A Tour of U.S. Artisan and Craft Beers
May 23, 2011 | Permalink
You don’t have to be a beer connoisseur to have heard of the two top-selling American craft or artisan beers: Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, brewed respectively (as you might expect) in Boston, Massachusetts and in Chico, California (just east of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range). Both breweries offer tours, but if your time is limited, you can just go to the tasting rooms to sample their extensive ranges of beers. With its emphasis on fresh farm-to-table local products, including veggies and beef from the local university farm, the food at Sierra Nevada’s restaurant is itself worth the visit. Now that warm weather is here, be sure that you ask for a table outside in the beautiful courtyard.
However, there’s more to artisan or craft beer than just the big names. In fact, some purists assert that once a brewery’s production gets that big, it moves out of the “craft” or “micro-brewery” category (category definitions are really slippery!). No matter how you define the category, there are numerous small breweries which produce fantastic beers and offer tasting experiences too good to miss.
Starting in the Northeast, Brooklyn Brewery’s Brooklyn Pennant Ale, Monster Ale and Brooklyn Brown Ale are popular choices at the Friday, Saturday and Sunday tastings and tours. The big brick warehouse has tables scattered around, where people hang out to drink beer and play cards and board games in a casual, party atmosphere. No food is served, but customers order pizzas from nearby shops or even bring in their own food, adding to the local hangout atmosphere. Further south in Baltimore, Maryland, is a great venue to visit tall ships in the Inner Harbor and to stop in at Clipper City Brewing Company for a Loose Cannon IPA (India pale ale). Down in Ashville, North Carolina, if you have small travelers along, you can please everyone with a stop at Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company. Locals recommend the Houdini ESP (extra-special/extra-strong bitter) and Shiva IPA brews.
In the Midwest, Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery consistently wins honors for individual beers (RateBeer.com ranked their Rare Bourbon Stout fifth among best beers of 2011) and as a top brewery. Given its recent acquisition by Anheuser-Busch and expansion plans, it may not still qualify as a craft brewery, but given its history of quality and innovation (and huge number of fans, including President Obama), we’ll keep it on the list. Other popular Midwestern breweries include Indianapolis’s Sun King and Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Company. Both feature seasonal, limited-release and year-round brews.
Moving to the West, Denver (Great Divide Brewing Company), Fort Collins (New Belgium—one of the microbrew movement founders) and Tucson (Barrio Brewing) all have breweries you’ll want to check out. Once you get to the West Coast, options are many. California’s options include not only Sierra Nevada in Chico, but also Alesmith in San Diego (huge selection) and Anchor Brewing Company (known for their rich Anchor Steam) in San Francisco. Up North, Portland’s Hair of the Dog Brewery (check out favorites like Doggie Claws and Bourbon Fred) and Hood River’s Full Sail Brewery (gorgeous location) are definitely worth a visit.
According to the Brewers Association, craft brewers are distinguished by their independence, innovation and integrity and their dedication to producing distinctive, fine beers. Those characteristics seem like a pretty good reason to add microbreweries to your road trip destinations. And don’t forget to also check out beer festivals, which kick into high gear during summer and fall.
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