Nine Great Beer Towns You Didn’t Know Were Great Beer Towns
By Lew Bryson and Jay R. Brooks
Munich, Milwaukee, Boston, Denver…naming the major beer cities of the world is easy (not to mention a great way to start an argument among friends). There are plenty of places that could qualify as major beer cities; but before you go strapping on your fanny pack and loading up the camera bag to see the sights and sip the samples, consider what you might be missing by clinging fast to the obvious. Go beyond the mega-breweries and discover some lower-key destinations where beer is part and parcel of the local culture. We did some digging and found nine great stops for any beer geek with a touch of wanderlust.
Ðeske Krumlov, Czech Republic
Ðeske Krumlov should be on your list of places to see before you die. UNESCO lists the town as a World Heritage site, calling it “an outstanding example of a small central European medieval town.” It’s home to a gorgeous castle, many fine shops (art, glass and garnet jewelry), and the Museum of Torture (really, right on the town square).
You won’t go thirsty, either. Pivovar Eggenberg, the town brewery, offers a fine beer hall with ridiculously low prices for a delicious unfiltered pilsner. Eggenberg, Pilsner Urquell and Budvar appear at bars all over town as well. Ðeské BudÐjovice is less than half an hour away; at the end of that drive, you’ll find BudÐjovický MÐšÐanský Pivovar—and all the “Czech Budweiser” you can drink.
But the reason Ðeske Krumlov is on this list is because of a little place called KrÐma on Šatlavská Alley, which lies just off the town square. You’ll find a low-ceilinged tavern, whitewashed stone and tile, with an open fire where pork cutlets sizzle and snap. They pour only Budvar and the dark Budvar Tmavý, fresh from the tap, but that’s central Europe for you. Even for Europe, though, this place has an ancient feel (luckily, the bathrooms are quite modern). Put it on your list, and shake off 500 years when you walk through the door. [LB]
When most Americans head to Ontario, they’re traveling to Toronto, Windsor or Niagara Falls. But if you’re up north and looking for great beer, don’t overlook Guelph, a university town on the picturesque Speed River. Guelph (pronounced “gwelf”) balances high-tech and agricultural research industries with a seriously green approach to life. Walk down Riverside Park, or rent a canoe to paddle in the river.
When you’ve worked up a thirst, head to the Woolwich Arms and Arrow for a pint of local cask ale: The Wooly has three hand pumps, and it’s not afraid to use them. It’s really one of my favorite bars in all of North America: friendly service, excellent cask ale and authentic neighborhood ambience. The beers most likely on cask at the Wooly—Arkell Best Bitter and County Ale—come from the Wellington Brewery. Wellington’s been around since 1985, and they do real ale right. (Guelph’s pure water sources provide an assist, of course.)
The F&M Brewery is notable for the controversy it has stirred: their StoneHammer Pils once came under fire for being “too hoppy.” It has been toned down a bit, but it remains a delicious Czech-style Pils—one of Ontario’s best—and a great pint.
Guelph is home to a macrobrewery, too. Sleeman Brewing and Malting is best-known for Sleeman’s Cream Ale (an innocently drinkable beer, if a bit of a yawner), but they also own Canada’s best-known craft beer, Unibroue. Sleeman itself was bought by Sapporo last year. [LB]
Easton is the home of former heavyweight boxing champ Larry “The Easton Assassin” Holmes, Crayola crayon makers Binney & Smith and the National Canal Museum. During Prohibition, however, its lax liquor law enforcement made the town a popular drinking destination, and it remains so, thanks to a serious commitment to craft beer.
Weyerbacher brews their notably big beers here; must-haves include their barrel-aged Barleywine, an Imperial Pumpkin Ale and a Quadrupel. The brewery used to have a great little pub, but it was forced to move; the facility is strictly production-only now. They do still conduct tours and tastings on Saturday afternoons, though.
The folks who worked at Weyerbacher’s pub opened Which Brew [closed], a quirky, beercentric bar that serves up very good food. They’re also very good about cooperating with the beer bar down the street, Porter’s Pub, so that their tap selections don’t overlap too much.
Porter’s is more pubby than Which Brew, and it’s been around longer. Beer-savvy bartenders and cozy Victorian surroundings make it a great choice for a session.
