With beer lovers from nearly every state weighing in, we decided to get back on the road for a broader look at brewpubs.
NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- How beloved is the local brewpub as an American institution? So much that they're starting to be known as much for their food as their beer.
Brewpubs in this country have taken off in the past few decades since Prohibition largely destroyed brewpubs and taverns. That changed in 1992, when Scottish import Bert Grant opened Grant's Brewery Pub in a train depot in Yakima, Wash., to brew and promote his pale ale, IPA and Scottish Ale. Though it closed in 2005, Grant's brewpub gave early craft brewers a cheat sheet for getting their beer directly to drinkers without going through middlemen such as distributors, bars and liquor stores.
Last year, the number of brewers who made beer in their pub or restaurant grew by 60, to 1,063 nationwide. That's up from 1,020 in 2009 and made our recent look at the Top 10 brewpubs in America a tougher task than we realized. With beer lovers from nearly every state weighing in with stories from their local pubs, we decided to get back on the road and give the brewpub a broader look.
With brewers bringing in beer lovers and tourist dollars across the country, we consulted the wise editors and readers at beer rating sites BeerAdvocate and RateBeer for their take on the best American brewpubs. Using a secret blend of their ratings combined with our own travels, we've come up with a list of the best brewpubs in each state and Washington, D.C. While some states still have some catching up to do, places once known for their conservative beer habits are getting competitive with traditional beer states one beer flight and burger at a time:
While Alabama breweries such as Birmingham's Good People Brewing and Huntsville's Straight To Ale have great taprooms for sampling their wares, the state lacks a true brewpub. The state's Title 28 direct distribution law has a little something to do with that:
No manufacturer licensee shall sell any alcoholic beverages direct to any retailer or for consumption on the premises where sold, nor sell or deliver any such alcoholic beverages in other than original containers approved as to capacity by the board and in accordance with standards of fill prescribed by the U. S. Treasury Department, nor maintain or operate within the state any place or places, other than the place or places covered by the manufacturer license, where alcoholic beverages are sold or where orders are taken.
So long as that paragraph is in place, Alabama may as well be dry country for brewers who want to serve a burger or basket of chicken fingers with their beer.
Midnight Sun Brewing
Alaska loves itself some craft beer and Anchorage is where it showcases some of the best brews the state has to offer. You could spend a weekend pub crawling from Alaskan Brewing to Glacier Brewhouse to Moose's Tooth Pub and Pizzeria to Snowgoose Restaurant and Pub before taking in a stout and a show at Bear Tooth Theatrepub. If you only have time for one brewpub, though, you'd best hit Midnight Sun for some cheddar-ale soup, pretzel sticks, ancho beef dip sandwiches, posole Mexican stew and great brews such as Sockeye Red IPA, Mammoth Extra Stout and its fall-favorite Treat imperial chocolate pumpkin porter.
Four Peaks Brewery
Tempe and Scottsdale, Ariz.
Arizona's developing quite a brewing culture of its own behind joints such as Tuscon mega beer bar and nanobrewery 1702, but Four Peaks Brewery's Kilt Lifter Scottish Ale, Hop Knot IPA and 8th Street Pale Ale still lead the pack. While they're each great draws to the brewpub in Tempe and the grill and tap in Scottsdale, menu items such as the jalapeno-and-cream-cheese-laden Popper Burger; chicken, beef and portabella mushroom sandwiches served on house-made beer bread; and tiramisu made with oatmeal stout would make a formidable brewpub in any state.
Little Rock, Ark.
It's tough enough to pick a favorite brewpub in a state that has only four to its credit, but it's even tougher when two are in the same town. Tennesee-based Bosco's Restaurant and Brewing deserves credit for making brews specific to its Little Rock brewpub such as its Flaming Stone German-style steinbier, its hop-heavy Bombay IPA and the subtle Isle of Skye Scottish ale, but Vino's appeal is broader than just beer. While its Pinnacle IPA, Lazyboy Stout, Rainbow Wheat hefeweizen and Razor Bock are all strong selections, the pizza joint/indie rock club vibe helped make it a Little Rock staple.
Russian River Brewing
Santa Rosa, Calif.
There's almost no way to get the California brewpub call right, especially when Russian River, Stone, Alpine and Pizza Port are all within state lines. Russian River breaks this tie pretty easily by giving the beer geeks what they want: Some of the best, most sought-after beers on the planet. Its Pliny The Elder double IPA and Supplication and Consecration sour beers are hoarded by beer lovers and used as pawns in multistate trades. Pliny The Elder is regularly considered one of the best beers in the world. At Russian River, they're what's on tap as guest devour chicken wings, meatball sandwiches, pizza and calzones and watch local bands. It's like finding a 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild at Buffalo Wild Wings: jarring, but welcome.
Longmont and Lyons, Colo.
