Whether they're a significant journey from any major city or just in a quieter part of town, these road-trip worthy breweries are destinations in their own right and deserve a spot on your summer itinerary.
Whether you're vacationing in Vancouver, a couple European countries, or just about any corner of Colorado, it doesn't take much effort to find a decent brewery these days. In a lot of ways, the craft beer contingent is where breakout indie rock bands were in the '90s—flirting with major labels and the mainstream while trying not to alienate their old fans or (god forbid!) 'sell out.'
One way some brewers have set themselves apart is by not even bothering with a state's busiest cities. Or at the very least, breaking ground in a quieter part of town—areas you have to actually seek out, deftly pouring drinks that feel like a destination. Take Fonta Flora in Morganton, North Carolina, for instance. It's hidden in plain sight an hour east of Asheville, a bucket list bullet point for tourists whose itineraries revolve around taprooms. So, no, you can't build it into a catch-all bar crawl or a woefully embarrassing party bike package. But you can spend a few hours there, soaking up the sun and appreciating the finer points of a mixed culture saison aged with dandelion flowers.
"In some ways, opening a brewery in Asheville would have been the easy path," says head brewer Todd Boera. "We have certainly struggled in certain aspects—being in a very small town—but in a lot of ways, it has been a breath of fresh air to carve our own path and not directly be part of the Asheville brewing scene."
They're not alone. Do a little digging and you'll find unforgettable craft beer where you least expect it throughout this beautiful country. Here are 19 old and new spots worth a road or day trip this spring, summer, and fall….
California: Russian River, Santa Rosa
Russian River's Pliny the Younger triple IPA is kinda like the Pappy's of the craft-beer scene—often discussed, yet rarely sipped or seen. That's because it's only available on-tap (growlers be damned!) for a few weeks at double R's main taproom and a select group of like-minded draft lines throughout California. And while you may have missed this year's batch, the company already announced next year's release date—February 1st—so mark your calendar, kids!
In the meantime, folks from San Francisco and Sacramento are encouraged to make the less than two-hour trek out to Santa Rosa, where they'll find absurdly fresh pours of Pliny the Elder (an iconic double IPA in its own right) and Vinnie Cilurzo's other critically acclaimed creations, including a brown ale that's been aged in Pinot Noir barrels for a year and clobbered with sour cherries (Supplication) and a strong golden ale that tastes like it was bottled at a Belgian abbey last week (Damnation).
Connecticut: OEC, Oxford
The headline on a Paste story pretty much says it all: "Every Beer OEC Brews Is Absolutely Bonkers." So bonkers, in fact, the Oxford brewery has been known to ask newbies "you like sours right?" Ya better, because the Ordinem Eccentrici Coctores (someone took Latin!) crew lets all of its cult offerings cool on its custom koelschip for at least an hour before the aging process begins, soaking up wild yeast strains and getting funkier than a Parliament LP. Infusing every batch with choice ingredients ensures that everything is actually tasty, too, especially a limited Experimentalis line that "must utilize fresh fruit… grown on the OEC Brewing property."
Here's a shortlist of what owner/head brewer Ben Neidhart has used since opening in the summer of 2014: gooseberries, red and white raspberries, sour oranges, peaches, limes, kumquats, Meyer lemons, and a wide array of herbs and spices. (Get your hyssop—wild, bitter mint—here!)
If you're from the New England area and want to see what the Order of Eccentric Boilers is all about, be sure to book one of the four extensive tours assistant brewer Tony Pellino runs every year. The three-hour affairs are so popular they're already sold out this year, but other "specialized tour-like classes" are now being offered for $50 a pop, so if you've always wondered what really goes into barrel-aging and blending, this is the place to do it.
Delaware: Dogfish Head, Milton
Yes, Dogfish Head was big enough to warrant its own short-lived TV show (Brew Masters) back in 2010, but founder/brewmaster Sam Calagione earned that role by rocking his "off-centered ales for off-centered people" rule for nearly 25 years now. (Seriously; try and name another brewery that's made its very own version of Chicha, a Peruvian recipe involving purple corn and sterilized co-worker spit.) The other truly unique thing about Dogfish Head is its remote location: Milton, a tiny, riverside town that brings new meaning to the Wayne's World line "imagine being magically whisked away to Delaware; hi, I'm in… Delaware."
