Sure, brewery and brewpub lovers can rattle off some of the best craft beer and brewery cities in America like Austin, Denver and San Diego. But where can you get your most bang for your buck? What are the top cities in the nation for most breweries in town per capita?
This list was calculated by taking every city in the U.S. with a population of more than 50,000, and which contains at least five breweries according to the Brewers Association and ranking the number of breweries per 100,000 residents.
The final result is populated by the expected locations like Colorado, Oregon, California and the Carolinas, but the cities in those states with the best beer-to-beer-drinker ratio might surprise you. So, calling all beer, brewery, brewpub, drafthouse, pourhouse, taproom, fermentary and microbrew fans as we determine the best cities for beer lovers. Cheers!
Beautiful beaches, cool gulf breezes and a thirsty military population are a combination for a great beer town. Pensacola is the westernmost city on Florida's Panhandle, located along the north shore of Pensacola Bay, just 30 minutes from downtown to the golden sands of the Pensacola Beach barrier island. It's the premier destination for beachgoers on the northern Gulf coast as well as the home of large Naval Air Station Pensacola, the nation's first such installation.
A number of Pensacola's most popular breweries are concentrated downtown, just across the bay from the beaches, with a number of choices for both locals and sunseekers. And that's quite a change over the last decade when the legendary McGuire's Irish brewpub was the only game in town. Today, you can choose from a number of favorites including Perfect Plain Brewing, Pensacola Bay Brewery and Big Top Brewing.
A newer enclave for breweries in Pensacola is the area off of Macky Bay near the main campus of the University of West Florida. Breweries like A Little Madness Brewing and Goat Lips Chew & Brewhouse not only have great names but offer a respite from the tourist crowds after a day of boating and beaching.
A one-bedroom rental in Pensacola will cost you about $964 on average each month, so you'll have plenty of money left over to visit any of the city's great breweries.
An hour north of the larger and more metropolitan Denver and two hours north of the trendier and winter sports-oriented Colorado Springs is the lush mountain gate city of Fort Collins. The Colorado State college town of just 160,000 carries a lofty reputation as one of America's most desirable cities. At one time or another, Fort Collins has been named the “Best Place to Live" by Money, the fourth “Happiest City in America" by Forbes and one of the top 10 “Best Places To Retire" by CBS.
A lot of this happiness in Fort Collins can be traced to beer. Fort Collins is one of America's best beer towns, overflowing with a plethora of breweries — 26 to be exact — and still growing. In fact, for a small college city at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins produces seven percent of all craft beer in the nation.
And how does one experience this revolution in the most Colorado way? Why not try one of the beer-and-bike tours that visit many of Fort Collins' two dozen breweries along the way? And in such a tightknit community, don't be surprised to see many of the same happy faces patronizing a variety of establishments like Odell Brewing Company and Purpose Brewing.
But the undisputed king of craft brewing in Fort Collins is New Belgium Brewery, brewer of the famous Fat Tire Ale. The brewery is the fourth-largest craft brewer in the nation, and one of the nation's “Best Places to Work," according to Outside Magazine and one of the Wall Street Journal's “Top Small Workplaces."
Fans can tour the zero-waste brewing facility and sample a variety of New Belgium's styles year-round. For a smaller experience, place an order with Equinox Brewing, which delivers kegs via “Bootlegger," a custom-built tricycle.
Settling down in this beer mecca will cost you $1,260 each month for a one-bedroom apartment.
OK, let's be honest: A small city of 68,000 in the middle of the South Carolina Upcountry isn't where you would expect one of America's best beer cities. But it's just that location that makes Greenville a perfect spot for a brewery revolution. Crisp Piedmont air and an agricultural legacy have brewers here incorporating local ingredients and creating a unique brew scene full of “funk and sour."
Additionally, a combination of recent laws has ushered in Greenville's craft beer boom. The 2013 “Pint Law" allowed breweries to sell customers three times more beer on site than previously and the 2014 “Stone Law" permitted breweries to serve food and sell bottles and cans on site. And the proximity to Asheville, NC (we'll get there in a minute) certainly contributed to Greenville keeping up with the Joneses.
