19 American Breweries You Need to Experience in Person
There’s a certain energy to visiting a brewery that makes it different from any other beer-drinking experience. Maybe it’s the unmistakable aroma of the brewing process, the atmospheric enhancement of gleaming steel tanks, or the opportunity to drink around like-minded beer nerds who made a special excursion just to drink there. Regardless, the sum total always seems to make the beer taste a little better. Oh, the beer being so damn fresh could have something to do with that, too.
But not all brewery experiences are created equal. Frankly, if the beer’s good enough, people will line up for nothing but a concrete bunker and a few bar stools (which is fine!). But this is about those breweries that deliver a little something more than just fantastic beer (though all of these undoubtedly succeed on that front, too). This is about those breweries that feel like a full-on beer lover’s wonderland: stunning tap rooms, next-level menus created to pair with all that (hopefully brewery-only) beer you’re drinking, and maybe even their own damn farm to make said food. These breweries make the experience of visiting in person feel truly special, and who wouldn’t want to drink to that?
When our pick for Colorado's best brewery (not, mind you, an easy call to make) started out, Avery was brewing stupendous beers in a tiny space in the back of an industrial park, and it was still a destination. Now, though? Well, now Avery's digs are as mammoth as its flavor, a $30 million upgrade where favorites like Ellie's Brown and Joe's Pilsner hold court alongside celebrated seasonals like summer's Karma Ale and winter's New World Porter; a barrel-aged series (first up, Rumpkin pumpkin ale); the experimental Demons of Ale series... actually, there are more series here than most TV stations, and they're all under one roof, paired up with a food menu that runs the gamut from BBQ brisket to jambalaya.
Just west of Charlottesville, Blue Mountain Brewery is an alpine beer mecca unto itself, boasting panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and an idyllic escarpment of hops fields surrounding its farmhouse-esque brewpub. If the weather in the I-64 pass cooperates (it usually does, barring the occasional vertigo fog), snag a spot on the sweeping stone patio overlooking the fields, order a flight or a pint of the brewery’s award-winning Half Nelson pale ale, and wait patiently for the sun to dip below the opposite ridge in a fireball of evening light. Yep, this is the spot.
What, you wanted to go to Cooperstown just to look at plaques of a bunch of retired/deceased ballplayers? National pastime notwithstanding, you’re missing out if you pass through town without swinging by upstate New York’s finest purveyor of Game of Thrones-centric ales. Why? Because the pastoral setting is straight-up beautiful. Because the summer concert series has been known to draw the likes of The Avett Brothers and Primus. Because, somehow, they make sitting in a beautifully appointed taproom and downing a Belgian ale and a bowl of moules frites just as quintessentially American as, well, you know.
Portland’s home to dozens and dozens of great breweries, most of which are worth a visit. But for the hardcore beer aficionado, CBBH might just be the premiere destination. Rightly claiming to be pioneers of the Northwest’s sour movement, the taproom includes rare and one-off mutations of classic farmhouse styles, among them straight-from-the-barrel casks and the legendary “Tap it Tuesday,” at which brewers and blenders debut new concoctions, and a different pair of guests (it could be you!) get to hammer the tap into the barrel and get showered with beer. There’s always something new, and never anything expected. All you need to do is show up.
People often joke that beer love is its own religion. The folks at Church Brew Works seem to be taking that notion literally. While there are many bars out there in refurbished churches, CBW actually keeps the aesthetic, letting you sit in pews and drink beers poured from tanks right on the altar, rising up like the booziest pipe organs imaginable. Your sacrament here is one of the state’s best pizzas (bread leavened, thankfully) and great beer like the Pious Monk Dunkel or the Belgian White IPA. So get your communion, take your seat in the pew, and give thanks. If Benjamin Franklin holds any clout with the Almighty, this is indeed proof that God loves ya.
The state of Delaware offers up plenty of reasons to visit. And by “plenty” we mean “Dogfish Head is in the state,” and the brewery alone makes it worth a visit. Located in a beautiful little peninsula town, the brewery allows visitors to get a look at the processes behind one of the country’s most legendary craft purveyors, including a taste of stuff brewing up as part of the storied barrel-aging program. And if you decide to spend the night, you can set up shop in the Dogfish Inn down the road. There’s beer there too. And also some magnificent coastal views that might just disprove all that shit talk we just did about Delaware. Sorry. We grew up on Wayne's World.
