Well-versed beer travelers know that beer is the most consumed alcoholic beverage in the world and is relatively easy to find wherever you go. But finding the best destinations to plan a trip around beer takes ample research as well as experience.
From enthusiasts considering their first beer-focused vacation, to beer geeks ready for their next pilgrimage, VinePair picked the best trips for every type of beer traveler.
For First-Timers: Denver
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Each October, thousands of beer lovers descend on Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, one of the world’s largest beer celebrations. It’s no surprise — Denver has long been considered a must-visit for craft beer lovers.
Spend a day in RiNo (River North Art District), where a string of small breweries offer different specialities. At Ratio Beerworks, artistic, laid-back vibes accompany Scotch ales and IPAs. Epic Brewing has everything from high-ABV, Belgian-style quads to one of the country’s first sour IPAs. Crooked Stave, famed for its wild, barrel-aged sour ales, has a location here, and Fort Collins, Colo., staples New Belgium and Odell Brewing also opened satellite locations here.
For Classicists: Belgium
A Belgian beercation is a must for any beer lover who is able to travel abroad. The country is small, but it’s brewing history is vast, inspiring many beer styles we drink in the U.S. today. Witbiers, farmhouse ales, and barrel-aged sour beers all originated here. A popular first stop is Brussels, the capital, home to the world-famous Cantillon. The city is also home to destination beer bars like Moeder Lambic and the tourist-friendly Poechenellekelder (The Puppet Cellar), the latter located steps from Belgium’s most famous statue, the Manneken Pis.
Antwerp, theoretically 40 minutes from Brussels by train (though there are often delays), combines ancient architecture, modern shopping, and the legendary De Koninck brewery, home of the annual Modeste Bier Festival that celebrates family-owned Belgian breweries. This year’s fest kicks off Oct. 5.
Antwerp also offers unforgettable beer bars such as Kathedraal Cafe and Kulminator.
For Road Trippers: Vermont
Vermonters drink more beer than most Americans, and we can’t blame them: Some of the country’s best beer is made here. The birthplace of the New England-style IPA is a pilgrimage for hazy and juicy IPA lovers requiring ample planning, patience, and gas mileage. Hill Farmstead, in Greensboro Bend, is considered one of the best breweries in the world. It’s also very much off the beaten path; visitors endure hilly dirt roads, sparse cell phone reception, and long lines to taste its hoppy brews on site. (Pro tip: Bring a growler.)
The Alchemist, in Stowe, kicked off the hazy IPA craze with its hopped-to-the-gills Heady Topper IPA. Less than two miles away, von Trapp Brewery offers Austrian lagers and small plates.
In Burlington, Zero Gravity offers a variety of German-style lagers, pale ales, and pizzas. Magic Hat, one of the state’s first craft breweries, holds it down here, too. Stop into the taproom for experimental brews you won’t find anywhere else.
For Beach Bums: San Diego
San Diego has been a haven for craft beer lovers since the 1990s, when breweries like Ballast Point and Stone Brewing introduced the U.S. to West Coast IPAs. Stone is still Southern California’s biggest independent brewery, with several locations in San Diego (plus others in Napa and Richmond, Va.), but there are more than 150 other breweries to explore in the “capital of craft.”
Planning your San Diego beercation by neighborhood is best. The #78 Corridor, a stretch of Freeway 78 in North County known to beer-loving locals as “Hops Highway,” is home to Stone’s Escondido bistro and beer garden, Mother Earth Brewing, and Pizza Port (Bressi Ranch location). Lost Abbey is also located here, focusing on classic and barrel-aged Belgian-style ales.
In Miramar, visit Ballast Point, Green Flash, AleSmith, and Pure Project. Modern Times, a cult favorite for its hazy IPAs and stouts, is a popular destination downtown. In 2020, the Museum of Beer plans to open in downtown San Diego’s East Village area.
For Nature Lovers: Asheville, N.C.