You can now make a weekend of exploring Calagione's beachside empire by staying at its newly renovated inn (salvaged from the '70s and designed by a former brand manager from Ace Hotel); tasting the exclusive taps on the brewery's R&D lines; and grabbing dinner at the expanded version of Dogfish's original brewpub (Brewings & Eats) and the seafood-centric Chesapeake & Maine, the bar program of which was longlisted for a James Beard Award last year. (It didn't make the final cut, but Calagione did take home a medal for Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional after being nominated for seven year straight, so there you go; even food critics dig what he's done here!)
Georgia: Creature Comforts, Athens
While it was nice to see Georgia loosen its ludicrous blue laws last fall—before that long overdue piece of legislation, you had to buy 'tour' tickets to sample anyone's wares onsite—the damage was already done. Years of not being able to buy local beer direct from taprooms (a major source of income for small businesses who don't want to deal with distributors) meant having to hunt the hottest releases down at bottle shops instead. Folks in Atlanta found that out the hard way when the word-of-mouth buzz around Creature Comforts' Tropicália IPA led to repeated shortages and rumors of employees stashing its six-packs behind the counter for close friends and themselves.
Some of that insanity—Thrillist devoted an entire story to it—has died down, as Atlanta's own breweries earn their own accolades, but that doesn't mean Creature Comforts isn't worth a road trip. If anything, it's still the state's top brewery, churning out more than just IPAs for people who didn't know they liked IPAs. Swing by its 13,000-square-foot space (a former Chevy dealership and auto repair shop) to try everything from its Subtle Alchemy series of limited blends to welcome variations on its Berliner Weisse (Athena Paradiso) that have included a refreshing vanilla, green tea, and mint combo and a holy trinity of tart cherries, raspberries, and cranberries.
Idaho: Grand Teton, Victor
The savvy entrepreneur/bearded charlatan selling "raw water" to Silicon Valley types with way too much money oughta sneak onto the grounds of Grand Teton Brewing at night and tap their H20 hook-up just down the street. Gleaned from glacial runoff and naturally filtered by granite and limestone, it pairs rather perfectly with the region's world-class barley crops and fragrant hop farms. More importantly, it's about 45 minutes from Jackson Hole—close enough to hit the area's pristine National Park, and far enough to escape its egregious tourists afterwards. To give you an idea of just how 'local' the Grand Teton Brewing crowd leans comparatively, someone actually pulled up in a horse when we were there. And none of GT's regulars even batted an eyelash; hell, someone may have even gotten the horse a water bowl.
Illinois: Scratch, Ava
"When we're brewing a beer," Scratch co-founder Marika Josephson recently told Men's Journal, "we might just grab a couple of buckets, walk outside, and start pulling leaves, flowers, or mushrooms."
No kidding; turns out its tucked-away location—just five miles from the Shawnee National Forest—is rife for foraging and capturing Southern Illinois' rich terroir. Josephon and her compatriots (Aaron Kleidon and Ryan Tockstein) even wrote a well-received book on the subject: The Homebrewer's Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to Making Your Own Beer From Scratch.
Thrill seekers from St. Louis should plan on camping around these parts and stocking up on bottle-conditioned mind blowers like a "single tree" sour that swipes out hops entirely for hickory leaves, nuts, hulls and bark harvested from Scratch's own grounds and fermented with a wild house mixed culture. We're pretty sure we've never tasted anything like Roots before, either—a magical farmhouse ale mix of locally sourced ginger, turmeric, carrot, clover, and burdock. Not getting a $10 sample flight of four beers here is simply a crime against all that is good in the world.
Indiana: 3 Floyds, Munster
You don't have to be a heavy-metal fan to hang out at 3 Floyds, but it certainly doesn't hurt. That way you can mosey right up to the bar—headbanging in time to the tectonic rhythms and riffs of the new Sleep record—and order a piquant imperial pint of Zombie Dust or Lazersnake with confidence.
As for why you wanna be here, there's a reason this family-run business is planning a massive expansion in suburban Indiana, over the next few years. (They're currently the big draw near a dreary hospital, White Castle, and funeral home.) And that is its peerless status as a pilgrimage site for serious hop heads and Chicagoans who'd like a break from the hustle and flow of the nearby city. (It's about 45 minutes away, and a major source of 3 Floyds' foot traffic.)
