What’s the Best Craft Beer City in the U.S.? We Look at 18 Hot Spots
These breweries really raise the bar. (Sorry.)
“Craft beer” is just that — it’s a “craft.” And creating craft beer is like any other form of art, mixed with science. Certain cities in the U.S. just seem to have a bit of extra creativity when it comes to brewing fantastic beers (maybe creativity, science, and beer drinking go hand in hand?). From Southern California to Central New York and everywhere imaginable in-between, here’s a lineup of some of America’s Best Brewtowns to plan a happy (and hoppy) vacation getaway.
San Diego, CA
San Diego is an international leader in the craft beer industry. Icons like Karl Strauss Brewing Company and Stone Brewing Company were born here (even hotels get into it — in Carlsbad, The Cassara Carlsbad has a Karl Strauss Brewery Restaurant on-site, and Omni La Costa Resort hosts a year-round “Plaza Pop-up” partnership series with local breweries). The region boasts 100-plus craft breweries and hosts annual events like San Diego Beer Week with smaller events throughout the year to keep the beer creative juices flowing. Must-stop spots include well-known Ballast Point Brewing Company, Modern Times Beer’s well-rounded lineup of Saisons, pale ales, IPAs, and unique seasonal releases — and nano breweries like Half Door Brewing Co. Those who enjoy water views can visit family-owned Coronado Brewing Company just across San Diego Bay, or Oceanside’s Craft Coast. Combine it all with a Brewery Tours of San Diego experience.
Max Whittaker/Courtesy of Visit California
Greater Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles is world-renowned for entertainment, fashion, food — and now, beer. The iconic Angel City Brewery in the Arts District downtown believes there’s a beer perfect for every occasion. From cult classics like the light-bodied, golden Kolsch style Avocado Ale to darker, barrel-aged stouts and a range of sours, there’s something for everyone. LA is a sprawling city with many brew choices. Those who don’t want to make the drive downtown can explore breweries scattered across the region’s two dozen neighborhoods. In the South Bay, Torrance’s beer map details 12 outputs, like Buzzrock. On the westside, visit Santa Monica’s first and only local and independent craft brewery, Santa Monica Brew Works. In the eclectic Eagle Rock, Northeast of DTLA, creative types at Eagle Rock Brewery — the first microbrewery to open operations in the city of LA in over 60 years — collaborate with local purveyors like R6 DISTILLERY (the “Goats in Totes” traditional Bock-Style Amber Lager is a must).
Angel City Brewery
Maybe Boston started out with “tea parties,” but nowadays, the city boasts a whole host of historic and new craft beer outposts. From Harpoon Brewing Co., the makers of New England’s Original IPA, to the iconic Sam Adams (flagship brand of the brew world superpower, Boston Beer Company), to the trendy Trillium Brewing, and more — there are dozens of destinations that create classic and new craft beers to try. And that’s just in the city itself. North of Boston, there’s an additional collection of quintessential New England towns that offer the chance to taste more well-established, award-winning beers including Ipswich AleBrewery in Ipswich, Newburyport Brewing, and Riverwalk Brewing Company in Newburyport. It’s a craft beer explorer’s paradise.
Courtesy of Trillium Brewing
It’s no surprise that Asheville’s nickname is “Beer City, USA.” Boasting more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city, roughly 100 local beers can be enjoyed in Asheville, served both on draft and from the bottle. Each brewery offers its own unique atmosphere and personality (just like their brews!). It’s said that Asheville’s beer history dates back to when Highland Brewing Company was founded in a rustic basement space below Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria, downtown. Asheville offers something for every beer taste — from tiny nano breweries to a tasting bar that offers solely wild and sour beers, sourcing local flavors, and plenty of spacious patios for sipping. There are also several annual beer festivals to attend to try everything in one place as well as local brewery tours offered on foot, car, or even via “Pubcycle” bike!