Over the hill and toward the river is Easton’s Centre Square, where you’ll find Pearly Baker’s Alehouse. Pearly’s has had an up-and-down history with quality beer (currently in a good phase—bring back the cask!), but their food has always been excellent—particularly their innovative appetizers. A beautiful place. [LB]
Sitting at the foot of the Appalachians, Frederick boasts a striking historic district, antiques aplenty, hiking and biking, and access to a pair of major Civil War battlefields (Antietam and Monocacy). And, most importantly, three excellent breweries.
Frederick has been a craft brewing haven for years. These days, it’s best to start with a tasting session at the big Flying Dog/Wild Goose [closed] brewery south of town. The sizable facility pours the full range of Dog and Goose beers, plus the goodies they contract-brew for others.
It’s a quick hop over to Barley and Hops. And, sure, it looks like a TGI Friday’s from the outside, but how many Fridays have house-made cask ale? The Schifferstadt Stout is a sure bet, and the burgers are among the area’s best.
Drive into the historic district to find Frederick’s other great brewpub, Brewer’s Alley. It’s located in a building that dates to 1769, which served as Frederick’s market, town offices and opera house before finally finding its true calling. Excellent beer (running the gamut from standard brews, cask ales and top-notch seasonals) and locally nuanced food make this a favorite stop.
Need more? The bars along Market Street are welcoming and friendly, and all have at least a few good beers; some may surprise you. There’s take-home right on the corner at Classic Cigars and British Goodies. [LB]
In Oregon, Portland gets all the notoriety. But out west, the hops make the beer. Oregon’s Willamette Valley makes the hops. So shouldn’t it be time to show some love to hops’ hometown? Get yourself off Interstate 5, and pay your respects.
For an old-schoolier establishment, try McMenamins High Street Brewery and Café. In 1988, it became the first craft brewery in Eugene after Prohibition.
The newest brewery in this bike-friendly college town is Jamie Floyd’s Ninkasi Brewing Company. Floyd made a name for himself brewing across town at the Steelhead Brewing Company, where he brewed for many years. Though Floyd has left, Steelhead is still around, as are their impressive IPAs.
Rogue Ales also invaded town recently, converting the old Eugene City Brewery into one of their many West Coast outposts. Farther outside town, the Willamette Brewery brews “sustainable ales in very small batches.”
Two brewery chains operate three bars in Eugene: There are two McMenamins, the East 19th St. Café and North Bank, and a BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery.
There’s a very high concentration of great beer bars in the downtown area, in the Market District around Fifth Avenue, and also along Broadway and Willamette—just six blocks outside the city center. Sam Bond’s Garage and Cornucopia are two of the best. For miles of tap handles, try Good Times, Highlands or Wetlands. And for a great selection of beer to take home, visit the Bier Stein Bottleshop and Pub; they boast over 850 different bottled beers. [JB]
Texas’s capital city, Austin is also a mecca for artists, musicians, liberals and other oddballs. In fact, the city’s unofficial motto is “Keep Austin Weird.” Fortunately, locals also keep themselves well-hydrated—with a barbecue joint on nearly every corner, good beer is an absolute necessity. (For world class barbecue, try either the Iron Works or Stubb’s Bar-B-Q.)
Lone Star and Shiner Bock are the local favorites, though Austin also provides many craft choices. Downtown, there’s Lovejoy’s Taproom and Brewery, along with a plethora of beer bars on music row (along 6th Street). The best is, undoubtedly, the Ginger Man; but there are plenty of choices here, including Beerland, Billy’s on Burnet, the Elephant Room, Opal Divine’s Freehouse and Zax Pints and Plates.
Four of Austin’s better brewhouses lie on the fringes of town. Due north is the Draught House Pub and Brewery, a brewpub with several dozen taps. Further northwest, appropriately, is North By Northwest Restaurant and Brewery; it’s buried near a shopping center, but its ales are outstanding. In the south, there’s a production microbrewery, Independence Brewing. To the east sits Live Oak Brewing; Live Oak specializes in lagers, with a Czech pilsner they call “Pilz” as their flagship. [JB]
Santa Rosa, California
Santa Rosa is the county seat for Sonoma County, right in the heart of California wine country. Luther Burbank grew flowers there, and Charles Schulz made the city Snoopy and Charlie Brown’s hometown. And although there are 191 wineries in the surrounding county (seven in Santa Rosa), area farmers once favored hops over grapes. Sonoma is also the original site of New Albion Brewery, which was the nation’s first true microbrewery when it opened in 1977.
