The popularity of beer travel is on the rise. Dedicated fans of IPAs, lagers, and stouts are travelling to experience what is new in the world of brewing. Here are some great towns to try across the United States.
Brewing is not solely dedicated to major metropolitan areas. In fact, many towns and small cities offer everything a beer traveler is looking for in a destination. We’ve compiled a list of 20 of the best beer towns in the US based on size (population under 100,000), with a minimum number of two breweries, and the area’s overall appeal to beer fans. The list spans the country from east to west and if turned into a road trip would cover 9,315 miles over 33 states.
Portland, Maine, has been home to beer makers since they were called microbreweries. The walkability of Old Port, at the convergence of the Fore River and Casco Bay, creates a fertile location for shops, restaurants, and bars and an idyllic backdrop to enjoy a beer. Billed as New England’s first craft brewery, Geary Brewing Company (or just Geary’s to locals) opened a tasting room at the brewery in the northern end of town. Along the waterfront, newcomers like Liquid Riot, Rising Tide, and Goodfire call Old Port and East End home. Pioneer beermakers in Portland, Gritty McDuff’s and Shipyard, are still tapping at their Old Port locations.
The fun and funky Queen City of New England, Burlington, Vermont, is home to eight+ breweries, making it the king of beer destinations in the northeast. In a beer-world full of trend-following Switchback Brewing Co. goes against the grain with their dedication to their flagship Switchback Ale and Citra-Pils. Other standout brewers include Queen City Brewery, Burlington Beer Co., and Rescue Club Brewing Co. with their non-alcoholic craft beer. This is also the birthplace of Magic Hat Brewing Company. Watch for people “throwing beer cans down the stairs” in this town where the music scene is strong and diverse. The Vermont Brewers Festival is held here each July.
COOPERSTOWN, NEW YORK
Known primarily as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the village of Cooperstown sits in central New York state, 145 miles northwest of New York City. The Cooperstown Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The biggest draw to this area for beer lovers is Brewery Ommegang. Ommegang, an authentic Belgian-style farmstead brewery, specializes in Trappist-style dark ales and open-fermented saisons. Recently, beer fans have embraced the casual Council Rock Brewery; the fresh Red Shed Brewery; and the micro Butternuts Beer and Ale.
The Amish are not the only reason travelers are flocking to Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Lancaster County and its namesake city have become a microcosm of brewing with more than two dozen crafters creating everything from trendy alcoholic seltzers to barrel aged imperial brews. Currently, the longest running brewery in Lancaster is Lancaster Brewing Company, which has built a reputation not only as a great beermaker but also as a place for regulars looking to belly up to the bar and have a great conversation or dine in. Lancaster County is also home to many popular festivals including the perennially sold-out Lititz Craft Beer Fest.
Nestled in the foothills of Virginia’s stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Staunton is a popular destination with small city travelers. Staunton is the home to the American Shakespeare Center, the annual Queen City Mischief and Magic festival, and a thriving art scene. Brewing in downtown Staunton is dominated by Shenandoah Valley Brewing Co., Queen City Brewing Ltd., and Redbeard Brewing Co., which also hosts great live entertainment. Just outside of the city limits sits Skipping Rock Beer Co., a brewery serving a core collection of brews ranging from a true-to-style kolsch to a big American double IPA.
As the seat of Licking County, Ohio, Newark sits in the almost dead center of the state, making it an easy destination for day trippers. The Licking County Beverage Trail sends thirsty visitors to breweries, wineries, coffee houses, and soda shops. In Newark, cannabis inspired beers can be had at DankHouse Brewing Company and sports fans will enjoy the casual feel of Trek Brewing Company. With production based out of nearby Heath, Homestead Beer Co. recently opened the Cherry Valley Public House—home of The Hippie Burger—in Newark. Those who are looking to pick up some beer to go should not miss a chance to stop in at The Beverage Source.