Lexington is known for its distilleries, but now, the city’s Brewgrass Trail is dedicated to showcasing its master brewers with 27 total stops, taking visitors on a tour of the region’s host of microbreweries. Highlights along the trail include delicious Kentucky bourbon barrel ale at Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., Japanese brewing techniques at Country Boy Brewing, West Sixth, the city’s largest microbrewery, Blue Stallion Brewing’s European-style lagers, and the sour beer expertise of Ethereal Brewing. In fact, four new breweries were just added to the trail in 2021, including the Brewer Dude in Lexington, Goodwood Brewing, The Void Sake Co. (the state’s first sake brewery!), and Maiden City Brewing North of Lexington, in Cynthiana. After collecting a stamp from six breweries on the trail, beer lovers can drop off or mail their complete passports to the Lexington Visitors Center or any participating Brewgrass Trail brewery, in exchange for goodies like a T-shirt.
Oregon is famous for its craft brew scene — one might argue it’s home to some of the finest beer on earth. There are roughly 70 breweries in Portland, which is one of the highest totals of any city in the world — and this number is constantly growing. Although Portland is known for its hoppy IPAs, brew enthusiasts can also find an abundance of dark, rich beers like porters and stouts, as well as lighter varieties and sours. Visit Steeplejack Brewing, which just opened in August of 2021 in a historic church building. Here, two female brewmasters are heading the operation. Next, try Little Beast Brewing which offers an excellent new angle on Portland’s beer identity. Culmination is another must-try for its innovation and on-point brew slushie game (trust us, it’s good) and it wouldn’t be a true Portland brew tour without a trip to Cascade for a sour.
Steeplejack Brewing Company
Grand Rapids, MI
Grand Rapids has a Beer City Ale Trail that offers access to more than 80+ local breweries. Visitors can also book a Beer City Hotel Package at one of several area hotels with specific amenities geared toward craft beer enthusiasts. Those committed to exploring as many local breweries as possible can even become “Beer City Brewsaders”, utilizing a digital passport app to track visits to different Grand Rapids breweries and earn prizes along the way. Be sure to visit Founders Brewing – one of Grand Rapid’s first major craft breweries – which brews complex, “in-your-face” ales, with “huge aromatics and tons of flavor.” This brewery prides itself on not only producing great beer but also gives back to the community through its sustainability and corporate giving initiatives. Other not-to-miss breweries in the Grand Rapids area include Brewery Vivant for farmhouse style ales; City Built Brewing Co.; and Atwater Brewing.
Experience Grand Rapids
There could be an entire round-up dedicated to the breweries of Colorado — from Denver’s brew scene to Colorado Springs, to Durango and beyond — but there are a couple of standout beer destinations in the state and Boulder is undoubtedly one of them, boasting a legendary craft brew scene. There are traditionally nearly two dozen breweries serving beer in the Boulder area, including a Brewstillery, and the state’s first “all organic” brewery. Pair this with fantastic outdoor patios to hang out, a combination of organic and innovative craft brews, and a lineup of fun craft beverage events year-round — there’s never a dull moment for beer fans. To check out multiple at a time, book a tour with Beyond Boulder Bike Adventures which hosts a “Bike-N-Brews Cruise.” See the full lineup of local brew outposts here.
Denise Chambers/Boulder CVB
Fort Collins, CO
Fort Collins is the home to the headquarters of New Belgium Brewing Co., as well as the 100% employee-owned Odell Brewing Co. The sense of comradery in the beer community here is huge, with each local business supporting each other like one big brew family. This brew town hosts a range of additional new and classic brewery favorites such as Purpose Brewing Co., which has a new beer on tap every week. Its founder (and beer world legend) Peter Bouckaert is credited as the reason sours are here in the U.S., today. Next, check out Stodgy Brewing Co. which has a great outdoor space for locals and visitors alike to gather and hang out. Finally, there’s Horse & Dragon Brewing Company which is well-known for its outstanding investments and support of the local community, commonly brewing specialty beers to support a variety of causes.
