America’s Best Under-the-Radar Beer Destinations

Khris Johnson, head brewer and co-owner of Green Bench Brewing in St. Petersburg, Florida. | Photo by Megan Klementowski/Nutmeg Imageworks

Khris Johnson, head brewer and co-owner of Green Bench Brewing in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Not all beer cities were created equal. Portland, Oregon, and San Diego have long been lands of IPA plenty, points worthy of pilgrimages to sip hoppy manna. Over time, brewing clusters have emerged in Chicago, Austin, Minneapolis–St. Paul and Maine’s Portland, each warranting trips for flights of zippy pilsners, tropical IPAs and barrel-aged stouts. Now, nary a week passes without another brewery turning on the taps, many opting to keep distribution local, and trying America’s most thrilling new beers increasingly requires venturing into unexpected territory. From up-and-coming regions to towns that have quietly been shaping the brewing world for decades, these spots are all essential points on today’s beer map. See our picks below and be sure to pick up a copy of the September/October print issue for more details and great photos of each locale.

Burlington, Vermont

The deck at Zero Gravity’s Pine Street location.

The deck at Zero Gravity’s Pine Street location.

Not too far back, Burlington’s Pine Street was a desolate industrial corridor, with no good reason to visit the city’s southern end. Nowadays, “It’s affectionately been dubbed Pint Street,” says local journalist Jeff S. Baker II of the brewery-rich stretch that also contains Citizen Cider and Daedalus Wine Shop. Inside a refurbished warehouse, Queen City Brewery delivers European styles such as the helles–inspired South End Lager and pudding-rich Yorkshire Porter. Across the street sits the production facility for Zero Gravity, which launched inside American Flatbread in 2004. (The brewpub remains.) Here, Zero Gravity turns out goses and pilsners with aplomb, as well as the cloudy Conehead wheat IPA. A bit farther down Pine you’ll find the House of Fermentology, where tart and wild ales are carefully inoculated, oak-aged and blended by friends Bill Mares and Todd Haire, a co-owner of Foam Brewers. Found on the Lake Champlain waterfront, Foam often pours HoF beers alongside foeder-aged sours, soft and fragrant IPAs and saisons aplenty. Other notable Burlington breweries include long-timer Switchback, famed for its unfiltered amber ale, and Simple Roots Brewing, found in a shopping center on the town’s northern end. The three-barrel brewery does right by cream ales, kölsch and oatmeal stouts. “Vermont struck it pretty rich with the Vermont IPA,” Baker says. “But now it’s exploring other styles of beer.”

Indianapolis, Indiana

Central State’s bar, The Koelschip. | Photo by Michael Kiser.

Central State’s bar, The Koelschip. | Photo by Michael Kiser.

“The easiest way to pick a fight with me is to call Indiana flyover country,” says Josh Hambright, co-founder and head brewer of Indianapolis’ Central State. “It’s anything but.” Anchored by Sun King (opened in 2009) and its smooth-drinking Sunlight Cream Ale and toffee-accented Wee Mac Scottish-Style Ale, Indianapolis is booming with brewing upstarts such as offbeat Deviate Brewing. It delivered the Dillwithit IPA infused with dill and cucumber, which you’ll also now find in Flat 12 Bierwerks’ revitalizing Cucumber Kölsch. Chilly Water Brewing’s Built to Last pilsner is best with house-made beer cheese, and standout restaurant Milktooth has been known to serve sweet-tea fried chicken alongside pinpoint cocktails and 18th Street Brewery’s Sour Note Blackberry Gose. Swing by Central State’s bar (and defacto taproom), The Koelschip, for the brewery’s dry Brettanomyces-fermented beers like the rustic Table and the farmhouse-style á point, run through with wild rice, buckwheat and native sumac. “One of the phrases that we use is ‘Midwest Exotic,’ ” Hambright says. “Our food is made with stuff grown right around the corner. We’re trying to bring the same concept to beer.”

St. Petersburg, Florida

Customers drink beers on the patio at Green Bench Brewing. | Photo by Megan Klementowski/Nutmeg Imageworks.

Drinking beers on the patio at Green Bench Brewing. | Photo by Megan Klementowski/Nutmeg Imageworks.

