America’s 20 Best Cities for Beer Lovers
“Wineries are as much about the beauty of the landscape as the wine,” suggests Sairey Gernes, a beer-tasting enthusiast who’s also the founder of Minneapolis-based underwear retailer Urban Undercover. “But I love the atmosphere and culture inside the breweries. Breweries are about the people—a lot of artistic people, entrepreneurs, go-getters—and the beer. They’re different experiences, but equally enjoyable.”
Whether they came for brewery tours, taproom tastings or just to fill their growlers, Travel + Leisure readers clearly enjoy beer tourism, even if it’s from a windowless warehouse. As part of this year’s America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 38 metro area on categories like fine dining, live music, pizza, and burgers, all of which lend themselves to another survey category: locally-made craft beer. Some of the top 20 beer cities have brewing histories that predate Prohibition, but many are still finding their own flavor—literally—using local ingredients like pecans, bourbon barrels, or even frozen lemonade. Others offer quirky settings and backstories: one city brewery came out of a weekly Bible study group; another offers regular yoga classes inside the taproom.
“I find breweries to be more approachable than wineries,” says beer travel blogger Tim Brady (who also owns Brattleboro, VT, beer bar Whetstone Station)—but he admits that the beer scene has garnered its share of snobs, too. “I proudly call myself a beer geek, not a snob,” he says. “I believe that there’s a time and a place for every beer—be it the cheap macro at a ball game, or the exclusive bourbon-barrel-aged beer at a special one-day release. It’s all about beer enhancing the experience.”
No. 20 Baltimore
As the No. 5 city for dive bars, one might assume that the beer geeks of Baltimore don’t harbor a lot of pretension. Certainly, its oldest local beer—National Bohemian, or “Natty Boh,” featuring a one-eyed, mustachioed mascot on the can—may confirm readers’ impression of locals as eccentrics. The locals also ranked highly as being amped-up sports fans, and one of the best beer bars in the city is actually inside Camden Yards: Dempsey’s serves Natty Boh along with house-made brews (like a Rain Delay IPA) and other local beers, like Heavy Seas. To explore the city’s more upscale beer scene, go to The Brewer’s Art, a posh townhome-turned-brewpub in Vernon Hill that is known for its Resurrection brown abbey ale and the Tiny Tim, a spring ale brewed with hibiscus flowers and rosemary. Sounds a bit pretentious? Maybe. But Baltimore locals still ranked as nicely un-snobby.
No. 19 Chicago
No doubt, the No. 1 city for pizza will always belong in the beer top 20—in part thanks to brewing companies like Goose Island, which has a new taproom (and tours) at its Near West Side location; it's also BYOF, so you can bring in, say, some stuffed pizza from a nearby Giordano’s. Or, check out two stops in the South Loop: Motor Row Brewing, which does Czech- and German-influenced ales and lagers (like a BiPolar Bear pale ale), and Vice District Brewing, which has house taps like the seasonal Metrosexual Chocolate Stout, which uses coffee from local roaster Metropolis. For an added pick-me-up, Chicago also made the top 20 for its java.
No. 18 San Diego
Even if this renowned beer city didn’t get as much love from readers this year, the locals aren’t the kind to take offense: they also made the top 20 for being polite. New breweries keep opening, joining established beermakers like Stone Brewing and Green Flash: Half Door Brewing, for instance, is a new Irish-style brewpub set in an early-20th-century home a block from Petco Park (try the Father Ted Belgian blonde). Not too far away, South Park Brewing Company lets you order either house beers (like a Scripps Pier Oyster Stout) or other local brews (like those from Ballast Point or Monkey Paw Brewing Co.), paired with local-fish tacos, oysters Rockefeller or ceviche. Like many spots around town, there’s a patio: after all, San Diego ranked at No. 1 for its lovely weather.
