NEW YORK (TheStreet) - When every state has a whole lot of breweries, it gets much harder to put together a beer-specific vacation itinerary.
We knew this when we pointed out five hidden craft beer vacation destinations a couple of years ago and ran five more of them that same summer. We knew it last year, when we picked some fairly obvious destinations only to offer five more later that year.
This country has more than 3,400 breweries, according to the Brewers Association craft beer industry group. Another 2,000 on the way this year. The most prominent locations have been enough to fill up not one list of craft beer vacation destinations, but follow-up lists of both regions and cities where vacationing craft beer drinkers could grab some sampling flights. It's tough to limit yourself to the 10 best brewpubs in America when there are brewpubs in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., worth visiting.
This is why, this year we've enlisted the aid of vacation rental site HomeAway to compile yet another collection of summer beer destinations. Some we're revisiting, some we're hitting for the first time, but all will keep beer lovers busy this summer while also giving them reason to stay for longer than brewpub or tasting room hours allow:
California wine country
Why are we dumping beer lovers into a region known primarily for wine? Because that's where some of the best beer in the country is.
We're particularly fond of Petaluma. Located right in the heart of Sonoma County, Petaluma is surrounded by treasures including the more than 180-year-old Rancho Petaluma Adobe, the Sonoma Coast, the extremely boat-friendly Petaluma River and a gorgeous downtown and waterfront. It's not too far from the Bay Area or Redwoods State Park and, yes, it's right in the middle of wine country.
It's also home to a small bunch of breweries that should keep beer lovers occupied for much of their stay. The heaviest hitter is Lagunitas Brewing, which founder Tony Magee opened in 1993 Lagunitas, Calif., before outgrowing his pastoral Marin County surroundings. He moved the whole works to Petaluma in 1994 and is expanding the current brewery to 600,000 barrels of capacity and after opening a second brewery in Chicago. Still, the Petaluma taproom and "beer sanctuary" is the best place to sample wares such as Lagunitas' chronic-flavored Censored Copper Ale, its excessively bitter Hop Stoopid imperial IPA or its powerful, seasonal Little Sumpin' Wild wild-yeast ale. The experimental ales flow, the live music plays and the imperial stout ice cream floats are in abundance.
Still, Lagunitas is young compared with its brewing comrades across town at Dempsey's. For more than two decades, a rotating seasonal menu is paired with powerful brews like Dempsey's Tank 9 Barleywine, its 7.1% ABV Petaluma Strong Ale, the 6.7% ABV Ugly Dog Stout and the citrusy, nearly 9% ABV Boneshaker Double IPA. But even Dempsey's and Lagunitas sit in the shadow of Russian River Brewing about a half-hour up the road in Santa Rosa. Here, beer geeks pack in to sample Pliny the Elder straight from the tap and sample beers that brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo hasn't made available beyond California and select parts of Oregon.
On you way out of that beer pilgrimage point, however, stop by a local bottle shop or beer bar and pick up a Heroine IPA, Golden Naked Al or Stigmata Red Rye from 101 North Brewing. That brewery's brewmaster, Joel J. Johnson, has been brewing since 1997 and was head brewer at Bear Republic Brewing in nearby Healdsburg, Calif. That brewery gave the world Racer 5 and Racer X IPA , as well as Hop Rod Rye, and is well worth a visit of its own.
The best part of this particular excursion is that you can stay in wine country on a beer budget. If there are just two of you, a two-bedroom cabin in Occidental with a private spa, sauna, solar-heated pool and pool house with bar has a starting price of $249 a night. And a two-bedroom riverfront cabin in Guerneville with private dock, kayaks, a six-person hot tub, outdoor kitchen, outdoor living room, pool table and a 50-inch television with surround sound goes for as little as $225 a night. Looking for something a little less remote? A quaint two-bedroom farmhouse-style home in Sonoma Square fetches $375 a night.
Colorado has third-largest collection of craft breweries in America behind Washington and California and the third-most breweries per capita in the U.S., which makes finding a great one relatively easy.
We wouldn't blame anyone for basing themselves in Denver, but a top-to-bottom Colorado beer tour needs to start in Fort Collins. Home to Belgian-inspired Funkwerks and its Saison and the prolific Odell Brewing and its Woodcut oak-aged ales and sublime 90 Shilling Scottish ale, Fort Collins also houses an Anheuser-Busch InBev brewery, seemingly just as a point of comparison for craft brewers. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention New Belgium Brewing, which has been cranking out tasty brews such as its Fat Tire Amber Ale and Ranger IPA for 20 years, but also hosts the Tour de Fat bike festival, Bike-In Cinema summer film series for cyclists and its Urban Assault Ride bicycle scavenger hunts.