Not just on Dark Lord Day, either, one of the industry's most infamous annual releases despite costing nearly $200 to attend. Everything on 3 Floyds' tap list is tasty, and quite hard to find if you don't live in its cozy little corner of the Midwest, so the pro move here is to try as much as you can on draft and then ransack its well-stocked to-go counter.
Iowa: Toppling Goliath, Decorah
"I find it amazing how many people come to visit us," Toppling Goliath founder Clark Lewey told the Chicago Tribune a few years ago. "I try to be there as much as I can and share a beer with them and find out what makes them tick."
The answer's simple: What makes them tick are the Top Whatever lists on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate—reader-sourced rankings this runaway Northeastern Iowa hit has ruled for several years now. (As of the reporting for this story, Toppling Goliath's beloved Kentucky Brunch imperial stout was sitting pretty at the No. 1 spot on both sites.)
Never mind the fact that Lewey had only started home brewing about a decade ago, mostly because he got sick of having to hit the road to find the beer he liked. Toppling Goliath is the epitome of what it's like running a craft brewery in 2018, and how online chatter can turn a person's hobby into a full-blown business.
"Starting out in a small taproom," explains its director of hospitality, Josh White, "we were very fortunate to have customers who believed in our product and returned to our taproom week after week. As popularity and distribution grew more out of town, out-of-state and international guests started to visit Decorah. Now, our new two-story taproom can hold over 500 guests and features two interior bars, one outdoor bar, an outdoor patio, a gift shop, a fireplace, brewery tours, and we'll have a full kitchen soon."
Louisiana: Parish, Broussard
While Abita is the one craft brewery that always comes up in conversations about Louisiana's still-nascent beer scene—this is cocktail and Cajun country, after all—Broussard's Parish Brewing Company draws a devoted following to an otherwise nondescript stretch of warehouses just outside Lafayette. Canebrake was, and still is, Parish's crossover hit, a simple-yet-satisfying wheat ale newbies order to show the rest of the world it is not, in fact, Miller Time.
You can find it at most decent New Orleans bars now, though; the reason you wanna visit a town with a 10K population is Parish's new "Sour Sips" series. It's jammy, fruity greatness is only up for grabs here, and you won't find a fresher source for Ghost in the Machine, a here-today, gone-tomorrow double IPA brewed with an "obscene quantities of hand-selected Citra hops from [Parish's] favorite farm in [the] Yakima Valley."
Michigan: Schramm’s, Ferndale
Mead wasn't even remotely cool in 2003, but that didn't keep Mazer Cup co-founder Ken Schramm from writing the definitive book on it. He didn't open his own meadery in metro Detroit until a decade later, but let's be real here; that was probably a good thing. Game of Thrones didn't make Renaissance fairs and heavy chalices of fermented honey seem cool until around 2015 or so. And by then, Schramm's was recognized as the real deal, toeing the delicate line between tartness and sweetness thanks to its use of high-quality fruit (everything from locally sourced Balaton cherries to the heady blackberry/raspberry hybrid that is loganberries).
Definitely grab a wax-sealed Heart of Darkness bottle if they have it. As Schramm's own site puts it, "production is extremely limited, as the amount of care and labor which go into each batch is substantial."
New Jersey: Kane, Ocean
Springsteen would approve of Michael Kane's tireless efforts to put the Jersey Shore—the Asbury Park area, in particular—on the map for something other than beaches and boardwalks, let alone a certain MTV show. Believe it or not, the president/founder of Kane Brewing Company got his start on Wall Street, but that limited engagement had one end goal in mind: learning the business side of things and saving enough money to sign a lease on the sort of Belgian/German-style brewery he'd fallen in love with during a college trip to Europe.
The natural born entrepreneur nailed it, too, converting a former casket factory into a cross between the Netherlands and New England, Chimay and Magic Hat. And while Kane's sun-baked location could probably sell nothing but left-field lagers, he's slayed a dizzying amount of styles since opening in 2011. Aside from an airtight "Mysterioso" lineup of short-lived experiments that never leave his taproom (there's been 27 so far), Kane is constantly switching things up with his multi-faceted Tidal Series. Standouts include a Deep Rooted imperial pale ale made with more than 145 pounds of fresh-picked Jersey hops (hey, they're good at tomatoes!); a low-gravity counterpart (Civil Twilight) to Kane's barrel-aged A Night to End All Dawns beast; and an imperial butternut squash counterpoint to all the awful pumpkin beers that plague shelves every September (Fall Saints).