In downtown Santa Rosa, within a couple of blocks of one another are two great brewpubs, which alone make the trip worthwhile. The oldest is Third Street AleWorks. Brewer Randall Gremp brews a very diverse range of ales, with roughly a dozen on tap at any given time, including at least one on cask. Their menu is an “eclectic mix of comfort foods and classic pub fare.”
Around the corner is the renowned Russian River Brewing Company, where award-winning brewer Vinnie Cilurzo makes big, hoppy ales and complex Belgian-inspired beers that are part of his “-tion” series. Vinnie’s partner and wife, Natalie, oversees the brewpub operations and has made the pub a comfortable destination spot featuring live local music and gourmet pizza.
Local bars also carry a good selection of California craft beer, including not-to-bemissed beers from nearby Bear Republic, Lagunitas and Moonlight Breweries. Two of the best are Ausiello’s 5th Street Grill and the Black Rose Pub. And Flavor, an Italian bistro, keeps a half-dozen taps reserved for the elusive but excellent offerings from nearby Moonlight Brewery. [JB]
Cleveland is one of those cities many people assume is past its prime—until they visit it, that is. The city does have palpable remnants from the gilded age, when oil barons like John D. Rockefeller lived locally. People like Rockefeller are also the reason Cleveland’s art museum, symphony and architecture rank (again, surprisingly) amongst the country’s finest. The Arcade is breathtaking; so is the Terminal Tower, which was America’s tallest building outside New York City until 1967.
More recently, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame found a home locally, too. And Jacobs Field, home to the Indians, is a spectacularly modern structure that maintains the intimate feel of much older ballparks. Two formerly rundown areas, the Flats and the Warehouse District, have been revitalized into mixed-use neighborhoods of condos, offices, restaurants and shops; they’re also the epicenter of Cleveland’s nightlife.
Great Lakes Brewing was Ohio’s first craft brewer, opening in 1988. It’s now among the country’s 50 largest breweries, brewing a wide array of ales and lagers. Their brewery restaurant in the Warehouse District is a great destination, near the famous West Side Market.
Rock Bottom also operates two breweries in the city. The first is located in the Flats; the second, the Cleveland ChopHouse and Brewery, sits in the Warehouse District, near downtown.
Winking Lizard Taverns operates some of the state’s best beer bars: There’s a downtown location near Jacobs Field, with two more in the ’burbs. Der Braumeister and the Flying Monkey Pub are also worth visiting. [JB]
Innerleithen, Peeblesshire, Scotland
An hour south of Edinburgh, deep in the Scottish countryside, is one of brewing history’s most picturesque treasures, Traquair House. It takes a bit of effort to reach, but it’s well worth the trip. Traquair House is the oldest continuously occupied home on the British Isles. This year, the castle is celebrating its 900th anniversary.
The house originally began brewing in the 1700s, though the estate stopped doing so sometime after 1800; the brewery’s wooden barrels and brewing equipment sat unused for the next 150 years. In 1965, the 20th Laird of the estate, Peter Maxwell Stuart, rediscovered the brewery equipment and began using it to brew Traquair House Ale. Today, the brewery produces less than 700 barrels per year (some of which is bottled and imported to the US by Merchant du Vin). In addition to the house ale, Traquair’s brewers also produce Jacobite Ale (spiced with coriander), Bear Ale (an amber, the brewery’s lightest offering) and Laird’s Liquor (a dark ale). This year, the brewery introduced a commemorative 900th Birthday Brew.
A bus drops visitors in the tiny town center of Innerleithen. Wash your lunch down with a Bear Ale at the Traquair Arms Hotel before heading out on the pleasant, thistle-lined mile-long walk to Traquair House. Have a few pints, then get lost in the hedge maze behind the house. But the real treat, of course, is seeing a working brewery that still uses centuries-old equipment. [JB] ■