Austin hosts dozens of breweries, and San Antonio headquarters the famous Pabst Brewing Co., but the lone star state’s best brew town may just be Houston with its “brew pass” — in fact, the city has seen a 344% increase in craft breweries since 2013 and welcomed 10 new breweries in the past two years. Standout spots with compelling backstory and culture include For the Culture Brewing – Houston’s first Black-owned brewery. There’s also True Anomaly, which is headed by four former NASA employees and specializes in IPAs, sours, and “experimental brews” (it’s for science). 4J Brewing Company is a women-owned craft brewery named after the four sisters of a family who loved alliteration — “J” siblings Jessica, Jackie, Joanna, and Jennifer. Next, there’s Big Owl Craft Brew House which just opened in September of 2021 — their brews incorporate flavors and creations inspired by the team’s Mexican heritage, such as tamarindo.
KreativeStudeo Pavel Kaplun/Visit Houston
Jacksonville, Florida has experienced explosive growth in the craft beer industry in recent years. It’s said the beer boom began back in 2008 when Bold City Brewery, which is known for its bold creams, IPAs, and ales, first opened. Next came Intuition Ale Works, which is credited as the first craft brewery in Florida to can its beer. Fast forward all the way to 2014, and Jacksonville established the Jax Ale Trail, which recently welcome d its 24th and 25th breweries. Ale Trail visitors get a passport and collect stamps for each stop they make to collect prizes. From traditional pale ales to specialty brews, such as Foeder Aged San Marco Strawberry Lemon Cake at Aardwolf Brewing Company, or This is Not a Pumpkin Beer at Southern Swells, and the Cup O’Joe Oatmeal Espresso Stout at Veterans United Craft Brewery — there are a plethora of beers to taste and discover.
Pittsburgh’s Craft Beer Scene includes more than 40 breweries and is growing. For maximum exploration, visitors can explore one (or all) of seven pre-made brewery trails in the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild’s Pittsburgh Brewery Guide. In Pittsburgh, brew lovers will encounter award-winning beers including Church Brew Works’ Pious Monk Dunkel, Helltown Brewing’s Mischievous Brown, and Brew Gentlemen’s General Braddock’s — which was named one of the 25-best beers of the decade. There’s a rich history of breweries in this city, with Penn Brewery being the oldest and largest craft brewery in Pittsburgh, specializing in German-style beers. Ample experimentation can be found at Strange Roots Experimental Ales Brewery which specializes in using foraged ingredients, spontaneous fermentation, and testing tactics. And to taste the latest and greatest, there are plenty of craft beer festivals including Barrel & Flow Fest aimed at celebrating Black arts and artists and supporting the economic empowerment of the Black community.
Atlanta is a fantastic brew town because it’s overflowing with young (and thirsty) entrepreneurs who are eager to make their name in the beer world. Each neighborhood offers breweries that reflect their own vibes. There’s Monday Night Brewing which was originally born out of a Monday evening Bible Study group and makes favorites like the “Dr. Robot” Blackberry lemon sour and the “Space Lettuce” double IPA. Next, try SweetWater Brewing Co., which was the 14th largest craft brewing operation in the U.S. in 2020 according to the independent Craft Brewers Association. There’s also the boldly experimental Orpheus Brewing which creates stellar sours, to IPA’s, and massive barrel-aged stouts. Also be sure to try Steady Hand Beer Co., a welcoming and community-focused brewery, and Eventide Brewing which was born from friends who met at Georgia Southern — each of which hosts its own unique backstory and impressive craft beer selections.
