If only America followed the European model for vacation time and allotted seemingly 11 months to go on holiday, the decision-making process for choosing a destination would be much easier. There’d be time enough to go everywhere. As it is, we either have to plan around one idea and put the runner-up on the back burner, or else we try to cram everything into a short window. For the next vacation, don’t compromise—spend time convening with nature in a National Park that’s close enough to a beer town.
There are 58 National Parks in 27 states. Granted, when Congress sets aside a huge chunk of land to preserve Mother Nature’s wonders, it rarely takes into account that there’s a nearby wellspring of craft brewing. Having said that, America’s first and arguably greatest such park, Yellowstone, is flanked north and south with good beer towns (see issue 32.41‘s column for a spotlight on Bozeman, MT, and 31.52 for a look at Jackson, WY, respectively). Here are three scenic adventure-lands with exotic beer-lands that, while not conveniently located inside the parks, are near enough.
Miami, FL, and Biscayne Bay National Park
Southeast Florida is known for contrasts such as collegiate spring break and a disproportionate elderly population, for some of the country’s warmest weather and the most cold-blooded animal attacks (gators, leaping rays, flesh-eating bacteria, etc.). So don’t be surprised that despite the domination of corporate beer, Miami-Dade and Broward counties support a burgeoning culture. One of the people leading the charge is Chris Montelius, district sales manager for craft-centric distributor Fresh Beer and a Certified Cicerone.
Another contrast is that while people tend to picture National Parks replete with tree-covered mountains or endless rock formations, Miami-adjacent Biscayne National Park is revered for its subaquatic wonders, explored not by hiking but scuba diving or snorkeling.
Beginning with the idea that visitors are driving south down I-95, Montelius notes that The Tequesta Brewing Co. (287 S. U.S. Highway 1 in Tequesta) is the only production brewery and finally has a tasting room online. He dubs Funky Buddha Lounge & Brewery (thefunkybuddha.com; 2621 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton) “South Florida’s must-see brewery,” in part for their hookah bar ambience but also because they put some new beer up every week and “know how to make a beer geek drool in only four words: Maple Bacon Coffee Porter.” It’s made with real maple syrup, real coffee and real bacon, so you know it’s good.
Once properly in Miami-Dade County, the local’s brewpub is Titanic Brewing Co. (titanicbrewery.com; 5813 Ponce De Leon Blvd. in Coral Gables) directly adjacent to the University of Miami baseball field making it popular among the college crowd. “Steve Copeland is the brewmaster and serves up quite a few tasty house beers including the White Star IPA,” says Montelius, “and award-winning Captain Smith’’s Rye Ale— the addition of malted rye to this generally crisp and clean amber ale adds a slightly spicy finish that goes perfectly with the fried blue crab meat and Creole mustard.” Patrons rave about the Southern fare loaded with crawfish and jumbo shrimp, the latter of which benefits from an IPA batter! “With all of Miami’s excellent restaurants I find myself there more for happy hour than dinner,” concludes Montelius.
Among Miami’s bastion of beer bars his first suggestion is South Beach’s “amazing little anti-South Beach lounge,” Abraxas Lounge (407 Meridian Ave.) situated on Miami Beach’s barrier island across the Biscayne Bay. “Chances are, if you’re trying to find me, this is probably a pretty good starting point. They’ve got 10 rotating taps of excellent craft beers and one of the best specialty beer lists anywhere in Florida.” Just a mile or so away on Lincoln Road, the promenade that all visitors find themselves on, is Zeke’s Roadhouse (625 Lincoln Road). While people-watching at Zeke’s, help yourself to any of the hundreds of bottles in their walk-up chillers for only $4. Conveniently located four blocks from the beach, you can take plastic cups to go.
On the mainland across the MacArthur Causeway, The Democratic Republic of Beers, simply known as the DRB (drbmiami.com; 255 Northeast 14th St.), is “more bar than restaurant, but the food on the menu means that the place is smoke-free. DRB’s proprietors have assembled a commendable list of over 500 beers from around the world including some fine gems. As long as the list of Belgian beers is, American crafts run wild including about a dozen from Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing alone.
Farther south still, Montelius commends owner Carlos Duran for adding draft beer to Cervezas (cervezasmiami.com; 5835 Sunset Drive), which began with bottles only. He says Cervezas “took it to a ridiculous level by adding more and more keg boxes until they couldn’t fit any more and filling them with nothing but rare and limited release beers. There’s hardly a permanent handle in the bunch at this unpretentious little South Miami hangout.”
