The Greatest Beer Destinations in the U.S.

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This edition of Deep Thoughts with Dave Hoops hits the high points of the American beer scene.

My name is Dave Hoops, Master Brewer at Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth, Minnesota. This issue I am going to talk about some of the best communities in the U.S. to drink craft beer.

Most of my adult life I have traveled while seeking out great beer. When I was younger, before the American craft beer revolution, the trips were to Europe. Now that we American brewers are making the best beer in the world, the trips are frequently on the American mainland—although Alaskan and Hawaiian brewers are making excellent beer too, of course.

So lets get into it. My top 10 beer communities in the U.S. Criteria include number of breweries, beer quality, amazing craft beer retailers, and my opinion of overall vibe.

10. Portland, Maine

A truly great town, a town my wife desperately wants to move to. Home to 17 breweries with at least 17 more in planning. My number one beer bar is Novare Res Beer Café with over 250 bottles of aged, sour, and amazing treasures. Allagash and Sebago are my favorite breweries, the harbor my favorite area, and Evelyn’s Tavern is a taste of the real Portland.

9. Bend, Oregon

What can I say? I love this town. Of course Deschutes has been one of my five favorite U.S. breweries since they opened, but Bend is also home to a plethora of other amazing brewers. 10 BBL, Bend Brewing, Ale Apothecary, and Crux Fermentation Project are some not-to-miss spots. Nine breweries with four more in development for a town of this size. They’re killing it.

8. San Diego, California

San Diego has some of the best weather in the U.S. and, according to many of my brewer friends who call it home, the best beer in the country. My top five are Pizza Port, Alpine, Green Flash, Stone, and Iron Fist. Thirty-nine breweries in planning, liberal use of one of my favorite brewing ingredients—hops—and of course the second outlet of “The Best Beer Bar in America,” Toronado, only helps San Diego make the list.

7. Twin Cities, Minnesota

As far as up-and-comers, The Twin Cities are number one. The huge growth and outpouring of public support for our beer here in Minnesota is truly epic. The messed up brewery laws in Minnesota make it even more interesting for the brewpubs making world-class beer. Favorite breweries—too many to list, without getting in trouble. Bars—Muddy Pig. I remember when the great Mark Van Wie and I had a conversation that illuminated his interest in craft beer and gave rise to the greatest beer bar ever, the Muddy Pig. Also worth checking out are Republic Seven Corners, and the newly remodeled Town Hall Brewery across the street—with over 30 lines and ten (yep, ten) amazing cider lines.

6. Fort Collins, Colorado

Home of the very strong New Belgium and Odell breweries of course, but also of Funkwerks, truly one of my favorite American breweries. Fort Collins has in my opinion taken the mantle of best brewing community in Colorado. I know that will ruffle some feathers, but the vibe in old town Fort Collins just does it for me. My second favorite beer bar is also located there, The Mayor of Old Town. No offense meant to Denver or Boulder or Golden.

5. Asheville, North Carolina

The big two, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, building breweries there right after Oskar Blues made the public aware, but this mountain town, home to wonderful people, was great long before the new brewery boom. Highland, Green Man, and Thirsty Monk were always my go-to’s when I would visit. North Carolina as a whole state is second only to Oregon for craft beer awesomeness right now, in my humble opinion.

4. Chicago, Illinois

I love Chicago and I love the beer scene there. I got my start at Goose Island and went to brewing school there. Riding my bike to Sheffield’s, The Map Room, and my favorite bar, Hopleaf, was kinda what I lived for back then. Nowadays we have the wonderful Fountainhead (go see the roof deck). Breweries—almost too many to name… Haymarket, Revolution, Baderbrau Piece are just a few making great beer. Simply awesome, go soon.

3. Grand Rapids, Michigan, and surrounding area

Bet you didn’t see that coming. Bells, Founders, New Holland, Brewery Vivant, Dark Horse, and the not to be missed Hop Cat. There are 151 breweries in Michigan overall and more are opening each week.

2. Portland, Oregon

No one can make a serious craft beer list and not include Portland, OR. Home of the best craft beer consumers in America, a staggering 38% of all draught beer sold in Portland is craft. Forty-one craft breweries are located in the city limits including way-pavers Widmer, Bridgeport, Hair of the Dog, and The Lucky Labrador. The newbie is the amazing Cascade Brewery. The largest independent craft beer festival in America, the Oregon Brewers Festival (Fitger’s Brewhouse will be there) and the legendary Horse Brass Pub make this a real favorite place for me.

1. San Francisco and the Bay Area

No surprise here, I cut my teeth in the Bay Area brewing scene, hoisting pints at Barclay’s in Berkeley, Zeitgeist, the now closed 20 Tank, and “The Best Beer Bar in America,” Toronado. The area boasts 75 breweries with a few more in planning. Some of my can’t miss spots—Marin Brewing Co, Trumer Pils, Faction, 21st Amendment, Magnolia, Anchor, Russian River, and Bear Republic. The brand new beer store/beer bar The Good Hop is sure to be an instant classic.

So there you go. My very biased report on the best beer towns in America. While I have your attention I will list my favorite beer bars in the U.S. If you happen to be in these towns I strongly suggest stopping in for a pint.

New Orleans: Avenue Pub
Chicago: Hop Leaf, Map Room
Portland: Belmont Station, Roscoe’s, Apex Bar PDX
NYC: Blind Tiger
Raleigh: Brewmasters
Washington, D.C.: Churchkey
Austin: Flying Saucer
Des Moines: El Bait Shop
Denver: Falling Rock
St. Paul: Happy Gnome, Muddy Pig
San Francisco: Mikkeller, Toronado
Philadelphia: Monks Café
Seattle: Brickyard, Powerhouse
Fort Collins: Mayor of Old Town

I sure enjoy writing about beer for you folks. Thanks for reading. Reach me on Twitter: @hoopsbrewing, on Facebook (search Hoops Brewing), or email: dave@hoopsbrewing.com.

Cheers,
Dave

Comments

  1. Overall I think you have a great and well thought out list but I think your bias shows in picking the bay area. For one thing the bay area includes many cities over a great distance so it’s really unfair to compare that to a single city. The bay area and all of it’s cities is great but Portland now has over 50 breweries in the city proper and if SF can include the whole bay area you might as well combine Portland with Bend, Oregon and throw in Eugene, Corvallis and Hood River as well.

    Also just a note but The Rose & Raindrop pub, listed as one of Portland’s best, has been closed for 7 years.

    1. The Growler The Growler says:

      Thank you so much for your feedback. Please recognize that this is an entirely subjective list. We recognize Portland’s claim as one of the best beer destinations in the country and with the advantage of hindsight, it was probably not brilliant to rank the areas we considered for this list. As for Rose & Raindrop; that’s just a big old oversight — and entirely the fault of our editorial staff for not catching it. We’ll have that change made momentarily. Again, thanks for the comment.