You can bet that any thriving beer scene will have most, if not all, of the following: breweries both established and emerging, bars and restaurants with excellent tap lists, bottle shops boasting extensive selections, a strong homebrewing community, and a few uniquely homegrown attractions involving the beloved beverage that cements the need for a visit. There’s probably even a dedicated week of focused events to celebrate said scene.
You might already know or have been to America’s biggest beer cities. From San Diego to St. Louis, Portland to Portland, Asheville to Colorado, these are absolute must-visit destinations for any beer lover. But what about the unsung places that deserve some more attention and praise for their vibrant and growing scenes?
With more than 9,000 breweries operating in the U.S., great beer is now being made in every corner of the country. So, if you’re trying to plan a beer-themed trip, choosing the right spot might feel overwhelming.
That’s why we asked a dozen brewers to give their picks on the beer scenes that are (politely) saying, “Put some respect on my name.” This panel of pros looked at the question on a broader level, incorporating the culture and history of these places. Here’s what they had to say.
The Most Underrated Beer Scenes in the U.S., According to Brewers:
- Austin, Texas
- Sacramento, Calif.
- Rhode Island
- Upstate N.Y.
- Hudson Valley, N.Y.
- Charlotte, N.C.
- New Mexico
- Southern Florida
- St. Petersburg, Fla.
- Hampton Roads
“With craft beer often being so IPA-driven, a lager-heavy scene like Austin’s isn’t always given the respect it deserves. I’ve only lived here a short time, but I’ve found no shortage of incredible crispy beers. The incredible lager selection at Live Oak were some of my first loves, and I’ve since fallen for the helles at Meanwhile, Real Ale’s Hans’ Pils, and so many others. Not to mention the unofficial beer of Austin, Pearl Snap, that I’m lucky enough to make for a living now. It’s paradise for an easygoing woman like me.” —Josie Becker, brewer, Austin Beerworks, Austin, Texas
“I’d like to nominate the greater Sacramento area. I think Sac often is overlooked by San Diego, L.A., and the Bay Area. I also think Sac is often viewed as the ‘burbs, and probably somewhat fairly, but there are some gem neighborhoods and surrounding towns. Sac has come a long way in the 10 years I’ve lived in Northern California, but there’s always been great spots for food and beer for those willing to do the exploring — OG beer bars like Pangea, Dad’s, and East Sac Shack. A long history of breweries, although many of the first-wave breweries are now closed, that continues with rad heavy hitters like Urban Roots, Moksa, Moonraker, and Flatlands crushing the scene. I originally got into beer when I lived in San Diego, and I think Sacramento competes on the same level of quality.” —Phil Emerson, co-founder, Olfactory Brewery & Blendery, San Francisco
“The most underrated beer town in the U.S. is none other than the biggest little state in the union: Rhode Island. I may be a touch biased; I was born and raised in the Ocean State, where coffee milk was born and quahogs get stuffed. But I’ve been a NYC transplant for over 20 years and rediscovered all the beer joy of little Rhody. Tucked into the pectoral of Massachusetts, Rhode Island is quintessential New England, but without all the hoopla of its bigger neighbor or fanfare of Maine, the self-proclaimed Vacationland. Sure, there’re a few hype breweries in Massachusetts, and who can argue that haze didn’t descend from Vermont? But Rhode Island’s beer scene is aces. Tilted Barn Brewery in Exeter is perched on a beautiful tract of farm with plenty of outdoor seating and deliciously hazy hops and a brewery fam that exudes welcome hospitality. Origin Beer Project makes wonderfully nuanced farmhouse styles, saisons, and beautiful drinking beers, all within their shared space with Buttonwoods — so perfect to visit two lovely breweries at once. Long Live Beerworks takes me home — a Brooklyn vibe done Rhode Island-style, with thick smoothie beers and top-notch turbidity. Proclamation was one of the first hype craft breweries in the state, and their airy space in Warwick is a great visit. And, of course, Narragansett Brewing hits all the nostalgic charm with its new taproom churning out classic styles. But wait, there’s more: Beyond all the great breweries in the state, Bayberry Beer Hall and their new restaurant Bayberry Garden brings together an awesome tap list with superb food. Or Pizza J hits the perfect low-key vibe, a little ’90s with a lot of pizza. The list is too long to get through, so yeah, don’t sleep on Rhode Island. But maybe finish the night at What Cheer, a backyard spot where you’re sure to meet some new friends.” —Basil Lee, co-founder, Finback Brewery, Glendale, N.Y.