As for gastropubs, Miami’s newest, The Local (thelocal150.com; 150 Giralda Ave.) in the heart of Coral Gables, makes Montelius happy. As a distributor, he says that if more places stocked beer the way Local does, “we’d be somewhere like Atlanta instead of, well, Miami.” Pointing to the impending installment of 24 taplines and menu items like chef Alberto Cabrera’s charcuterie, house-made “jerky in a jar,” and bouchot mussels and frites cooked in Dale’s Pale Ale, it’s easy to see why dining and imbibing here is a must. “Get the flatiron steak with bone marrow butter paired with a Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale,” he sagely advises.
If you’re looking to get away from beer-centric establishments for a nice meal, two of Montelius’s favorites are Michy’s (michysmiami.com; 6927 Biscayne Blvd.) in Miami’s Upper East Side and Michael’s Genuine (michaelsgenuine.com; 130 Northeast 40th St.) in the Design District. Each bistro serves locally sourced, seasonal cuisine and, don’t be surprised, each carries a “pretty decent bottle list.”
When it comes time to call it a night, if you want to partake of South Beach’s glitz and glamour, there are the Fontainebleau (fontainebleau.com; 4441 Collins Ave.) and Delano (delano-hotel.com; 1685 Collins Ave.) hotel and spas. For something less pricey (starting at $159 it’s not insanely less, this is still a world playground), there’s The New Hotel (thenewhotelmiami.com; 7337 Harding Ave.). Not only is it centrally—and coastally—located, it’s home to the poolside Lou’s Beer Garden (lousbeergarden.com) with a dozen craft beers on tap. As Montelius puts it, “Why trek though all that sand when you can lounge by a pool and eat and drink this well? Try one of their homemade pizzas with a Summit Horizon Red Ale and you can’t go wrong.”
In the morning, though Miami isn’t really a breakfast town, Montelius recalls the Stone Brewing Brunch he did at Smoke’t (smoketbbq.com; 1450 S. Dixie Highway, Coral Gables) as part of American Craft Beer Week. Though they specialize in BBQ and other Southern delights, the hearty breakfast menu includes almond-berry Challah French toast and a Cornbread Benedict so as to get your fill of jalapeno cornbread topped with bacon and hollandaise. Two added perks of Smoke’t is that Coral Gables is down the highway from Miami Beach on your way to Biscayne National Park, and it takes almost an hour to get to the entrance.
Louisville, KY, and Mammoth Caves National Park
Kentucky breweries themselves may not be on the proverbial beer map, but many breweries that are on the map earned their reputation thanks in no small part to Kentucky. Kentucky Bourbon, that is. And ever since the empty spirit barrels from the Bluegrass State have become a scorching hot commodity in the brewing world, not to mention the Southern Boho lifestyle that engulfs one of its fine college towns, “treasures abound for craft beer hunters in Louisville,” claims Blake Layne. “Recent renewal to the old city has fashioned it in the style of San Francisco and Austin as evidenced by the ubiquitously displayed quote, “Keep Louisville Weird.” To which beer towns amend, “Keep Louisville Beered.”
Layne doesn’t keep L’ville in good beer; he keeps the Southern Kentucky town of Bowling Green in great beer at Chuck’s Wine and Spirits (chucksliquoroutlets.com; 386 Three Springs Road, Bowling Green). Beyond stocking the shelves with a bottle selection one would expect to see in larger craft-happy metropolises, I once arrived at Chuck’s just in time for Layne’s pouring of samples including the coveted Founder’s Canadian Breakfast Stout.
Not a fast-paced city, part of Louisville’s charm is in simply enjoying a drink at the Seelbach Hotel (500 S. 4th St.), where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby. Not surprisingly, it boasts one of the world’s top bourbon bars. Afterward, stroll along The Riverwalk by the Ohio River, with beautiful gardens and fountains. Or head east to Bardstown Road, where visitors will find all manner of cafes and bars. Beer lovers tend to be whiskey lovers as well, so enjoy the local creation cocktail, an Old Fashioned, or a Mint Julep, de rigueur during Derby season in May.
Beer-wise on Bardstown, which Layne suitably likens to the Grateful Dead’s haunt, Haight Street, is Cumberland Brews (cumberlandbrewery.com, 1576 Bardstown Road), eponymously named for the Dead song. Among the beers flowing from the brewpub’s blown-glass tap handles is their famous Nitro Porter. To accompany it, Layne calls the Jamaican Jerk Cumberland wings “mouthwatering.”
