Top 5 Beer Cities
Craft beer is more than just handmade specialty beers. It’s a way of life. An attitude. A half full glass by which to view the world through. It’s hard to argue that the high octane concoctions craft brewers come up with don’t obliterate the boring, lifeless offering of the giant beer factories. That’s because they just do. And after all, my opinion in this area is more than opinion; it’s fact. However, there is one significant strike against craft beer; the jerks that drink it. Sorry, maybe that wasn’t clear. I’m talking about those lumberjack looking, handlebar mustache growing, “don’t care but do care” dudes. And I’m even guilty of falling into this trap of elitist beer drinking at times. That’s a shame because the craft brewing beer movement was built on reviving time honored traditions and exotic flavors, to give us all a much needed break from the bland.
So this week leave your beard tonic at home, and don’t worry about packing your travel chalkboard, because where we’re going, you don’t need to be a jerk to have fun. The five local craft brewing scenes below exude the enthusiasm and accessibility that made craft brewing something to be reckoned with. And of course, getting there couldn’t be easier, when you enlist the help of the friendly travel folk over at Tripbound.
What to drink: Green Flash Brewing Co., Stone Brewing Company, Alpine Beer Company
Where to drink: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Toronado, Urge American Gastropub
Since the mid-90s, San Diego has been a nationally recognized hotbed of brewing activity. Most people would say Californians are hopped up on something, but at least in San Diego you’d probably be referring the effervescently hoppy IPAs. San Diego has become famous for being a laboratory for new styles of beers, and these mad scientist of southern California have concocted such favorites as the San Diego Pale Ale and Double IPA. The great San Diego beer scene is made up of over 80 breweries and brewpubs, so needless to say the selections are nearly limitless.
My pick: Green Flash Le Freak ABV: 9.2% IBU: 101 The controversial love child of a Belgian-Trippel and an American Imperial IPA is Le Freak. The fruit forward aromatics, typical of Belgian beers, are played perfectly against the dry hoppiness of an IPA. Try one-trust me.
What to drink: 21st Amendment Brewery, Almanac Beer Co., Anchor Brewing Co
Where to drink: City Beer Store, La Trappe Café, Mikkeller Bar
Certainly, San Diego might be the most iconic craft brewing city in California, but San Francisco has really stepped up its game as of late. San Fran is usually lauded for its wine and gourmet dining scene. Yet, overlooking the burgeoning beer selections here would be criminal. 21st Amendment Brewery and Almanac Beer Co bear the flag for the new breed of brewers in this town. However, since 1896 the fine folks at Anchor Brewing Co. have been crafting critically acclaimed beers. This San Francisco brewer is a landmark both in the city and the craft beer scene at large; with many considering it to be one of the forefathers of the US craft brewing movement.
My pick: Back in Black IPA ABV: 6.8% IBU: 65 A new twist on the classic American IPA, and said to be inspired by the Revolutionary War. Silky smooth and dark as Paul Revere’s midnight ride, this beer takes what you already love about IPAs and adds a complexity that is not easily matched.
What to drink: Jackalope Brewing Co., Yazoo Brewing Co., Tennessee Brew Works
Where to drink: Craft Brewed, The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, 12 South Taproom and Grill
Many people don’t generally include Nashville on their “Best Beer City” lists. But this southern city is experiencing a beer revolution like few others. Last year, Nashville’s continued growth in craft brewing set a high water mark of 35 breweries in the city. Combine this with the growing recognition as a foodie city, and you have quite the pairing indeed. Most of the breweries here have garnered only a very small amount national following to date, but growth is definitely on the horizon for this craft beer scene. So get in on the ground level, and experience the excitement of a beer boom town.
My pick: SUE ABV: 9.2% IBU: 72 SUE is not your average American Porter. SUE is smoked with cherrywood, and gets her bitterness from Perle and Galena hops. Yazoo Brewing says it best; “Sue is a big, rich smoky malt bomb of a beer.” Yup…pretty much sums it up.
What to drink: Old Rail Brewing Company, Chafunkta Brewing, Abita Brewing Co.
Where to drink: The Avenue Pub, The Chimes, Abita Brew Pub
It only makes sense that New Orleans would have a thriving craft brewing scene. If you’ve ever spent some time down in the Big Easy, you’d know that this city knows how to drink. And all of that beer has got to come from somewhere. It may lack the breadth of breweries found in famed Pacific Northwest locales, but its home grown, heavy hitter is on par with the big boys. Abita Brewing Co. ranked No. 15 on the Brewers Association 2013 Top 50 Breweries. Yet, Abita is far from the only game in this town. NOLA (New Orleans Lager and Ale) Brewing Company was founded with the noblest of intentions; to give back to the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Other notables include; Old Rail Brewing Company, Chfunkta Brewing, and Bayou Teche. There’s no better way to enjoy this enchanting city, than to take in the sights and sounds of Bourbon Street with an ice cold, local brew in hand.
My pick: Turbodog ABV: 5.6% IBU: 28 A dark brown ale that is spectacularly spiked with both caramel and chocolate hops.
What to drink: Great Lakes Brewing Co., Fatheads Brewery, Market Garden Brewery
Where to drink: Tremont Taphouse, Happy Dog, The Brew Kettle Taproom & Smokehouse
OK, so maybe Tripound can’t get you to Cleveland just yet. That’s a shame, at least as beer drinking is concerned. The rustbelt craft brewing revolution has its roots in balmy Cleveland, OH. Maybe it’s because of the pure waters of the Cuyahoga River. Nope. More likely it stems from good, honest people looking for good, honest brews. The Great Lakes Brewing Co. started the ball rolling back in ’88 and has only picked up steam since then. If I could count the number of hours I’ve wasted down in dungeon-esque brewpub, I’d have to be pretty good at math. Lucky for me, I’m better at drinking. Cleveland has a unique mix of established breweries and adventurous upstarts. So, here any palate can find beer worthy of drinking. Market Garden brings the beer garden to the urban environment. This fusion makes for a truly unique experience, backed by some great beers.
My pick: Barrel-Aged Blackout Stout. ABV: 9.5% IBU 50 As the name implies, this beer is not for the faint of heart, or alcohol tolerance. Great Lakes actually named this tasty stout after the 2003 Blackout of the Northeastern US. This a truly humongous beer. Bitterness is perfectly balanced with chocolate notes, and everything is amplified because of the warmth given off through the bourbon barrel aging process. It’s only available once a year, and by once I mean literally a 3 day window. So good luck, you’ll need it.