“People used to joke that St. Petersburg was God’s waiting room,” says Khris Johnson. “It was all retirees.” For much of the 20th century, they likely rested on the beach town’s ubiquitous green benches, more than 3,500 at their height. Breweries in 2013? Zilch. Johnson and his partner, Steven Duffy, helped change the zoning laws that allowed Green Bench Brewing to become St. Petersburg’s first brewery that September. Within a year, three others had opened. “People were just waiting for someone to do it,” says Johnson, now the head brewer and co-owner. Green Bench delivers spot-on IPAs, such as papaya-scented Sunshine City, and a spread of oak-fermented wild and sour beers, celebrated at the annual Foeder for Thought festival. Nearby is quirky Cage Brewing (look for the octopus mural), where you can play vintage arcade games while downing the 8-Bit Brown ale. Across the street, dog-friendly Pinellas Ale Works—that’d be PAW—serves the lactose-sweetened Milk Bone stout and the Harold’s St. Pete–Style Lager. Pedal over to bicycle-themed Cycle Brewing for Fixie session IPA and Czech-style Peloton pilsner, plus sought-out imperial stouts like Rare DOS, matured in whiskey casks. (Cycle hosts the yearly Barrel Aged Day celebration.) Aviation-themed Flying Boat, named after America’s first commercial flights linking Tampa and St. Petersburg, offers the Woodlawn Oaks Pub ale and Good Luck Goggles pale ale. No matter your chosen brewery, you’re never far from another. “We live on a peninsula that’s only a few miles wide,” Johnson says. “In 15 minutes you’ll be water to water, bay to beach.”

Richmond, Virginia

A beer flight at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. | Photo by Kate Magee.

A beer flight at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. | Photo by Kate Magee.

About three Fridays a month, Triple Crossing Brewing releases canned Berliner-style beers and IPAs like resinous Falcon Smash and berry-scented Clever Girl, the parking lot packed with plates from North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Maryland and even Pennsylvania. “Richmond has become the beer destination we always hoped it would be,” says co-founder Adam Worcester. Stone’s arrival may seem like the tipping point, but the artsy, outdoorsy city—the James River whitewater rapids course through downtown—has been on a beer path since An Bui first served Belgian ales at strip-mall Vietnamese restaurant Mekong in 1997. Nearly two decades later, Bui turned a neighboring nightclub into The Answer Brewpub, unleashing Brandon Tobert to brew lavishly hopped, hardly bitter IPAs like Hard in the Paint while Bui tackles popsicle-inspired sours. At The Veil, hazy and hop-loaded IPAs such as Master Shredder wheat IPA and Crucial Taunt double IPA are canned fresh and sold fast to huge crowds. (Given head brewer Matt Tarpey’s apprenticeship at cult-lambic brewer Cantillon, you’ll want to keep tabs on his ripening spontaneous ferments.) The Veil sits in Scott’s Addition, a burgeoning brewing district featuring Ardent Craft Ales’ lightly spicy saisons and gently roasty schwarzbier, ideally enjoyed in the garden with slow-smoked brisket from Saturday pop-up ZZQ. Richmond’s biggest homegrown success is Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, where gingerbread-inspired imperial milk stouts rub shoulders with cream ales and IPAs made with Virginia-grown hops. The city’s breweries punch far above its population count. “Richmond itself has this big-city feel, but it’s not at all a big city,” Worcester says.

Charleston, South Carolina

Barrels at Revelry Brewing. | Photo by Jay Wayne Productions.

Barrels at Revelry Brewing. | Photo by Jay Wayne Productions.

Charleston is a hedonist’s heaven filled with shrimp and grits, oysters and fried green tomatoes—food that cozies up to icy beer. “Beer fills in nicely with a foodie town,” says Revelry Brewing head brewer and partner Ryan Coker. That means Husk’s double-stacked cheeseburger sings sweetly with Holy City’s Pluff Mud porter, while Lewis Barbecue’s luscious Texas-style brisket is gangbusters with Lean or Fat?, a seasonal custom-paired English pale ale brewed by Revelry. It celebrates local crops in beers made from South Carolina’s heirloom Seashore Black rye and yellow and white dent corn, notably the Gullah Cream Ale. Sample them and foeder-aged saisons (the brewery also installed South Carolina’s first coolship) on the roof before trekking to Charles Towne Fermentory for aromatically intensified IPAs by Trillium veteran Adam Goodwin. Just south is The Barrel, pouring 33 taps from across the country, such as Tradesman’s Welders Agave Wheat, an excellent companion to a Technicolor creek-side sunset. Tie a bow on Charleston at Edmund’s Oast, where you can pair chicken liver parfait with the house-brewed Peanut Butter & Jelly brown ale. Early fall will welcome Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co., a 30-barrel production brewery outfitted with a wood-fired pizza oven, charcuterie-production facility and Polish smokehouse.