It's all south from there, as Left Hand Brewery in Longmont has a tasting room teeming with taps of its signature Milk Stout, BlackJack Porter and Wake Up Dead Stout, while nearby Oskar Blues facilities crank out cans of Dale's Pale Ale and Old Chub Scottish on sites that include a 50-acre farm, a brewpub and music venue called Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids and Solids, and the Tasty Weasel Tap Room with live music, skee ball, small-batch brews and brewery tours.
From Longmont, it's decision time. Do beer lovers head south to Boulder for a one-city circuit of breweries including Asher Brewing, Boulder Beer, Mountain Sun, Upslope and heavy hitter Avery Brewing for its cans of White Rascal Witbier or Joe's American Pilsner? Do they go to Golden and check out some fresh Coors? Or do they head back to Denver for a Hercules Double IPA at Great Divide Brewing, an Ophelia Hoppy Wheat from Breckenridge Brewery or some Blue Moon they can't get at home from Coors Field's SandLot brewery ? Given the gorgeous views in each direction, it's tough to lose.
If you're setting in Denver, however, you may as well stay near everything you'll want to see. A three-bedroom, 1,800-square-foot modern duplex in walking distance of museums and Mile High Stadium starts at $249 a night. For the same price, you can also stay in a three-bedroom new construction home on Jefferson Park just two minutes from Mile High and the Pepsi Center. Looking for something a bit cozier (and cheaper)? A two-bedroom bungalow with a private yard and parking starts at $195 a night.
By all means, hit a Milwaukee Brewers game at Miller Park and sample some of the local pints. Tour the 82-acre Miller Brewery, shiver in the Miller Caves. Even drink a High Life at the Miller Inn at the tour's end and eat at an Italian joint that used to be Schlitz's Brown Bottle restaurant.
If you want some idea of where modern Milwaukee beer is headed, though, step away from the Miller signs and head to the home of the other beer sold at Brewers games: Lakefront Brewery. It is also home to mascot Bernie Brewer's chalet from demolished Milwaukee County Stadium. Founded in 1985, Lakefront offered the first certified-organic beer in America and made a name for itself with its brewery tour - which gives visitors their beer first in the hopes of keeping their attention.
Is there anything wrong with Wisconsin's strong, largely teutonic brewing history? No. Sprecher Brewing on Glendale, Wis., was founded by a former Pabst brewing supervisor in 1985 and still brews Hefe Weiss, Black Bavarian, Special Amber and Light Ale in the same German and Eastern European tradition that spawned 80 breweries in Milwaukee alone in the 1880s. Even beer geek favorite New Glarus Brewing was founded in 1993 with copper kettles bought from a German brewery. Its new hilltop brewing facility looks a Bavarian village, which is only just slightly odd in a town founded in 1845 by immigrants from Glarus, Switzerland, that still has Swiss flags in front of every storefront. It also has Swiss chalet-style businesses and homes lining its streets and Swiss meat and cheese shops to complement Spotted Cow ale, Fat Squirrel Nut Brown Ale or a Two Women lager.
Not all of the history is beer-related. Visitors can stay in the two-bedroom guest house of an 1889 home that now houses an art gallery for as little as $175 a night. If you need something bigger and a bit more private, a three-bedroom Arts and Crafts duplex in Washington Heights starts at $149 a night.
It gets nearly 260 rain-free days a year. It's just straight-up sun for like five months. Its average high temperature doesn't drift below 66, and its average low is still 17 degrees above freezing. The Padres can spend the whole summer being terrible, but fans spend less than $20 on average to see them in Petco Park's gorgeous weather with fish tacos in hand. San Diego didn't need great beer, but it had more than enough reason to brew some.
There are more than 50 breweries in and around this city, and exactly two of them are Rock Bottom or Gordon Biersch outposts. That's more breweries than many states have. BeerAdvocate has rated beers from Alesmith,Stone Brewing,Alpine Beer and Lost Abbey, Green Flash and Port Brewing - the folks behind the four locations of this town's beloved Pizza Port franchise - among the best in the world.
That doesn't even pay lip service to brilliant relative newcomers including Belgian-and-IPA masters Modern Times or the esoteric, pedantic beer scholars behind Societe Brewing. It also leaves out long-standing veterans such as the folks at Coronado Brewing. There is honestly no way to go into detail about every brewery in this town or to plot out a map of tasting rooms, brewpubs and pizza shops that wouldn't take up every day and calorie of your vacation. Instead, we'll just point you to Drink Up San Diego and the San Diego Brewers Guild for a complete guide to breweries and San Diego beer events. Hit either of the Stone Brewing World locations because they're beer Disneyland, avoid any beer that focuses on spokespeople and packaging instead of the beer and hit as much of the rest as you can.
