The best beer city in America is definitely Portland, except for when it's San Diego or Denver or Philly.
Any serious beer drinker has an opinion on the matter, and there are no more serious beer drinkers than the brewmasters who get paid to make and drink beer for a living, those lucky so-and-sos. That's why we asked some of our favorite brewmasters around the country for their opinions. We gave them one rule: they couldn't select their own city. Anywhere else was fair game. If you love beer, these guys have basically planned your next few vacations.
San Diego, CA
"My favorite beer city (besides Fort Collins), would have to be San Diego. They have a wide selection of breweries out there that can fit almost any mood you are in. With all the fantastic breweries out there, it's hard to narrow it down to [my] favorite spots. If I'm in the mood for a West Coast-style beer and something more bitter, Stone is my go-to (especially with their amazing beer garden). Looking for a spot with more diversity and easy-to-drink beers, Modern Times is always on top of that list. If I am looking to catch up with family or friends and am looking for a smaller, little more quiet spot, both Iron Fist and Second Chance seem to be where I am attracted to." -- Tony Rau, Odell Brewing Co. (Fort Collins, CO)
"Bend is my Beervana. Not only is it my hometown (and Bend natives are disturbingly proud and loyal), but it's one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Whether you've just finished a day at Mount Bachelor, a day on the Deschutes River, or a day hiking around the Cascade Lakes wilderness, there's a delicious brew waiting for you at Crux Fermentation Project or Boneyard Brewing. There are about a million other breweries, too." -- Riley Finnigan, Avery Brewing Co. (Boulder, CO)
"I have to go with Portland, ME. Delicious Allagash beers is justification enough. But add in Maine Beer Co., Oxbow, Novare Res Bier Cafe, The Great Lost Bear -- I could go on and on -- and you certainly have a frontrunner for best American beer city." -- Bill Covaleski, Victory Brewing Co. (Downingtown, PA)
"Sure, San Diego has beaches and great beer, but to me Portland, ME is Beervana. The beauty of this peaceful, oceanside Northeast city is contrasted by a vibrant and amazing beer community. You've got one of the most reputable and storied breweries in the world with Allagash Brewing Co. that brews phenomenal beers across a diverse range of styles, from clean and approachable to funky and wild. Then, right across the street, you've got a few startups rocking their own thing, my favorite being Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. These guys are loud and bright, and they brew and can some of the best IPAs in the Northeast, including The Substance, their flagship IPA, and Swish, a dreamy double IPA.
"In addition to the breweries in town, you've got great bars Downtown that bolster an exciting nightlife. My favorite is The Thirsty Pig where they always have an ME-focused beer list and great sausages. Also, check out MAPS, a hip basement bar that's smartly decorated with, well, maps. It's a great spot to grab a glass of The Substance and enjoy Beervana." -- Mike V. Sardina, Societe Brewing Company (San Diego, CA)
"From my very first visit there in the late '80s when Widmer, Bridgeport, and Portland Brewing were the key breweries, to now, where places like Cascade, HUB, and Breakside are rocking it, the town always struck me as more beer savvy and focused than anywhere else. Portland is still the one city where I feel comfortable saying that it's much harder to find a place not serving craft beer than finding one that does." -- Mitch Steele, Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, CA)
"These days it's gotta be Chicago for me. I only get out there once a year, but I'm astounded at how the culture of beer has flourished in the last few years. Not only from local breweries, but from the fact that every bar has embraced the world of beer. You want to roll with the old stalwarts like Goose Island, Half Acre, Piece, and Haymarket? The pioneers of the Chicago scene are still crushing it. You want to try one of the newer breweries? Off Color, Pipeworks, Penrose, Spiteful, and another 80,000 breweries have your back.
"And the bars all seem to be ahead of their time -- every time you walk into your favorite bar, there are a dozen new beers to try. With so many great beers at their fingertips, why wouldn't they want a different lineup every week? And why wouldn't I want a 3 Floyds Gumballhead with breakfast at the Little Goat? Why wouldn't I hit up Hopleaf for a duck Reuben and a ridiculous international beer selection? Why wouldn't I go to Au Cheval for a brunch burger in the morning, then Kuma's for a dinner burger (true story), with monster beer lineups at both places?
"In some towns, you have to work to find a good beer. In Chicago, you have to work to find a bad one." -- Andy Parker, Avery Brewing Co. (Boulder, CO)
"Love Denver for a great beer weekend. All starts at the Falling Rock Tap House for me -- it's my favorite place in the world to chill over some beers with strangers that become best friends in a matter of minutes. Then I get hungry, and bring my new best friends to either Hops & Pie or LowDown Brewery + Kitchen for great grub and great beer. Then I take a nap. Then off to TRVE Brewing to enjoy the scene and their amazing sours. Ahh." -- Mike Hinkley, Green Flash Brewing Co. (San Diego, CA)
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
"The explosion of craft beer has reached America's heartland in the bastion of what was an area originally littered with industrial-strength regional yellow lagers. They still taste great with their mild and accessible flavors, but now they stand side by side with a wave of craft breweries like Surly (with Furious for maximum hop flavor) and Fair State Brewing Cooperative (with Roselle, a sour saison with hibiscus, and its soft, subtle complexity).
"Your father's bar is still alive as well and now serving great beers in their familiar comfortable settings. In Minneapolis, pull up a stool at Grumpy's NE and take in the history with its decor of local historical beer signs and breweriana while enjoying a Bell's Two Hearted Ale made in neighboring Michigan. Additionally, Muddy Pig in nearby St. Paul has a large tap selection with accessible pub menu offerings.
"There's great upscale places as well. Right around the corner from the Muddy Pig, the Happy Gnome has substantial tap offerings with a well-curated separate bottle and can list. The menu defines a gastropub with its creative and unique dishes and suggested beer pairings." -- Shaun O’Sullivan, 21st Amendment Brewery (San Francisco, CA)
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