There are too many great breweries and brewpubs in Colorado to list, but on visitor experience alone Oskar Blues has them all beat. Back in 2002, Oskar Blues became the first craft brewer to can its beers when it started sealing up its Dale's Pale Ale and Old Chub Scottish ale at its brewery in Lyons. Since then, the operations have expanded to include a 50-acre farm, a brewpub and music venue in Longmont called Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids and Solids (with a giant replica can out front and Tasty Weasel Tap Room with live music, skee ball, small-batch brews and brewery tours). Lyons hasn't been left out, as the Oskar Blues Grill & Brew brewpub and live music venue still calls it home and the Old Chubway quick-serve eatery adds some fast-food flavor to the slow-drinking enjoyment of its beers.
Even without a can of Little Yellow Pils or plate full of cajun and Creole comfort food, the Oskar Blues brewery and brewpub tour is worth the trip. Tours in Lyons at the original restaurant start with about 30 vintage arcade games in the bottom floor, where the first brewery used to be, a blues bar on the second floor and a brewpub with a patio and a restaurant for tastings up top. The tour then loads onto a 1959 hippie blues bus and heads to the Longmont Brewery's 40,000-square-foot production facility for a look at the fermentation cellars, can line and other production elements before heading to Homemade Liquids and Solids for a final tasting.
Willimantic Brewing and Main Street Cafe
Long one of Connecticut's best kept secrets, Willimantic Brewing is now taking reservations for servings of its brewers bread bruschetta, beer-battered fish and chips and beer tap beef sandwich. They all rate a very distant second to Willimantic brews such as the heavily grapefruit-flavored V.E.G. IPA, mild 4.7% alcohol by volume Three Cents session ale and the extremely potent Dyvil Hopyard Double IPA. The brewery even makes its own Kombucha, which is great for tea lovers in need of a cleanse but may be the last weird straw for visitors freaked out by the town's boombox parade, local currency and bridges adorned with thread spools and frogs.
Dogfish Head Brewing and Eats
Rehoboth Beach, Del.
This isn't much of a contest for a small state with only a handful of brewpubs. Dogfish Head got its start at this brewpub in 1995 and makes house vodka, rum and gin in the state's only legal distillery in a room upstairs. Most visitors come to get their hands on Dogfish favorites such as the Burton Baton English strong ale, Namaste witbier and 120 Minute IPA or brewpub-only batches including the Palo Santo Ahumado London-style porter or Tahkoku nut brown ale. They come back because of surprisingly good menu items such as the onion-ring-topped Indulgence Burger, wood-oven pizzas topped with IPA-poached tomatoes or the pub's showcase appetizer, The Dogpile: a mound of pita wedges topped with spinach-and-artichoke dip, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and onions.
District of Columbia
District ChopHouse & Brewery
If you're looking to schmooze a senator or dine your way to a defense contract and your only go-to spots for great beer are the Brickskellar and the Dubliner Pub, your beer info could use a few decades' worth of updating. The District ChopHouse combines two business-dinner favorites -- huge cuts of meat and strong drink -- in a venue that's much more steakhouse than brewhouse. Still, if you're going to make a beer great enough to compete with scotch and whiskey, this is the place to do it. The ChopHouse wisely ages some of its best beers in bourbon barrels, which makes its Bourbon Stout, Bourbon Russian Imperial Stout and Bourbon Barley Wine nice complements to a Delmonico or porterhouse.
Some reasons for the greatness of Peg's Cantina: It has outdoor seating on porches and under trees out front that can be used for most of the year. No. 2, its Mexican/Gulf Coast hybrid menu featuring lump blue crab quesadillas, shrimp burritos and tuna tacos is one of the most fun and imaginative of any of its buttoned-up brewpub counterparts. No. 3, brewer Doug Dozark is also brew manager at Tampa's powerhouse Cigar City Brewing and keeps Peg's nine taps flowing with gems such as his rare, whiskey-barrel-aged Doug's Original Stout. With owners committed to using native plants, fair-trade ingredients and so little plastic that they shun credit cards and a brewer who was already making the best craft beer in Florida, Peg's Cantina would be a prize in any state.
The Wrecking Bar
Located in the historic Victor H. Kriegshaber House, the Wrecking Bar was a Victorian home, a Methodist Church, a dance school and antiques shop before Bob and Kristine Sandage turned its basement into arguably the best brewpub in the state. The pub grub such as hefeweizen-steamed mussels, beer-and-cheddar soup, chicken bratwurst with house apple cider kraut and hand-cut fries with dipping sauce are fine, but the beer holds up well on its own. After a quick brewery tour, take some time to sample the "Jemmy Dean" Breakfast Stout, Piper Down 70 Shilling Scottish Ale and the grotesquely named Stifler's Cream Ale.