Founders is the suds-pumping heart of one of America’s truly great beer towns, so there are plenty of reasons to venture to the brewery beyond hoping you’ll find some KBS on tap -- like hoping you’ll find some barrel-aged one-off you can brag to your friends was better than KBS. But it’s not just about the beer. The constantly buzzing (especially during Michigan’s preciously short patio season) taproom somehow manages to be cozy and intimate despite its airplane hangar-like dimensions, and the unreasonably giant sandwiches are frequently named for Founders brews (try the Dirty Bastard… also, pairing idea!). Bonus: you could run into Zack Morris.
The cornerstone of Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood -- which is rapidly becoming one of the best damned drinking 'hoods in the country -- Great Lakes is one of the OGs of the Midwestern craft movement, and the expansive brewery is like a history tour of Cleveland’s drinking scene. This is, after all, a place where you can drink beers made in the former Schlather Brewing Company, in the same room Eliot Ness (the namesake of one of the GLBC’s best beers) drank away memories of Prohibition.
If you’re not into the history of this labyrinthine compound, live in the now with a rotating roster that includes dozens of pub-exclusive beers, which are best enjoyed in the year-round beer garden before hitting the Fatty Bus service to Cavs and Indians games. Oh, and if you can, get there for the annual Christmas Ale release. It’s the best party half of Cleveland can’t remember.
Of all Austin-area breweries, Jester King has stuck closest to the city's ethos of keeping it weird. Wild fermentation, unusual ingredients like mushrooms, and heavy-metal illustrations on the bottles show the brewery's iconoclastic streak, which makes it strange that a visit to its brewery is such clean fun.
Jester King is a 45-minute drive from Austin through the Hill Country, and its farmhouse approach to brewing happens at an actual farmhouse, complete with a giant pavilion where you'll find Texas country bands picking on the weekends alongside a brick oven cranking out some of the best wood-fired pizza in the state, which can be washed down with a pint of everything from an unfiltered raspberry pilsner to a barrel-aged sour peach ale. Beer nerds will be lining up for the limited bomber releases, but you'll find just as many families enjoying the afternoon with a slice and one of the more sessionable farmhouse table beers like its now classic Le Petit Prince.
The great outdoors and beer go together like bears and shitting in the woods. But usually, having a solid beer in the wilderness involves packing in a huge cooler and packing out a sack of bottles. KRB has the advantage of being the on-site brewery of the Northern Outdoors Resort. That means that no white-water rafting trip, snowmobile ride, hike or -- let’s be honest -- night chilling in the lodge is ever too far from a Magic Hole IPA, winter Sledhead Red, or a Bear Naked schwarzbier, a brew that goes down easy enough that its name might be less clever pun than suggestion to go outside for a dip.
You could spend a full day touring the breweries of Fort Collins, but really, you can also spend a full day at the third-largest brewery in the country's enormous, eco-friendly compound. The tours are the stuff of legend (book ahead) and include a peek at the nation's largest wood cellar, samples of the brewery's staples and experiments, and a look behind the scenes at a brewery that seems to double as a circus. There are mountain bike races, bike-in movie screenings (seeing a theme here), and enough beer-education events to basically make you a cicerone. If there existed a beer-themed amusement park, it would look a lot like New Belgium.
For those people who would really like to go to Switzerland but have an aversion to flying/spending money/historic neutrality, there’s New Glarus, whose chalet vibe makes it feel like you’ve stumbled upon an Old-World European brewery in the middle of central Wisconsin. When you’re one of the 20 biggest craft brewers in the country despite only distributing to one state, you must be doing something right. One of the biggest things in this case is fruit/tart/sour beers, so definitely load up on those if you’re into that, or try one if you’re not sure, because one sip of Serendipity while staring out into the countryside and thinking to yourself “is this really Wisconsin?” just might change your mind.
