It was another banner year for craft beer. As macro breweries continue to acquire new brands, craft breweries are opening at an incredible rate. There are now more than 5,000 craft breweries nationwide, meaning most Americans live within 10 miles of one.
As a result we’re all spending a lot more time in brewery taprooms and brewpubs. Fortunately, such spaces have evolved beyond drafty afterthoughts fitted with raw plywood, to thoughtfully designed operations that invite extended hangs. The country’s best taprooms and brewpubs have architectural appeal, community-building spaces, and some excellent kitchens — not to mention fresh, rare, limited-release, and otherwise destination-worthy beers. The experience and environment really matters, which is why we’ve decided to launch the best brewery taproom or brewpub category of our annual VinePair Awards.
To create this list, we polled staffers, beverage industry professionals, VinePair readers, and a wide network of contributors and social media community members. For sake of consistency, we modeled geographic bounds after the venerable James Beard Foundation Awards.
Criteria were simple: Prospective taprooms had to be owned and operated by a brewery, though it did not matter if the taproom was actually located at the production facility or in another location. They also had to be places where people could sit and enjoy themselves, and they had to be open more than one day a week. In determining each winner, we drank a lot of beer and visited a lot of wonderful breweries. We also met a lot of wonderful people.
Here are VinePair’s 10 best brewery taprooms and brewpubs of 2017.
GREAT LAKES (IL, IN, MI, OH)
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Located in a former bottling plant in Cincy’s historic brewing district, Rhingeist Brewery is an indoor playground for adults — though children are also welcome and encouraged. The massive taproom spans ping pong tables, cornhole, and, in warmer weather, rooftop access. (The latter is only open to those over 21 and thus a boon for kid-averse Rhinegeist fans.) As one VinePair reader wrote, “This place altered my perception of what a brewery could be… The beer is fantastic and the constant attention from local food trucks keeps the vibe local.”
MIDWEST (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)
Boulevard Tours & Rec Center
Location: Kansas City, MO
Tank 7 is far and away one of our favorite beers, and dare we say one of the country’s best farmhouse-style ales, so we weren’t surprised that Boulevard Brewing Company’s taproom experience was excellent. The Rec Center is a massive beer hall featuring 24 of the brewery’s beers plus a delicious menu of snacks. Yes, this is a massive taproom from a large, successful brewery, but it doesn’t feel corporate. It’s a place you’re more than happy to spend all day drinking all the beers.
WEST (CA, HI, NV)
Alpine Beer Company
Location: San Diego, CA
A national craft beer hub, the greater San Diego area is home to nearly 200 breweries (at press time). While The Pub at Alpine is a great place to grab a bite, the Tasting Room at the actual brewery earns top marks for its laid-back atmosphere, sunny patio (with killer weather nearly 365 days a year), and high-quality beers, including some limited-edition pours only available on-site. Those who nominated Alpine swear it’s worth the drive from San Diego proper — which in and of itself is no small feat, given the city’s stiff competition.
NORTHWEST (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY)
Breakside Brewery Slabtown
Location: Portland, OR
Breakside Brewery makes some incredible beer, including its phenomenal Breakside IPA. Because Breakside was founded as a brewpub, not a label poised for the national stage, its locations always completely embody the sense of community we’re looking for in a great taproom. Opened in March, Breakside’s newest location in NW Slabtown might just be its best. Rooftop patio, great food, and an extensive tap list? We’re calling it: This is the best place to grab a beer in Portland right now.
SOUTHWEST (AZ, CO, NM, OK, TX, UT)
Location: Boulder, CO
Sipping beer in a corporate park may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to atmospheric day-drinking, but that’s what makes Upslope so special. Its industrial-chic aesthetic, all pendant lamps and exposed chrome, makes it easy to forget you’re situated within an otherwise unremarkable commercial lot. (On the plus side, that makes it far easier to find than many Boulder breweries.) The open, welcoming environment invites local beer nerds to stay a while, tasting some of the brewery’s more experimental beers.
SOUTH (AL, AR, PUERTO RICO, FL, LA, MS)
Location: Little Rock, AR
Proof that good things don’t necessarily come in large packages, Rebel Kettle isn’t one of Little Rock’s largest breweries, but it’s definitely the best. Home to some of the most interesting, experimental beers in the South, Rebel Kettle’s tasting room is an inviting place, with exposed brick and cherry-red walls, and tall seats at a long, welcoming bar. The knowledgeable, friendly staff will walk you through the beers on offer before offering you a pint. And when it’s warm out, the beer garden is an excellent place to listen to live music or do beer yoga (yes beer yoga).
SOUTHEAST (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV)
Location: Atlanta, GA
The OG southern craft brewery, SweetWater remains at the head of the class. One VinePair reader deemed its taproom, “the best place on earth.” The cavernous space has a post-industrial look, with artfully distressed floors, Midcentury-style pendant lamps, and enormous picture windows overlooking the patio. Whether you’re going to check out Sweetwater’s new barrel-age program, or simply want to whet your whistle with Sweetwater 420, this taproom has something for everyone.
MID-ATLANTIC (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA)
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Opened late last year in West Passyunk, ARS calls itself a garage brewery. (This is not a lyrical allusion. It’s located inside an actual former garage.) The 10-barrel operation is helmed by twins Sean and Andy Arsenault, and is making some of the most exciting beer not only in Philly, but on the entire East coast. The rotating brews span pale ales, saisons made with seasonal produce, and, recently, a coffee stout featuring beans from Philly’s own Greenstreet Coffee Roasters. Food trucks sustain the action at the whitewashed, low-key digs, and tasting flights of four four-ounce pours start at just $8.
NEW YORK CITY
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Threes is what comes to mind when we envision the perfect tap room. There’s great food from a rotating cast of local vendors, an excellent list of draught and bottled beer, and decidedly un-precious service. Located in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, there’s rarely a time when the breezy space isn’t bustling with neighborhood regulars, 20-something birthday parties, family gatherings, and the occasional solo sipper reading in the graveled courtyard. While some Brooklyn breweries have made a name for themselves with gimmicky can releases, Threes has instead gone the opposite direction, offering great beer in a room where everyone is welcome. No lining up at 5:00 a.m. necessary.
NORTHEAST (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, RI, VT)
Location: Nantucket, MA
If you dream of drinking craft beer with a lobster roll in hand, while waves crash on picturesque rocky shores nearby, well, you’re in luck. Spanning multiple taprooms, distilleries, a wine bar, and a rustic-chic patio with perfectly New English weathered wood, Cisco Brewery is an unparalleled, only-in-Nantucket experience. Beers on offer include IPAs, Russian Imperial Stouts, pumpkin beers, and hard ciders. Wine and cocktails are also represented. Live bands and food trucks often make appearances as well, so check the site for upcoming events.