Hawaii's built up more than its share of craft breweries and brewpubs, but tourists still have to get away from Oahu to find the best on the islands. Kona Brewing got its start in 1998 and has stuck to the same relatively small town on the west side of the big island. While folks on the mainland have been getting a taste of Kona's Longboard Lager, Pipeline Porter and Wailua Wheat courtesy of the Craft Brewers Alliance and its distribution deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev, brews such as Duke's Blonde Ale, Hula Hefeweizen and Castaway IPA are available only on Kona's taps. While the brewery does have a small pub on Oahu, the 2,000-square-foot outdoor lanai in Kailua Kona is perhaps the best place to enjoy the scenery, a pork sandwich, some fish tacos and a Lava Man Red Ale.
Salmon River Brewery
Whether you're visiting in the summer or fall for a dip in Payette Lake and a hike around Ponderosa State Park or in winter to hit the slopes, Salmon River should be any beer lover's last stop after a day in McCall. This small, lodge-style spot by the Salmon River gives tourists plenty of live music, happy hour specials and elk burgers to liven up their trip, but bold rotating brews such as the 6.2% ABV Chunder Chocolate Stout, 7.5% ABV Big Double IPA and 9.1% ABV Terra Incognita Barley Wine make them stick around a while -- if only to work them off. Even if none of those are on tap, flagship beers such as the Buzz Buzz Coffee Porter used in the brewpub's chocolate cake are consistent favorites among locals and newcomers alike.
A tough call in a city that's also home to Goose Island, Local Option and Haymarket Pub and Brewery and a state that's produced heavy hitters such as Lunar Brewing in Villa Park and Flossmoor Station in Flossmoor, but this Logan Square brewpub is destination dining and drinking. Beer lovers who etch Wrigley Field or Millennium Park onto their Chicago itinerary would do well to also seek out solid selections such as the hoppy Iron Fist American Pale Ale, its even more pungent Anti-Hero IPA and the heavy, smoky 7% ABV Eugene porter. The menu's no slouch, either, with selections ranging from bacon fat popcorn and wild boar meatball appetizers to pork belly and egg sandwiches and pale ale-battered fish and chips.
Three Floyds Brewing & Brewpub
Though Indianapolis has built a strong brewing culture of its own thanks to brewpubs such as Triton and Sun King, Three Floyds is where the Indiana brewing and brewpub discussion begins and ends. The tattoo-style artwork on the bottles, the creative and potent brews such as its Alpha King American Pale Ale, Gumballhead wheat beer and Robert The Bruce Scottish ale and the absolute frenzy and lines for the release of its Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout each April (on a day more commonly known as Dark Lord Day) give beer pilgrims more than enough reason to visit the brewpub. When the facility is as small and packed as Three Floyds tends to be, though, vittles such as barbecue jerky, beer-and-meat pairings and Moloko milk stout ice cream help quell the madding crowds a bit.
Court Avenue Brewing
Des Moines, Iowa
Here's the problem with Iowa: Most of its best breweries either don't have a brewpub, brew their pub's beer offsite or are part of the Rock Bottom and Granite City chains. Court Avenue is one of the few exceptions and makes the most of it by turning its spent grain into pretzels, brewing root and ginger beer for nondrinkers and kids and labeling each of its brews with labels used by Iowa brewers beforeProhibition. The brewpub's "Root Down" root beer and Jaegermeister drinks are a bit ominous, but batches such as the 6.7% ABV 21st Amendment American Pale Ale, the citrusy 6.6% ABV Honest Lawyer IPA and malty, mellow brews such as Pointer Brown Ale and Blackhawk Stout flow freely from the gavel-handled taps during happy hour and out of casks on Monday's "Firkin Steak Night."
Free State Brewing
To give you some idea of just how difficult it's been to be a brewer in Kansas, Free State was the only legal brewery in the state when it opened in 1989 and still doesn't have the right to distribute its own beer. Even if it did, it would be reduced to "low-point" 4% ABV beer in supermarkets. Though great breweries such as Manhattan, Kan.-based canned beer kings Tallgrass followed, Free State is still the only brewer around that's run a brewpub successfully for any length of time. Specialties such as peach brie bruschetta, artichoke tomato tortellini and avocado chimichurri make it a pleasant lunch or dinner stop, but house brews such as the Castle Rock Rye and Konza Prairie Kolch and old favorites such as Oatmeal Stout and Wheat State Golden have made regulars out of University of Kansas parents, alumni and fans.
Louisville is becoming one-stop shopping for beer fans as greats such as Against The Grain Brewery and Cumberland Brews help make the town a bourbon-soaked brewpub crawl. Bluegrass Brewing's three locations take it a step further by procuring its barrels from the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg and serving four barrel-aged brews at a clip. BBC's Dark Star and Bourbon Barrel Rye porters are perhaps the best reasons for walking through the door and pair nicely with the brewpub's Bourbon Peach Pork Chop Taste Of Kentucky Platter of fried green tomatoes, Benedictine cucumber-and-cream-cheese dip and country ham.