Downtown is home two of the three locations of Bluegrass Brewing Co (bbcbrew.com). The BBC’s brewpub by the Theater Square Marketplace (660 S. 4th St.) earns Layne’s high marks for their “delectable pub food and many traditional and experimental brews.” He singles out Heine Brothers Coffee Stout as a can’t-miss, made in collaboration with Louisville’s beloved coffee roasters, Heine Brothers, a chain of local coffee shops. Another location is found less than a mile away, practically on the Ohio (300 W. Main St.) and the other is in the suburb of East St. Matthews (3929 Shelbyville Road)
The third and final brewery in downtown is Browning’s Brewery (browningsbrewery.com; 401 E. Main St.) situated beside the Louisville Slugger Field where the minor league Louisville Bats play, a mile from the bat-making factory and museum. Browning’s is famous for their She Devil Double IPA, which Layne describes as, “super hoppy and will make any hophead super happy.”
Back on Bardstown Road (it actually turns into Baxter Avenue) is the new destination from proprietor Sergio Ribenboim, the Beer Palace (917 Baxter Ave.), sister bar to Sergio’s World Beers (sergiosworldbeers.com; 1605 Story Ave.). With well over a thousand bottles from around the world (from vintage Belgians to Lexington Brewing’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale) and 42 taps, Sergio’s might just be on every beer pilgrim’s bucket list.
A new beer hot spot on Bardstown Road is the gastrotavern Holy Grale (holygralelouisville.com; 1034 Bardstown Road) that Layne says plans to start brewing their own. Before this joint, owners Tyler Trotter and Lori Beck were among L’ville’s first to open a craft-centric hangout, Louisville Beer Store (louisvillebeerstore.com; 746 E. Market St.). Layne says that the Beer Store “offers an amazing selection for on-premise or to-go. Also, you can order from the menu of 732 Social (732social.com; 732 E. Market St.) while at LBS and enjoy some of the best food in L’ville.” Sharing space in the same building, 732 Social offers local and sustainable small plates such as Tots and Cracklins to entrées like Steak au Poivre made using Old Forester bourbon and wild garlic.
Accommodations in town run the gamut, but consider staying at the Brown Hotel (brownhotel.com; 335 W. Broadway), originally built and recently renovated in the English Renaissance style and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A must for all hotel guests (and not) is hunkering down in the Lobby Bar for a Hot Brown. This lesser known but no less mighty regional sandwich originated in the hotel kitchen for which it’s named. Turkey, bacon and tomato ride high on an open-faced island of Texas toast in a sea of rich Mornay sauce made with butter and cream. Burn it off hiking Mammoth Cave. But pair it with one of the bar’s signature bourbon cocktails or a BBC Nut Brown Ale.
After a good night in L’ville, Layne recommends the Blue Dog Bakery & Cafe (2868 Frankfort Ave.) for breakfast. Known for their artisan breads, try the brioche French toast with either one of the best cups of coffee in town and/or, if needed, a Bloody Mary “served proper with a side of beer, usually something from Founder’s or Bell’s.”
Don’t miss out on two (and a half) places located just across the river and Indiana state line. Layne calls Keg Liquors (617 E. Lewis & Clark Parkway in Clarksville, IN) “one of the best bottle shops in the country. [Owner] Tom Antz is a fount of wisdom,” and organizes the local-minded Fest of Ale each June. Another institution is the New Albanian Brewing Co. and the double-sided restaurant (one half being a family-oriented pizzeria, the other a proper pub) it’s attached to, Rich O’s Public House (richos.com; 3312 Plaza Drive, New Albany, IN). While Layne mentions Rich O’s crazy beers on tap and menu rich in vintage gems, the stand-out item for me during my rainy afternoon visit was New Albanian’s Kentucky Komon. Far from a California Common but rooted in equal history, this opaque brown beer starts as a sour mash, a taste that visitors to the Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey Distillery understand from dipping their fingers in the corn mash.
Fortuitously, Kentucky’s Bourbon County isn’t dry like Jack’s home in Lynchburg, TN, so as you’re making your way down Interstate 65 from Louisville toward the park, detour down Highway 245 to the Heaven Hill Heritage Center in Bardstown (heaven-hill.com). Tour the otherworldly sights and smells of their barrel-aging rickhouses dotting the bluegrass-covered hills. Minors are allowed on the free tour except in the tasting room where you’ll get to sample Elijah Craig 18 year old, which, if you’re lucky, your next imperial stout will be aged in that barrel.
Medford, OR, and Crater Lake National Park
Even with the sea of breweries in Portland, some small towns are making a big splash in the world of Oregon brewing. Three years ago, Chris Dennett decided to celebrate local breweries by organizing the Southern Oregon Craft Brew Festival (mid-June). There are five breweries directly along the Interstate 5 corridor about half an hour from the California border in the towns of Grants Pass, Central Point, Medford and Ashland, the latter of which is world renowned for its Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). Odds are, whenever you visit, the “festival” will be going on since the season runs from February to October.
