There can be no doubt at this point that the craft beer phenomenon is more than a flash in the pan. Craft brews now account for approximately a quarter of the entire US beer industry and generate nearly $28 billion in sales each year. The trend has also vastly expanded the variety in the US beer market, with everything from ultra-hoppy IPAs to dark stouts and porters now occupying prominent places in America’s bars and beverage stores.
As enthusiasm for craft beer has grown, an interesting and unique brand of tourism has developed along with it. With over 7,000 breweries now located in every corner of America, craft beer enthusiasts have begun incorporating their love of fine brews into their travels. Beer tourism is an exciting opportunity for connoisseurs and casual enthusiasts alike, and it adds a completely new dimension to the overall beer tasting experience. In this guide, craft beer lovers will find everything they need to know about beer tourism and some of the best destinations and events the brewing world has to offer.
A Brief Look at Beer Tourism
Before planning out any trips, it’s important to have a look at what beer tourism is and what is driving its current popularity. The basic model of beer tourism is visiting various breweries and sampling the beers offered there. In some cases, the sampling may also be paired with a tour of the brewery facility itself.
In general, travelers looking for beer-related destinations are craft beer enthusiasts who want to sample the widest possible variety of different beers. Demographically, they are also younger, a fact which sharply distinguishes beer tourism from most wine and whiskey tourism.
Another interesting aspect of beer tourism is the fact that it is largely an urban phenomenon. Because breweries usually set up in cities, travelers who are already away from their hometowns on vacation or for business can usually find craft breweries with ease. As a result, beer tourism can be conveniently worked into existing travel plans, or it can be the entire purpose of a trip in its own right.
Best Cities to Visit as a Beer Tourist
While the distribution of modern craft breweries means that enthusiasts can find beer-related excitement in most cities, there are a few that stand out as major centers of beer tourism. Following, is a list of some of the best cities in the United States to visit for exciting brewery tours and lots of tasting opportunities. It should be noted, though, that this list is far from exhaustive, and there are many, many more cities out there with great attractions for beer lovers.
For beer tourism in or around Pennsylvania, Philadelphia is the undisputed top destination. The historic city is now home to more than 15 breweries, giving beer enthusiasts a wide selection of sites to visit. Some of the breweries that can be found in Philadelphia include Crime and Punishment Brewing Co., Brewery ARS and Evil Genius Beer Company. The city is also home to a popular brewpub operated by the well-known Goose Island Beer Company.
For beer lovers in search of the largest possible selection of craft breweries, Chicago is the perfect travel destination. With an astonishing total of 167 breweries located within the greater Chicago metropolitan area, visitors will be able to find any beer they’re looking for in this bustling Midwestern city. Some of Chicago’s best-known craft breweries include Revolution Brewing, Half Acre Beer Company and Lagunitas Brewing company.
While less prolific than Chicago in terms of sheer number of breweries, the Minneapolis-St.Paul metropolitan area has a lot to offer the traveling craft beer connoisseur. The list of breweries travelers will find in Minnesota’s Twin Cities includes Summit Brewing Company, Barrel Theory Beer Company, Bauhaus Brew Labs and the acclaimed Surly Brewing Company.
Needless to say, the Big Apple has not been left out of the craft brewing revolution of recent decades. Today, the city is home to plethora of small breweries, including Evil Twin Brewing, Sixpoint Brewery, Bronx Brewery and Other Half Brewing. The city also hosts an impressive array of fashionable craft beer bars, such as Top Hops Beer Shop and Blind Tiger Ale House.
No list of major American craft beer cities could be complete without a mention of Portland, Oregon. These days, tourists can find more than 70 breweries in the city, making it a great choice for a day of brewery tours and tastings. Featured in this lineup of awesome breweries are Ecliptic Brewing, Stormbreaker Brewing, Baerlic Brewing Company, Cascade Brewing and Occidental Brewing Company. For enthusiasts who love aged beers, a trip to Cascade’s Barrel House will be particularly rewarding.
Even if it isn’t as prominent a city as Chicago or New York, Fort Collins, Colorado, punches far above its weight when it comes to its beer scene. As the home of Odell Brewing and New Belgium Brewing Company, Fort Collins supplies some of America’s favorite craft beers. At the same time, though, new breweries have continued to open for business in the city, including Snowbank Brewing. For those who want to combine beer tourism with the sheer natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins is a must-see destination.
Although Milwaukee earned its title as the beer capital of the world by churning out vast quantities of mass-produced lagers, the city has jumped onto the craft beer bandwagon with considerable success. Milwaukee’s craft beer companies include Lakefront Brewery, Eagle Park Brewing and Big Head Brewing Company, to name just a few. With over 30 breweries scattered throughout the city, there’s more than enough to keep even the most avid beer enthusiast occupied during a trip.
Of course, the city is also still home to the massive Miller and Pabst breweries, both of which are worth seeing despite not having a craft pedigree. For visitors who love both beer and history, a tour of the historic Pabst brewery will be well worthwhile.