Crescent City Brewhouse
Louisiana doesn't offer a whole lot of breweries beyond Abita, Dixie and Heiner Brau and can count its brewpubs on one hand and still have enough digits left over to pinch a beer bottle. Of the brewpubs it has, Crescent City is the only one that isn't part of a chain. Its founder and brewmaster, Wolfram Kohler, brews its altbier, pilsners, hefeweizen, Black Forest Munich Dunkel Lager and Voodoo Bock in strict accordance with the Reinheitsgebot German beer purity law that allows only water, malt, hops and yeast as ingredients. That's about as serious as this spot gets, though, as its Cajun meatpies, seafood andouille gumbo, shrimp po' boys, crawfish etouffee and jambalaya blend with live jazz into an atmosphere befitting its French Quarter location.
Marshall Wharf Brewing/Three Tides
There are a whole lot of breweries clustered around Portland's still-growing beer scene, but Marshall Wharf stands apart in distance and quality. A relatively small brewery that serves as the house brewery for the waterfront restaurant Three Tides, Marshall Wharf has 17 of its homegrown brews on tap at any time and mixes in high-potency experimental brews such as the 11.2% ABV T2-R9 Barleywine and 10% ABV Cant Dog Imperial IPA with sunset sippers such as the Pinchy 3% ABV session ale and 6.1% ABV Pemaquid Oyster Stout -- brewed with 10 dozen live oysters. Three Tides' Pemaquid Oysters, rope-grown mussels and Maine crabmeat quesadillas are serviceable enough, but Marshall Wharf's beers keep regulars coming back once the Vacationald tourists have gone.
The Brewer's Art
This may be the only establishment on this list that could consider the brewpub moniker an insult. Located in a Mount Vernon townhouse, The Brewer's Art has beer in its name but uses it as just one element in its larger culinary experience. Bar bites including sausage platters, crab dip, garlic fries and burgers and chili dogs are kid's table fare compared with the restaurant's pork belly, kung pao sweetbread and ceviche appetizers and Korean-style shortrib, ratatouille polenta and steak frites entrees. That doesn't mean it's skimping on the beers, though. Despite competing with a menu of whiskies, ports and guest beers, brews such as its 7.25% ABV Ozzy Belgian strong ale, 7% Resurrection abbey brown ale and Wit Trash 4% ABV wheat beer are stronger Maryland mainstays than crab cakes and football.
Cape Ann Brewing
This state loves itself a pedantic argument, and a back-and-forth over the best brewpub would contain more sentences beginning with "Actually ..." than any esoteric discussion you'd hear in a Cambridge bar. Think the best brewpubs are the Cambridge Brewing or the Beer Works and John Harvard chains in the Boston area? Actually, the People's Pint in Central Massachusetts has far more local cultural cred with its Irish and Quebecois session music nights. Actually, the Offshore Brewing and Cisco Brewers bars and brewpubs on the islands are more aesthetically pleasant and brew closer to home. Actually ... Cape Ann Brewing beats them by offering a great view of the fishing boats coming in and out of Gloucester harbor from its back windows and deck, local bands and trivia nights and a slate of great brews such as the Fisherman's Ale Kolsch, Fisherman's Navigator Doppel-bock and Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout. Combined with the local flavor of fried haddock, clams, oysters, scallops, shrimp and calamari and a "bomb" sandwich of steak and Portuguese sausage, Cape Ann's beers and view score big points for Bay State authenticity.
In a notoriously tough beer state packed with favorites such as Founders, Dark Horse, Jolly Pumpkin, Bells and Kuhnhenn, the 20 taps at Shorts more than hold their own. All the way up near the top of the mitten in Bellaire, Shorts goes big on beers such as the puckeringly bitter Huma Lupa IPA and bourbon-barrel-aged Black Cherry Porter. In true Michigan fashion, Shorts pairs these crafted gems not with burgers and burritos from the grill, but with turkey, ham, bacon, roast beef or pastrami sandwiches from its deli. Catch all of that on a night when there's live music and it's as perfect a Michigan brewpub experience as you'll find.
Up on the north shore of Lake Superior, Fitger's has been pouring since 1995 and has held true to its north country roots. Its Elk burgers are made with elk meat from a ranch in nearby Moose Lake. Its Blueberry Manilow wheat ale is infused with 450 pounds of Bayfield blueberries. It still hosts local acts and a Monday open mic on its stage and sponsors its own curling, softball, bike and ski teams as well as a local triathlon. All of those elements have made it beloved in its home state, but they're just perks for visitors taken in by the Hatch chilies, ghost peppers and cherries in its Daughter of Wildfire pale ale or the smooth subtlety of its Witchtree ESB English pale ale on its nitrogen tap.
