National Icons and Local Pints
After college graduation, instead of backpacking through Europe or altruistically heading to the Third World with Peace Corps, I threw my tent in my car along with a AAA TripTik—this was before anyone carried a GPS in his or her pocket—and cruised the open roads in search of all things quintessentially American. Along with baseball stadiums and national parks, I stopped at any roadside attraction I found—such as a dizzying array of plaster jackalopes. Of course, I spent time at the national monuments, symbols and the contemporary iconography we call Americana. There were far fewer breweries then. Today, any such undertaking joyfully can be coupled with a nearby brewery.
From the Lincoln Memorial to the Smithsonian to simply gorging at Ben’s Chili Bowl, there’s no shortage of iconic stops in the nation’s capital, but the president’s residence is a must for first-time visitors. Ever wonder what the closest brewery to the White House is, not counting, of course, the famous home brewery inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.? Well, it’s Capitol City Brewing (1100 New York Ave. NW), a mere half-mile walk away. Visit not just for the proximity, but also because it’s been racking up Great American Beer Festival (GABF) awards for 15 years, including several for the easy-drinking Capitol Kolsch and Amber Waves Ale, an amber ale showing there’s still some honest talk in D.C.
The Liberty Bell is over 250 years old but didn’t earn its moniker and symbolism for nearly a century afterward. It draws more than a million visitors to Independence National Historical Park in Old City. Less than a 10-minute walk away is 2nd Story Brewing (117 Chestnut St.), a rustic brewpub pouring frequent iterations of Evolve IPA—the ever-rotating hop bill might include Chinook and Centennial hops one time then Simcoe and Ella another batch. There’s also Colonial Porter made with barley, wheat and oats, as well as honey, brown sugar and molasses. There’s no record of Philly’s famous founding father, Benjamin Franklin, quaffing porter, but even he surely would’ve indulged in a tankard of the version made with cacao nibs from nearby Franklin Fountain ice cream parlor and confectioner.
Speaking of liberty, holding Lady Liberty’s torch aloft forever would make anyone thirsty, but until such point as they build a brewery on Liberty Island, the brewery with the closest viewing point of the Statue of Liberty is Sixpoint Brewery (40 Van Dyke St.) located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook. Sixpoint’s slim-can beers—including Resin DIPA, The Crisp pilsner and Bengali IPA—offer a delicious variety of beers to a single, adventurous beer drinker or, at the very least, appeal to an array of those tired and poor and huddled masses yearning to drink free. Then again, Departed Soles (150 Bay St., Suite 2A, Jersey City, New Jersey) is a new brewery across the Hudson River near Ellis Island and Liberty State Park on the Jersey side. It makes “regular” beer as well as gluten-free beers.
Rock ’n’ roll isn’t dead. It’s just been cryogenically enshrined on the south bank of Lake Erie (in Cleveland, in part, because it was here where DJ Alan Freed coined the term “rock ’n’ roll”). Perhaps owing to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s magnetism, there are now two breweries less than a mile away by foot. The Butcher & The Brewer (2043 E. 4th St.) doesn’t only take the brewquarium approach of putting the 10-barrel brew system on display, but diners even get front-row seats to the glassed-in meat locker, giving, as the name depicts, the butchers and the brewers the limelight as if they’re Eric Clapton and Duane Allman (RIP) at center stage. Beers such as Le Boucher, a “farmhouse IPA” employing hop-bursting for ebullient aroma, and Albino Stout, an oat-forward golden ale with coffee and chocolate, complement house burgers and steaks, respectively. Meanwhile Portside Distillery & Brewery (983 Front Ave.) proffers not just the great, sessionable 216 Pale Ale dry-hopped with Centennial but also a hopped rum (with more Centennials and Cascades). The two duet together in the tasting room’s cocktail called the Opening Pitch topped with grapefruit juice.
A hall of fame that honors rock is one thing, but Graceland is the most famous house that rock ’n’ roll built. Some 600,000 Elvis fans visit every year (yes, you can get a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich in the cafeteria). Having said that, just two miles away is a house of God—the Full Gospel Tabernacle—where the Rev. Al Green (yes, that Al Green) rocks your soul. Brewery-wise, Boscos (2120 Madison Ave.) is Bluff City’s most celebrated house of beer, racking up nearly a dozen GABF medals in its 20-plus-year history. The hefeweizen is the most popular and decorated beer, but there’s always something experimental mashing. Don’t miss the Famous Flaming Stone Beer, a stein beer made traditionally with a red-hot stone added to the wort to create caramelization and therefore caramel flavors. It goes great with Memphis ribs and probably that Elvis sandwich.
A handful of newer breweries have sprung up in town, and Wiseacre (2783 Broad Ave.) is among those that have also earned a medal at GABF—last year’s German-style Pilsener bronze-winner for Tiny Bomb, just one of Wiseacre’s food-friendly offerings, many of which feature spices and other such culinary flair.