Some of the dozen breakout breweries in Greenville include Birds Fly South Ale Project, Thomas Creek Brewery and Quest Brewing Co. Along with the craft beer scene, Greenville is filled with other cultural and recreational attractions.
Falls Park on the Reedy features lush gardens and a number of waterfalls. Greenville County Museum of Art focuses much of its extensive collection on American art with a Southern angle. And baseball stadium Fluor Field replicates nearly the exact dimensions of Boston's Fenway Park, including its own Green Monster and Pesky Pole.
Despite the beer boom, rent remains affordable in Greenville. A one-bedroom will cost you an average of $1,066 each month.
At just an hour and change northwest of Washington, D.C., Leesburg, a town of 52,000 along the Maryland border at the Potomac River, is just far enough away from the Nation's Capital to feel like you've gotten away from the madness, yet close enough to be a comfortable, breathable getaway.
Leesburg has long been a convenient retreat for D.C area folks, which worked out well when the federal government relocated to the town as safe haven from British troops during the War of 1812.
Today, Leesburg is easily accessible for visitors as the western terminus of the Dulles Greenway, a highway that funnels visitors from posh NoVa suburbs like Reston, Tyson's Corner and Falls Church, with direct access from Dulles Airport.
But how did this picturesque Loudoun Valley hamlet with a downtown filled with antique stores and mom-and-pop shops become a beer capital? Call it a legacy heritage. While several Northern Virginia communities are buzzing with new craft brewery districts, Leesburg can thank its veteran brewpubs that came along long before the recent revolution.
The city staples have been bringing in some of the best crafts from around the country for years, and in turn, are attracting a plethora of newcomers. Local monument Tuscarora Mill (known as “Tuskies" by townies) has been offering residents local craft beer since the mid-1980s, seeding Leesburg reputation as a Virginia beer capital.
“It's like gravity. It just attracts other [craft beer] businesses," Shawn Malone, co-owner of Tuscarora Mill, told the Washington Post.
You can snag a one-bedroom apartment in Leesburg for an average of $1,538 each month.
Seventeen breweries in a town of just 19 square miles. If Vista isn't the capital of craft brewing in California, it's sure close. This inland San Diego suburb seems like an odd place for a craft beer revolution, but craft beer culture and craft beer tourism have taken over the city of just over 101,000 to the tune of nearly $300 million in revenue annually.
With San Diego just a hop away and metro L.A. just up the road, how did the Vista suburb find acclaim as California's brewery capital? Timing and support. The city, sensing an economic opportunity, embraced the craft beer industry by changing city ordinances to accommodate tasting rooms and food trucks, understanding marketing to bring breweries to town and opening up space for them to thrive.
"It's helped to revitalize the downtown. We used to have to reach out to businesses to get them to locate here. Now they are coming to us," Kevin Ham, Vista's economic development director, told citylab.com.
And thrive they did, most specifically around the Vista Business Park, a 14-million-square-foot industrial city where more than 800 businesses employ around 23,000 workers, where beer tourism is booming. This area of Vista just off California Highway 78, better known as "Hops Highway," features 10 breweries within walking distance of each other.
That Southern California lifestyle will cost you if you want to live in Vista. One-bedroom apartments here cost an average of $1,811 a month.
College towns have always been meccas for beer, but it's historically focused on the cheap-Buds-and-well-drinks crowd. Boulder, just a half-hour from Denver and home to the University of Colorado, still caters to the Buffs undergrads but has found love from the more mature palates and wallets of craft beer enthusiasts.
For its size (barely north of 107,000 residents), breweries and craft beer culture in Boulder are booming and has been doing so for quite some time. It was way back in 1979 that two University of Colorado physics professors opened Boulder Beer, the first craft brewery in all of Colorado. Just three years later, Boulder hosted the first Great American Beer Festival (now in Denver), and the Brewers Association brewery trade organization hung its shingle in Boulder nearly 15 years ago.