Keg and Barrel/Southern Prohibition Brewery
Back in 2010, the Brewers Association noted that Mississippi had just two breweries for its nearly 3 million residents. That was the largest capita per brewery in the United States, spurred on by strict Mississippi beer laws that prevented not only home brewing, but brewers such as Lazy Magnolia -- Mississippi's only full-scale brewery -- from brewing beers stronger than 6% ABV, producing too much of it or letting people taste it at the brewing site. Though home brewing is still illegal here, Mississippi tweaked its beer laws on July 1 and let its only brewpub, Keg and Barrel, open its taps to stronger brews. With more than 30 taps, all-day breakfast including chicken and waffles, screen time for international soccer matches and a nanobrewery in an adjacent facility that they're looking to expand into a full operation, Keg and Barrel makes a lot of effort despite a distinct lack of competition. The home brews such as the smooth, chocolate Oatmeal Stout and the spicy Chili Beer would be contenders even if there were more than a handful of beer producers in the state.
Urban Chestnut Brewing
St. Louis, Mo.
Anheuser-Busch's sale to InBev a few years back was a big blow for St. Louis. How the city and its brewers responded helped make St. Louis a burgeoning craft beer powerhouse. Urban Chestnut brewmaster Florian Kuplent built his resume by apprenticing at Bavarian breweries, brewing throughout Germany, England and Belgium, hooking on with New England craft brewers and eventually creating a line of craft-style beers for A-B's Michelob brand. When he finished at A-B, he started Urban Chestnut to meld the traditional beers he'd studied with the envelope-pushing beers he'd helped craft. His brewpub's brats, pretzel rolls, sausages and cheeses are lovely and all, but 15 taps of "Revolution Series" beers such as Kuplent's hoppy STLIPA double IPA and "Reverence Series" beers such as his refreshing Snickelfritz Hefeweissen are what make this a standout brewpub in a strong beer town.
With roughly a brewery for every 36,600 residents, Montana trails only Oregon and Vermont in capita per brewery. If only more of its fine breweries had brewpubs. Montana Brewing is perhaps the best example of how a Montana brewer can make a brewpub work for it. An eight-burger menu with available bison patties, a selection of five mac and cheese dishes and fried enchilada bite appetizers don't make a great brewery, but they can fund great brews if enough folks have some with their pints. The smooth, chocolate-layered Custer's Last Stout oatmeal stout won gold at the Great American Beer Festival, while its Hooligan's Red Ale took gold at the North American Brewers Association beer awards. Both are on tap at the brewpub today and both perform the same function their Montana-brewed ancestors did at saloons in Bozeman and Butte before them: Draw people for the beer and make them stay for business.
Nebraska's a bit of a sleeper pick when it comes to beer. The Brewers association found that the roughly 122,000 Nebraskans per each brewery in the state is still a better ratio than you'll find in beer-laden locales such as California (152,000 per brewery) or Pennsylvania (165,000). Upstream holds up its end with its high-powered Belgian-style Grand Cru and whiskey barrel-aged Ebenezer, which each manage about 9% ABV. Hopheads flock to its Flagship IPA, which is slightly underpowered at 6.2% ABV but still bursting with Cascade hops and a citrusy undercurrent. The dining is still a bit more Applebee's casual than most brewpubs, but gems such as its gouda and beer soup, pork schnitzel, Omaha Steaks roast beef sandwich and root beer float made with house brewed root beer save it from onion blossom hell.
Big Dog's Draft House
Think the best brewpub's in some casino on the strip? Try across the street from the Kmart on North Rancho.
Its strip-mall-barn exterior and terrible dog pun beer names such as Leglifter Light, Red Hydrant Ale and Tailwagger Wheat don't inspire confidence, but strong brews such as the 7.1% Dirty Dog IPA and 9.5% Wonder Dog Double IPA mean business. Aimed squarely at beer-loving Midwesterners, Big Dog's menu full of Wisconsin cheese curds, Bavarian soft pretzels, bratwurst and 24-hour breakfast items is designed not only to complement its Black Lab Stout, but to satisfy local Green Bay fans rooting on the Packers in the beer garden.
With this little brewpub just a block or so off the water, you'd have to be a damned fool to wait on line overnight outside its doors on the first week of March. The New England beer community is full of damned fools, but they know a great beer when they taste it and have no problem bundling up for a taste or a bottle of Kate The Great Russian Imperial Stout on Kate The Great Day. Portsmouth Brewery's not bad the rest of the year either. Far smaller than the neighboring Redhook Brewery's beer Disneyland and less time-consuming than sister brewery Smuttynose's facility tour, Portsmouth Brewery was the state's first brewpub when it opened in 1991 and retains that small start-up feel. While its beers on tap usually aren't as strong as the 12% ABV Kate The Great, favorites such as its 5% ABV Black Cat Stout and Wit work just fine with the $1 tacos, $2 grilled hot dogs or beer-steamed tamales in the downstairs lounge.
