Fort Collins, Colo.; Tampa; Cleveland and Asheville, N.C. also winners
While you can find craft beer just about anywhere these days, not all cities are created equal when it comes to brews. We asked USA TODAY 10Best readers to help us find America's best beer scenes -- places with exceptional beer bars, gastropubs, craft breweries and a thriving beer culture – by voting daily for their favorites.
Charm City has come a long way since the days when “Natty Boh” (National Bohemian) served as the city’s official brew. The beer-drinking crowds that flock to the lively Fells Point and Federal Hill neighborhoods now seek out new releases from local darlings such as Heavy Seas Brewery and Union Craft Brewing Company. First-time visitors are smart to make a beeline for two of the mid-Atlantic region’s most lauded bars: Max’s Taphouse and The Brewer’s Art. Photo courtesy of Visit Baltimore
First-time visitors to Maine’s largest city are often flabbergasted by the exceptional food and drink, leaving some to wonder if they’re in the wrong Portland. Several area breweries - Maine Beer Co., Allagash, Shipyard and Peak Organic - have each cultivated a strong following throughout New England and beyond, and a new wave of upstart producers (Liquid Riot, Bissell Brothers) are changing the way outsiders perceive the Portland beer scene. Novare Res Bier Café and the Great Lost Bear are just two of the beer bars that wouldn’t be out of place in cities ten times Portland’s size. Photo courtesy of Portland Convention + Visitors Bureau
Thanks to its central location and large population of beer enthusiasts, Chicago offers one of the country’s most comprehensive beer scenes. The Windy City is home to numerous award-winning breweries, several of which (Off Color Brewing, Penrose Brewing Company, Revolution) were started by alumni of Goose Island, the brewery that essentially kicked off Chicago’s craft beer craze. There are plenty of mindblowing beer bars (Local Option, Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar) that provide visitors with a one-stop shop for trying out the best of the Midwest’s craft brews, including Chicago’s own Metropolitan Brewing and Half Acre. Chicago is also big enough to support numerous innovative, forward-thinking brewing operations such as the culinary-focused Moody Tongue. Photo courtesy of City of Chicago
The City of Brotherly Love is a hard-drinking town - ask anyone who’s been on South Street during last call - and more and more Philadelphians are focusing their efforts on enjoying the area’s impressive craft brews. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of top-notch beer bars, from the much-lauded Monk’s Cafe to the equally impressive City Tap House and Eulogy Belgian Tavern. Yards Brewing Company is the city’s most popular craft brewery, and there are several smaller outfits that have popped up in recent years. Perhaps it’s the year-round event calendar that sets Philly’s beer scene apart. Spanning 10 days, Philly Beer Week is the country’s oldest and biggest event of its kind. Photo courtesy of M. Fishetti for VISIT PHILADELPHIA
The “Paris of the South” is believed to have more breweries per capita than any U.S. city. A plethora of friendly beer bars (Thirsty Monk, The Bywater) and bottle shops (Appalachian Vintner, Bruisin’ Ales) provide enthusiasts with easy access to more than 100 local beers. First-time visitors often start out at Wicked Weed’s comprehensive brewpub, and adventurous types make a beeline for the brewery’s “Funkatorium,” where a dozen sour and funky beers are served. Photo courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com
Ohio’s oldest craft brewery, Great Lakes Brewing, set up shop in Cleveland in 1988. Ever since, Northeast Ohio has served as a regional mecca for beer enthusiasts. Forward-thinking breweries such Platform Beer Co., Market Garden, Portside and Nano Brew have elevated The Forest City’s beer scene into the national consciousness. City Tap Cleveland, McNulty’s Bier Markt and Tremont Tap House are just three of the many beer bars that give beerhounds ample opportunities to taste the best area brews. Photo courtesy of ThisisCleveland.com
The nationally-renowned Cigar City Brewery dominates the Tampa beer scene. Good thing, then, that Cigar City’s beers can be enjoyed at many area bars, and the brewery’s welcoming brewpub provides a handy option for those looking to take a deep dive into its roster of award-winning brews. Newer operations such as Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Angry Chair and Coppertail Brewing Company are all making a name for themselves. Various restaurants and bars - most of whom offer sunny outdoor patios - provide easy access to the light, citrusy beers that mirror the local breweries’ surroundings Photo courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay
Fort Collins, Colo.