New York: Old Klaverack, Hudson
With craft-beer companies growing at a feverish clip these days—some new-schoolers have been around for less than a decade and already enjoyed significant expansions—it's becoming harder and harder to find a true nano brewery. In case you're not a total nerd like us, that's someone who literally works in small batches, 2,000 barrels a year, tops. Erik Bell and Tom Folster follow that quality-not-quantity model to a T at Old Klaverack, a welcome, wood-paneled respite from Hudson's red-hot row of restaurants, galleries, and shops. (It's located about 20 minutes away from the town's popular Amtrak station, and sources most of its hops and malts from nearby farms.)
Definitely pick up a tall bottle or two while you're there; Old Klaverack is strictly an Upstate NY thing, and its Spookrock IPA will floor anyone who's fallen for hazy IPAs over the past year. (Elsewhere in New York, Woodland Farm in Marcy, located right across the Mohawk River from Utica, and within driving distance of Albany and Syracuse, is the place to go if you're looking for one beer craze that's merely a matter of time on the craft circuit: cask ales, or "real ale" if you're from the UK.)
North Carolina: Mystery, Hillsborough
What puts the "Mystery" in Mystery Brewing, you ask? Well, unlike the sane individuals who keep a solid year-round lineup of familiar styles in rotation, owner Erik Lars Myers has just two permanent residents on his tap list: a pale ale (The Golden Hind) and a Belgian white (The Orbiter) that make the most of seasonal hops and spices. Seasonality plays a starring role here, actually; it's why this six-year-old Hillsborough standby (near Durham and Duke University) has an encyclopedic list of limited releases on its website. It's all a tease, really, as the odds of seeing 90-percent of them—a clementine rosemary sour here, a salted caramel gose (with peaches!) there—again are not in your favor.
One thing's for certain, however; Myers will always exhibit a welcome sense of humor. After all, this is the guy that gleefully made a "ridiculously patriotic extra pale ale" (adorned with bald eagles and called America, of course) when Budweiser announced its own Belgium-brewed bottle of national pride.
Ohio: Hoppin' Frog, Akron
Hometown heroes The Black Keys may have flown the coop years ago, but Hopping Frog ain't going anywhere. It's so ingrained in Akron's cultural makeup—hitting the highest marks on RateBeer for more than a decade—that its Cleveland neighbors often make the one-hour drive there. Swing by for Hoppy Hour (that's not a typo, people; it's an inevitable pun) and do your best damage to a draft list that's 24 taps deep. Aside from many variations of owner Fred Karm's award-winning imperial stouts (the oatmeal-heavy B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher is often called one of the world's best), there's a rogue's gallery of seasonal and specialty beer, including a Turbo Shandy that's been aged in either bourbon or tequila barrels, an unfiltered Wild Frog wheat ale torn straight from the German playbook, and a not-so-delicate double IPA with the doubly memorable name of Mean Manalishi.
Oregon: de Garde, Tillamook
Portland has long been recognized as an epicenter of experimental beer and heaven-sent hops. So here's what you need to do: Book a week (48 hours? As if!) in one of the country's best food cities, and be sure to tack on at least a couple days in Tillamook. It's located just 90 minutes west of Portland, right along the Oregon coast. The region's not just for nature lovers, Goonies fans, and cheeseheads, either; de Garde is the state's welterweight champion when it comes to spontaneous wild ales and sours. To-go bottles change all the time due to their limited runs (less than 1,000 each), but you can expect cellar-ready exclusives using everything from plush Oregon peaches to oak barrels spiked with sea salt, coriander, and citrus peel. Kegs rarely leave the taproom, too, so you'd be remiss to not partake in a few six-ounce pours as well.
South Carolina: Westbrook, Mount Pleasant
Everyone adores Charleston—us included. But before you get too swept up in making reservations at revelatory Lowcountry restaurants, set aside a few hours to check out Westbrook Brewing Company's tasting room. Its Mount Pleasant location appears far, far away on a map—blame the blue Cooper River that separates Charleston from its suburban neighbor—but it's actually reachable in 20 minutes by car.