As a city that is always at the cutting edge of trends, it’s unsurprising that Seattle is one of America’s leading craft beer cities. With a roster of breweries that includes Fremont Brewing Company, Standard Brewing and Holy Mountain Brewing Company, Seattle is a haven for connoisseurs of all different beer styles. As a result of the city’s love affair with brewing, there are also several trendy craft beer bars located throughout the Seattle metropolitan area.
Surprisingly, Asheville, North Carolina, is a major hub of the craft brewing world. With more breweries per capita than any other city in the nation, Asheville offers visitors an opportunity to try a wide range of beers without having to visit a gigantic metropolitan area. Breweries found in the city include Archetype Brewing, Blue Ghost Brewing Company, Eluvium Brewing Company and Highland Brewing Company. New Belgium also has a secondary brewing facility located in Asheville.
Rounding out this list of top American beer cities is San Francisco, currently home to some 120 breweries and brewpubs. Beer tourists in California’s great bay city, will be able to sample brews from 21st Amendment Brewery, Laughing Monk Brewing Company and Triple Voodoo Brewery, among many others. Of particular historical note is the Anchor Brewing Company, which claims the title of America’s oldest craft brewery.
The Events all Craft Beer Enthusiasts Should Attend
In addition to great beer cities, there are also some beer festivals that should be on every enthusiast’s bucket list. Beer festivals offer the chance to sample more individual brews than can be found at any one brewery, making them perfect events for enthusiasts who like to experience the complete lineup the craft beer world has to offer. Following are some of the major beer fests that enthusiast is sure to love.
The Essential Beer Fests of America
Some of the world’s great beer fests take place in the United States, making them easier for domestic travelers to attend. As with breweries, these festivals are scattered throughout the country, making it relatively easy to find one in just about any region of the country. In many cases, the cities that host these events are also home to multiple breweries that visitors can take in during their trips.A great place to start this list of America beer fests is with the Oregon Brewers Festival, which holds the distinction of being the longest-running event of its kind in the United States. Each year, as many as 80 breweries bring their wares to Portland, Oregon for this event. Although it was once open to breweries everywhere, the 2019 installment of the festival will be the first to feature only beers brewed in Oregon. While this change makes the event a bit less inclusive than it once was, it also offers a great stage on which to highlight the state’s many craft beer companies.
Another US beer event that’s well worth attending is the Great Taste of the Midwest festival put on each year by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild. At this event, beer lovers will find brews from over 190 breweries available for tasting. As the name implies, the festival focuses primarily on offerings from Midwestern craft breweries. Now well past its 30th anniversary, the Great Taste of the Midwest festival is held each year at Olin Park in Madison, Wisconsin.
Chicago’s Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers may be the ideal event for beer enthusiasts who obsess over barrel aged brews. This festival is definitely for niche enthusiasts, but it does offer a chance to try some of America’s best aged beers. In a typical year, about 400 beers appear at the event. While it may not be for everyone, the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers is an essential destination for connoisseurs who love the nuance and depth that barrel aging imparts to a beer.
For those who want to explore the boundaries of beer flavor, the Extreme Beer Fest is a tailor-made event that is sure to please. This annual festival is organized by BeerAdvocate and features some of the rarest and most unusual beers on the market. Breweries that attend are also encouraged to debut new beers at the event, meaning that a ticket will give visitors the chance to be among first consumers to try a lineup of exciting new brews that they may never find anywhere else.
Topping out the list in the United States is the aptly named Great American Beer Festival. Held each Autumn in Denver, the Great American Beer Festival features a lineup of beers that is impressive by any standards. The festival, which has now been held annually for more than 35 years, features an astonishing 4,000 individual beersfrom approximately 800 breweries located throughout the United States. Beer tourists who are looking for the largest conceivable selection shouldn’t miss this event, as it would be virtually impossible to find a larger assortment of beers anywhere else in the world.
Celebrating Beer Around the World
Of course, America is far from the only country with a great lineup of beer festivals. All over the world, people gather together to drink old favorites and sample new releases from their favorite breweries.
One of the largest and most important international beer festivals is the Great British Beer Festival. Occurring annually in London, this festival includes approximately 900 different beers and draws crowds of up to 60,000 attendees. The 4-day event is held each August, making it a great addition to a summer travel schedule in the UK.
Interestingly, one of the world’s largest beer fests now takes place in Qingdao, China. The Qingdao International Beer Festival has been a yearly tradition in the city since 1991 and now includes beers from more than 100 breweries. The unique defining feature of the Qingdao festival, though, is its length. Where most beer festivals run for only a few days, the Qingdao International Beer Festival takes place over the course of a full month, generally starting at the end of July. This extended length makes it fairly easy to work it into a larger trip schedule.
Another international beer festival that is well worth checking out is Czech Beer Festival in Prague. Throughout the month of May, attendees can try approximately 100 different beers produced by breweries throughout the Czech Republic. Although very popular in the Czech Republic itself, this festival has the advantage of being a bit less well-known than some of the others on this list by international tourists. Thanks to this fact, the Czech Beer Festival is a great chance to try some amazing beer and enjoy the charm of a historic European city without having to contend with massive crowds.