Eugene, Oregon

Sorting hops at Agrarian Ales. | Photo by Trask Bedortha.

Sorting hops at Agrarian Ales. | Photo by Trask Bedortha.

In a state packed with peerless beer outposts, including Bend, Hood River and Portland, standing out is a struggle. “Eugene is such a great beer city, and we’re usually overshadowed,” says Matt Van Wyk, brewmaster at Alesong Brewing & Blending. “Our little town has great beer flowing out of here.” Ninkasi Brewing has mushroomed into one of America’s top 50 breweries, owing to sturdily hopped IPAs, such as Total Domination, and luminescent Helles Belles lager. Here in the University of Oregon’s home base, siblings Dan and Stephen Hughes turned a homebrew hobby into ColdFire Brewing Company, where you’ll warm to the biscuits ’n’ citrus hit of St. James, the brewery’s flagship India red ale. Founded in 2006, Oakshire Brewing (Van Wyk’s previous gig) nails the kind of beers you crave daily, including citrusy Citrafonix IPA and summery Sun Made Cucumber Berliner Weisse. Agrarian Ales dwells on a farm north of downtown, with ample acreage to grow hops and peppers added to beers like the sweetly heat-seeking Hebron amber ale. Beergarden is home to food carts like the Hawaiian Lani Moku Grill and 42 taps of cider, kombucha, wine and beers from Barley Brown’s and other Oregonian standouts. Alesong’s offerings are jazzy in improvisation and execution, a strawberry-seasoned gose here, a French oak–aged golden ale laced with plums and wild yeast there. “The most exciting thing about Eugene is the beer scene’s diversity,” Van Wyk says.

Cincinnati, Ohio /Covington, Kentucky

Brewing at MadTree Brewing.

Brewing at MadTree Brewing.

So many German immigrants settled in mid-19th-century Cincinnati that a downtown neighborhood was dubbed Over-the-Rhine, where lager rivers flowed from a bustling brewery district. “Historically, greater Cincinnati was an American brewing mecca,” says Braxton Brewing CEO Jake Rouse. “Prohibition killed it off but there’s been a resurgence.” Residing in a historic brewery’s bottling plant, Rhinegeist (“Ghost of the Rhine”) top-bills the revival with expressive IPAs like tropical Truth and resinous Knowledge, which taste even better atop the roof-deck overlooking the cityscape. The city’s other major new player, MadTree, recently completed an $18 million expansion, parlaying intense demand for cans of Lift kölsch and floral Happy Amber into a family friendly taproom dispensing wood-fired pizzas. Lately, Listermann Brewing, which opened in 2008 as a homebrew shop offshoot, has hit its stride with major awards for Nutcase Peanut Butter Porter and a barrel-aged version of its hazelnut brown ale, Chickow! Urban Artifact is a former church converted into a music venue, taproom and brewery specializing in compelling funky and sour creations like Finn, the tart midpoint between a Berliner weisse and citrusy pale ale. Rivertown Brewery and Barrel House serves some of the best Belgian-style lambics this side of the Atlantic. Across the Ohio River in Covington, family-run Braxton Brewing—celebrated for its Storm golden cream ale and experiments like the mint julep–inspired Kentucky Home—recently opened the Braxton Labs R&D brewery inside the Party Source liquor store, serving up coffee vanilla milk stouts alongside carefully chosen guest taps. “It’s the perfect place to run a brewery,” Rouse says of the region.

Santa Rosa, California

A flight of beers at Cooperage Brewing. | Photo by Dan Quinones.

A flight of beers at Cooperage Brewing. | Photo by Dan Quinones.

