It’s a tough, thankless job rating beer towns. It involves buying endless numbers of pints, and spending many long hours sitting on barstools. But someone has to do it.
King Henry VIII declared hops “a wicked and pernicious weed” destined to ruin beer. Independent brewers rebelled, embraced the hop, and created beer for the untamed palate. Today, rebel integrity drives the defiant beer at Wicked Week Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina.
There are many criteria to consider when rating the best locales, but the three most important are the city’s overall beer vibe, the number of brew pubs per person, and the quality of the beer served in the area. These are the the top five standouts when it comes to the American craft beer scene.
5. Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota
As beautiful as the summers in Minnesota might be, there’s no getting around how brutally long and unpleasant the winters are. In other words, the people of the Minneapolis and Saint Paul spend plenty of time indoors between the dark months of November through March to perfect and drink alcoholic beverages. There are more than 30 craft brewers within the Twin Cities, which translates into one for every 109,333 people. One of the hidden gems is Indeed Brewing Company, in northeast Minneapolis. The long wooden bar in the taproom is big enough to handle there large crowds who flock there, but the selection is manageable. Try the spring seasonal, Let It Ride IPA.
4. Boulder, Colorado
Boulder is on the “best” list for practically everything, isn’t it? This quintessential Colorado town makes the cut for craft brew destinations as well. It’s home to 17 brew pubs and breweries, for a per capita ratio of one for roughly every 6,000 people. To find the top taproom, look no further than the venerable Boulder Beer Company. The state’s first micro brewery, created in 1979, it’s also one of the town’s most popular drinking holes, where you listen to live music and wash down a burger with its trademark Mojo India Pale Ale.
3. Portland, Maine
Lobster and chowder have long taken a backseat in this old fishing town on the southern coast of Maine to the sweet nectar of hops and barley. There are 15 breweries and brewpubs within the city limits, translating to roughly one for every 4,400 people. Allagash Brewing has been churning out otherworldly Belgian-style ales since 1995, and still maintains its position atop the beer heap in town. Just as popular with the locals is Gritty McDuff’s Brew Pub in the Old Port area, where you need to try the Black Fly Stout—with an order of chowder and a lobster melt, of course.
2. Portland, Oregon
If people couldn’t talk about beer in Portland, they’d have almost nothing else to say. They take their pints and half-pours that seriously. The city boasts an astounding 35 breweries within its borders, for a per capita ratio of one for every 17,000 people. There are too many worthy nominees for best brewery in town, so instead, we’ll give you the best beer: Bourbonic Plague. It’s made by Cascade Brewing, known for its characteristically sour beers aged in Kentucky bourbon and Northwest wine barrels. Bourbonic Plague, a spicy double porter, actually only comes in bottles.
1. Asheville, North Carolina
Maybe it’s the mountain water. Or because folks have been expertly making their own hooch and beer in the hills of western North Carolina for more than a century. Whatever the reason, Asheville has become the country’s blue ribbon craft brew town. Its 13 breweries and brewpubs translate to a ratio of one for every 6,593 people—but the variety and quality of its offerings are what truly set it apart. Everyone who makes a beer pilgrimage here should stop at Wicked Weed (where the specialties are Barrel Aged Sour & Wild Beers and Hoppy West Coast Ales) in an old auto repair shop on Biltmore Avenue, and the Wedge in an old warehouse in the River Arts District (try the Witbier, a fruity Belgian).