Oktoberfest: The King of All Beer Festivals
Of course, no other beer festival in the world can compare to Germany’s famous Oktoberfest. Held annually in Munich since its origins as a royal wedding celebration in 1810, Oktoberfest is simultaneously the world’s best-known beer event and an important historical tradition. It’s also an event that all hardcore beer lovers should try to attend at least once, as nothing else quite compares to Oktoberfest.
With an average attendance of around 6 million people each year, Oktoberfest is a crowded festival that can be a bit difficult to navigate. The good news, though, is that the event goes on for two full weeks each autumn, making it easier to fit into a travel itinerary. Most Oktoberfest veterans recommend attending during the second week, when the crowds tend to subside a bit. To keep travel budgets under control, it’s also a good idea to get a hotel farther away from the event and use public transportation to get there. Early booking can also be a useful tool, since it can help attendees lock in lower prices on hotel rooms before the surge of Oktoberfest bookings. Experts generally recommend booking a year or more in advance to access the best pricing.
Planning a Road Trip Around Beer
While visiting an individual city or taking in a beer festival is definitely a great time, beer tourists can take things to the next level by incorporating multiple stops into a craft beer road trip. By selecting sites near one another, enthusiasts can create an entire travel plan based around their love of craft beer.
One popular road trip for American beer lovers is the short drive from Portland, Oregon, to Bend, Oregon. In addition to the Portland breweries listed above, this route offers access to Bridgeport Brewery, Commons Brewery and Boneyard Brewery, not to mention the Deschutes Brewery located in Bend. For even more craft beer fun, this trip can be planned in conjunction with the annual Oregon Brewers Festival.
Another great beer route to try is the run between Denver and Albuquerque, both cities with plenty in the way of craft breweries to choose from. Along this route, travelers will find Blackshirt Brewing Company, Bristol Brewing Company and the Nexus Brewery, among many others. An easy way to expand upon this road trip is to begin slightly farther north in Fort Collins, then drive down through Denver and toward Albuquerque.
In the Midwest, the obvious choice for a shorter road trip is to drive between Milwaukee and Chicago and enjoy the huge selection of craft breweries that can be found in the two nearby cities, including the ones highlighted above. Alternatively, this route can be adjusted to a trip between Milwaukee and Madison, especially if the time coincides with the Great Taste of the Midwest.
For even more adventurous beer tourists, nothing beats the excitement of a true cross-country trip. One great way to do this is to follow the old Route 66 across the nation. With stopovers in major cities in eight different states, there’s practically no limit to the number of brewery combinations that can be worked into the Route 66 craft beer road trip.
Needless to say, there’s no reason to stick to a predefined formula when plotting out a craft beer road trip. Wherever there are two cities within reasonable driving distance of each other, there’s the potential for a road trip. Craft beer enthusiasts who want to customize their own unique road trips should carefully select the breweries they want to stop at to make sure that they get the greatest possible enjoyment from their outings. It’s also worth noting that a craft beer road trip can be as brief as a single day or as long as a week, depending on the tastes and schedule of an individual tourist.
A Few Extra Tips for First-time Beer Tourists
To make the most of beer tourism, there are a few additional tips that travelers should keep in mind. Following are some helpful suggestions that can help tourists successfully navigate their first craft beer excursions.
First and foremost, it’s important for beer tourists to always plan their transportation carefully. Even when just sampling beer, it is possible to drink too much to drive safely. Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft can be very useful for travelers who plan to visit multiple breweries in the same city. Public transportation can also be a handy tool for moving between destinations.
Another essential tip for those visiting breweries is to eat at least some food throughout the day. While it’s usually not a good idea to pack in several meals, some light snacking will help to balance off the alcohol from beer samples. At the end of the day, though, a full meal will likely be in order. For this reason, expert beer tourists will often plan their last stop at a brewpub with a full dinner menu. Likewise, it’s important to drink water throughout the day to prevent dehydration.
For beer-based trips that include a festival, one of the most critical things to remember is to bring a valid form of ID. While experienced bartenders are usually comfortable serving a person who is obviously over the age of 40, the rules at beer fests are often quite a bit stricter. This tip, though, should be applied to all brewery visits as well, since it’s always possible that a given brewery will enforce particularly hard ID standards on its guests.
Finally, beer tourists should avoid the mistake of going to a festival without at least some prior planning. At large beer festivals, enthusiasts will be met with hundreds of different beers, making it impossible to try them all. A good approach for attendees is to prioritize beers and activities based on how much they want to try them. Having a list of must-haves and a list of beers that would be nice to try will help to streamline the selection process considerably.
When planned out and executed properly, a trip focused on craft beer destinations and events can be an incredibly fun experience. Whether it’s a day trip to a major city to visit a few breweries or a dream vacation to Germany culminating in Oktoberfest, beer tourism is an exciting new type of travel that practically anyone can enjoy. To make the process of finding beer destinations easier, travelers can use a BeerMaps search. The free BeerMaps tool gives users a complete listing of the breweries, taprooms and brewpubs in any city, making planning a craft beer vacation a breeze.