No. 17 Albuquerque
While its beer scene may not get the press that some of the higher-ranking cities do, Albuquerque has more than a dozen local breweries—like Marble Brewery (winner of Best Small Brewery at last year’s Great American Beer Festival), which offers a local-honey-infused Wildflower Wheat that's described as a “liquid sopapilla.” Or, try Le Cumbre Brewing’s Project Dank, an “experimental” beer with an ever-changing recipe. Albuquerque also ranked at No. 8 for its festivals, which is another great way to sample beer: this summer’s New Mexico State Fair will unveil an official State Fair Beer, with the help of the New Mexico Brewers Guild, and Labor Day weekend will bring the Great Southwest Beer Festival to nearby Bernalillo (replacing the traditional wine festival), with regional beers, home-brewing lessons and live music.
No. 16 Boston
The biggest name in the Beantown beer scene has long been Samuel Adams, but the more recent entries could win the survey for offbeat names alone. Take, for instance, Slumbrew in Somerville, Wormtown Brewery (with a new taproom in Worcester) or the beloved Clown Shoes (with its Undead Party Crasher, an American Imperial Stout). To sample the regional beers as well as any number of global options, go to beer bars like Sunset Grill & Tap in Allston (with 380 microbrews and 113 taps) or Meadhall in Cambridge, which has more than 100 taps and each beer gets its own style of glass. The people-watching is good at both spots, too: Boston ranked at in the top 10 for smart (if rather snobby) locals.
No. 15 Seattle
This part of the Pacific Northwest may be better known for its grape-based elixirs—Seattle ranked at No. 11 in the survey for wine—but Washington also boasts of being the second-largest hop-growing region in the world. A number of the new breweries have set up shop in Ballard—like Stoup Brewing, which was launched by two local scientists and whose taproom has food trucks parked outside (like BeezNeez Gourmet Sausages or Grilled Cheese Experience). Nearby, Peddler Brewing caters to the outdoorsy locals, pairing beers (like a Tangerine Hefeweizen) with bike workstations where you can fix a flat. And as a testament to the offbeat locals, Fremont Brewing—not too far from the Fremont neighborhood’s giant troll—does small-batch beers (like a Yeti-themed Bourbon Barrel Abominable) and throws in free pretzels. Roaming giants or not, Seattle ranked well with readers for feeling safe.
No. 14 Portland, ME
This New England city has been a beer-nerd magnet for years, thanks to local beermakers like Shipyard and Allagash, which were pioneers in the microbrew movement in the 1990s. To taste the newcomers, go to Rising Tide Brewing Company, which offers small-batch ales at its East Bayside taproom, or Urban Farm Fermentory, which uses local ingredients to stretch your perception of brews, from ciders to kombucha tea. The Maine locals ranked well in the survey for being both athletic and friendly, and you can keep up with them on a Bike and Brew cycling tour from SummerFeet, which stops at a variety of local breweries and distilleries.
No. 13 Nashville
Music City has a long tradition of wanting you to cry into your beer, not because of your beer. Winking to the good-ol’-boy beer geeks, Tailgate Beer (which relocated from San Diego to Nashville in 2014) has a 25-tap tasting room featuring its own brews (like the Blacktop Blonde) as well as a dedicated tap for each Tennessee brewer—like Yazoo (say it YEAH-zoo) and Jackalope. If you’d even like to bathe in beer, you can: Jackalope sells a Little Seed Farm soap made with its Ann Thunder American Pale Ale, named after Davy Crockett’s fictional wife.
No. 12 Philadelphia
Philly ranked near the top with readers for its rich history—and why shouldn’t that include beer history? The city’s pre-prohibition beer industry included about 100 breweries, and had a more recent surge in the 1990s with Yards Brewing Co. The city’s newest beer stars include Crime and Punishment Brewing Company, a Russian-themed beermaker that has set up shop in the old BreweryTown neighborhood (try the House Arrest, a farmhouse-yeast-based ale). To tap into the Ben-Franklin zeitgeist, go to Do Good Brewing (Franklin’s pen name was Silence DoGood), where some proceeds from each beer go to a different charity. For reliable liquid refreshment after hitting the city’s more traditional historic sights, go to Independence Beer Garden, conveniently across the street from the Liberty Bell.