During the summer -- and much of the winter -- it's wise to expect crowds at Pelican. That will happen when you establish an awards-magnet of a brewery in a tiny coastal town of Pacific City, population 1k, reachable via either the coastal highway or by washing up on the shores of the Pacific. Frankly, if the spot boasted nothing but a view of a brick wall, it’d be worth it to get mainstays like the Kiwanda Cream Ale and Tsunami Stout, and seasonals like Bad Santa and the GABF gold-medalist Noir. But, thankfully, Pelican is right on the beach facing Cape Kiwanda, a gigantic (and climbable) sand dune, and a jaw-droppingly Goonies-esque rock rising out of the sea like the Kraken. It’s perhaps the brewery with the best sunset-viewing in the country, and it’s a proven fact that beer tastes better when you’ve got your feet in the sand.
Most people go to Pike Place Market to bump into camera-touting tourists and watch sweaty dudes tossing fish. If you’re a beer lover, though, you’re there for The Pike Brewing Co., and to get a taste of the full lineup, including seasonals that aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as Kilt Lifter and XXXXX Stout. Those include limited releases like Octopus Ink Black IPA, Entire barrel-aged stout, and the Old Bawdy barley wine, all under one roof. And since that said roof also contains one of the country’s most iconic markets and tourist destinations, it only sweetens the deal, especially since people-watching of this caliber is best paired with a taster tray of some of the PNW’s best wares.
The annual release of Pliny -- one of the most influential beers in the current hops arms race -- might draw around-the-block lines every year, but that’s not the only reason Russian River has become the backbone of Santa Rosa’s increasingly great beer scene. Never shy with experimentation (that’ll happen when you’re credited with creating the triple IPA), Russian River also offers up an incredible sour program, taking full advantage of its place in wine country to score cab and pinot barrels to make aged sours like Temptation and Consecration. As sour beers -- like IPA before them -- gain traction in the collective beer psyche, Russian River is once again at the forefront of the movement, and its brewery-exclusive takes on the classics are worth the trip, gigantic line or not.
Close your eyes and think of Northern Idaho. If you’ve never been there, you’re probably thinking of potato farms. If you’ve been there, you’re probably thinking of large trucks, rolling hills, and a sea of tallboys and cowboy hats. What you’re not likely thinking of are some of the best Belgian-style beers in the US. That’s exactly what Selkirk specializes in, brewing signature witbier and Belgian pale -- plus seasonal saisons, fruit beers (pray for local huckleberries), and rarities like the Octavian quadruple -- using a direct fire, the way the monks have for centuries. The beer alone will change your perception of Idaho, and the opportunity to get the brewery exclusives is worthy of a pilgrimage.
It’s not surprising that “Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens” has a bit of a theme park ring to it -- nobody does the brewery experience as spectacle quite like Stone does. The meticulously kept grounds and stunning beer garden will make you realize all those dilapidated back-bar patios that fancied themselves “beer gardens” weren’t even playing the same sport. Oh, and how’s that food? Pretty fresh? It could be because they grow fruits and veggies for their restaurants at a nearby farm that you can also tour, seasonally permitting.
It might seem a bit presumptuous to name your gleaming new brewing facility the “Destination Brewery,” but given that Minnesota powerhouse Surly championed the bill that led the state to revise its arcane taproom laws, you can forgive it for strutting a little. The 50,000sqft facility appropriately straddles each of the Twin Cities, sporting a sprawling patio equipped with ample outdoor games and a cavernous beer hall where you can get your pick of Surly’s many hop-forward brews with a hefty helping of hog frites -- seasoned fries piled with smoked pulled pork, pepper jack fondue, and giardiniera -- that have a following all their own.
The rest of the beer hall menu is a force to be reckoned with as well, but if you really want to elevate the food component of your evening, The Brewer’s Table offers a four-course tasting menu that’d make you forget you were at a brewery if the beer pairings weren’t so damn good.
Taos Mesa looks like it sprang to life naturally from the floor of the New Mexico desert, willed into existence by the needs of the 2,000-some folks who call El Prado home. It’s flanked by mountains ideal for camping and skiing, but you don’t really need any other agenda here. Great beers at the eco-friendly compound -- which looks like a trippy rustic hanger dotted with modern art courtesy of Mad Max extras -- include the Fall Down Brown, a whopper in the form of Great Scot, and the area-appropriate Three Peaks. But if the beer alone isn’t enough, Taos Mesa also happens to be one of the state’s best concert venues, with two outdoor stages and one indoor, offering up one of the best all-around brewery experiences in the SW.
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