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
Asheville is one of the largest towns on this list, but it would not be complete without mention of what has been nicknamed the “Portland of the east coast”—call it Beervana East. Many of Asheville’s breweries are in walking distance of each other but having more than 30 beermakers in the metropolitan area makes it impossible to hit them all in a jaunt through this hilly, shop-filled, culinary town. Asheville has an adventurous and independent spirit evident through the success of cult-classic breweries like Green Man Brewery; Wicked Weed Brewing Pub; and One World Brewing, which is located in a cool cellar—look for a door person in a circular entryway to find the stairs down.
GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA
Only 63 miles south of Asheville, brewing caught on quickly in Greenville, South Carolina. The Greenville beer scene is a mix of southern heritage and modern creativity set in what many call the cultural and entertainment center of the state’s Upcountry. This young city (median age of 35.9 years) likes beer. Highlights of the beer scene include the reinvented Eighth State Brewing Company; the funky, farmhouse-style brews at Birds Fly South Ale Project; and the massive selection at the warehouse brewery known as Fireforge Crafted Beer. Fun seeking families must make a stop at Yee-Haw Brewing Company.
Beer is the safest thing to drink in Pensacola and visitors have more than a dozen options to choose from when visiting this Florida panhandle town. For those taking a break from the white sand beaches fringing the Gulf of Mexico’s barrier islands, breweries serve as the perfect respite. Plenty of drinking establishments line the space between downtown Pensacola and the Seville Historic District including Pensacola Bay Brewery, Odd Colony Brewing Co., and Perfect Plain Brewing Co. The newest spot is The 5 Barrel, specializing in creative brewing like their Shan D’Light lime shandy, perfect for post-beach refreshment.
The Celery City has a new trend: brewing. Kalamazoo, the city positioned equidistant between Chicago and Detroit, is home to a dozen breweries and plenty of other places to grab a well-crafted beer. Visits should start with a trip to one of the Latitude 42° Brewing Company’s spots in either Portage or Oshtemo. There’s a different selection of beers to try at each location, from the Michigan Honey Amber red ale to the Beach Cruiser Hefeweizen. The most recognizable name in Kalamazoo brewing is Bell’s Brewery, whose Hopslam Ale, Oberon Ale, and Two Hearted Ale can be found throughout the US.
Geneva, Illinois is a scenic tourist destination with access to an extensive bike trail system, a thriving downtown commercial district, and a successful beer scene full of breweries, ale houses, and specialty pubs. A stop at Stockholm’s Restaurant & Brewery introduces drinkers to a neighborhood “vardshus” (Swedish for tavern) and a line of Old World-style beers. The Art History Brewing Co. taproom mixes traditional brewing with modern creativity by pouring beers like Dithering Bitter, lagers, and a series of saison-style brews. Penrose Brewing Co. is popular for their barrel aging program and they smartly display their medals from recent Great American Beer Festivals.
Home to attractions like the Great Lakes Aquarium and the Aerial Lift Bridge, and situated on the banks of Lake Superior, Duluth is all about water. And one of the core ingredients of the Reinheitsgebot is water, so it is easy to see why breweries have recently flourished in Duluth. The region boasts over a dozen breweries headlined by Blacklist Brewing Co., which has in-house axe throwing lanes. You’ll also find Ursa Minor Brewing and Canal Park Brewing Co. there. Duluth is also home to two great establishments offering an imported flair, Carmody Irish Pub and the Dubh Linn Pub; both brew beer in small batches, too.
RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA
There are several reasons to visit Rapid City, South Dakota. The City of Presidents is only 23 miles away from Mount Rushmore. Rapid City is also a half-hour drive from Sturgis, home to one of the country’s largest, annual motorcycle gatherings. Beer fans head to the Black Hills town to check out Zymurcracy Beer Co., Cohort Craft Brewery, and others. Zymurcracy customers are encouraged to try traditional styles and trending flavors like New England IPAs and hard seltzers at this veteran-owned brewery. The beer-minded people at Cohort offer alternatives to domestic beer likes sours, cream ales, and mead.
