When it comes to beer, Americans have never had it so good. The craft beer movement has exploded across the country, and you don’t have to travel farther than your corner store or bar to find a great brew.
“We’re living in paradise,” says Peter Bouckaert, brewmaster at Fort Collins, Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Company. “I remember when we started making sours in 1999, nobody even knew what that was.” Now, Bouckaert says, even casual beer drinkers are familiar with—and regularly buying—a whole range of interesting and artisanal styles.
Drinking beer is great. But if you’re among the millions caught up in this delicious, sudsy zeitgeist, there’s no better way to spend a holiday, bachelor party, or weekend getaway than visiting a handful of top-shelf craft brews and sipping their offerings in ideal conditions or at the peak of freshness.
Whether you’re looking for a quick weekend road trip or a grander tour, these are the cities, town, or regions that are worthy of a visit.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
“My first and most memorable beer-centric vacation, albeit hazy in my memory, was to 41 breweries in 4 days—all in San Diego County,” says Michael Stiglitz, founder of Pennsylvania’s 2SP Brewing. “In every nook and cranny of every local neighborhood, you’ll find great brewery after great brewery.” Bouckaert adds, “You’ll see a big focus in San Diego on West Coast IPAs, but they’re excellent.” Stone Brewing is arguably the biggest fish in that wonderfully crowded pond. Alesmith and Ballast Point are local favorites, while Lost Abbey and Port Brewing are two more must-visits. Karl Strauss Brewing is another great one. We could go on and on.
While it used to be strictly “an IPA town,” Portland has blossomed into a hub of creative and high-quality beer experimentation, Bouckaert says. “The diversity there has really blown my socks off.” There are literally dozens of good breweries or taprooms in town, among which Deschutes is probably the biggest name. But if you get tired of hanging in Portland, Rogue Ales is just a couple hours drive out of town.
The two Portlands should really get together one of these days. “Portland, Maine is the place I’d pick on the East Coast for a beer vacation,” Stiglitz says. While some would probably debate him on this, he says, “Allagash Brewing long ago established itself as the premier Belgian brewery in the U.S.” Bissell Brothers, Rising Tide, and Maine Beer Co. are all stellar. And there are plenty more local breweries to fill up your itinerary.
MICHIGAN’S WEST SIDE
Founders Brewing Co., located in Grand Rapids, is “the granddaddy” here, says Kristen England, head brewer at Minnesota’s Bent Brewery. “Their taproom is great for some neat one-offs,” he says. “But if you’re offered Mosaic Promise, turn it down flat.” Why? “Best case, you’ll be stuck wherever you are for the day drinking pint after pint of it, and worst case, beer will never be the same for you.” Brewery Vivant, Mitten Brewing Co., New Holland, and Grand Rapids Brewing are all superb, and you’re a short drive to iconic Bell’s Brewery.
DENVER AND FORT COLLINS, COLORADO
A flight into Denver drops you among more than 50 great local breweries, Bouckaert says. Among the most lauded are Great Divide, Renegade, Trve, and Denver Beer Co., to name just a few of the greats. “But of course, I’m partial to Fort Collins,” Bouckaert says. An hour drive out of Denver puts you in Bouckaert’s tasting room at new Belgium. “And there are I think 23 other brewers in Fort Collins with an excellent, diverse selection or beers,” he says.
Two breweries in particular, Summit Brewing and Surly Brewing, make the Twin Cities a destination for serious beer fans, England says. “Summit has won numerous awards for their fantastic Extra Pale Ale, but it’s their small, elegant Oatmeal Stout and their proper True Brit English IPA that show their ability.” Fair State Brewing Cooperative, Schell’s Brewery, and, of course, England’s own Bent Brewstillery are all trek-worthy.
As if you needed another reason to check out Austin, add “great beer” to the city’s list of attributes. “Jester King, just a bit south of town, has carved a massive niche with their farmhouse concepts,” England says. ”Fruit, funk, sour, you name it—all great.” He calls their Le Petit Prince beer “the pinnacle of brewing ability and quality.” Live Oak Brewing is a great stop for lager lovers, and Pinthouse Pizza Brewpub is also worth a visit.