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Best Small Cities for Beer-Lovers

by on June 17, 2013

There’s nothing like kick back with an ice-cold beer on a hot summer’s day. America has seen a recent explosion of craft beers, microbreweries and beer pubs, perfect for the traveling beer lover. TravelNerd has found the best small cities for beer lovers to visit this summer to find the best breweries, events and pubs from around the country. We put our own twist on this list by focusing on smaller cities and towns under 400,000 to – after all, everyone knows to visit Seattle, Portland and Denver.

Bend, OR

While Portland may be the popular beer town of the moment, true beer-lovers should head to Bend, which has the most breweries per capita in the country. Though it’s a small city of only 80,000, Bend has an impressive 20 breweries (and growing). Check out anything from the popular Bend Brewing Co. and Cascade Lakes Brewing Company to the brand new Worthy Brewing Co. and Smith Rock Brewing. Deschutes offers a brewery tour complete with free samples of beers.

Those with sturdy livers should try out the Bend Ale Trail, a tour of all 11 breweries within city limits, When you’re done, head to the Visitor’s Center to pick up a Bend Silipint. There’s happy hours every day at various beer pubs and bars around town, including most of the breweries. We recommend hitting up GoodLife Brewing Company for $2.50 pints on Thirsty Thursdays and 10 Barrel Brewing Co. for $4 Imperial Pints every day. Check out Beer Me Bend! for a full list of happy hour options for every day of the week. Travelers should definitely stop by for the Bend Brewfest, held from August 15 – 17 this year, for “three full days of hops, yeast and malted barley bliss.”

Grand Rapids, MI

Head to the Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo area of Michigan for some Midwestern brews. The area boasts over 20 breweries and plenty of beer bars. Try Founders Brewing Co., rated one of the best breweries in the world by Rate Beer, Brewery Vivant, for beer made in the Belgian tradition, and Grand Rapids Brewing Co., which strives to lower its environmental impact with less than 10% of their waste going to a landfill.

Head to The Hideout Brewing Company for a wide variety of beer on tap and delicious food (or bring your own – outside food is welcome). Harmony Brewing Company has practically opened a gastropub, with their great selection of pizza in flavors like Aloha Goat! (sausage, goat cheese, basil and charred pineapple). Try out the craft beer tour to hit up the 20 local breweries and see behind-the-scenes action at Founders Brewery and Brewery Vivant.

Burlington, VT

Burlington is the most populous city in Vermont and home of its burgeoning beer culture. Head to The Vermont Pub & Brewery, Vermont’s oldest craft brewery, for great beers and a fun live music scene. Then stop by the Magic Hat Brewing Company for fantastic IPAs and seasonal fruit/vegetable beers.

Want to try them all? Jump on the Burlington Brew Tour, which actually speeds through the state to sample Vermont’s growing beer scene. Burlington Waterfront Park is hosting this summer’s Vermont Brewers Festival for beer tastings, beer pairings and a craft beer talk.

Anchorage, AK

While Alaska may not seem like a beer destination, Anchorage’s beer scene has been revving up these past couple years. The Anchorage Brewing Company has become well-known for their White India Pale Ales, a spicier take on the IPA. Midnight Sun Brewing Co. hosts a weekly brewery tour every Thursday at 6 PM and offers 16 beers on tap – be sure to thy out their “Alaska’s Most Wanted” series.

Check out the Snow Goose Restaurant and Sleeping Lady Brewing Company, one of the first brew pubs in Anchorage. Check out a grown-up movie at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub, where you can grab a meal and draft beer while you watch a film. For music fans, check out Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse, where they serve draft beers on tap, great food and host an open mic night every Sunday as well as shows Thursday through Saturday.

Cleveland, OH

Cleveland’s claim to beer fame is Great Lakes Brewing, for a good reason. Be sure to stop by their brewpub, converted from three Victorian era buildings, and Market Room, filled with beer memorabilia. Also check out The Market Garden Brewery and Distillery for their beer garden – we recommend stopping by on Sunday for brunch.

