Fort Collins provides a unique opportunity to visit four diverse breweries only minutes apart, but most of us will settle for an occasional trip through a brewery. Most of the 1,500 or so US breweries offer tours, and each is a little different. Bigger breweries offer more frequent tours, often led by employees trained just to lead tours. At a smaller brewery, the folks who actually make the beer may also conduct the tours—and the time they have for that is limited.
The best way to make sure you get what you want from a tour is to call in advance for information about times tours are offered and what is included. Perhaps a buddy has told you about touring the Heineken brewery while in Europe and finishing with round after round of free beer. If you are going for free beer, you better make sure a (free) tasting session is included at the end of the tour.
We assembled this short list of breweries not with the idea that they necessarily have the “best” tours or beers. We tried for a mix of breweries and brewpubs, of large and small, and of styles brewed. If you visit them all, you’ll find interesting beer and interesting tours, but remember that Stone City isn’t the only brewery stitched together from found parts, nor is August Schell the only classic brewery with roots from before Prohibition.
And keep your eyes open. We were in McGuire’s Irish Pub & Brewery in Pensacola, FL, four years after the restaurant began brewing. Customers headed out the door, took a wrong turn and ended up in the brewing area. One asked about the equipment. “I’ve been coming here for years, and I never knew you made beer here,” he said.
(Note: These breweries are listed from East to West.)
Vermont Pub & Brewery
Burlington, VT, 802-865-0500
Why: Owner Greg Noonan wrote the book (literally) on lager beer (New Brewing Lager Beer), but you’ll find the distinctively English-style ales you expect in the Northeast, including some on hand pump. The brewery is tucked out of sight, but worth touring on Wednesday evening or Saturday afternoon. Parts of it used to be a maple sap boiler, an ice cream maker and a pig-lot feeder. A local farmer collects the spent grain to feed to Black Angus cattle.
Beer to try: Vermont Smoked Porter.
High Point Wheat Beer Co.
Butler, NJ, 973-838-7400
Why: The brewery shares space with a dozen different businesses in the American Hard Rubber Mill, a sprawling historic building. Despite brewing on a 15-barrel Criveller system designed for English-style ales, founder Greg Zaccardi is dedicated to producing German-style beers, mostly Bavarian wheat beers. Visit for the Saturday tour and Zaccardi will tell you the story about the first time they made Winter Wheat—it was a triple decoction brew that took about 24 hours to mash.
Beer to try: Ramstein (all beers carry the name of the German city that is home to a large US Air Force base) Blonde, a true-to-style hefeweizen.