Deciding on a top ten list of anything is usually pretty difficult. Unless you’re talking about, say, the top ten numbers one through ten… narrowing down and choosing only ten of whatever often takes a great deal of effort.
When it comes to the world of beer, with the vast array of choices out there, things become extremely problematic. Luckily, choosing ten of the best cities in which to drink a beer isn’t quite so difficult. While there are no definitive answers to the best places in the world to sip a brew — and beer culture in certain areas changes from year to year — there are certain cities that deserve special attention. In no particular order, here are 24 outstanding beer cities you should definitely try to visit with your mate — or your bar mate.
Portland, Oregon, USA
Portland is a beer lover’s paradise. Often referred to as “Beervana” or “Beertown,” the city boasts a collection of production breweries and brewpubs totaling a whopping 31 — more breweries per capita than any other city in the world.
Well-known craft breweries Widmer Brothers and Pyramid call Portland home, as does near-cult status brewery Hair of the Dog, and popular craft breweries Rogue Ales and Deschutes Brewery operate brewpubs practically around the corner from one another. In addition to such a proliferation of great brewing operations, Portland is fairly well-regarded for its beer culture and gastronomy, making the city’s title of “Beervana” difficult to refute.
If Portland is leading America in the fine art of beer gastronomy, Brussels is certainly leading the way in Europe. While its sister to the south, France, is content with basking in the fame of the grape, Belgium has taken on the glory of the grain. The country is world-renowned for its unique beer specialties, many of which use spontaneous fermentation by wild yeasts and bacteria, and there’s no better place to enjoy Belgium’s famed beers and Cuisine à la Bière than its capital city, Brussels. However, if you’re looking for a “beer vacation,” be sure to check out this essential guide to Belgian breweries by region.
San Francisco, California, USA
For any lover of American craft beer, San Francisco could be considered the Mecca of the American beer world. It was here that Fritz Maytag purchased the floundering Anchor Steam Brewery in the mid-1960s, reviving not only the brewery but several near-extinct beer styles, and re-introduced Americans to styles like Barleywine, Winter Warmer and IPA.
It’s no surprise, then, that San Francisco is thought of by many as the birthplace of the “craft beer revolution” in America, with Maytag the founding father. Maytag and his brewery are still churning out popular beers today, alongside many of the other breweries and brewpubs that have sprouted up, such as the popular 21st Amendment Brewery.
No guide to good beer locale can truly be complete without the inclusion of Germany’s historic city Bamberg. The city, located in the Franconia region of Bavaria, survived Allied bombings in the Second World War, and its Altstadt is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But the city’s biggest attraction for beer lovers: it’s traditional specialty Rauchbier, or smoke beer, which uses malt dried over beechwood fires. The beer takes on a deep smoky flavor that pairs perfectly with smoked dishes, and nowhere can this specialty be enjoyed fresher or in greater quantity than in its historic hometown.
Brewed and imbibed the world over, the prototypical Irish stout was first brewed up in the brewery of Arthur Guinness at St. James’s Gate, Dublin. The brewery celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009, having been founded in 1759 when Arthur signed a 9,000-year lease for the spot at St. James’s Gate. While every batch of Guinness stout brewed around the world uses a little of the original, visitors to Dublin know that it’s best consumed at the source, served up from a cask at one of the city’s classic pubs.
Köln (Cologne), Germany
Cologne is another one of Germany’s cities with its own special beer tradition: Here it’sKölsch, a pale, subtle top-fermented ale that drinks as easily as a light lager. Perhaps it’s because it goes down so well that theKobes, waiters in the city’s various Brauereien, keep the small 200ml glasses (called Stangen) coming until you signal you are finished by placing a coaster over your drinking vessel.
And because Kölsch is protected by an appellation, the city is the only place in the world to truly enjoy this delicacy, and to enjoy it fresh at that.
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Though the American South lagged for quite some time behind the rest of the country in embracing craft beer, it’s catching up quickly. Next to Asheville, perhaps the greatest city in the South in which to enjoy beer is Georgia’s capital, Atlanta.