The Ship Inn
New Jersey doesn't have a whole lot of brewpubs (or breweries), and the ones it has are either chains or holdovers from the initial craft beer boom of the mid- to late 1990s. Those in the latter category tend to be among the best in the state, if not the most adventurous, simply because they've been honing their brews for nearly two decades. The Ship Inn in Jersey's tony, moneyed Far Hills region was New Jersey's first brewpub when it opened in 1995 and has been brewing and pouring its English-style Porter, Extra Special Bitter and IPA ever since. Its porters do much of the heavy lifting, with Chocolate, Honey Blackout and the potent Randy's Panhead variations darkening most Ship Pints. The Victorian exterior, nautical-themed interior and Anglophile menu of Stilton potato skins, fish and chips, shepherd's pie and sirloin with Yorkshire pudding overload the senses a bit, but the back deck overlooking Harehokake Creek is a fine place for unwinding with a pint of ESB.
Chama River Brewing
Were Breaking Bad a more spot-on depiction of Albuquerque, Walter White's former boss would have run a brewpub instead of a fast food chicken franchise. Like White, ABQ brewpubs don't do half measures, as evidenced by the copper-clad, steak-serving surroundings of Chama River's brewing facilities. Lobster-basil mashed potatoes, truffled blue cheese fries, green chile and ale fondue, red chile braised duck legs and a 12-ounce ribeye are all privileged departures from standard pub fare, but not unsuited to the items on tap. Chama River's 3 Dog Night Baltic Style Porter, Sleeping Dog Oatmeal Stout and its Herbal Joe's Columbarillo IPA all won gold at the Great American Beer Festival. In the brewpub world, that's worth a steak dinner.
Southern Tier Brewing
It's tough to go wrong in a state with more than 100 breweries and dozens of brewpubs, but Southern Tier stacks the deck by pouring its 8.6% ABV Pumpking Imperial Pumpkin Ale, 9.5% ABV Unearthly Imperial IPA, 9% Iniquity Imperial Black Ale and 9.5% Creme Brulee Imperial Milk Stout every day at its Empty Pint brewpub. While Southern Tier's brews are fine at the end of a brewery tour or with a hickory-smoked pulled pork sandwich, they're all typically heavy hitters that should be approached with caution. This is a brewery that considers its 8.2% ABV 2XIPA and 7.5% ABV 2XStout "standard" and has dubbed its 5.8% ABV 422 pale ale a "session ale." Have the cabs waiting after that session.
This is a tough call in a state where you can throw a dart at a map of Asheville, Greensboro or Raleigh-Durham and find a great brewpub within a block of anywhere you land. All of those towns make strong arguments and are a big reason why New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues are opening up East Coast operations in this state, but few have brewpubs that get the pub part of that concept as well as Foothills does. Its tap list is anchored by an incredibly hoppy Hoppymum IPA that is pungent as a double IPA twice its size, a light and refreshing Carolina Strawberry cream ale and a slate of seasonals including Sexual Chocolate, a 9.75% ABV, cocoa-infused imperial stout with notes of espresso, molasses, toffee and dark fruit. They're all great partners for house-fried potato chips and dip, ale-battered fried mushroom, pickles and fish, beer brats or a Hills Pie Pizza topped with andouille sausage, peperoni, mushrooms, bell peppers, provolone and mozzarella. Whether you're dropping in for a flight of brews or are a mug-club member, Foothills' big-tent menus don't disappoint.
It's not that North Dakota has particularly onerous or backward beer laws. This is a state where public intoxication isn't even a crime. It's just a state with 690,000 people and exactly two breweries: The brewpub-deprived Fargo Brewing in Fargo and an outpost of the Granite Hills national brewpub chain, also in Fargo. Is Granite Hills better than nothing? Yes. Would Granite Hills be No. 1 if it had any local competition? Probably not. There's a great business opportunity in this state for anyone who's willing to take it. Until then, it draws a blank on brewpubs.
The Buckeye Beer Engine
Don't doubt the pull of Ohio's brewpubs. Jackie O's in Athens, Weasel Boy in Zanesville and The Brew Kettle in Strongsville all made RateBeer's list, but Buckeye Beer Engine's 28 taps bested them all. Unlike its upmarket competitors, however, Buckeye isn't afraid to mix high-minded cask ales such as its Aquarius Imperial IPA with a Belgian Strong Ale called Nighty Night, a half-pound burger and pretzel-wrapped hot dog special or an Ohio State game. They'll even knock two bucks off the price of your burger on Mondays if you bike in.
Oklahoma is yet another state where perfectly good beers go to die. If it wasn't for brewpubs, every beer in the state would be watered down to the 4% ABV limits deemed appropriate by Oklahoma's powers that be. While you can't carry out the original-recipe version's of Choc's 8% ABV Belgian-Style Dubbel, which took gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2009, or the 11% Belgian-Style Quad, which won gold at the World Beer Cup in 2010, even low-voltage brews such as the 1919 American pale wheat ale make lovely session beers. The Italian dishes such as grilled shrimp alfredo and antipasto with Muenster cheese made fresh in Krebs are all nice touches and are best enjoyed with the wine-strength Belgians while you can get them.