It’s only 50 years old, but the Gateway Arch is one of the most famous structural symbols in America. The monument to western expansion—it sits on the western bank of the Mississippi as a symbolic gateway to the frontier—whisks 4 million people a year to the top via a pair of unusual trams. That’s 10 times as many visitors as the Anheuser-Busch (12th and Lynch St.) brewery tour receives. I loved the tour, Clydesdale stables and all, but maybe save your pilsners for Morgan Street Brewery (721 N. 2nd St.), makers of Golden Pilsner, which has garnered multiple World Beer Cup and GABF medals over the years. Located in the historic Laclede’s Landing district, the brewpub has a constituency that is heavy on tourists, but it’s a family-friendly spot with a biergarten that offers a direct view of the arch, so there’s that. I must also mention that 2.5 miles up Washington Avenue from Morgan Street is Urban Chestnut’s Midtown Brewery and Biergarten (3229 Washington Ave.) in the Grove district for more lager action: especially the Zwickel, a tasty, unfiltered kellerbier.
The Battle of the Alamo, the one we’re all directed to remember, took place in 1836, but the actual structure, Misión San Antonio de Valero, was built in 1718 (rumors of a basement at the Alamo surfaced in 1985). The mission, a Texas State Shrine, is now the Lone Star State’s most popular tourist attraction, and it’s a mere mile and a half from the Pearl Brewery (303 Pearl Parkway). Alack, it’s actually a mall today, but the original Pearl Brewery was built in the 1880s less than 50 years after the Texas Revolution, and Pearl Beer is still brewed by Pabst (and can be enjoyed at the Blue Box bar, which actually focuses on cocktails). However, one of the restaurants next to Pearl Brewery is The Granary ’Cue & Brew (602 Ave. A). Anyplace you can order meat by the pound, including house-smoked brisket, pulled pork and sausages, alongside other house-made items from the breads to the pickles not to mention, of course, the beer, is a must. The brown ale marries well with any meat you choose, and even the root beer is brewed on site.
Rapid City, South Dakota
In Black Hills National Forest’s eastern half in western South Dakota, where I-90 is 25 miles to the north, you’d get the feeling you were all alone were it not for the presence of four famous former presidents looming large overhead. Mount Rushmore, not so much carved as notoriously blasted by dynamite, draws 3 million people a year (doubtlessly all of whom also end up checking out Wall Drug, thanks to pervasive billboards throughout the state that eventually lure all drivers to this spectacle of a drugstore just outside the truly mesmerizing and baffling Badlands National Park). But beyond the national memorial, somewhere in the Black Hills of South Dakota, there lies the town of Hill City. Sure it’s home to the Guinness Book of World Record’s largest Teddy Bear collection and the world’s second largest complete T-Rex, but also Miner Brewing (23845 Highway 385). Established in 2013 by brewmaster Sandi Vojta and her husband, Matt Keck, it’s a spinoff from their Prairie Berry Winery launched 15 years earlier and famous for its chokecherry wine. Hence, the jammy and chocolaty Miner Chokecherry Brown is not to be missed.
Not that Otis Redding got it wrong by sitting on the dock of the bay, but the best view of the San Francisco Bay is actually found at Fort Point (644 Old Mason St.) in The Presidio across from Crissy Field, meaning it offers a postcard-worthy view of the Golden Gate Bridge. As such it doubles as a viewpoint from which to watch the ships roll in (not to mention quite near the Palace of Fine Arts and famed life-size Yoda Fountain—the statue at the entrance of LucasFilms stands all 2 feet, 2 inches tall). Alas, there’s no tasting room at this production brewery, which will hopefully add cans to its packaging line since it’s OK to enjoy beer picnicking in or strolling along Crissy Field but not from a glass container like a bottle or growler. Luckily, Fort Point Westfalia, a malty and toasty Vienna-style lager, is served at the Transit Café (215 Lincoln Blvd.) from local chef célèbre Traci DesJardins. And the KSA Kölsch Style Ale—vying for The City’s second most popular lagerlike ale after Anchor Steam—occupies one of the few locals-only taps at Presidio Social Club (563 Ruger St.), which is a beautiful mile-and-a-half hike from the brewery.
From the surfable swells of Santa Monica’s waves to the peak of Disneyland’s Matterhorn in Anaheim, LA is a gonzo metropolis full of only-in-La La Land sights. Some set families back a month’s paycheck while some, like the 45-foot-tall Hollywood sign, are among the city’s top free attractions. (Note: It appears much smaller from any other vantage point since it’s illegal to hike right up to it.)
While Hollywood has the celebrities, perhaps the real star of LA’s beer scene is the city of Torrance. Many Angelenos think the beach ends at Hermosa, and those in Orange County believe it ends at Seal Beach. Torrance falls on the spot on the map in between and hosts six breweries, not counting the excellent Phantom Carriage in neighboring Carson. Smog City (1901 Del Amo Blvd. Suite B) brews the 9% Death by Hops DIPA and a panoply of styles; Monkish (20311 S. Western Ave.) is Belgian-forward; and The Dudes (1840 W. 208th St.) specializes in beers befitting the coastal climate such as Blood Orange Amber and South Bay Session IPA. Those three constitute the perfect 0.7-mile pub crawl. Not that anyone walks in LA.
Editor’s Note: The printed version of this story shaved a decade off the age of the St. Louis Arch. This year it celebrates 50 years since its opening.
Brian Yaeger is the author of Oregon Breweries and Red, White and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey.