America's Coolest Breweries
Four friends’ home-brewing hobby turned into a full-fledged business in January 2013 with the launch of Atlanta’s Monday Night Brewery.
“We adopted the loosened necktie as our symbol of doing what you love after finding our passion brewing beer,” says cofounder Jonathan Baker. “Every necktie on our wall was donated by a fan, so the wall is constantly growing.” It’s won that following for brews like Fu Manbrew, a Belgian-style wheat beer with a punch of ginger.
The last decade has brought a resurgence of such craft breweries across the country. The coolest not only make outstanding beer but also are designed with a sense of place in mind, offering activities, brewery tours, and personality to match.
Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing, for example, honors its Ohio City neighborhood history by keeping an old painted general store ad on the façade. It hosts educational events like beer dinners and classes, and provides $1 biodiesel shuttle rides to and from Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers games.
“It’s just a cool place to hang out; our beers are obviously the biggest draw, but each room of our brewpub is different,” says Great Lakes’ communications coordinator, Marissa DeSantis, who recommends the upstairs tiger mahogany bar.
Taos Mesa Brewing makes the most of its New Mexico desert setting, with gorgeous views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from the taproom and stages for outdoor concerts.
No matter the location, these breweries are on a mission to share their passion for quality craft beer and foster community. So grab a mug, and let’s get started.
Golden Road Brewing, Los Angeles
This 32,000-square-foot brewery occupies a former Southern Pacific switching station. Beer lovers often cheer when a Union Pacific train passes by, and there’s a “doggy deck,” where owners enjoy a Burning Bush Smoked IPA while their pooches get biscuits made from brewing grains. Others help themselves to giant Jenga, Connect Four, Aunt Sally, and Cornhole games. For $10, the brewery leads a two-mile warm-up jog on Saturdays followed by a 90-minute Vinyasa flow yoga class. All that activity concludes with a beer of choice, perhaps a limited release like Almond Milk Stout or El Hefe Añejo, a barrel-aged blend of tequila and hefeweizen. Tours with tastings are offered on weekend afternoons.
Taos Mesa Brewing, Taos, NM
You’ll spot this brewery well before you arrive; the exterior resembles a metal airplane hangar and stands out in the otherwise wide-open desert plain outside of Taos. From a bar stool inside the taproom, you get a killer view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Taos Ski Valley. Beers include a wall of taps like the Freestyle Pilsner, Lunch Pale Ale, Superstitious Stout, Ramblin’ Red, and the unfiltered Wheeler Park Wheat. Taos Mesa Brewing also doubles as a music hall, with one indoor stage (built with reclaimed materials) and two outdoors.
Monday Night Brewing, Atlanta
Four friends turned their home-brewing hobby into a full-time gig after opening up their weekly get-togethers to the public. They loved the “communal feel of random people coming together,” says cofounder Jonathan Baker. Opened in January 2013 in a converted downtown warehouse, this brewery has won fans for beers like Fu Manbrew—Belgian-style wheat beer with ginger—and the citrusy Eye Patch Ale. Silent monster movies shown by projector and vintage video games are added draws.
Cascade Brewing Company, Portland, OR
Award-winning sour beers distinguish Cascade Brewing Company from other IPA-loving Northwest brewers. Cascade uses oak barrels to age spices, yeasts, and fruits like strawberries, blueberries, Bing cherries, and apricots. Beyond the creative flavors, the brewery’s main attraction is Tap It Tuesday, when one customer gets to tap a keg with a wooden mallet. Tappers come from all over to participate in the show and reserve spots on the website months in advance. Other events include Fruit Fest, a four-day extravaganza of dozens of tart fruit beers: Plum Rye, Cherry Bourbonic, or Pixie Stix, anyone?
Three Floyds, Munster, IN
Three Floyds has a cult following that extends beyond the Indiana state lines. It’s made its reputation on brews like the Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout—released on Dark Lord Day each April, when the brewery hosts a music festival of sorts. It’s the only day of the year to buy the Imperial Stout. Tickets sell out fast, so plan ahead. Brewery tours are offered on Saturdays. Year round, visitors can listen to death metal music in the taproom while watching kung fu movies and viewing an eclectic selection of artwork and collectibles on the walls.
Stone Brewing Company, Escondido, CA
This brewery outside of San Diego hosts monthly beer classes and pairing dinners, plus daily brewery tours with “indoctrination specialists” that include a tasting flight. At the bistro’s one-acre beer garden, guests can pair aged goat cheese and black pepper pine nut tarts or ahi poke in wonton tacos with their Arrogant Bastard Ale or Smoked Porter. The Ale Academy package with Park Hyatt Aviara Resort covers a personalized cask beer with a private tour and lunch at the 19-acre farm, where beer ingredients like lavender and dandelion are grown. Tours are offered daily. Arrive early; 50,000 people visit each year.
Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY
The Night’s Watch brotherhood from HBO’s Game of Thrones inspired Ommegang to create an uncharacteristically dark, complex brew: Take the Black Stout. While it’s fitting for the winter season, the brewery’s focus is on Belgian-style beers, and its annual summertime Belgian beer–tasting festival is the biggest draw. It’s a chance to sample rare Belgian-style ales from Europe and North America and join cheese tastings and brewing demonstrations, with camping available on site. Daily afternoon tours of the brewery are available whatever the season, and packages with the Inn at Cooperstown include a brewer talk, a signed beer, a brewery reception with dinner, and a VIP tour.
Great Lakes Brewing, Cleveland
Great Lakes Brewing’s move to Ohio City in 1998 has helped make the neighborhood a cultural hot spot. The brewery is also on a mission to educate: it offers public and private brewery tours, beer school classes, beer tastings and talks, as well as tours of a six-acre urban farm it founded with community partners to grow organic produce and brewing ingredients. On Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers game days, the brewery offers $1 rides on The Fatty Wagon, a vegetable oil–powered shuttle. But don’t leave without trying the Christmas Ale and homemade pierogis.
Wynkoop Brewing Company, Denver
John Hickenlooper, the current Colorado governor, founded Wynkoop back in 1988 as part of his efforts to revitalize the LoDo neighborhood. It’s kept its cool even in the wake of the local brewery boom. An improv comedy theater in the basement and 22 billiards tables upstairs are crowd-pleasing features, but Wynkoop also caters to the “Hoppy Yogis.” They turn up on Monday nights for yoga followed by tastings and tours. Wynkoop even makes a special beer in support of National Yoga month. The standard roster includes ColoRojo, Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, and Cowtown Milk Stout. Afternoon tours are available Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Asheville Brewing Company, NC
Asheville is a beer town, through and through. What sets ABC apart from the others is its in-house arcade and high-tech movie theater, which charges only $3 a ticket and is kid-friendly. While watching a choice of three features, which run for a week at different times, patrons sample Rocket Girl Lager, Ninja Porter, or Fire Escape Pepper Ale and nibble on specialty pizzas and burgers. Fido is also welcome on the easygoing brewpub’s outdoor patio. Brewery tours are available at its nearby production facility upon request.
Kennebec River Pub & Brewery, ME
Affiliated with a rafting company, this New England microbrewery is within the main lodge at the Forks Resort Center. It hosts live music on the weekends and activities like whitewater rafting, snowmobiling, hiking, fishing, and hunting. Since all of that activity is bound to work up an appetite, visitors can indulge in sirloin steak, Atlantic salmon, and, of course, lobster in the pub. Let ’Er Drift Summer Ale and Sledhead Red, both of which use Northwest hops, are among the seasonal beers. Year-round favorites include Bear Naked Black Lager and Big Mama Blueberry Ale.
Arcadia Ales, Battle Creek, MI
Arcadia Ales partners with restaurants and appears at festivals statewide. But there’s plenty to lure you to the brewery itself. At its on-site restaurant, you can sample house-smoked local meats; Ploughmans Platter comes with farm sausage, house-smoked cheddar, mustard, and flatbread. Wash it down with Sky High Rye, Jaw-Jacker (with cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg), or barrel-aged Cereal Killer Barleywine. A Kalamazoo location, set to open in December 2013, will include a dedicated wood-fired smokehouse along with space to park kayaks and canoes on the Kalamazoo River. Tours are offered by appointment.
Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, Rehoboth Beach, DE
Dogfish got its start at this brewpub in 1995. While the headquarters has since moved 20 minutes away, you can get the same freshly brewed beer here, as well as a few exclusive seasonal brews. Pair Dogfish’s classic 60 Minute IPA with lamb sliders or Namaste Chili Calamari in a chili glaze. The summer high season brings live music on weekends, and oh yeah, you’re just a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean and boardwalk in this beach town.