This year, Dennett took things a step further by seizing the Beer Week movement and bringing one to Medford, where he runs Beerworks (323 E. Main St., Medford) bottle shop and Elements (elementsmedford.com; 101 East Main St.), a tapas bar and lounge where the small, spicy, Spanish dishes pair perfectly with bottled and draft beer ranging from Belgians to locals. Wash down your Patatas y la Riojana (a garlicky dish of Basque-style potatoes and Spanish chorizo) with a pint of Worker’s Pale Ale from Walkabout Brewing.
Walkabout is suitably Australian themed since it was created by Perth native Ross Litton. Dennett says Litton is about to open a tasting room for his seven-barrel brewery where you’ll be able to sample and fill growlers of Redback IPA or Wallaby Wit.
A few miles up the road is Wild River Brewing and Pizza Co. (wildriverbrewing.com). To date, there are five Southern Oregon locations but the original is in Grants Pass (595 Northeast E. St.) where you’ll find their Wild River Publick House across the street and down half a block. People find it puzzling that the pizzeria has more taps than their own pub, which amiably accompanies not just wood-fired pizzas but a fireplace for ambiance as well. Among their 14 offerings, the IPA is a popular choice among patrons but Dennett opts for the kölsch-style Harbor Lights when enjoying an Italian sausage and black olive pie.
On the southern end of the string of Southern Oregon breweries is the idyllic town of Ashland. When not soaking up Elizabethan culture on any of the several stages on the OSF campus, there’s plenty of fine suds to lap up. Start with lunch at Standing Stone (standingstonebrewing.com; 101 Oak St.), where the menu is approachable but way beyond basic pub grub. Everything is sourced locally and sustainably down to the burger topped with smoked tomato relish and their own Standing Stone Stout cheddar cheese, which washes down with their Double IPA. Definitely save room for dessert and hope they have their chocolate cake during your visit, which, while eating and drinking there with a friend, he declared the cake “richer than three feet up a bull’s ass.” Naturally, it pairs perfectly with their Noble Stout, an oatmeal stout made with coffee from local Noble Coffee Roasting (281 Fourth St.).
A mere two-block walk away is the Caldera Tap House (calderabrewing.com; 31 Water St.), opened by popular demand by the production-only Caldera Brewing Co (540 Clover Lane). Among the interesting facts gleaned from Lisa Morrison’s new book Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest, the Tap House is housed in the former Siskiyou Pub, home of the original Rogue Brewing (now in Newport, OR, a hefty drive over to the coast). Caldera, named for the prominent feature in Crater Lake National Park, cans a perfectly hoppy pale ale and an even more perfectly hoppier IPA that should be a chief provision for hiking the caldera, but while in Ashland, sit and sip on their deck. Hopportunity Knocks IPA can be enjoyed year round but their summer-long Hibiscus Ginger Beer is among their more unique (and sessionable) concoctions.
If you opt to lodge in Ashland, quaint hamlets like this lend themselves to comforting breakfast spots and Dennett’s first pick is Smithfields (smithfieldsashland.com; 36 S. 2nd), which bills itself as a “meat-centric restaurant.” The brunch menu alone would make you wish you were a cow just so you could have four stomachs. Items include duck fat fried potato cakes as well as fried chicken and waffles with, I kid you not, bacon butter and raisin chili maple syrup. For those more into classic breakfast options, Morning Glory (1149 Siskiyou Blvd.) is one of my favorite cafes and bakeries in the country. They make a lemon and poppy seed waffle with lemon butter and cranberry-hazelnut French toast. The daily specials are always an easy choice as well and the house-baked muffins with seasonal Oregon berries never fail.
Back up in Medford, the last but not least brewery to check out is Southern Oregon Brewing (sobrewing.com; 1922 United Way). They brew the gamut of classic styles and Dennett’s perennial favorite is the Na Zdraví, a clean Czech pilsner. Tours are available on Saturdays and the tap room is open for limited hours Wednesday through Friday. But their beers are easily found around town including at two beer bars Dennett champions. Four Daughters (4daughtersirishpub.com; 126 West Main St.) “always has amazing stuff,” and he points no further than their weekly tapping, “Rare Kegs Thursdays,” featuring special releases from breweries such as Oregon’s Hair of the Dog.
The drive from Medford up to Crater Lake National Park is certainly doable—there and back—in a day, but if your getaway calls for sleeping in the fresh mountain air, Union Creek Resort (unioncreekoregon.com; 56484 Highway 62, Prospect) is located more than halfway toward the park and cabin rentals start at less than $100 per night. Perhaps more importantly, their on-site restaurant, Beckie’s Café, is your only bet for finding any craft beer on tap. Equal to that, a friend of mine who is a former ranger at Crater Lake almost tears up at the thought of their homemade pies such as huckleberry when in season.
Brian Yaeger recently moved to Portland where he homebrews and is exploring the beers of the Pacific Northwest.