Courtesy of Sweetwater Brewing
Chicagoans take craft beer very seriously — breaking their breweries down by neighborhood, so guests and locals alike can divide, conquer, and experience them all. Moody Tongue’s new South Loop brewery even hosts a fine-dining restaurant, making it the world’s first two Michelin star brewery. Just a short walk off The Magnificent Mile, you’ll find one of the city’s original breweries, Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, which features small-batch varieties. Try Chicago classic Goose Island, along with a fresh crop of newcomers, like a botanical-inspired brewer Forbidden Root and Mexican-influenced cerveceria Cruz Blanca, and On Tour Brewing Company beers are all named after Grateful Dead Songs. The Ravenswood Corridor (nicknamed Malt Row) offers a plethora of breweries to explore. And the largest independent brewery in the state, Revolution Brewing carries exclusively made brews that aren’t available anywhere else. No matter where you go, it’s bound to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Athens exudes a youthful, lively vibe. It’s inventive and creative — so of course, their beers are, too. Try Terrapin Beer Company which first burst onto the scene in 2002 when their Rye Pale Ale won a Gold Medal at the American Beer Festival in Denver — they have amazing seasonal brews and Side Project specials like Pumpkinfest and Moo-Hoo Chocolate Stout. Creature Comforts Brewing Company joined the community in spring 2014 housed in an expertly-renovated tire plant hosting IPAs, pilsners, and their award-winning Berliner Weisse, Athena. Akademia Brewing Company serves perfectly paired bites food paired with their beers such as beer-batter fish and beer-braised pork chops. Normaltown Brewing opened recently, gaining buzz around town for its fresh take on small-batch IPAs. Finally, another newer spot, Athentic Brewing Company offers a “cozy industrial” vibe for visitors to gather and enjoy an impressive beer wall that offers 12 self-serve taps.
Courtesy of Creature Comforts
Honorable Mention: Richmond, VA
Richmond and the surrounding region is home to almost 40 breweries – visitors can find them all on the Richmond Beer Trail. Visit Veil Brewing for their stellar IPAs and sours, Final Gravity Brewing which is right next to a home brew supply store, Strangeways Brewing known for their unique, funky beers, and Stone Brewing. There are also brewery/winery hybrids like Garden Grove Brewing and Urban Winery and Talleysville Brewing located at New Kent Winery for a taste of the best of both worlds.
Richmond Region Tourism
Honorable Mention: Central New York
Central New York is filled with craft beer seemingly at every corner. This region of New York (nicknamed Brew “Central”) offers an amazing assortment of beverage attractions perfect for any time of year. There are currently over 50 breweries in Central New York including Willow Rock Brewing Co. which was founded by two college roommates and serves creative flavors like Pumpkin Brunch, Orange, and Creamsicle. There’s also Syracuse Suds Factory which dates all the way back to the 90s — and Good Nature Farm Brewery which uses local ingredients in its farm-to-glass beer (like the Good Natured Blond, Non-Stop Hop Onslaught, American Brown Ale, and more). Nearby, The Ale House features dozens of constantly rotating craft beers on tap including Jack’s Abby Jack’s Abby Copper Legend, Great Lakes Oktoberfest, Sloop (No) Pumpkin — and many more.
Lock 1 Distillery Company
Honorable Mention: Freeport, Maine
While Maine as a state hosts 100+ craft breweries, the town of Freeport is an under-the-radar brew capital. The population of Freeport is less than 8,000 people — but what it lacks in population density it makes up for in beer selection. Check out The Maine Beer Trail, for an all-encompassing list of must-stops such as Maine Beer Company, known for its expansive grounds that are dog-friendly, wood-fired pizza and range of creatively-named brews. Next, try Stars and Stripes Brewing; Aptly named for being veteran-owned and hosting a variety of beers, from light and sweet blueberry wheats to puckery sours. There’s also Mast Landing Brewing Company, Freeport’s newest brewery. Fun fact: Freeport is the home of the iconic L.L. Bean boot — which actually inspired a collaboration with craft brewers in 2018 who together created an exclusive, small-batch of beer alongside the launch of limited-edition bean boots. True “craftsmanship!”