“Upstate New York has a lot of farmhouse breweries like Suarez Family and West Kill doing great unfiltered lagers and saisons along with sour beer. Most are pretty small in scale, and you don’t seem to see brewing systems larger than 10 to 15 barrels. New York has a tax treatment where you don’t have to pay tax on items grown in the state so you see the use of lots of local ingredients. The scenery is absolutely beautiful in the shadow of the Catskill Mountains with tons of outdoor beer gardens and everywhere seems to operate at a little slower pace than being concerned about making what will meet the demands on the shelf. People drive for hours to hang out at the beer gardens over the weekend and just take in the experience. That has a big effect on the beer culture and makes it super interesting.” —Kyle Gregorash, co-founder and head brewer, Young Blood Beer Company, Madison, Wis.
“The Hudson Valley is not what immediately jumps to mind when thinking about a great craft beer scene; we tend to think major metropolitan areas are where you find the best in food, entertainment, and libations. However, this rural area of farmland and tiny villages has some of the best beer you’ll find anywhere. With choices like Sloop, Plan Bee, Suarez, and Hudson Valley Brewery, you have access to a full spectrum of beer styles — all expertly brewed and available in a laid back atmosphere that’s never crowded. If you want a peaceful getaway with great beer, you can’t go wrong visiting the Hudson Valley.” —Rich DeSousa, founder, Kismet Brewing Company, Westfield, Mass.
“I may be biased, but I’m going to have to say Charlotte. Asheville gets all the love for North Carolina, but Charlotte has well over 35 breweries in the city limits, and that number doubles if you include the surrounding area. We have breweries doing some pretty amazing and interesting stuff. We have plenty of places that brew classic styles, on-trend beers, and a few that brew just weird stuff. Some of my favorites are Resident Culture, for the amazing lagers and sours; Petty Thieves, for the wide array of styles and weird shit; Divine Barrel, for the side-pull pours and friendly faces; and Salud, for the patio and great selection. There are award-winning breweries like Pilot, Devil’s Logic, and Protagonist. And you can’t go wrong with breweries that use local ingredients to make delicious beers like us over here at Free Range! The Charlotte beer scene is growing like crazy. We have several places opening taprooms in the city: Burial, Weathered Souls, Fonta Flora, and more to come. Here in Charlotte, we’re trying to unite and diversify our beer community. We have an initiative called Many Faces, started by Town Brewing owner Brian Quinn, which provides paid internships to BIPOC, helping them get a foot in the door and removing some barriers into the industry. We also have the third-largest Pink Boots chapter in the country. With the airport right here, it makes traveling so easy. With all of this, plus the amazing outdoor area most places have, why wouldn’t you want to come to Charlotte and visit me?” —Erika Woodcock, head brewer, Free Range Brewing, Charlotte, N.C.
“Obviously, everyone knows about Vermont, Asheville, San Diego, and Denver. But what a lot of people don’t know is that northern New Mexico has a really underrated, thriving, and growing beer scene. From John Rowley at Rowley Farmhouse Ales to Taos Mesa, Santa Fe Brewing, and La Cumbre, I think there is a lot of good stuff going on there that doesn’t really hit the trend scene just because they are so far away from the big cities. Throw in an amazing Native American and Spanish culture plus a killer art and writing scene, and you have a winner for a place to travel to for some great beers with some of the best outdoor scenery in the U.S.” —Jeremy DeConcini, founder, MotoSonora Brewing Co., Tucson, Ariz.