Cascade Brewing Barrel House
It's hard to pick any of Oregon's myriad brewpubs and say definitively it's better than all the others. RateBeer's long-form list put Cascade up front, but also included Cascade's Portland neighbor Hopworks, Bend's Deschutes Brewery & Public House and Pacific City's Pelican Pub and Brewery. What sets Cascade apart? Sour and barrel-aged beers, and lots of them. Cascade's Elderberry, Strawberry and The Vine grape sours sips like wine, while barrel-aged fruit beers and bourbon-barrel-held "bourbonic" blueberry and cherry beers turn up the heat. The rotating cheese, charcuterie, fruit compote, tapenade and soup selections and full lines of more standard IPAs, saisons, porters and other beers round out the experience, but it's the barrels that keep adventurous beer lovers coming back.
Selin's Grove Brewing
What happens when you take a couple of workers from the New Belgium brewery in Colorado and drop them in Central Pennsylvania? You suddenly have some of the best beer on the East Coast in a location usually only frequented by Susquehana University students and alums. Selin's Grove's 12 taps are all reserved for home-grown brews including an IPA that can hang with any of its Colorado competitors. The pub menu's small, but locally produced bread, soft pretzels, salsa and cheeses are great complements to the palate-tickling Wee Heavy Scottish Ale, River Rat Tripel and Shade Mountain Oatmeal Stout.
Quigley's Pint and Plate
Pawley's Island, S.C.
South Carolina may not be blessed with the same large number of brewing establishments as its neighbor to the north, but the quality doesn't drop off as you head south. Quigley's, in particular, revels in its southern climes by offering distinctly regional flavors such as a peach wheat ale and a 13% ABV "angel's share" English stout alongside its surprisingly strong-hopped 7% ABV Swamp Fox IPA. The tap list is a good match for the menu, which is stocked with local- and tourist-pleasing southern-inspired dishes such as black-eyed pea hummus, fried green tomatoes, lump crab cakes, brown ale chili, ale-poached clams, shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles. Looking for a pairing? Try the Neck Red Ale with a low country roll: grits, shrimp, andoullie sausage and carmelized onions rolled in seaweed, tempura battered, deep-fried and served with ale mustard and barbecue dip.
Rapid City, S.C.
There are just about a handful of breweries in South Dakota, and all of them have brewpubs. Not all of them sit in a historic downtown district with statues of former presidents on every corner and a steady stream of Mount Rushmore tourists streaming in each day. Firehouse would do excellent business here if it had a couple of fizzy beers on tap and served frozen bar pies. It excels not only because of great brews such as its Smoke Jumper Stout, Strong Arm Porter and Brown Cow Ale, but because of an extensive menue that includes bison burgers, burritos, fish tacos, skillet steaks, souvlaki and milkshakes that used ice cream infused with spent stout malt and grain. It does all of this in the huge, three-level building that was once the city's firehouse, but now houses the two-story restaurant, a dining patio and a dinner theater. It's tough to find a good brewpub in a state this large, but Firehouse Brewing make it easy for folks just passing through.
The Terminal Brewhouse
From the outside, the tall, skinny former rail-terminal hotel that's now the Terminal Brewhouse looks like a whole lot of utilitarian nothingness. The open layout inside that give patrons a full view of the kettles, brewing operations and dining space on each floor only hints toward what awaits. Pot roast nachos, cheese-and-beer pairings, slow-cooked short ribs, stuffed sandwiches and a "Philosopher's Burger" of ground lamb seasoned with cinnamon, oregano and shallots would be the marquee attraction anywhere else, but the orange-spiced White Shadow witbier, coffee-and-chocolate-laden Stouthsidenstein oatmeal stout and smooth, hoppy Surrender Monkey saison shan't be ignored.
Draught House Pub and Brewery
The weird little town seemingly built on Shiner Bock empties knows its beer. The Draught House soaks the city's broad beer palate with 75 taps, including a handful of house brews such as the sessionable 3.9% ABV Guy Smiley mild ale and citrusy Sunburst pale ale. The other dozen or so handles are a who's who of Texas, Midwest and West Coast brews with a smattering of Northeast and Euro beers thrown in for good measure. The five-item menu of pizza, calzones, nachos, quesadillas and chips and salsa isn't exactly overwhelming, but the items are more than adequate when paired with weekly specials such as $2.75 themed pints and free bratwurst.
