Craft beer might be exploding as an industry, but not every craft brewery is equal.
Some will take your breath away – they’re destinations worth seeking out. Others might be more run of the mill, but offer a chance to try the kind of critical darlings that beer lovers dream about.
Whether you’re on an actual beercation or just taking the family on a summer trip, if you find yourself in the vicinity of any of these brewers, it’s worth your while to swing by.
21st Amendment (San Leandro, Calif.)
Why you should go: While the brewer maintains its tasting room in downtown San Francisco, earlier this year it opened this new facility – a converted factory originally used to make Kellogg’s breakfast foods – to the public. You’ll not only have a chance to see how the beer is made, but you’ve also got room to roam. And there’s always a corn hole tournament going on somewhere.
What you should drink: Toaster Pastry, an homage to the facility’s previous tenant, is an India-style red ale that’s full of biscuits and hops.
Dogfish Head (Milton, Del.)
Why you should go: Want to have a say in which beers Dogfish Head rolls out nationally? Customers at the company’s Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats brewpub get to sample small batch test beers. Customer feedback plays a big role in whether the company expands beer production. There’s construction going on this summer as the facility expands, but this is the place to go if you like unexpected offerings.
What you should drink: Whatever small batch offering they’re pouring. Beyond that, don’t pass up the chance to try a 60-, 90- or 120 Minute IPA fresh from the tap.
Russian River Brewing Co. (Santa Rosa, Calif.)
Why you should go: This is Mecca for many beer lovers. Arguably the birthplace of the west coast IPA, it’s not an expansive facility. If you didn’t know its reputation, you might mistake it for just another brewpub. But you’d be foolish to pass up the variety and quality of the beer offerings here.
What you should drink: Pliny the Elder, if only because it’s a highly-touted beer that’s hard to find in most of the country. But be sure to also have a pint of Supplication – a sour brown ale that’s aged in Pinot Noir barrels with sour cherries.
Jester King (Austin, Texas)
Why you should go: There is no more authentic farmhouse beer experience than Jester King. Located 30 minutes from downtown Austin, you can learn more about this brewer’s barrel aging program and see what makes their beers so unique. Then, sit at a picnic table and enjoy a few of their recent offerings. And don’t forget to grab a brisket-topped pizza from Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza, located next door.
What you should drink: Try whatever is new and on tap. Jester King regularly rolls out small batch offerings (which you can often buy before you leave). Beyond that, La Vie en Rose, a farmhouse ale that’s refermented with raspberries is incredible. And it’s hard to go wrong with Noble King.
The Alchemist (Stowe, Vt.)
Why you should go: The maker of Heady Topper, one of the most in-demand beers around, has kept its brewing closed to the public for years. In July, though, The Alchemist will open a new brewery and visitors center in Stowe, where fans will be able to sample beers and buy four-packs to go. There’s no food. And you can’t even enjoy a full pint while you’re there. But if you’re a big craft beer lover, the fact that you can now visit the Alchemist is an event unto itself.
What you should drink: Heady Topper and Focal Banger are the year-round offerings, but keep your eyes open for any other beers, which the brewer plans to release from time to time.
Sierra Nevada (Mills River, N.C. and Chico, Calif.)
Why you should go: Both of Sierra Nevada’s coastal breweries offer plenty of beer, great food and lots of music. The Chico location’s “Big Room” is a 350-seat venue that has hosted recording artists from around the country. In North Carolina, there are shows on the open-aired Back Porch, with outdoor seating and a fire pit, and larger concerts in the adjacent amphitheater. Not a music fan? Stroll through the estate grounds and visit the on-premises gardens, where many of the ingredients for the brewpub itself are grown.
What you should drink: Hop Hunter, made with hop oils instead of cones, is a fresh take on the IPA style. And West Latitude brings a nice Hawaiian touch to a session beer.
New Belgium (Ft. Collins, Colo.)
Why you should go: Dubbed the Liquid Center (or LC), this expansive facility is a great place to learn how beer is made. Beyond its standard offerings, like Fat Tire and Ranger IPA, you can learn more about (and try examples of) its experimental “Lips of Faith” offerings directly from the brewers.
What you should drink: Most New Belgium offerings are widely available, so try something you don’t usually have access to, like Colorado Peach Wit or Blackberry Barley Wine.
Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, Calif.)
Why you should go: Not only does Stone’s flagship brewing facility have a top class restaurant/bistro (with an emphasis on local, small-farm organic foods), but it also has an extensive gardens area, where you can enjoy a beer while strolling the grounds or relaxing in one of the Adirondack chairs or covered outdoor couches. It’s no surprise this is a popular spot for banquets and weddings in addition to a must-visit location for beer pilgrims.
What you should drink: This summer will have plenty of anniversary series offerings that are worth a taste, but if those don’t strike your fancy, try out the latest “Enjoy By” offering for an incredibly fresh IPA.
Wicked Weed (Ashville, N.C.)
Why you should go: Wicked Weed offers a two-for-one stop for beer lovers. The original brewpub houses a full restaurant, bottle shop and is the home of the brewers original 15-barrel brewery. It’s dog friendly, full of great beers and a must-visit part of Ashville. But a half mile away lurks the Funkatorium, a taproom entirely dedicated to the brewer’s sour beers. With over a dozen on tap and set against the barrel-aging program, it’s a unique stop for people who are more adventurous with their drinking.
What you should drink: From the brewpub? Grab a Freak of Nature IPA. At the Funkatorium? Try Oblivion, a sour red ale aged with blackberries and dates in red wine barrels for up to 12 months.
Anchor Brewing (San Francisco, Calif.)
Why you should go: This is where the craft beer movement got started. Get an extended tour of the facility, with its traditional copper brew kettles, and soak in the history before stepping into the tasting room and trying a flight of Anchor beers. Need an added incentive to go? Starting next year, the company will open a 212,000 square foot production facility. It will have a restaurant, museum, education center and other attractions, but it won’t have that same sense of history.
What you should drink: Go with the beer that made history when you’re here – Anchor Steam.