USA
Destination: Beer Trails From Coast to Coast
The beer connoisseur’s guide to America’s frothy new landscape
BY KAREN NAGY
McMenamins, a brewery on the Bend Ale Trail in Oregon; a glass of Shipyard ale at a dockside table in Portland, ME.
Gone are the days of mindless chugging. Across the United States, communities with thriving beer cultures are redefining the meaning of “pub crawl” with educational tours that highlight their local craft breweries. On these outings (some organized, others DIY), visitors can learn about the art and science of beer-making straight from the brewmasters and take behind-the-scenes tours of the kettles and tanks. Sometimes there’s even a designated driver on hand to whisk groups from one brewery to the next. (So go ahead, quaff that double amber.)

THE (NEW) OREGON TRAIL
Move over, Portland. The outdoorsy town of Bend is slowly but surely staking its claim as the state’s next best beer haven. The Bend Ale Trail maps out the town’s seven craft breweries, all within walking (or stumbling) distance from one another (visitbend.com). Start by going to the town’s Welcome Center (917 NW Harriman St.; 541-382-8048) to pick up a Bend Ale Trail map and a “passport.” As you visit each brewery, you’ll get a stamp for your passport. Then you can swing by the Welcome Center to receive a free silicon pint glass.

SOCAL SUDS
Consider San Diego the capital of Californian beer. The city recently brought home gold medals in five categories from the 2010 World Beer Cup—the world’s largest commercial beer competition. Winners include Ballast Point’s international pale ale, AleSmith’s Scotch ale and Karl Strauss’s Irish-style red ale. Judge for yourself during an outing with Brewery Tours of San Diego. Participants hop on and off the Beer Bus to sample suds from three of the award-winning breweries and score a pub lunch at a brewery restaurant (619-961-7999; brewerytoursofsandiego.com; daily tours, $85 per person).

MILE-HIGH BUZZ
There’s a reason Denver is nicknamed “the Napa Valley of Beer”: A whopping 74 breweries can be found within a 100-mile radius of downtown. Collectively, they produce the most beer per capita in the entire country. The Brews Cruise offers three-hour guided tours to three of these facilities, aiming to impart both beer information and enthusiasm (303-993-7308; brewscruise.com/denver; $39 per person). Once the brewmasters have taught “Beer 101” at Breckenridge Brewery, visitors step up to advanced beer terminology and techniques at the Pints Pub, where experts explain such arcane details as why traditional cask-conditioned ales are unfiltered and served at cellar room temperature.

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY
The boom in North Carolina’s craft brewing scene began in 2005, when the state raised the alcohol limit for beer from 6 to 15 percent A.B.V. (alcohol by volume). That allowed brewmasters to get creative, producing strong Belgian ales, dark stouts and hoppy IPAs. Asheville is the hub of the state’s emerging beer culture, with nine breweries in town and five annual beer festivals. Sign up for a Brews Cruise walking tour or van tour to sample as many as 20 local creations (828-545-5181; brewscruise.com/asheville; $40). You’ll visit Pisgah Brewing, the Southeast’s first all-organic brewery, and taste the signature stout at Oyster House Brewing, made with fresh oysters and chocolate malt.

EMPIRE BREWS
Beer trails crisscross New York State, but the real tour begins in central New York, which kick-started the early American beer industry in the 1800s by producing 80 percent of the nation’s hops. You’ll find no fewer than 13 breweries between Cooperstown and Oswego, and learn some interesting history along the way (iloveny.com/brewerytrails). One brewery is housed in a building once used to hide runaway slaves; others occupy former dairy and hop farms. The state’s oldest brewery, Matt Brewing, has been in operation since 1888 (830 Varick St., Utica; 315-732-0022; tour $5); you can sample their Saranac beers in a Victorian-style tavern.
 
DOWN EAST
For a taste of Maine’s liquid bounty, follow the Maine Brewers’ Guild’s Beer Trail to 25 statewide breweries (download a map at mainebrewersguild.org). Begin on the cobblestone streets of Portland’s Old Port area, where you’ll find three breweries within a half-mile walk: Shipyard, Maine’s largest brewery (86 Newbury St.; 207-761-0807); Gritty McDuff’s, the state’s first post-Prohibition pub (396 Fore St.; 207-772-2739); and the Sebago brewpub, which pours beer samplers daily till 1 a.m. (164 Middle St.; 207-775-2337). Grab some Maine lobster for lunch before hopping a 15-minute ferry or water taxi to Peaks Island, where the Inn on Peaks Island serves up fresh, cask-conditioned ale (33 Island Ave.; 207-766-5100). It’s worth taking an extra day to visit the Portland breweries of Allagash (50 Industrial Way; 207-878-5385), D.L. Geary (38 Evergreen Dr.; 207-878-2337) and SeaDog (125 Western Ave., South Portland; 207-871-7000).

STILL GOING?
With new brewing styles and seasonal offerings year-round, American brewmasters are persuading more and more drinkers to switch from mass-produced lagers to locally made craft beer. Today there’s a record 1,599-plus craft breweries in the country, which means that no matter where you are, there’s likely one within 10 miles. As you seek them out, remember: Savor, don’t swill.


NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
Published: September 5, 2010 
Photos: Visit Bend/BendAleTrail.com; Shipyard Brewing Company
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