Today, Boulder is a world-class “beercation" destination with more than 20 breweries to choose from. Many line the blocks around Pearl Street in downtown Boulder, both east and west of Broadway, including Oskar Blues Boulder Taproom and Avery Brewing Company.
If the adage that Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy is true, it's no wonder Boulder is among the best places to live with the happiest residents. Boulder has been named, among other things, “The Happiest City in the U.S." by CBS, Gallup and National Geographic, not to mention America's “Smartest City" by MarketWatch (the people here drink and know things, obviously), best “Town To Live Well" by Forbes and “Foodiest Town" by Bon Appetit. That's a lot of accolades to celebrate and a good reason crack open a beer.
It seems all that happiness will cost you. One-bedroom rent in Boulder averages $1,898 a month — the most of any city on our top 10 list.
The word Kalamazoo is derived from the Potawatomi term for "boiling water," which refers to an annual footrace the local Native Americans held where contestants had to run to the river and back before a pot of water boiled. Maybe the Potawatomi were in such a hurry to boil water because they had to start on a great batch of beer.
While boiling water is ingrained right in the name of Kalamazoo, so is grain itself. Wheat and barley, two key beer ingredients, are important crops in Michigan, especially around Kalamazoo and its neighbor Battle Creek, where John Harvey Kellogg invented Corn Flakes and C.W. Post created Post Toasties, and together created the modern cereal industry and revolutionized grain production.
All this makes for one heck of a brewery town in southwest Michigan. Kalamazoo, with just 75,000 residents, features more than 16 breweries and brewpubs. But any discussion of beer in The 'Zoo must begin with Bell's Brewery, a famous staple opened way back in 1985 with a single 15-gallon soup pot.
The success of Bell's ushered in a brewery revolution that's made the Kalamazoo/Grand Rapids region one of the most important in craft beer. The city offers a selection of other well-known large craft breweries from Bell's to Arcadia Brewing Company to Latitude 42 Brewing, as well as smaller outlets like Tibbs Brewing Company and One Well Brewing.
Kalamazoo was also the original home of the Gibson Guitar Corporation solidifying the city as a true blues-and-brews town in the heel of Michigan's mitten.
Raise a glass to the most affordable city in our top 10 list — average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Kalamazoo is $790 a month.
You don't get to call yourself Beertown, U.S.A. without a bit of cachet to back it up. But with a picturesque location along the Cascade Mountains, the clean and gorgeous Deschutes River, a town full of outdoor enthusiasts and nearly two dozen breweries, Bend lays real stake in that claim.
The Central Oregon city of 100,000 is just a three-hour drive from Portland, close enough to enjoy all the trappings of the big city on a day trip, but far enough away to keep its own identity.
But alongside all the mountain beauty, Bend has been an important craft beer spot for decades. Deschutes Brewery, established in 1988, Cascade Lakes Brewery from 1994 and Bend Brewing Company opened in 1995, are three legendary breweries dating back before the craft brew revolution.
Today, Bend offers more than two dozen breweries operating around the city, one for every 4,500 Bendites, which is a lot, even for beer-crazy Oregon. But it's not just quantity in Bend, it's quality and originality, garnering a reputation for inventive brewing methods.
Crux Fermentation Project is reviving very old school brewing methods like decoction mashing and open fermentation. Ale Apothecary is a farm brewery specializing in “wild" fermentation and combining ancient brewing processes with methods from traditional wine and champagne production. And Boneyard Beer, started in an old auto shop, offers some of Oregon's best and most balanced IPAs, along with a selection of sour and hazy beers served in a junkyard-themed brewpub.
“In Oregon, and particularly in Bend, you have to put out amazing beer. Bend has a nice share of funky and esoteric breweries, and most are pushing boundaries. Crux Fermentation and Ale Apothecary are two of the most exciting breweries in the nation because of how they experiment," says Tara Nurin, Beer and Spirits Contributor for Forbes.
You can enjoy the natural beauty of Oregon — and it's great beer — for about $1,200* a month for a one-bedroom apartment.
When you think about breweries and craft beer, Portland certainly comes to mind. And of course, you mean Portland, Maine, not Portland, Oregon, right?