Sonoma County is home to just over 500,000 people, but per capita, few areas have had such a seismic impact on American beer as the homeland of Lagunitas, Bear Republic and Russian River. “They set a standard of quality that the rest of us are striving to achieve,” HenHouse Brewing co-founder Collin McDonnell says. “We know that the people coming into our brewery have been drinking awesome beer for a long time.” Though Vinnie Cilurzo’s style-defining Pliny the Elder double IPA and sour jewels like Consecration hog headlines, Russian River’s sleeper hit is the unfiltered, Prague-perfect STS Pils. Since 1996, Third Street Aleworks has served sturdily rendered classics like the malt-inflected Blarney Sisters Dry Irish Stout, a gold medalist at multiple competitions. Elsewhere, wine-industry vets Paul Hawley and Remy Martin cobbled together salvaged equipment to create Fogbelt Brewing, christened for the foggy ecosystem where redwoods flourish. Try the piney red ale Hyperion, which is named after the world’s tallest tree. Cooperage Brewing crushes it with new-wave hoppy beers like the punny Danksta Lean IPA. At Shady Oak Barrel House, former wine-lab technician Steve Doty brews at area breweries and transports unfermented wort to his barrel-packed facility, where the liquid is dosed with wild yeast and souring microbes, resulting in rustic ferments like the Sonomatastic farmhouse ale. Hit HenHouse for saisons and their sea-breezed oyster stout, but save space for Death & Taxes, a San Francisco–style black lager, at local legend Moonlight Brewing. “I like being in a market where there’s a really, really high bar,” McDonnell says.

Hudson Valley, New York

An ice-cold beer at West Kill Brewery. | Photo by Eric Medsker.

An ice-cold beer at West Kill Brewery. | Photo by Eric Medsker.

No one arrives at Suarez Family Brewery by surprise. The rural brewery lies several hours north of New York City, the bright taproom a terminus for sunny pilsners, pale ales and barrel-aged beers layered with local botanicals, herbs and grains. “Friends grew us a special Indonesian strain of lemongrass that we used for a lemongrass beer,” says Dan Suarez, who cofounded the brewery with his wife, Taylor Cocalis. The deeply agrarian Hudson Valley has provided fertile ground for area breweries cultivating identities intertwined with indigenous flora. A few miles from Suarez is Sloop Brewing, planted in Vosburgh Orchards. Here, unfiltered Northeast IPAs like Juice Bomb are served alongside sours such as the dry-hopped Confliction and locally pressed ciders. Some 30 miles south in Poughkeepsie, Plan Bee Farm Brewery uses local ingredients—including microflora harvested from honeycombs—to create wild ales like pear-packed Bartlett. Downstate in Beacon, Hudson Valley Brewery’s bounty includes multifaceted sours such as Make Believe, aged in wine barrels and packed with tropical hops, and juicy IPAs like raw wheat–fueled Re-Up. (Stick around Beacon to bend elbows at Draught Industries and drink beers from Connecticut farmhouse brewery, Kent Falls.) And west of the Hudson River, Garnerville’s Industrial Arts Brewing, based in a pre-Civil War–era factory complex, is a must for squeaky-clean, aromatic IPAs like Power Tools. Deep in the Catskills, West Kill Brewery forges fiercely homegrown saisons spiked with self-harvested maple syrup. “We’re in this agricultural community where this is possible,” Suarez says.

East Bay, California

Barrels at The Rare Barrel. | Photo by Tyler Shaughnessy.

Barrels at The Rare Barrel. | Photo by Tyler Shaughnessy.

Beer and the East Bay have been buddy-buddy since mid-19th-century Oakland breweries manufactured steam beer for the thirsty masses. Prohibition and, later, changing tastes precipitated the industry’s decline, but today finds breweries cropping up and down the East Bay. In San Leandro, visit Drake’s Barrel House for clean, balanced West Coast pale ales and IPAs like 1500 and Aroma Coma, while at 21st Amendment you’ll find a Kellogg’s factory retrofitted as a brewery, Pop-Tarts replaced with Toaster Pastry red IPA. “Places like San Leandro have had a lot of breweries come in to replace old food manufacturing plants; the infrastructure is perfect for breweries,” says master cicerone Nicole Erny, who grew up in the East Bay. In Oakland, try The Trappist for precisely curated local and Belgian beers, and pork-driven Hog’s Apothecary, where “the beer is mind-blowingly good,” Erny says of the California selection, which may include the Bitter Brewer ESB from Alameda’s Faction or Oakland-based Temescal Brewing’s Guava Boat pale ale; the latter’s mural-adorned patio is super for sipping pilsners and fruited sours. While in Oakland, be sure to check out literary-themed Novel Brewing’s pineapple-scented Dust Jacket IPA, before visiting The Rare Barrel in Berkeley for calculus-complex barrel-aged sours chased by Fieldwork Brewing’s fascinating ferments. Brewer and co-owner Alex Tweet’s fast-changing lineup flits from beers like Eliza imperial milk stout, a riff on New Orleans iced coffee, to the dank and citrusy Hazy Train IPA. And this fall, Almanac Beer Co. plans to open its second brewery and taproom in Alameda.


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