“The most underrated beer scene in the U.S. is in New Mexico. Planted in the American Southwest, this diverse landscape and culture has been an inspiration and home to many, including Georgia O’Keeffe and current-day beer author Stan Hieronymus. The beer scene is built on these pillars — from the many high-elevation and mountain-town breweries; to the Abbey Brewing Company, one of only five monastic breweries in the states, in the Chama River Valley; to beer brewed on native ancestral lands such as Bow & Arrow Brewing; to rapidly growing breweries like Ex Novo, who are putting a fresh spin on New Mexico beer. The New Mexico beer scene is truly an inspired reflection of its past and present and provides visitors with a unique and quality experience.” —Eddie Gutierrez, founder and brewer, Downshift Brewing Company, Ruidoso, N.M.
“I’d have to say the beer scene in and around St. Petersburg, Fla., is one I’m surprised I don’t hear people talk about more often. I visit my parents down there regularly, and we always make a point to go to breweries in the area. When we make our brewery trek, I always have to start at Green Bench for a Postcard Pils or two. St. Pete has so many great options, and I’m always satisfied with every brewery I go to and their excellent execution of the beers. A solid chunk of the breweries are all within walking distance of each other as well, so that makes hitting a couple extra on the trip extra easy.” —Kabel Lefto, lead brewer, Lakes & Legends Brewing Company, Minneapolis
“Being an owner of a brewpub in Dallas and being involved in the city’s brewing scene for over 10 years now, I would absolutely have to say Texas in general is HIGHLY underrated. Texas has obviously seen a surge in breweries just within the past 10 years or so, and a lot of that is because so many people saw an untapped potential here. I’m also proud to see our state’s guild work hard to make the necessary changes in the antiquated laws to help breweries begin to flourish here. We may be playing a little catch-up to many other regions, but I would put some of our beers against many of the country’s best in regards to style, execution, and appeal. However, outside of where I am, I love the southern Florida area’s beer scene — in particular the St. Petersburg/Tarpon Springs/Palm Harbor area. Tampa gets a lot of attention, but just across the bay are some fantastic breweries. Green Bench is of course a huge standout, as is Cycle and 3 Daughters. But up in Tarpon Springs, I found a great little nano-brewery called 5 Branches that’s quietly and unassumingly putting out some pretty stellar liquid, with the awards and accolades to back it up.” —Craig Bradley, co-owner and creative director, Vector Brewing, Dallas
“For me, it has to be the Hampton Roads region. I never really hear anybody talk about it as having a strong beer scene — not even the people in the area. But they’re getting some work done. Benchtop Brewing makes some of the best foeder-conditioned lagers out there, and the guys and gals of Sojourn are about to blow people away when they open up. As far as bars go, you can’t beat the Birch or Lynnhaven Pub when it comes to their tap lists or wildly different approaches to atmosphere. Justin Desmaires, a steward of the industry, works for a distributor in that area and has brought some amazing breweries, like Schilling, to Virginia.” —Travis Dise, owner, Tabol Brewing, Richmond, Va.
“Can I say Atlanta? Is that cheating? In all seriousness, Nashville would be a beer scene that continues to get better despite having some heavy competition for fun things to do there. I worked for the Predators hockey team for several years, and the scene then was overshadowed by the bright lights, bachelorette parties, and country music on Broadway. Several years later, Bearded Iris and Southern Grist brought some much-needed attention that started with great breweries like Yazoo and Smith & Lentz. And fast forward to today, larger producers are looking to the city for expansion; Monday Night has opened a new location while Hi-Wire’s is set to do so soon; Barrique is making some of the coolest wild ales and unique barrel-aged lagers in the South; and neighboring cities like Murfreesboro, Spring Hill, Columbia, and Franklin all had breweries pop up, bringing in new fans. Nashville was already an awesome spot to visit, but now a major reason to go is for its local beer.” —Sean O’Keefe, founder and CEO, Pontoon Brewing, Sandy Springs, Ga.