Much of what co-owner Edward Westbrook makes is inspired by his German grandmother Oma, from a smoked wheat ale that's rarely seen in the States (Grätzer) to a salty-sour Gose that goes light on the alcohol and IBUs. Westbrook was one of the latter's early adopters—it's gotten a little more trendy in the six years since his first batch—because of how it complements South Carolina's balmy climate. Also worth a sip when you're looking for something refreshing: the White Thai witbier that swipes coriander and orange peel out for fresh lemongrass, ginger root, and Sorachi Ace hops. It'll leave you craving a plate of chili-bombed shrimp curry.
Texas: Jester King, Austin
It's kind of hard to believe that Jester King's solar-powered farm complex is part of Austin, but that's more of a city limits matter on a map than anything that has to do with downtown or South By Southwest. Speaking of, Jester King is exactly where you want to be when that festival gets a little too irritating. Aside from being a beautiful example of what Texas' Hill Country has to offer (Argus Cidery is also nearby, and a growing number of sorely overlooked wineries aren't too far away either), Jester King is highly respected within the wild ale community. Their limited bottle releases have been known to sell out within their first weekend despite costing as much as a decent bottle of wine.
Maybe that's because head brewer Averie Swanson is often outdoing herself, and everything else in the Lone Star State's bottle shops, for that matter. Just take a look at their current offerings: a barrel-aged Bruery Terreux collab spliced with JK's own rosemary strands and "foot-stomped" California grapes (Sacred Vessel); a Fonta Flora duet fermented with fennel, nettle, and false pennyroyal flowers (Wanderflora); and a deceivingly simple ale brewed strictly with Texas-grown malts (Part & Parcel).
Sign. Us. Up.
Vermont: Hill Farmstead, Greensboro
The legacy of Hill Farmstead is right there in its logo, which is taken from a tavern sign that once belonged to the great-great-great grandfather of founder Shaun Hill. He learned how to whip up batches of barely legal beer in high school thanks to a science fair project involving fermentation, but you'd never know about those humble beginnings now that his rural brewery is world-renowned. (Literally—RateBeer voters ranked it No. 1 nearly six years in a row, including 2017.)
This despite only being open five hours a day Wednesday through Saturday. But hey, what do you expect from a place that big-ups Nietzsche in its barrel-aged maple imperial sweet stout (Beyond Good and Evil), and devotes an entire series of acclaimed beer to members of its extended family, ensuring they will outlive all of us?
Wisconsin: The Brewing Projekt, Eau Claire
It’s no secret that Wisconsin’s obsession with beer is second only to its status as masterful cheesemakers. Madison gets most of the attention on that front thanks to its proximity to New Glarus Brewing, but we've gotta be honest with you; its sprawling campus feels like a glorified gift shop. Pretty and quite picturesque, yes, but the far more compelling Funk Factory Geuzeria in Madison proper feels considerably less theme park-y.
Which leads us to The Brewing Projekt. It's situated in the cozy environs of Eau Claire, a rising West Central Wisconsin city best known for its ongoing ties to Bon Iver. If you ask anyone in the area—or Minneapolis, for that matter—who's pushing everyone's palates here, the answer will most certainly lead back to William Glass' scrappy outlet for "damn good beer."
"Not beer that everyone will like," says their mission statement, "rather beer that many will love. Boring just isn't our style. If that's what you want… go somewhere else."
Well alright then. The thing is, lots of people love Glass' more coveted offerings, like the hop-highlighting Dare Mighty Things series, a West Coast-style IPA laced with a vegetal layer of green tea (Gunpowder), and a milkshake IPA (RESIST) "brewed with lactose and a boatload of hops, then aged on vanilla." That last one's a little heavy-handed with its Banksy-esque label; depending on the four-pack's varying flavor profiles, its street art star is tossing hops, mangos, or pineapples like freshly lit molotov cocktails.
There's a reason for this; Glass has been going up against "Wisconsin's antiquated liquor laws" ever since he came up with a business plan five years ago. They set the Brewing Projket's current location back a couple years, and are currently muddying the waters of a massive expansion in a 50,000-square-foot mixed-use space that's housed such long-shuttered tenants as a furniture factory and a meat-processing facility.
And what better way to fight the power than artful, stubbornly crafted beer?