Just over an hour’s drive north of Denver, the city of Fort Collins punches well above its weight when it comes to beer. This city of only 150,000 houses the nationally-renowned heavyweight New Belgium as well as smaller, award-winning breweries such as Odell, Funkwerks and Equinox. College kids and outdoorsy locals welcome the night by sampling the best of the area’s output at a host of beer-focused bars (Tap and Handle, The Mayor of Old Town, The Forge Publick House). Photo courtesy of Visit Ft. Collins
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Michigan’s second-largest city sports the state’s strongest beer scene, thanks largely to the presence of the world-renowned Founders Brewing Co. Not to be outdone, there are several other brewing operations around town, most notably the Belgian-inspired Brewery Vivant. The city’s official “Beer City Ale Trail” lists more than 40 breweries in the surrounding area, and the local calendar is constantly filled with beer festivals, events, and promotions. Throw in exceptional beer stores such as Siciliano’s Market, and it’s easy to see why Grand Rapids proudly stakes its claim as “Beer City USA.” Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids
After four weeks of voting, the results are in! Grand Rapids, Mich. was the clear winner and deserving of the title Best Beer Scene!
The top 10 winners in the category Best Beer Scene are as follows:
Dr. Mike Arra is the CBO (Chief Beer Officer) and logistics guru of Bon Beer Voyage, an award winning beer tour company for Belgian and Craft Beer Enthusiasts. Bon Beer Voyage was created by Mike and his wife, Ruth Berman, as the beer geek’s answer to wine snob tours- without the snob part. They offer higher quality, small group, gourmet beer vacations (Beercations) both in the US and abroad; providing their guests with one-of-kind-experiences, sightseeing, great food, brewery insider visits and beer tastings. Mike also is the beer instructor for Bon Beer Voyage’s monthly beer tasting classes and serves as the beer guide for their Beercation beer hunting sessions.
Jim Dykstra & Chris Guest
Jim, Editor, has called The Beer Connoisseurhome since September 2014. He received his bachelor's degree in Journalism from Kennesaw State University, and when not writing or copy editing for BC, he divides his time between espousing love, humor and profound empathy by riding the rhythmic waves of wordplay, melody, and Ultimate Frisbee. Post-exercise, he prefers Bell's Best Brown Ale for rehydration, Founders Breakfast Stout for muscle recovery, and is not afraid to wear a denim dress shirt when the need arises.
Chris joined The Beer Connoisseur in December 2014 as an Editorial Assistant. Now an Editor, he has contributed several online-only articles to BeerConnoisseur.com as well as written and copy edited for The Beer Connoisseur® magazine. He is both an astute observer and a voracious consumer of pop culture and is attuned to its vivid history as well. He is passionate about furthering his knowledge of all subjects – though his preferences are music, baseball and craft beer (specifically strong barleywines and hop-heavy IPAs).
Julia Herz is the Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, co-author of the free CraftBeer.com Beer & Food Course, as well co-author of Beer Pairing (Voyageur Press). She is a life-long homebrewer, BJCP beer judge and Certified Cicerone. Despite her extensive experience, she will always consider herself a beer beginner on an unending journey to learn more about craft beer. Julia's Best Beer Scene nominations come from the American Home Brewers Association list of best American beer destinations.
Gary Monterosso is an award-winning critic, who has written for national and regional publications. He is the host of the popular television show, “What’s On Tap,” seen on Comcast Channel 22 in southern New Jersey and online at snjtoday.com, and the author of the book Artisan Beers.
In early 2014, Gary was selected by Chilled Magazine to be a member of the “Chilled 100,” signifying him as one of the top 100 beverage personalities in the United States.
He continues to be a fixture at regional beer events by hosting dinners and tasting seminars. He has qualified as a Certified Beer Server, a part of the Cicerone Certification Program, recognizing his knowledge of beer styles, culture, the brewing process and ingredients.
Focusing on long-form editorial style content and aesthetic, The Hop Review aims to deliver the industry’s best stories–with an approachability to beer enthusiasts of all types. Since inception in 2012, THR has been fortunate to sit down with some of beer’s best brewers, shop owners, distributors and brand managers from Chicago, the Midwest and around the globe. As a co-founder of The Hop Review, Jack Muldowney has carried over his eye for the carefully-branded, from his full time career as a designer. He prefers beers of the 'pale' variety and credits Chicago for changing his perception as to what makes a great brew.
Originally from New York and a Cornell University alumnus, Dennis Malcolm Byron aka Ale Sharpton is an entrepreneur, award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and beer expert who has worked with various publications and websites for the past 20 years. Listing sources, Dennis aka Ale has contributed to FirstWeFeast.com, Beer Advocate, Ebony, Jezebel, Upscale, JET, Men's Book, Uptown, WHERE Magazine and Atlanta Eats TV in his growing portfolio.
Relating to what he assuredly terms “the greatest beverage in the world,” Ale is a globetrotting beer authority, blogger of the acclaimed site AleSharpton.com, and produces his own beer show on the Web–Cruisin’ For A Brewsin’.
Although he consistently feeds his passion to discover the world, Dennis aka Ale proudly claims Atlanta, Georgia his home.
You can follow Ale on his website, Twitter (@alesharpton); and Instagram (@realalesharpton).