Yes, there are obvious American beer travel destinations, like Denver, Portland, and even Asheville. And there are bucket-list beercations abroad, like Belgium and Germany.
But for the beer lover looking to delve a little deeper into craft beer culture, an array of less obvious cities are becoming prime destinations for beer travel. From a burgeoning gypsy brewing scene in a South American metropolis, to underground beer cultures in Asian megacities, to sparkling new taprooms in small American cities, these destinations are ripe for discovery. To add to their appeal, a spate of new attractions make 2018 the perfect time to book your flight or hit the road.
Pack your bags. Here are top 10 beercation destinations for 2018.
10. BOISE, IDAHO A city with historic roots is sprouting a revitalized, locally focused beer scene
Boise Brewing made quite an entrance onto the beer scene in 2014 when it opened as a Community Supported Brewery (CSB) and became a fast favorite among locals for everything from super-hopped-up IPAs to stouts. Payette Brewing has been increasing in popularity as well, evidenced by the Garden City-based brewery opening its second location in downtown Boise. The new facility will have a production capacity of 100,000 barrels.
Woodland Empire, a collaborative, experimental brewery that draws inspiration from Idaho, is another one worth checking out. Montana-based White Dog Brewing recently opened a location in Boise, too.
Along with new flight options to Boise (American Airlines launched new nonstop service from Chicago O’Hare, and Southwest now runs a nonstop flight from San Diego), Boise is experiencing an influx of hospitality draws, like the Inn at 500. Overlooking the capitol, the inn is complete with a restaurant helmed by James Beard Award-nominated chef Richard Langston.
9. LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY So much more than bourbon and the Derby, Louisville is home to a burgeoning beer culture
Ten years ago, Louisville, Kentucky had no beer tourism. Today, there are 40 craft breweries in the state, with 15 craft breweries in the city of Louisville alone. Kentucky Guild of Brewers president Derek Selznick says Kentucky brewers increased production by 20 percent in 2017, and the city anticipates 12 new breweries this year.
Already attracting attention from the East is Against the Grain, lauded for its tongue-in-cheek, oft-offensive beer names and can designs (Citra Ass Down IPA, Brown Note Brown Ale). The inventive brewpub is connected to Louisville Slugger Field, making it a top target for beer tourists. But for a deeper dive into Louisville, spend time in NuLu, short for “New Louisville,” a newly cool neighborhood known for its art galleries, antique shops, and our favorite thing to travel for: food and drink.
Part of the NuLu revolution is its many restaurants, along with breweries like Goodwood, credited with bringing back the Kentucky Common (a.k.a. cream ale), and Akasha Brewing Co. In March, the neighborhood hosts the NuLu Bock Beer Festival, celebrating with German-style bock and goat races.
A quick yet comprehensive glimpse of the Louisville craft beer scene can be achieved by attending the Kentucky Craft Bash in June.
For a unique lodging option, check in at 21c Museum Hotel Louisville, a boutique hotel and contemporary art museum that’s home to acclaimed restaurant Proof on Main.
8. ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI Small and independent breweries and bars stand up against Anheuser-Busch in this tried-and-true beer city
The Gateway Arch Park Foundation recently unveiled final plans for St. Louis’s Gateway Arch Park, a $380 million renovation project that includes biking and running trails, concert and event venues, and a facelifted museum, all set to debut July 3, 2018. The grand opening festivities will kick off on the third, and continue through the weekend until July 7.
As for the beer, St. Louis is now home to craft breweries like Perennial Artisan Ales, a farmhouse-focused project that is always growing with good reason. 4 Hands Brewing, a two-story brewery with a taproom and snack bar downstairs, and arcade games and endless seating upstairs, is a fine place to spend an afternoon. Saint Louis Brewery’s Schlafly, which has served as a community hub and beer leader since 1991, continues to churn out year-rounds, seasonals, and limited releases.
Sour lovers will want to venture to the one-year-old Side Project Brewing, the “side project” of Cory King, formerly of Perennial, and Karen King, formerly of Perennial, Goose Island, and Deschutes, which specializes in oak barrel-aged saisons, wild ales, and spirit-barrel brews. Side Project Cellar, the brewery’s Belgian-inspired taproom, features beer, whiskey, and wine.
If you’re lucky, you might find a Cantillon or two on tap at 21st Street Brewers Bar, and if not, the selection is stellar anyway; pair with the pizzas served fresh next door.