No. 11 Memphis
Given the well-ranked bars, live music and rich barbecue, Memphis would be seriously remiss if it didn’t provide a thriving beer scene. If you’re in town following Elvis’ ghost or just listening to the blues, stop for an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) at High Cotton Brewing, which is just a short walk from Sun Studios. Two other good stops on any Memphis beer tour are the Broad Avenue Arts District’s Wiseacre Brewing (known for its Gotta Get Up to Get Down Coffee Milk Stout), and Memphis Made Brewing, in the Cooper-Young neighborhood, whose Lucid Kolsch is described as “a lawnmower beer with flavor.” To get your Memphis barbecue fix with something stronger than iced tea, go to one of Central BBQ’s locations, which offer good local beer lists along with sausage-and-cheese plates and barbecue nachos.
No. 10 Atlanta
Atlanta did not win big in the wild weekend category this year, and the locals came off as pretty straight-laced, ranking as well-dressed but nerdy. That may explain the appeal of breweries like Monday Night Brewing, which was actually launched from a Monday evening Bible Study group and makes craft beers (like its Nerd Alert pilsner) that are meant to be paired with food. Atlanta also ranked well for its parks, and one of the best places to marry good beer with food (like bacon-topped deviled eggs) is the Park Tavern, which has a glass-enclosed brewery and overlooks Piedmont Park.
No. 9 Denver
Even at No. 9, many beer geeks would say the Mile High City was underrated this year—not just because it’s the host of September’s Great American Beer Festival, but perhaps because this city takes its local beer so seriously that it once promoted a microbrewer (John Hickenlooper, founder of Wynkoop Brewing Co.) to Mayor and then Governor. Wynkoop is still a must-stop, as is the Great Divide Brewing Co., where you can take tours and try one of the Yeti Imperial Stouts (like the Chocolate Oak-Aged Yeti or the Oatmeal Yeti). To get a sense of Denver’s rich live music scene—with a soft spot for heavy metal—go to TRVES Brewing Co., where the ambience features a fair amount of loud music and pentagrams, paired with “dark” beers like Black Cascade and Hellion. Metalheads aside, Denver also made the top 20 for peace and quiet.
No. 8 Austin
This college town and state capital has always embraced beer lovers—and for years the dominant “local” beer has been Shiner Bock, which comes from a brewery about an hour and a half away. But more and more upstarts sit inside Austin’s city limits—like South Austin’s 512 Brewing, known for its Pecan Porter, and East 6th St.’s Zilker Brewing, which offers American-Belgo beers and whose name nods to the city’s most famous park (Austin also made the top 20 for its parks and gardens). To experience another famous garden of sorts, go to downtown’s Sholz Garten, the open-air watering hole that dates back to 1866.
No. 7 Louisville
The Kentucky city’s brewing history dates back the late 1800s, when German immigrants created a local beer style—dark and kinda tart—called the Kentucky Common. You can taste its modern cousin at Bluegrass Brewing Company, which does both a Kentucky Common Ale as well as the lighter Billies Uncommon Sour Ale. At another local brewery, GoodWood, the beers nod to the other local drink, by creating a number of bourbon-barrel-aged ales and stouts, along with a Red Wine Barrel Saison to appeal to oenophiles. As proof of the city’s solid rankings for live music and quirky locals, the GoodWood taproom offers both regular “jam session” performances and yoga classes.
No. 6 Providence
The Rhode Island capital makes the top 10 in several food-and-drink categories thanks to its flair for super-local flavor—from sweet coffee milk to the iconoclastic grilled pizza. The beer scene is no different: Trinity Brewhouse makes a point of using water from the Scituate Reservoir, and Narragansett makes its shandy with the cooperation of frozen-lemonade stand and local institution Del’s. Providence also won the silver medal this year for burgers: for a good representative, try the Hereford beef mini burgers at Harry’s Bar & Burger, which has an exhaustive beer menu and the motto of “no crap on tap.”