Two award-winning production breweries operate in the city, Atlanta Brewing Company and Sweetwater, and brewpubs and great beer bars are scattered throughout. But for a real treat? Head to Decatur, where you’ll find one of the nation’s premier beer bars, the Brick Store Pub. Here you’ll find constantly-rotating taps, a second bar dedicated to Belgian beer, an extensive bottle list, and a wonderfully eclectic, beery atmosphere.
München (Munich), Germany
Not to mention Munichin a list of great cities in which to drink beer would be like leaving hops out of the libation — sure, it can be done, but it just wouldn’t seem right.
Though the traditional beer culture in many of Germany’s cities seems to be slowly withering away, the famous beer halls of Munich’s Altstadt, especially the (in)famous Hofbräuhaus, provide a jovial atmosphere full of kitschy charm stoked by huge liter mugs of beer freshly brewed on-premises. Then there is what is undoubtedly the most famous marriage-ceremony-turned-beer-festival in the world, the annual Oktoberfest celebration. Sure, there may be some cities in the world better-suited than Munich in which to enjoy beer, but there are none more well-equipped for drinking it.
Alcohol isn’t the drug most associated with Amsterdam, but maybe it should be. Because of its central location, the Netherlands capital is practically overflowing with English and Belgian beers. It’s also got cobblestone streets, scenic waterway views and beer bikes. Wait, beer bikes? Yep, in Amsterdam you can rent a bicycle that fits 10 to 20 people – and a full bar. So you can do your sightseeing and beer-guzzling at the same time.
Asheville, North Carolina, USA
Underdog Asheville beat out brew king Portland in a battle for “Beer City USA” in 2009 and some Pacific Northwesterners will never forgive them. But they should. Along with a big city-worthy music scene, a drop-dead-gorgeous mountain backdrop and good old southern hospitality, Asheville has one brewery for every 10,000 of its citizens, including the rocking Highland Brewing Company. That puts it right at Portland’s heels with the second most breweries per capita in the U.S.
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Boston has a history rich in both rebellion and beer drinking. Heck, the rebellion may have started with beer drinking, as colonists met in the taverns to plot against the English. Some of those old bars still stand today, like the historic Green Dragon and the Warren Tavern, the oldest tavern in the state.
After the Revolution, Boston saw a surge of Irish immigrants – and Irish pubs, many of which are still pouring Guinness. But Beantown’s culture of revolution isn’t stuck in the past. Boston kicked off the microbrewery trend with one of the country’s first craft brews, Samuel Adams.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
As arguably the most European city in North America, Montreal boasts brew houses that resemble British pubs and French taverns and beers that rival the best Irish stouts and Belgian wheats. At Le Cheval Blanc, the city’s oldest brewpub, try a Canadian specialty like a maple or cranberry ale. Also like Europe, Montreal patrons like to stay out late – most bars don’t open until late afternoon and stay open well into the wee hours of the morning.
San Diego, California, USA
A sunny, semi-tropical paradise where serious craft brewers mingle with Corona-swigging surfers, San Diego was named the country’s top beer city by Men’s Journal. There are a mind-boggling 24 breweries mentioned on the San Diego Brewers Guild’s Web site. One such brewer, Green Flash, is named for the phenomena purported to appear over the horizon at sunset as you sit sipping a cold one and noshing on fish tacos.
Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
The Rockies don’t just taste like Coors anymore, thanks to a certain broken bicycle. Before it swept the nation, New Belgium Brewery’s toasty amber Fat Tire was dreamed up in a Fort Collins basement. Host of the Colorado Brewer’s Festival, where else can you swig brews from up-and-comers like Big Horn Brewing Company (home of the Buttface Amber Ale), tour the first wind-powered brewery and also visit the home of the country’s most famous beer maker, Anheuser Busch Brewery, all while surrounded by Old West storefronts and purple mountain’s majesty?