Also, fun fact: There is a Tums factory located near the St. Louis arch downtown; you can catch the aroma all the way down the street.
7. RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL Head here for a Brazilian beer fest in September, or an energized gypsy brewing scene
Rolling out in January 2018, the Brazilian Foreign Affairs Ministry is issuing electronic visas for U.S., Canadian, and Japanese citizens. Delta, meanwhile, offers daily, non-stop service to Rio de Janeiro from its hub in Atlanta, as well as seasonal non-stop service five times a week between Rio and JFK. So, flying south may sound exotic, but it’s totally doable.
Brewing is not yet legal in the city of Rio de Janeiro itself, so many modern brewers are “gypsies,” or contract brewers. Brazilian beer drinkers are more prone to throw back light lagers at a boteco or botequim than chase the latest IPA. However, craft beer is very much in vogue here, and, big surprise, it’s inspired by North American trends (one pair of bars, Pub Escondido, CA and Birreria Escondido, CA, are even named for the home of Stone Brewing and Pizza Port Brewing).
Look out for IPAs, pale ales, and other trendy styles from new brewers like Hocus Pocus, 3Cariocas, and Three Monkeys. If you’re traveling in the fall, try to time your trip for Mondial de la Biere Rio, an international beer festival that originated in Montréal more than 20 years ago (and also has a branch in Paris in late June-early July). Mondial Rio will have its sixth annual run this year. Tack it onto your Christ the Redeemer visit or Copacabana Beach day, or vice versa.
6. SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA Women are driving craft beer culture in this city, now home to its own “craft beer alley”
Delta-Korean Air is now operating out of Incheon Terminal 2, and new high-speed trains are taking travelers from Incheon to popular tourist destinations, so now is a great time to do some Seoul searching.
You might be surprised that craft beer is all over Seoul, and that the trend is largely driven by women who seek more thoughtful consumption of alcohol than the traditional Korean bender. Travelers will want to head to “craft beer alley” in Gyeongnidan, where street drinking is the norm in summer. Popular picks there are Craftworks, a craft beer-pioneering beer bar and restaurant; Magpie Brewing Co.; and Made in Pongdang.
5. BEIJING, CHINA Seek out emerging craft brewery taprooms among the ancient hutongs
Despite China being the creator of four of the world’s top selling beers (Snow, Tsingtao, Yanjing, and Harbin), it is seldom acknowledged in the beer community as a destination for beer travel. But as China emerges as a world power in everything from economics to film to mobile bikes, its craft brewing scene has swiftly stepped into the spotlight. This is nowhere more apparent than in Beijing, the capital, where a series of hidden gems have emerged the past few years.
Arrow Factory Brewing specializes in American-style brews like a session IPA, RyePA, saisons, and stouts. Peiping Machine brings a distinctly Chinese edge to the craft brewing scene, as one of the only fully Chinese-owned breweries here. Great Leap Brewing, another expat-founded brewery, has three brewpubs in Beijing. And Jing-A Brewing Co., perhaps the one showing up most in Westerners’ radar as of late, is also worth a try.
Prefer guidance and groups? Lost Plate is offering a new-and-improved Beijing brewery tour by tuktuk among its other food and drink tours.
If you need more incentive to toss yourself across the globe to this ancient city with modern marvels, United Airlines is offering two free checked bags to/from China and Hong Kong from all routes departing North America, so you’ll have more room for a beer haul back home.
4. MADISON, WISCONSIN No longer overshadowed by Milwaukee, this small city boasts a beer scene of its own
Madison is having a moment. New breweries are giving beer travelers compelling reasons to visit, and with United offering new flights between Madison and San Francisco, it’s easier now more than ever for Californians to hit up this pretty Midwestern city.
Ale Asylum co-founder Otto Dilba recommends getting acquainted with Madison’s bar scene to truly experience the city. Classic Wisconsin taverns are a must, like Laurel Tavern, the longest continuously running bar in Madison; or the Old Fashioned, which is “quite possibly the most Wisconsin establishment in the world,” he says, carrying beer from every brewery in the state.
Another can’t-miss is State Street Brats: “You almost can’t say you’ve been to Madison if you haven’t checked out this popular campus hangout,” Dilba says. “Two floors of pure Bucky Badger bliss, over 40 taps. If you’ve ever watched a Badger game on TV — football, basketball, whatever — and they show scenes from Madison during commercial breaks, you’ve more than likely seen this place. Stroll down state street and swing in here for a beer or two to get the real Madison experience.”
