By Justin Dolezal, Foodable Contributor
It's no secret that the American craft beer industry is experiencing a golden age, and some of America's finest cities have cultivated beer cultures that make them more than worthy of a visit. So which cities are consumers flocking to? The following is a list of some of America's finest spots for craft beer tourism.
Any list of America's top beer destinations would be incomplete without mentioning Vermont, a state in which world class breweries seem to be as common as 7-11s. Mention the state among beer nerds and you'll likely encounter feelings of admiration, reverence, and jealousy: how can such a small state, with a small population, produce such consistently great beer? There are many theories, but that's a debate for another time. For the purposes of the beer traveler, there are numerous options, but we'll focus on the northern portion of the state, a mass of rolling hills, lakes, and abundant greenery.
Fiddlehead Brewing Company, one of the state's many breweries, has made their name by brewing aromatic, flavor-packed IPAs that sacrifice bracing bitterness for balance. East, in Waterbury, is the home of The Alchemist Brewery and Heady Topper, consistently ranked as the best beer on earth. Heady Topper is a bright, juicy double IPA, delivering waves of hop flavor with each sip. Though the brewery's original pub location was destroyed in 2011 by Hurricane Irene, a new brewpub is in the works, and due to be completed in 2016. Also nearby are the hoppy beers from Lawson's Finest Liquids, as well as cans from Morristown brewery Lost Nation, whose Gose is an impressively refreshing take on the German classic.
One of Vermont's finest breweries is Hill Farmstead, a Ratebeer.com's user pick for Best Brewery in the world. Shaun Hill opened the brewery on land his family has lived on for several generations, crafting fantastically complex beers inspired by the Belgian farmhouse tradition.
Denver is one of those cities that it's difficult not to like. Nestled against the backdrop of the idyllic Rocky Mountains and blessed with abundant natural sunshine and endless opportunities for outdoor fun, Denver has something for everybody. And the craft beer scene is no different. Many are familiar with heavyweight breweries like Oskar Blues, with favorites like the malty Old Chub Scotch Ale and the the thick, midnight-black Ten Fidy. Great Divide is another local spot that has found a national audience, with the behemoth Hercules Double IPA, and Yeti Imperial Stout, which has spawned excellent espresso and oak-aged versions.
Up the road in Boulder lies Avery Brewing Company, maker of the delicious White Rascal, a light but flavorful Belgian Wit. For sour beer lovers and fans of funky wild ales, there is Crooked Stave, the city's king of sour.
Breweries aside, Denver hosts a beer event that draws thousands of beer travelers every year: the Great American Beer Festival, the country's largest gathering of breweries and beer enthusiasts. The event takes place each year in early October and tickets regularly sell out well in advance of the event date.
Like Vermont, making a list of America's great beer destinations and not including Portland would border on sacrilege. The city proper is home to more than 70 breweries, giving Portland the title of most breweries per capita in the country. And it's not just about quantity- the city is home to some of the most well regarded breweries in America as well. Beer history exists here in spades, as breweries like Widmer Brothers and Hair of the Dog have been brewing in the city for longer than some of their drinkers have been alive. Portland is a city where beer as a culture truly exists, and continues to thrive.
There's so much quality beer in Portland that it's difficult to single out just a few breweries as destinations. Lovers of wild ales tend to frequent Cascade and Upright, two Portland masters of funk. Breakside Brewery is another standout and their flagship IPA just took home a gold medal in the American IPA category at this year's Great American Beer Festival. The aforementioned Hair of the Dog is another must visit, and fans of aged beers should seek out any of their “From the Wood” series, a rotating selection of barrel-aged beers.
San Diego, CA
San Diegan's have got it made. Impeccable weather, miles of pristine beaches, Carne Asada fries, I could go on and on. Count incredible craft beer as just another trophy on the city's mantle. The city's beer culture truly has something for everyone, starting with perhaps the best IPA culture in America. Stone and Ballast Point got San Diego's reputation for fruity hop bombs off the ground, but lesser known breweries like Alpine's Nelson IPA can go toe to toe with any hoppy beer in existence. Newcomer Societe has embraced the “East Coast” IPA trend, with a lineup of juicy IPAs that tone down the bitterness and soften the mouthfeel without sacrificing any flavor. Stout lover's are delighted with Alesmith Brewing, whose Speedway Stout remains a measuring stick for coffee beers everywhere. Fans of Belgians frequent The Lost Abbey, a north county brewery who was at the forefront of the American wild ale movement, and who still produces some of the finest, most complex sour beers around.
Though many of the city's breweries are north of the city, making a “brewery-crawl” a bit difficult, the city's collection of incredible beer bars more than makes up for it. With Toronado, Hamilton's Tavern, and Tiger! Tiger!, the North Park neighborhood boasts more world-class beer bars that most states can lay claim to.