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
It can get cold in Wisconsin. Real cold. Fortunately, Cheeseheads have a history of warming their spirits with beer, wine and spirits. Like many U.S. cities, Madison has seen a rush of microbreweries in recent years, like Ale Asylum and The Great Dane Brewing Company. But lest you think the progressive college town’s suds scene is getting snooty, remember you’re in a state where sports bars still outnumber gastropubs by a long shot. Wisconsinites drink beer because it’s their state mascot, because of their region’s deep German roots and because, well, they really like beer.
Portland, Maine, USA
Portland is home to six microbreweries, including the award-winning Shipyard Brewery. Gritty McDuff’s in-house restaurant features outside seating which is dog-friendly. The state as a whole is home to a tremendous number of craft breweries, creating a beer culture that runs through the taps of the finest restaurants and the coolers of the simplest convenience stores. Be sure to pick up a six-pack to enjoy on the Casco Bay Lines sunset cruise, which allows discreet imbibing.
San Antonio, Texas, USA
With its pedestrian-friendly climate and the Tex-Mex cuisine that invites pairing with good beer, the Riverwalk of San Antonio is a great city for beer drinking. Whether sitting and sipping beer while people watching, or strolling after sampling the offerings at any of the local brew pubs, the beauty and beer of San Antonio make a combination not be missed.
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Nawlins is the undisputed home of amazing food, great music and parties that never end. The Quarter is the center of all of this. To-go cups are common, making it easy to continue the party as the mood motivates movement. It is not unusual to find great beer deals, such as “buy one get three free”; you can save enough on beer to cover flight and your hotel in a heartbeat.
And let’s be honest, even if The Big Easy weren’t that awesome, the city would still make this list, thanks exclusively to the incredible Abita Brewery.
Key West, Florida, USA
Key West has “end of the world syndrome.” As the Southernmost point of the North American continent — and home to the country’s southernmost brewery — Key West boasts an eclectic group of locals and visitors, which translates to a (nearly) judgment-free zone. It is also another one of the few places where beer is offered in to-go cups, allowing you to wander the streets and sample the music in any of the open-air venues before committing to going in to any one of them.
Seattle, Washington, USA
Seattle is also known for having a bit of the “end of the world” syndrome. While the climate is not as bad as it is reputed to be, it is not quite as welcoming as that of Key West. Regardless, the weather is more than compensated for by the music and microbrew culture. Seattle itself is home to a slew of brew pubs and six breweries, including the now bi-coastal Red Hook Brewery.
Burlington, Vermont, USA
There is much to be said for the atmosphere of a college town. It doesn’t fit the pattern of “end of the world” syndrome, but it still has an atmosphere of acceptance. Even better, Burlington is strongly influenced by the presence of Magic Hat Brewery (located in nearby South Burlington) and is host to the annual Vermont Brewers Festival. Located on the banks of Lake Champlain and surrounded by Vermont’s trademark mountains, Burlington is a perfect beer-love nest.
Northampton, Massachusetts, USA
NoHo, as locals call it, is far from your average college town. Local schools range from the University of Massachusetts to two of the Seven Sisters. You will be hard-pressed to find an establishment that doesn’t have at least one beer you’ve never tried, with plenty of street performers to entertain you from site to site. A short drive will take you from the city’s center to the Northampton Brewery and restaurant to cap off your visit.
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Every city on this list celebrates its beers. To that end, Baltimore hosts Baltimore Beer Week, which, appropriately, is a ten day celebration. The city proper boasts several breweries, and the bars in town pride themselves on the variety of craft beers on tap. Just remember that when the bartender calls you “Hon,” it’s not flirting – it’s just the city’s trademark hospitality.
If you’ve been counting, you’ll see we’ve only listed 23 cities. So what happened to City Number 24? Well, we meant to include 24, but when we looked over our research, some of our <burp> notes were too hard to read. So we’ll just close with this: whatever city you’re in, enjoying with friends or family and a cold beer — that’s the 24th city on the list.