Golden, Colorado is synonymous with Coors, but the Denver suburb and surrounding area offer a lot more than the Silver Bullet. In downtown Golden, two breweries are creating new and unique flavors, Mountain Toad Brewing Co. and Golden City Brewery. Adventurous drinkers will delight in brews ranging from margarita sours to black IPAs. Golden is also home to some great watering holes for beer aficionados. At Trailhead Taphouse & Kitchen, kegs have been known to change daily, but they always have local lagers on tap year-round. Buffalo Rose has been the pulse of Golden since 1859 and the three-bar venue engulfs the history of the town in decadence and sophistication while maintaining a welcoming social atmosphere.
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
The city of Santa Fe, New Mexico has always done its own thing. Bursting with character, Santa Fe is a traveler’s delight, where low riders spark up the night, a culinary scene fully embraces Hispanic heritage, and a handful of breweries offer a range of options. The biggest brewer in town is Santa Fe Brewing Co. and their 7K is a dry, west coast-style IPA with notes of grapefruit, citrus, and tropical flavors. The Santa Fe location of the Boese Brew Co., Desert Dogs, offers a full line up of the brewer’s beers plus a half dozen ciders.
LAKE HAVASU CITY, ARIZONA
Lake Havasu is a well-known recreational fishing and boating attraction on the border of Arizona and California (Chemehuevi Reservation). More than 750,000 visitors flock to the area annually where they enjoy an estimated 300+ days of sunshine a year. Indoor or outside, breweries offer a place to unwind away from the water. Stop in for a sunset view and brew at Mudshark Brewery & Public House or gear up for their popular Oktoberfest celebration. A standout beer from this area is College Street Brewhouse’s Brother Dewey’s old ale brewed with local dates, wildflower honey, spices, and Belgian candy sugar.
Missoula, Montana is the setting for the book and film “A River Runs Through It” and the area is best known as an attraction for fly fishing locals and tourists. Accommodations and food service are the third ranking industry in the town of 73,000 and some of those workers fill the dozen or more breweries and beer establishments in Missoula. To catch a great German beer, drinkers migrate to Bayern Brewery and their Edelweiss Bistro, where food is fresh and free of chemical influence and the beer is traditional and lagered. Other breweries worth trolling in Missoula include Imagine Nation Brewing Company and the Draught Works.
Nestled in the heart of Washington state’s farm country, Sunnyside is a quintessential, small American town of the northwest. The countryside is dotted with pasture lands, vineyards, and orchards and the town of Sunnyside—named by an early merchant in the 1890s—is home to Snipes Mountain Brewery and Restaurant, and Varietal Beer Co. Varietal’s wine barrel-aged and refermented wild ales are sought after by collectors from coast to coast; cider fans enjoy a selection of high ABV ciders made from Washington apples. Hard core beer fans in the area should check out some local hop growing facilities like Yakima Chief Hops, which offers tours.
HOOD RIVER, OREGON
An outdoor enthusiast’s dream, the area of Hood River, Oregon is known as the windsurfing capital of the world, but there are plenty of other activities for visitors to engage in, like hiking, mountain biking, or having a beer. The town is full of breweries, bottle shops, and taprooms; there is even a hard kombucha brewery. Most of the breweries here are well oiled machines pumping out quality beer. Highlights include Full Sail Brewing Co., pFriem Family Brewers, and Double Mountain Brewery & Cidery. The Hood River Hops Fest takes place every October featuring fresh-hopped beers and entertainment.
An hour’s drive north of San Francisco is Sonoma, a city heralded for its wine. Recently, the popularity of brewing has infiltrated the Sonoma wine scene with breweries and beer-centric bars setting up shop in and around the northern California town. The Sonoma Springs Brewing Co. taproom is a mix of German beer hall with Sonoma County countryside. The history of brewing in this area is rich and New Albion Brewery carries on the tradition as one of the first post-prohibition breweries in the nation and the brand is currently being revived. Today, the best-known brewery in the area is Lagunitas Brewing Co. located in nearby Petaluma.