With Oktoberfest fast approaching, there’s only one drink on your mind: Beer. Really. Good. Beer.
But not all of us can take time off to fly to Germany to clink steins with local fräuleins for days on end. You can, however, visit some top-tier breweries in the U.S. To that end, we’ve created itineraries for five great American beercations in cities with a high concentration of excellent craft breweries — plus the hotels in which you can sleep your hangover off in style.
Now that the Furniture City has taken first place in the annual Beer City USA poll for two consecutive years, even the local visitors bureau has spearheaded a new campaign dedicated solely to beer tourism, with a comprehensive brewery-hopping guide and annual beer events.
Ranked as the country's top brewpub by multiple sites, Hopcat showcases 200-plus bottled beers sourced from all over the world, in addition to 38 taps (with a heavy bent toward Michigan-made brews). House beers, which in the past have included unorthodox flavours (like cucumber and rice, and sage), are swapped out every season and produced in small batches.
Located in a former funeral home, the Belgian-and French-inspired beers here are sipped with near reverence. The Farm Hand Ale is based on what French fin-de-siècle brewers might have served in the countryside. Hazy, faintly sour, and with a bit of funk (derived from a special yeast), it pairs with heartier fare like pâté, duck confit, and the Belgian frites served on-site.
The award-winning portfolio of beers, pristine brewery, and taproom with live music keep fans and critics coming back all year long. Follow up a round or two of the best-selling All Day IPA, an aromatic and assertive session beer, with a glass of the Harvest Ale, which uses wet hops (as opposed to dried or pelletized) for a bright and citrusy beer that finishes delightfully warm and malty.
JW Marriott Grand Rapids
Recover from a bout of day drinking at the top-notch spa (renowned for seriously skilled masseuses and their use of local ingredients like Grand Haven beach sand) at this modern high-rise. Return to a room outfitted with ultra plush beds, 37-inch flat-screen TVs, and sweeping views of the river, or round out the day with a concert or game at the Van Andel Arena.
Inspired by a quote by King Henry VIII, who declared hops 'a wicked and pernicious weed,' this brewpub's flagship is, unsurprisingly, a bold, aggressively hopped, and citrus-forward double IPA called the Freak Double. The brewery is also working on developing the largest barrel program in the southeast. Try the Dark Angel Cherry Sour, which is aged in oak barrels and releases plenty of sweet and tart cherry notes.
Many locals credit Oscar Wong, a former engineer nicknamed the 'Godfather of Beer City,' for sparking the city's beer culture when he moved to the area in 1994 and opened his brewery in the basement below Barley's Taproom. His dark amber Gaelic Ale (Highland's first offering and the only one poured year round) is thoroughly refreshing, striking a balance between sweet and pleasantly bitter.
Owner-run, brewed, and built, this up-and-coming nano-brewery (planning to go into full production in 2015), which opened in January this year with a one-barrel system and a cozy taproom, is quickly gaining a following for its fine-tuned creations. Standouts include the Millstone IPA, brewed with locally grown spelt and rye, Thai basil, and orange peel, as well as the Skillet Doughnut Stout, lightly sweet but rounded out with deep notes of coffee (the beans come from local roasters).
Aloft Asheville Downtown
The newest hotel in the heart of the city is just minutes away from some of the best craft breweries in town. The rooms are minimal and sleek, decorated with works by local artists. Ask for a room with a stunning view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At night, head downstairs for a nightcap at the hotel's WXYZ Bar, a local hot spot known for exclusively offering local beer on tap, in addition to a wide variety of bottled craft beers.
Every October, the Mile High City hosts the Great American Beer Festival (the country's largest), along with a slew of other smaller events (Beer and Bacon Festival, anyone?). And when the crowds clear, there are enough top-ranked breweries and pubs to keep even the most avid beer devotee's itinerary full.
Opened in an old-auto repair garage in 2011, this brewery has produced more than 250 kinds of beers with unusual yet approachable flavour profiles. According to cofounder Patrick Crawford, fall favourites include the Graham Cracker Porter, a dark brew laced with vanilla and cinnamon, and the Hey! Pumpkin, which packs over 100 pounds of fresh pumpkin into the mash.