The sheer abundance of beer in Asheville, and ease of getting between breweries, earned it the nickname “the Napa for beer lovers.” (That it’s surrounded by the impossibly beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains doesn’t hurt, either.)
Craft brewing powerhouses Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, and New Belgium all opened breweries in and around Asheville in recent years, but Asheville has a thriving craft beer scene all its own. Highland Brewing, the city’s first craft brewery post-Prohibition, established in 1994, lays claim to refreshing lagers and IPAs as well as sustainability efforts. Burial Beer Co., founded in 2013, specializes in Belgian-style ales, German lagers, and very American beers (read: double IPAs and pastry stouts.) Wicked Weed, once a beer geek favorite now shunned by some due to its ownership by Anheuser-Busch, is still considered one of the country’s premier wild beer producers.
For Urbanites: Portland, Ore.
Pioneering breweries like Deschutes and Widmer Brothers (and now-shuttered BridgePort Brewing) laid the framework for a thriving scene in the city nicknamed “Beervana.” Check out Upright Brewing’s farmhouse ales; Commons Brewery’s Belgian, French, and German-style brews; and Cascade Brewing’s complex, barrel-aged sour ales while you’re in town. And, between brewery visits, seek out Portland’s iconic Belmont Station, a beer bar and bottle shop founded in 1997 featuring over 1,400 local and international selections.
For American History Buffs: St. Louis
In April 2019, USA Today readers named St. Louis America’s best beer scene. The reason? Along with being the home of Anheuser-Busch, the Gateway City makes for a great gateway beercation. At 4 Hands Brewing, let loose in an upstairs game room and bar while sipping City Wide American Pale Ale (bonus: a portion of proceeds for City Wide goes to local charities). Urban Chestnut is known for its excellent lagers (we’re partial to its Zwickel), while Perennial Artisan Ales is the place for amazing saisons, complex barrel-aged stouts, and limited labels like Anniversaria, a Brett-fermented, Belgian-style pale ale made via the solera system. Side Project Brewing, from Perennial alum Cory King, makes esoteric blends that earned it a spot among VinePair’s Best Breweries of 2018.
For Beer Geeks Who’ve Been Everywhere: Japan
Although by no means mainstream, Japan’s craft beer scene is quietly thriving. Kiuchi Brewery and Baird Beer are familiar to many American craft beer lovers, but there’s much more to explore. Minoh Beer, located in the suburbs of Osaka and run by two sisters, produces a variety of award-winning ales. Kyoto Brewing excels in sessionable ales, made with its house Belgian yeast strain and American hops. And Coedo Brewery, owned by a family of organic farmers known for creating Japan’s first sweet potato beer, most recently collaborated with California’s Three Weavers Brewing.
In Tokyo, excellent craft beer bars include Watering Hole, Goodbeer Faucets, and Mikkeller Tokyo, along with Øl, a beer bar owned by Norway’s Oslo Brewing Co.
If you want to hit the slopes while drinking Japan’s biggest export, Sapporo (located in Sapporo, Hokkaido) has a brewery and beer garden less than an hour from several ski resorts.
If You Just Want to Party: Munich, Germany
Held in Munich each year starting in mid-September, Oktoberfest is one of the biggest beer parties on the planet. Launched in 1810, the party has raged for centuries, with an estimated 6 million people heading to Munich for the festival last year.
If you’re serious about attending this party, plan far in advance. Tents start offering reservations as early as February. Visitors are permitted to wander the tents and sit where there’s room, but if you’re in a group, many advise booking seats ahead of time. Oktoberfest is also the busiest time of year for Munich hotels, so book as soon as you know your arrival date. Oktoberfest Insider notes that hotel reservations are easier to come by the second week of the festival.
Once you’ve had your fill of lagers and lederhosen, consider extending your trip to Cologne, the birthplace of kölsch. Berlin, the original source of Berliner weisse, has a burgeoning craft beer scene. Berlin Beer Week kicks off July 19, 2019 and continues through July 28. BrewDog also recently announced it will open a brewery here in 2019.