America's Best Beer Cities 2011
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That's the verdict from Travel + Leisure readers, who voted on the best cities in America for finding an excellent microbrew. In this year's America's Favorite Cities survey, T+L readers ranked 35 cities on things like great restaurants and lively bar scenes. And some of the winners in that bar category—New York City, Las Vegas, and Miami—couldn't crack the top 20 for good-tasting beer. In fact, readers put mojito-loving Miami in last place for microbrews.
Not surprisingly, you'll find two of the top three beer-quaffing towns in the Pacific Northwest, but the rest of the Top 10 are scattered across the U.S. It's a sign that the microbrews—made in relatively small batches, and often emphasizing quirky flavors—are becoming more mainstream, and perhaps even flourishing during the recession. Craft beer sales were up by 11 percent in 2010, according to the Brewers Association, while U.S. beer sales were down 1 percent overall.
"This is definitely an age of exploration for the American beer drinker," says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. Loving beer can even make for a great vacation: while wine enthusiasts may head straight to Napa, serious beer enthusiasts can choose from several great beer regions, or go to beer festivals such as Philly Beer Week, Boston's American Craft Beer Fest, or the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Around the country, microbreweries increasingly offer winery-style touches such as tours, tasting rooms, and the chance to buy direct; plenty now offer their wares in half-gallon "growler" jugs.
While Gatza says that, in general, West Coast microbrews tend toward the bitter and "hoppy," and many East Coast microbrewers favor India Pale Ales, the most current brewing trend is to embrace the hometown roots. "You'll see beers with locally sourced honey or wheat," he says, "or [that] use certain fruits or spices that aren't available outside a small radius." Austin's Live Oak Brewery, for instance, makes an ale with a citrus flavor akin to Texas Ruby Red grapefruit.
Austin, meanwhile, is one of the few Top 10 beer cities that also ranked near the top for its overall bar scene. "To be a great beer city," says Gatza, "you need at least one good brewery to anchor the community." But otherwise, he says, "people have a good time in Austin—and beer just happens to go with that."