Salt Lake City
So remember all that stuff you thought you knew about Utah drinking laws? The weak beer, the weird "private club" system for getting into bars? Yeah, all that became old news back in 2009. You can still buy all the underpowered 4% ABV beer you want in taverns and grocery stores, but bars and especially brewpubs can now sell beer in as many styles or as much alcohol by volume as they like. That's great news for Utah brewers, but even better for Uinta Brewing, which has been producing low-buzz beers for Utah and higher-potency beers for the rest of the U.S. for 19 years. Now visitors to the Salt Lake City brewpub can get the full 5.7% ABV version of the brewery's 19th anniversary Birthday Suit sour cherry ale, 7.3% Hop Notch IPA or 9.2% Dubhe Imperial Black IPA with its roast beef, pastrami and provolone sandwich on a Uinta roll. In a state that's now a growth market for craft brewers, bringing out your best at the brewpub never hurts.
American Flatbread Burlington Hearth
RateBeer ranked Vermont brewer The Alchemist's brewpub ahead of this Burlington favorite, but Hurricane Irene destroyed that spot last year by flooding Alchemist's unfortunately named home of Waterbury, Vt., with tap-high water. American Flatbread is a worthy, if far-flung, substitute that offers 22 taps including two casks and more than a dozen homebrews. Combine those with a two-page menu of namesake flatbread pizzas loaded with locally produced and organically grown toppings and you have the brewpub embodiment of Burlington's laid-back, hyperlocal culture.
Blue Mountain Brewery
Tucked away in Virginia's Brew Ridge Trail of breweries that includes heavy hitters such as Devils Backbone Brewing and Starr Hill Brewery, Blue Mountain Brewery uses strong brews and gorgeous views to take the top spot. Its back porch is shaded in arbor, features mountain and farm views in almost every direction and shelters drinkers enjoying its Full Nelson Pale Ale, Wee Heavy, Imperial Pumpkin and barrel-aged Chocolate Cherry Bourbon Stout. Plates of crab dip, pulled pork, local chicken gyros and local sausage and brats are nice accents while taking in views of Blue Mountain's hop fields, but the brewery's Full Nelson Pale Ale and Dark Hollow double imperial stout are the best ways to taste those hops in action.
Mountain State Brewing
It looks like a cozy cabin from the outside, isn't much bigger inside and has only four beers on tap, yet half the brewpubs in America would love to do this much with this little. The brews alone are worth the trip, with the heavily hopped Seneca IPA, smooth-drinking blonde Cold Trail Ale and creamy coffee-and-chocolate Miner's Daughter oatmeal stout all making great first impressions, but beckoning another at less than 5.5% ABV apiece. The masterpiece of the regular rotation, however, is the Almost Heaven nut brown amber ale with just enough Willamette hops to add depth, but a smooth finish and subtle 5.2% ABV that makes it a great session brew. A chocolate porter works its way in as a cold-weather seasonal and goes quite well with the timber lodge's brick-oven pizza. There are locations in Morgantown and Maryland, but Mountain State's location in Thomas is as pure a brewpub experience as America offers.
Walking Man Brewing & Public House
No website, no fancypants online menu, no worries. In the state that birthed brewpubs and has plenty within its borders, this joint on the Columbia River is beloved by river walkers, Multnomah Falls hikers and other ecotourists in Washington and Oregon alike. The pub's pulled pork nachos, Cuban sandwiches and pizza sit perfectly after hiking the Columbia River Gorge, but steelhead salmon tacos and salads shouldn't be missed if you're serious about your Pacific Northwest tourism. The brewpub's IPA and various American pale ales are worthy choices from the 10-tap rotation, but the big draws are the hop-packed Homo Erectus imperial IPA and the Black Cherry Stout. At 9% and 7.2% ABV, respectively, they're perhaps best enjoyed as part of a sampler.
If you want to see the remnants of old brewing empires, go to Milwaukee. If you want lots of upstart craft brewers in a little space, head to Madison. If you want 160 years of brewing tradition and great post-1990s craft beer offerings, Potosi's your best stop. It's home to the American Breweries Association's National Breweries Museum, which contains hundred of pieces of brewing memorabilia from American breweries dating to the 1800s, and the Potosi Brewing Transportation Museum with displays featuring beer carts and trucks from Potosi's founding through present. The brewpub still serves beer-battered fried cheese curd, hot pretzels, bratwurst burgers and hot ham and cheese on pretzel rolls, and the flagship beer is still a lager-tasting ale called Good Old Potosi, but its potent Snake Hollow IPA, burnt-coffee-flavored Gandy Dancer Porter and spicy pumpkin ale keep the brewing tradition moving forward.
Snake River Brewing
Nestled among the tetons, Snake River brewing has been at the end of just enough hiking trails, bike paths and ski runs since 1994 to make itself a Jackson Hole fixture. The brews have a little something to do with that, as the brewpubs taps are filled with medal winners such as Guido's Kolnerbrau Kolsch (gold at the Great American Beer Festival), Snake River Pale Ale (gold at the World Beer Cup and North American Brewers Fest), Zonker Stout (gold at the GABF, World Beer Cup and NABF) and OB-1 Organic Ale (gold at GABF). The menu isn't bad, either, with barbecue elk burgers, Zonker stout Buffalo brats and steak tacos made with local beef leading the charge.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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