Also, if you're only here as a tourist, please do the right thing and stay by the beach. A two-bedroom home with a private sun deck steps from the beach in La Jolla starts at $265 a night. If you want to be closer to the breweries, the zoo and downtown while still staying on the beach, a three-bedroom home in San Diego with a wall of windows facing the Pacific starts at $280 a night. But if space is your greatest concern, a five-acre wine country estate with a pool and a view of the valley sleeps 12 and starts at $386 a night.
There aren't a whole lot of breweries in this state, and the Brewers Association excludes Old Dominion Brewing in Dover for having a stake owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. That said, Delaware and Old Dominion are still worth a visit from beer fans.
The state gets a whole lot of help from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, its brewing facility in Milton, its brewpub in Rehoboth Beach and its Dogfish Inn along the Delaware Coast. That's just part of the story, though. The Iron Hill brewpub chain contributes two sites to the cause, but it's independents such as Stewart's Brewing that have defined beer in this state. In business since 1995, Stewart's took home a gold medal from the Great American Beer Festival last year for its Stumblin' Monk Belgian Strong Pale Ale.
Greenville-based Twin Lakes Brewing didn't get its first beers out until 2006, but its green cans of Greenville Pale Ale and blue-labeled Route 52 Pilsner are familiar in Delaware bars and beer aisles. Georgetown-based 16 Mile Brewerycame in six years later, but has already established a full line of strong everyday brews including its 4.1% ABV Responders session ale, its 6.1% ABV Old Court dark pale ale and several collaborations with brewers and charities alike.
From the shore-and-sail-themed varieties of Mispillion River Brewing and 3rd Wave Brewing to the pizza-parlor-bound small-scale brews of Argilla Brewing, Delaware is teeming with little gems that come through big during the summer months.
If the Dogfish Inn is booked up, however, a four-bedroom oceanfront home near the Dogfish Head brewery in Milton provides a grand view of the bay for $249 a night. A slightly more updated four-bedroom home on Broadkill Beach with a hot tub, outdoor shower, fireplace and Wi-Fi starts at $225 a night. If you need space more than you need amenities, though, a six-bedroom home on Slaughter Beach sleeps 16 and has no neighbors to worry about disturbing with a party that large.
The Lone Star brewery and the Spoetzl brewery that makes Shiner are within striking distance, but Austin's beer scene has been about far more than those brands for a long time.
In the city where Pierre Celis introduced U.S. beer drinkers to witbier back when Blue Moon was a song on an oldies station, craft beer is in the veins. It's home to one of the best beer bars in the country in the Austin Draught House, along with great spots including The Alamo, Hopdoddy's and The Whip-In. The brewing community, meanwhile, has exploded.
There's Pecan Porter at 512, German and Czech love (and a great Hefeweizen) at Live Oak and Circle, take-home cans at Austin Beerworks and Hops & Grain, Belgian funk at Adelbert's and Jester King and small batches at Rogness. There's more, not including Tito's and Deep Eddy distilleries, but you'll have to take an Austin Brew Bus tour to even consider hitting most of them.
If you have a big crew in tow and feel like going all out, a six-bedroom luxury modern home near the University of Texas campus and Franklin's BBQ (ridiculous) goes for as little as $675 a night. Meanwhile, if you're looking for something a bit smaller in a hot neighborhood, a three-bedroom home on South Congress starts at $600 a night, while a nearby two-bedroom starts at $225.
The Anheuser-Busch brewery and the Clydesdales are still here and, yes, they give tours you should absolutely go on if you're in St. Louis. Without seeing any of that, you'll have no real background for everything that comes afterward.
When Anheuser-Busch was bought into multinational Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2008, it hit this city right in the gut. Thousands of jobs were lost, longtime ties to the community were severed and a company town was left with mixed emotions about the big brewer that's been here since 1852.
Then it started brewing. Former Anheuser-Busch employees and executives got involved with breweries including Urban Chestnut, the latter of which has spread to multiple locations and announced plans to open an outpost in Bavaria. From 4 Hands to Civil Life, St. Louis is now home to some of the finest and fastest-growing craft breweries in the country. Its days as A-B's city may be over, but the next chapter of its brewing history has just begun. So where do you stay while you're taking all this in? The Riverfront Guest House in St. Charles predates Anheuser-Busch and was once home to a wheelwright shop that fixed wagon wheels for new settlers heading West. The two-bedroom brick-and-beam home rents for just $125 a night. Meanwhile, a nearby 1870s guest cottage in St. Charles that dates back to when the brewery was known simply as E. Anheuser & Co. (after founder Eberhard Anheuser) has three bedrooms and sleeps up to seven for $145 a night. If you're looking for something larger and a bit more updated, a Prohibition-era St. Charles cottage features two fireplaces and two bedrooms on three levels - including an anachronistic master suite with jetted tub - for $175 a night.
— Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.