No. 5 Houston
Perhaps due to those hot summers, Houston made the survey’s top 10 for three liquid refreshments (the others: wine and coffee). And while many respectable Texas bars pride themselves on offering hydration in the form of Lone Star from a can, Houston craft beer lovers are loyal to Saint Arnold Brewing Co., the state’s oldest craft brewer, which sits in a 100-year-old warehouse with a biergarten, on the edge of downtown. Newer entries include Buffalo Bayou Brewery, whose 1836 copper ale is named for the year of the city’s founding, and 8th Wonder Brewery, which is named after the city’s iconic Astrodome and which produces seasonal selections—like a Vietnamese-coffee-infused Porter called Rocket Fuel—in a dome-like warehouse near the Astros’ home turf.
No. 4 Cleveland
Readers’ love of beer seems to be tightly entwined with their love of comfort food in this Rust Belt City, which also ranked highly for burgers, sandwiches, and diners. Great Lakes Brewing Company (which started in the 1980s) is most beer geeks’ first stop, where you can try the Lake Erie Monster IPA or the Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale, paired with sausages and pierogis. Next, downtown’s Butcher and the Brewer combines artisan charcuterie (like duck mortadella or smoked braunschweiger) with rich beers, like a Stuffed French Toast Milk Stout. At Market Garden Brewery, you can pair a Progress Pilsner with a polish sausage and still more pierogis on the patio neighboring the historic West Side Market—a big reason why Cleveland also ranked at No. 10 for its food halls.
No. 3 Minneapolis/St. Paul
Despite the threatening-sounding names of two top craft brewers in the Twin Cities—Dangerous Man Brewing Co. and Surly Brewing—Minneapolis and St. Paul also ranked at No. 3 in the survey for their friendly atmosphere. Indeed, the Fair State Brewing Co-op is the first of its kind in Minnesota: members get to collaborate on new beer projects, while non-members can just enjoy brews in the taproom–like the Läctobäc 6, a tribute to Central European Lichtenhainers. At St. Paul gastropub The Happy Gnome, meanwhile, beginning beer geeks get an in-depth, user-friendly menu (with headings like “Looking for Something Sour and Funky?”), and the dessert menu features a Surly Coffee Bender Crème Brûlée.
No. 2 Kansas City
As the survey’s No. 1 city for both barbecue and good value, Kansas City has a lock on affordable luxuries—a perfect setting for excellent beer. Boulevard Brewing Co. continues to be the reigning local brew, though beer tourists will also want to try new contenders like Torn Label, Cinder Block, or Big Rip. (At Big Rip, if you ride your bike to the brewery on a Sunday, you get a discounted drink.) To taste a variety of local beers alongside Kansas City’s sports fans (who also won the survey’s silver medal), go to Craft & Draft, a beer bar inside Kauffman Stadium that takes the “beer-here” experience up a notch.
No. 1 Portland
With the most local breweries of any city in the world—more than 80, at last count—Portland wins the survey again this year, for both quantity and its richly beer-infused culture. Longtime favorite beermaker McMenamins, for instance, makes beer, operates hotels (like The Kennedy School), and even roasts coffee beans—another category Portland won this year. The latest additions to the city’s beerscape include a new Commons Brewery tasting room (in the Portland Central Eastside Industrial District) and Culmination Brewing, on the East Side, which does Old-World-style beers that emphasize malt and yeast more than hops. To get a thorough feel for the Oregon beer scene, go to the just-opened beer bar Loyal Legion (named for an old loggers’ union), which boasts having the largest selection of Oregon beers on tap anywhere. Making it easy to enjoy beer responsibly, Portland also ranked at No. 1 for being pedestrian-friendly.