On the gastropub front, Dilba recommends Weary Traveler Freehouse, Alchemy, and Coopers Tavern. As far as breweries, others to check out are the relatively new Rock Hound Brewpub, One Barrel Brewery, and Great Dane, established in 1994.
In August, the annual Great Taste of the Midwest will return to Olin Park, overlooking Lake Monona. The event, sponsored by the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild and now in its 32nd year, features nearly 200 of the Midwest’s craft brewers. If you’re able to venture out, New Glarus is a 45-minute drive you won’t regret.
3. CHICAGO, ILLINOIS New openings complement Chicago’s exciting lineup of experimental brews
Hop on the new American Airlines shuttle to Chi town. Why? It truly has something for everyone.
Forbidden Root, opened in 2016, truly brought something new to the Chicago craft beer scene (or rather, something very, very old). The botanical-obsessed, ancient recipe-inspired brewers use things like foraged flowers, herbs, and roots in their beers, and the results are delicate, delicious, and thought-provoking (and served alongside seasonal dishes that play off the beer recipes).
After hitting your checklist of breweries like Pipeworks, Half Acre, Off Color, and Local Option, look for Lyft’s beer collaboration with Baderbräu Brewing for a discounted ride back to your hotel.
In the Loop “star chef” Austin Fausett, known for his creative American cuisine at Washington, D.C.’s Trummer’s on Main, is opening a new Belgian-inspired beer and mussels bar called Fisk & Co.
Ballast Point also announced it will open a brewery in Chicago soon, too; but if you’re going to pick a new Ballast Point location, maybe go for Disneyland.
2. NEW YORK, NEW YORK A nascent beer scene now exploded, NYC is becoming even more of a beer destination this year
There are so many reasons to travel to New York and, until recently, beer wasn’t one of them. But that’s all changed now that some of the nation’s best breweries, from Other Half to SingleCut to Sixpoint to Transmitter to the now-ubiquitous Brooklyn Brewery, are based here. The scene is ramping up so fast, you’ll miss it if you don’t visit soon.
Cult favorite Grimm Artisanal Ales will open its first brick-and-mortar location in Brooklyn’s East Williamsburg neighborhood this spring, so get ready for that to pop off in the already popping Williamsburg beer scene. Transmitter Brewing, a Queens favorite specializing in Belgian-style, bottle- conditioned ales, will be moving to a bigger space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard this year. Following in those footsteps in the near future, hopefully, will be world-renowned Evil Twin Brewing in Ridgewood, Queens and cool kid classic, Stillwater in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Here’s a guide to NYC’s beer scene to get you started.
American Airlines recently announced a new shuttle service between Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and New York LaGuardia (LGA) kicking off April 4, 2018, so you can jump between the two cities with an option of 15 flights per day (and there’s free beer and wine!).
If you can make it here, you better make it really damn good.
1. RICHMOND, VIRGINIA From one craft brewery to 22 in less than 10 years, RVA is officially on the map
Beer has blossomed in Richmond, and it’s time we all take notice. As the recently revamped Richmond Beer Trail will tell you, this Southern city is now rich with breweries. First there was Legend; then there was Hardywood; and now, more than 20 breweries have opened in the city itself, and 32 are in the area.
An Bui’s Mekong and adjoining brewpub, The Answer, are top spots for all sorts of craft beers and Vietnamese fare. (Pho and hazy IPAs may not sound like they go together, but trust us, they do.)
Hot brewers are The Veil, best known for its hazy, hoppy imperial IPAs (and one seriously gorgeous gose); Ardent Craft Ales, which paved the way for the brewing scene in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood and excels in every style; and Triple Crossing, whose grassy, fruity session IPAs should not be missed. For something truly unique, head to Carytown’s Garden Grove Brewing and Urban Winery, which creates constantly changing, genre-bending styles, like a beer-wine hybrid and a sparkling honey wine with fruits and flowers that mimics rosé wine.
Asian art and history buffs will be amped to hear that the stunning Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China exhibit is at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) until March. And even if you’re not into history, you can feel educated by staying in recently opened boutique hotel, Graduate Richmond.
New flights to know about: United Airlines launched a daily flight to and from Denver, and OneJet now provides a direct flight to and from Pittsburgh, connecting Richmond to the West and immediate North as never before.