Cheers to American Beer
By Lynn & Cele Seldon
There’s never been a been a better time to be a craft beer lover in America. Craft breweries across the country are creating some of the world’s best beers and they are opening their doors—and taps—to visitors who want to enjoy the best of American beers.
According to Lonely Planet’s excellent Global Beer Tour, “The global craft beer phenomenon was arguably invented in the U.S., and in terms of coming up with new brewing styles and techniques, the U.S. remains the leader.”
But it’s a big country. Global Beer Tour outlines some of America’s regional “styles” as a starting point. These include: frequently fruity and cloudy New England-style IPAs; Florida’s sour fruit beers; the Northwest’s Black IPAs; Southern California’s bitter beers; and many others. According to them, it’s easier than ever to find a craft beer practically anywhere in America.
Crack open a Cold One!
Many craft beer fans feel Asheville, North Carolina is the epicenter of the east coast’s—and even America’s—craft beer scene. It’s for good reason.
The story of “Beer City USA” began back in 1994, when retired engineer Oscar Wong opened Highland Brewing Company, Asheville’s first craft brewery. Wong’s insistence on high-quality and creative beers made Highland a success and led to many other world-class local breweries, like Asheville Brewing, French Broad, Pisgah, Green Man Brewery, Wicked Weed Brewing, Burial Beer Co., and many more. Today, there are more than 35 breweries in the Asheville area and that number is constantly growing—including national breweries like Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, and New Belgium that have started East Coast operations.
Other numbers tell the tale, including a 2016 SmartAsset.com feature on “The Best Cities for Beer Drinkers” that found that Asheville has the most breweries per 100,000 residents of any city in America. Like many beer destinations across the country, there are varied beer and brewery touring options in Asheville (including popular Asheville Brews Cruise options).
The rest of North Carolina features many other great options. Just east of Asheville proper, in Black Mountain, Pisgah Brewing Company (the top pick of The United States of Craft Beer) is a great possibility, including their highly recommended signature pale ale. Further afield, head to Fullsteam Brewery (“plow to pint beer”) in the Piedmont city of Durham, Raleigh Beer Garden (the world’s largest draft beer selection under one roof) in downtown Raleigh, or down to Wilmington Brewing Company, New Anthem Beer Project, and more on the coast in Wilmington.
Further south, Georgia and Florida craft breweries are cranking out creative options. Georgia’s SweetWater Brewing Company in Atlanta and Florida’s Cigar City Brewing provide tasty examples of why these two states are also popular with beer lovers. Another unique craft beer option is available “in” Miami, in that the newest ship of Carnival Cruise Line (the Carnival Vista) features North America’s first craft brewery at sea.
Up in Virginia, the craft beer scene in the capital city of Richmond is booming. From long-timer Legend Brewing Company and their classic Brown Ale to newcomers opening frequently in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood and elsewhere, Richmond has become a craft brewery hotbed (including the great “Richmond Beer Trail,” a Stone Brewing outpost, and Mekong—known as “America’s Best Beer Bar”). The rest of the state also has much to offer, including two locations to taste the delectable options of Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company (in Roseland and Lexington), great choices in the Roanoke area (including East Coast locations for Deschutes and Ballast Point), and new Southwest Virginia Mountain Brew Trail.
Heading further north, Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery is a must-stop. Perhaps no other craft brewery and brewery founder (Sam Calagione) have had as much influence on American’s craft brewing scene. Sam opened Dogfish Head in 1995 and has been rolling out extremely creative beers ever since. The brewery has become a bucket list destination for craft beer lovers (as is Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery—look for their colorful labels—in nearby Frederick).
Like the Mid-Atlantic area, America’s Northeast region has also developed a huge craft beer scene. Many cities and states have seen great growth, with Maine’s Portland providing a perfect example of the possibilities. Portland’s Allagash Brewing Company was the top Maine pick of The United States of Craft Beer for good reason and there are many other options in the city, including Shipyard Brewing Company, Rising Tide Brewing Company, and others. Maine has more than 50 craft brewers and many of them swear by using water from crystal-clear Sebago Lake, just northwest of Portland, which is devoid of iron and hardness—which can plague many brewers across the country.
Of course, many other northeastern states are well worth a visit on a craft brewery tour. Pennsylvania provides an especially interesting option, in the that state was a one-time hotbed of dozens of varied-size breweries. Today, Pittsburgh and beyond offers great craft beers, including the Steel City’s Penn Brewery, founded in 1986 and one of the country’s leaders in the craft brewing renaissance.