Wynkoop Brewing Company
Founded by state governor John Hickenlooper as Colorado's first brewpub and Denver's first craft brewery, Wynkoop is a history-rich destination. The Rail Yard Ale, a classic German lager fermented with English ale yeast, is the biggest seller, but adventurous drinkers will want to try the Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, which is made with roasted bull testicles.
With an ever-growing stack of accolades and portfolio of beers, Great Divide shows no signs of slowing. The house favourite is the Yeti Imperial Stout, a hop monster rich with caramel and toffee notes. Also popular is the Colette Farmous Ale, a nod to light and refreshing Belgian saison beers.
The Oxford Hotel
Located in the heart of downtown Denver's lively LoDo district, the Oxford is one of the city's most popular historic hotels. Each of the 80 rooms is individually designed with luxurious amenities like stand-alone claw-foot bathtubs and services like on-demand bath butlers. After a soak, head to the hotel's legendary Cruise Room, Denver's oldest bar.
The Baseball Hall of Fame isn't the only draw here. Historically one of the country's largest hop-producing hubs, Cooperstown is home to a number of noteworthy breweries. While this charming resort town is less flashy than some of its beer-purveying peers, it offers a surprising variety of award-winning Belgian ales and truly small-batch beers.
Situated on a 136-acre former hops farm near the Susquehanna River, Ommegang is renowned for turning out textbook Belgian-style ales. The Hennepin, with its crisp, hoppy flavour and deep gold colour, stands out in beer history as the country's first domestically brewed saison. Three Philosophers, a Belgian-style quadrupel, is an original blend of Ommegang Quadrupel Ale and a Belgian cherry beer that releases flavours of dark fruits (think cherries and currants), coffee, and malt.
Cooperstown Brewing Company
The oldest brewery in the area, Cooperstown specialises in English-style ales. Old Slugger Pale Ale, which pays tribute to the nearby Baseball Hall of Fame, has been a local staple since the brewery opened its doors in 1994.
Council Rock Brewery
While this family-run operation feels quiet and intimate, the house pours are big and flavorful. Home brewer turned brewery founder Roger Davidson prides himself on Council Rock's small-batch beers and low-key vibe. His crowning glory is the balanced, complex All-American IPA, which, unlike most IPAs, isn't overly hoppy, thereby enormously drinkable.
Otesaga Resort Hotel
With a view of Lake Otsego, this historic and stately hotel is ideal for taking a beer-tasting break. Tee off at the hotel's 18-hole Leatherstocking Golf Course, considered by many as one of the Northeast's most scenic and challenging. Jump on a fishing charter on the lake or relax at the new outdoor fire pit.
While some breweries are sticklers for style, Breakside specialises in some pretty funky (and awesome) beers. The IPA and pilsner are the most popular pours, but we recommend going off the beaten path and hitting one of the other taps. If there's one available, try a sour beer; these trending brews are generally fruit-forward, tart (you'll naturally pucker your lips a bit), and deeply thirst-quenching. Plus, they play well with salty snacks on hand like pretzels, wings, and nachos.
Gigantic Brewing Company
The name may have started off as a joke, but this lean and mean operation that master brewers Ben Love and Van Havig opened just over a year ago has already gained a cult craft-beer following. Among the 16 active beers, only the IPA is available year round. We can see why; the bright, citrusy beer has strong grapefruit notes for a pleasant and not overwhelmingly bitter finish.
Hopworks Urban Brewery
At Portland's first so-called eco-brewpub, Hopworks turns out 100 per cent certified organic beers and a locally sourced menu to match. If that wasn't enough to fuel at least one Portlandia sketch, it also reuses rainwater captured in barrels and recycles food waste for animal feed and composting. Equally impressive is a pint of the Survival 7-Grain Stout (made with quinoa, kamut, amaranth, and other ancient grains), which pours nearly black and tastes of dark-roast coffee, thanks to the 20 pounds of Stumptown espresso packed in to each batch.
This is the original Ace, whose popularity spawned four more boutique hotels. The rooms are warm and bohemian with local artwork and gorgeously appointed bathrooms. Common spaces encourage socializing, while the hotel's restaurant, Clyde Common, is a terrific spot to wrap up your beer touring with a well-reviewed menu of European-style tavern fare.
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