Portland — the Maine one — is the historic epicenter of the modern-day craft beer boom as the home of some of America's first microbreweries, many of which still exist today. With 17 breweries in the city and more than 100 in the metro area, the best thing about Portland is that you can find clusters of brewpubs and taprooms within walking distance of each other in nearly every neighborhood.
But the most notable location for breweries and brew culture in Portland is the neighborhood of Munjoy Hill. Munjoy Hill is a quaint residential New England hamlet overlooking downtown and Portland Harbor, dotted with several trendy cafes, boutique shops, the two-century-old Portland Observatory and plenty of beer stops.
A prominent district in the national craft beer scene, several hotspots line the streets of Munjoy Hill including Austin Street Brewery, Lone Pine Brewing, Oxbow Brewing Company, Maine Mead Works, Urban Farm Fermentory & Gruit Brewing and more.
And Portland is also home to one of the most well-known large craft brewers in the nation. Allagash, founded in 1995, is New England's original Belgian-style brewer. Today, the 10-time medal winning brewery dominates the Maine market and is available nationwide.
But while Allagash carries the national torch for Portland breweries, it's not the city's most historic. That honor goes to D.L. Geary Brewing Company, which became the first post-Prohibition brewery east of the Mississippi when it opened in 1983.
Everything about this town screams New England, except the rent prices, which average $1,249* a month for a one-bedroom apartment.
With its vast beauty, rugged outdoor lifestyle and mountainside footprint, you can call Asheville the Colorado of the east (just with shorter peaks). But it's exactly that aesthetic that led to Asheville becoming a craft beer refuge.
A jewel in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville seems like an unlikely beer mecca. An outdoorsy town, where mountain biking is king, you'll find a wonderful trail of beer gardens and taprooms to explore. And while the average one-bedroom rent in Asheville is about average at $1,113 a month, the beer scene here is anything but.
This Appalachian station is home to the eastern outposts of both Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, two of the most famous craft brewers in the nation, who were originally attracted to the area for its growing beer scene, outdoorsy lifestyle and bicycle culture.
While New Belgium's tasting room in the Asheville Liquid Center and its 90-minute brewery tour featuring storytellers, a food truck park and a riverfront beer garden are very impressive, Asheville is more than the attention received from the incursion of microbrew powerhouses from the west.
In fact, there are nearly 30 breweries within the city limits, including well-regarded outposts such as Highland Brewing Company (Asheville's oldest craft brewery dating back to 1994), Green Man Brewery, also pre-Western invasion having opened in 1997, French Broad River Brewery, Catawba Brewing Company and Eurisko Beer Company.
But if you want something really different than the craft brewery experience, plan a visit to White Labs Kitchen & Tap, which isn't so much a brewpub as it is a workshop. White Labs experiments scientifically with yeast in their laboratory, where it partners with breweries and restaurants to change the elemental makeup of different yeasts. These robo-yeast concoctions are then introduced into pizza crust, hamburger buns, French fries and, yes, beer, which are offered in White Labs' unique dining room.
If your favorite beer haven didn't crack the top 10, here's a look at how the top 50 beer cities in America turn up.
|Rank||City||State||Population||Breweries||Breweries Per 100,000 People|
|32||Salt Lake City||UT||200,591||21||10|
While some of the top cities in the nation per capita might take readers by surprise, the list of cities with the most overall breweries is much more of what's expected. Here are the top 10 cities in America with the most total breweries, which include some of America's best brewery locations like San Diego, Portland (the West Coast one), Chicago and Austin.
Data used in this report comes from the following sources:
To determine the best cities for beer lovers we took the all cities with more than 50,000 residents and at least five breweries and divided the number of breweries for a specific city by that city's estimated population. We then multiplied that number by 100,000 to determine the number of breweries per 100,000 people to better compare small and large cities. The result was then rounded up or down to the nearest whole number because you can't have a partial brewery (that would just be silly). Cities with the most breweries per 100,000 people were determined to be the best cities for beer lovers in our quantitative report.