There’s also live music and barbeque to be had.