In October, Cleveland goes all out and throws a full Beer Week packed with pub crawls, a “liquid hunt”, beer and cheese pairings and, of course, beer tasting. Additionally, the International Beer Fest is help in Cleveland from November 8 – 10 to meet breweries and taste beers from around the world.

Boulder, CO

Boulder is home to Colorado’s first microbrewery, Boulder Beer. Stop by for a free brewery tour Monday – Friday at 2 PM and get your favorite Boulder Beer on tap at their pub.  Avery Brewing Company holds free brewery tours every day in their Tap Room – the Tap Room even has a couple exclusives you can taste only there. Upslope Brewing Company is a new brewery, opened in 2008, producing Pale Ale and India Pale Ales.

Try out Boulder’s Microbrew Tours in the summer to sample a wide-range of the microbrews that Boulder has to offer. We love the Walking Tour in the summer to take advantage of Boulder’s great weather.

Asheville, NC

Asheville’s emerging brewing community is putting North Carolina on the map as a beer-lovers destination. French Broad is brewing up European style beer with a Southern twist and has a tasting room open 7 days a week. Highland Brewing Company was Asheville’s first brewery and kicked off the scene. Check out their behind-the-scene tours at 4 PM and 4:45 PM every day. Thirsty Monk is the beer bar of choice with both an American craft bar and a Belgian bar. For those that want to try them all: there’s plenty of tours to take you to all of Asheville’s breweries, including Asheville Brews Cruise and Asheville Brewery Tours.

What really put Asheville on the map is the sheer amount of festivals they have devoted to beer. Beer Week is held in the spring, and featured tastings from the major breweries around town. Brewgrass is held on September 21,, bringing together two of Asheville’s great loves: craft beer and bluegrass. And, last, in January 2014, Asheville’s Beer Fest, Winter Warmer, features season brews from many breweries around North Carolina.

Fort Collins, CO

Yes, Colorado makes the list twice. Fort Collins is the epicenter of the Longmont-Fort Collins-Loveland area of fantastic beer and the largest producer of beer in Colorado. Anheuser-Busch makes its home here, and visitors can visit the brewery.

New Belgium Brewing Co. offers popular brewery tours – unlike many other brewery tours, kids under 21 are allowed to join, but not partake in the drinking. Odell Brewing is always worth a visit for their pilot system, where visitors can try the newest concoctions in the tap room. The 24th Annual Colorado Brewer’s Festival takes place from June 22 – 23 and features over 40 Colorado breweries.

San Marcos/Escondido, CA

San Marcos is home to some of the biggest names in the San Diego brew scene, like Lost Abbey/Port Brewing. The up-and-coming Rip Current Brewing focuses on variety and offers everything from German Rye to Russian Stout. Stumblefoot Brewing brews an interesting Chipotle American Stout and offers tastings every afternoon.

The world-famous Stone Brewing Co. is a stone-throw away in the next town of Escondido with tours once an hour on Saturday and Sunday, 12 – 6 PM. Stone is celebrating their 17th anniversary this August with a beer festival that is hosting 100+ beers, 40+ breweries and free samples. The College of Business Administration at California State University San Marcos is hosting a Wine, Food and Brew Festival this September so stop by for a mix of great food and beverages.

Kalamazoo, MI

Kalamazoo is home to Bell’s Brewery Inc., the biggest and oldest craft brewery in Michigan, and plenty of other breweries are following in its footsteps. Many breweries are also opening branches in Kalamazoo, including the famous Arcadia Brewing Co.

Olde Peninsula Brewpub for dinner and drinks, especially their combination brews that are made on-site. Kalamazoo Beer Week is held annually in January and is devoted craft beer. Be sure to check out events like beer tastings and festivals for beer enthusiasts held by the Kalamazoo Libation Organization of Brewers.

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