Like Pennsylvania and several other states, Wisconsin’s long-time large and small brewery scene helped lead to a brewing tradition and today’s craft beer renaissance. The college town of Madison features many great options, including the city’s first craft brewer (Ale Asylum), while New Glarus Brewing Company in little New Glarus has turned into yet another beer geek’s bucket list possibility. The state also has a unique craft beer claim to fame: it’s the home of Random Lake’s AJS & Associates—the largest producer of tap handles in the country.
Heading back south, Texas has a huge craft beer scene. From Austin’s Jester King Brewery and Live Oak Brewing Company (top picks of Lonely Planet and The United States of Craft Beer, respectively) to Lone Pint Brewery in Magnolia, the Lone Star State isn’t lonely when it comes to fellow beer lovers.
Back up in Colorado, Denver and beyond have meant world-class craft beers for decades. Denver’s Black Shirt Brewing Co. and Renegade Brewing Co. are top picks for Lonely Planet, while Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont (with an aforementioned Asheville area eastern outpost) gets the nod in The United States of Craft Beer.
Out in California, the craft beer scene is equally sunny. Chico’s Sierra Nevada (also with an aforementioned Asheville area eastern outpost) and Berkeley’s Fieldwork Brewing are Lonely Planet top picks, while AleSmith Brewing Company in craft beer-crazed San Diego is the featured craft brewer in The United States of Craft Beer (with well-deserved plugs for Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles, appropriately named Bear Republic Brewing Company in Cloverdale, and Stone Brewing Company in Escondido/San Diego, which also has an aforementioned eastern outpost in Richmond, Virginia). Also offering Virginia operations in Roanoke, San Diego’s beloved Ballast Point is also a long-time craft brewing legend in California and beyond.
Portland, Oregon, another long-time “Beer City USA” favorite, is better than ever it when it comes to craft breweries. Two factors helped get Portland awash in suds. First is that Oregon is home to dozens of different types hops—the flavoring flower of beer—making it easy for local brewmasters to produce fresh hop beers. The second was a progressive Oregon legislature that legalized brewpubs in 1983.
Today, there more than 65 craft breweries operating within Portland’s city limits. In fact, four of the country’s largest operating craft breweries are based in Oregon, all with headquarters or outposts in Portland: Widmer/Craft Brewers Alliance, Full Sail, BridgePort, and Deschutes. Proudly known as “Beervana,” Portland has more breweries than any other city in the world. Ranging from large, nationally distributed breweries, to small, yet highly respected, neighborhood brewpubs, these beer experts blaze trails through new innovations and the renewal of long-lost traditions.
Operating longer than any other brewery in Oregon, BridgePort Brewing opened its Pearl District facility in 1984, carving a retrofitted brewpub out of a late-19th-century factory and pouring many a beloved BridgePort IPA along the way. Widmer Brothers Brewing (the state’s largest brewer) also tapped the first kegs of their lauded Hefeweizen that same year, and opened its Gasthaus Pub in North Portland a dozen years later.
Also cementing its status as a brewing pioneer, McMenamins has more than 50 locations throughout Oregon and Washington, including atmospheric neighborhood bars, historic hotels, and festive concert venues. Putting a twist on traditional ales, lagers, and stouts, another wave of brewers opened shop in Portland in the 1990s. Veteran microbreweries like Lompoc Brewing, Lucky Labrador Brewing Company, and Laurelwood Brewing not only have many taps to their brewpubs, but also operate multiple locations around town.
New breweries continue to open all the time, with a new class having established itself in the last decade. Hair of the Dog has earned high regard with beer lovers for its unusual beer styles. The patio at Cascade Brewing Barrel House is frequently full of beer nuts enjoying distinctively sour, hoppy pints. Hopworks Urban Brewery, with two eco-friendly locations, crafts only organic beers and powers its facilities with 100% renewable energy. Upright Brewing, meanwhile, attracts discerning palates with an emphasis on barrel-aging and farmhouse-style beers.
In addition, many Portland bars specialize in craft beers from all over the world, alongside dedicated local taps. Apex is a modern favorite, with its sprawling picnic-table-packed patio and 50 taps of craft beers and ciders. Occupying the space where Henry Weinhard’s beers were brewed back in 1860s, Henry’s Tavern is rich in Portland brewing history and boasts more than 100 beers on draught. Featuring 62 rotating taps, The Green Dragon, owned by Rogue Brewing, pours taster trays that amaze, while the lovably raffish Horse Brass Pub, one of the first places to sell Portland micros, serves brews from around the globe, alongside spirited conversation. Add in lots of craft beer-driven tours and events and you have one of America’s top brew destinations.
Given all of these options and hundreds more across the country, the craft brewing scene is better than ever in America.