A good harbor and ice from the lake made Milwaukee the home of three of the nation’s top four breweries; their beer gardens were the forerunners of modern theme parks. Today, only Miller survives, but a new generation carries on the tradition. Best known is Sprecher Brewing Co., which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It’s joined by Lakefront Brewery, where you’ll find Bernie Brewer’s chalet from County Stadium; the Milwaukee Ale House; and the Onopa Brewing Co. Leinenkugel has a second home at the former Blatz plant, now called the 10th Street Brewery. German influence is reflected everywhere, from traditional restaurants to grilled sausages at pre-game tailgates.
New York City
My first beer expedition covered 10 miles, from Union, NJ, to Staten Island. The reason? The drinking age was 18 in New York. It was 1969, and we drank the local stuff: Ballantine, Schaefer, and Rheingold. Those breweries closed years ago, but that didn’t affect the city’s bar culture. You can find Irish-themed bars and watering holes straight out of ’50s movies that somehow survived yuppification and City Hall’s efforts to tidy things up. Or you can go to highly regarded beer bars like David Copperfield’s, d.b.a, The Ginger Man, and the Blind Tiger Ale House. While in town, keep an eye peeled for microbrews from Garrett Oliver’s Brooklyn Brewing Co. One final suggestion: if you’re a history fan, visit McSorley’s Old Ale House, where Abe Lincoln once stopped for a brew.
Our country was born here, and beer played a vital part. Delegates to both Continental Congresses and the Constitutional Convention settled their differences in the City Tavern. Philadelphia was the nation’s beer capital until the 1840s; the historic Brewerytown district is commemorated by a stand at the Phillies’ new ballpark that pours local micros. They include Yards Brewing Co.; Nodding Head Brewery and Restaurant, named for the bobblehead doll; the Independence Brew Pub; and Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant, whose name is derived from a word meaning, “where we go to drink.” Also in Philly: Monk’s Café, one of America’s top Belgian beer bars.
The stereotype: dirty air and a shot-and-a-beer bar culture. What I found: a beautiful skyline, friendly people, and good beer. Penn Brewery revived traditional German styles and serves them in its own beer hall. It sponsors a festival of Pennsylvania microbrews. Church Brew Works restored a former Catholic church and, fittingly, placed the brew kettles above the altar. Traditionalists will run into a familiar name in town: Iron City is still on tap, for those who look around. Notable beer bars include Fat Head’s South Shore Saloon, Kelly’s Bar and Lounge, and the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium. If you’ve had a long night, make your nightcap a Primanti Brothers sandwich—just like a native Pittsburgher.
The “other Portland”? Hardly. This city’s beer is almost as big an attraction as the scenic Maine coast. In historic Old Town, you’ll find Gritty McDuff’s, an all-weather brewpub; and Three Dollar Dewey’s, which familiarized locals with good beer before local brewers got up and running. Area breweries include the historic Shipyard Brewing Co., the D.L. Geary Brewing Co. and the Allagash Brewing Co., which found a niche in high-end Belgian beers. Beers from these and other breweries are on tap at The Great Lost Bear, an acclaimed bar on the edge of town, and at the Maine Brewers Festival, held just before winter arrives.
The city’s ascent to world-class status began more than 30 years ago, when Mike and Brian McMenamin reinvented the concept of a bar and the Horse Brass Pub, an authentic British-style pub, opened for business. Today, Portland has as many breweries per resident as Bavaria—far too many to list here. Heading my list of favorites are Widmer Brothers Brewing Co., Portland Brewing Co., and BridgePort Brewing Co. Also worth a visit is the tasting room operated by Rogue Ales. Portland hosts the Oregon Brewers Festival, along with several smaller tastings, including a holiday ale festival in Pioneer Square.
My first trip was for a wedding in 1976. The bride’s family didn’t drink but graciously gave us the grand tour, which included a stop at Grant’s Farm, owned by the Busch clan for years. Other Anheuser-Busch sites include the Bevo Restaurant, a restaurant built as a last-ditch effort to stave off Prohibition, and, of course, the original brewery downtown. Despite A-B’s huge footprint, craft brewers also prosper. The Saint Louis Brewery, which turns out Schlafly beers, sponsors tastings and festivals; the Morgan Street Brewery occupies one of the oldest buildings in Laclede’s Landing; and Griesedieck Brothers beer, part of St. Louis lore, is once again on tap.
My beer hunting here dates back to the mid-’80s, when I walked into unlikely looking places that stocked hundreds of imports. Since then, the micros have invaded, led by Stone Brewing and its legendary Arrogant Bastard Ale. Other breweries in the area include AleSmith Brewing Co., Ballast Point Brewing Co., San Diego Brewing Co. and Pizza Port Brewing Co., which sponsors Real Ale, strong ale, and Belgian beer festivals. The Liar’s Club, voted the city’s most popular beer bar, pours many local micros, and the San Diego Festival of Beer attracts 50 breweries from the area.
Ever since gold was discovered, this has been a drinking man’s town, one where bars are essential to city life. During the ’80s, I drank Anchor Steam at Dashiel Hammett-era bars like Lefty O’Doul’s and Tommy’s Joynt. More recent trips took me to the Magnolia Pub & Brewery in the Haight-Ashbury district (The Toronado Pub, an renowned beer bar, is close by), ThirstyBear Brewing Co. and the 21st Amendment Brewery. Farther afield, I took a BART train to Berkeley, home of the Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse and Jupiter, and a ferry to Larkspur and the Marin Brewing Co.
Recently, I toured the Fremont district, the self-styled “Center of the Universe.” My route began at the Trolleyman Pub, where Red Hook ale was once brewed; from there, I walked to the Hale’s Ales brewery; and finished the day at the Triangle Tavern and Red Door Alehouse. I spent the next day downtown, stopping at the Pike Brewery, the Pyramid Brewery, and, finally, F.X. McRory’s Steak, Chop & Oyster House, where I was introduced to Northwest micros many years ago. Seattle is a great city for festivals, including the Washington Brewers Guild’s cask ale festival and Summer Microbrew Festival, and the world’s strangest Oktoberfest celebration, the Fremont Oktoberfest.
Washington-based clients have given me a chance to experience the city’s changing beer scene. One of my regular stops was the Brickskeller, which even in the late ’70s had an offbeat selection of regionals. Today, it has much more to work with—so much so that its beer program is as thick as an omnibus budget bill. At long last, the city also has brewpubs, including the Capitol City Brewing Co., District ChopHouse and Brewery, and branches of the John Harvard and Gordon Biersch chains. There’s another reason to visit Washington this year. Baseball is back, after a 34-year absence.
Whew! After that whirlwind beer tour of America, it’s time to unpack my virtual suitcase, put my feet up, and grab a cold one. Specifically, a 90 Minute IPA from Dogfish Head Brewing Co. Why? Because it summons memories of long summer days on the Delaware coast. You won’t find Rehoboth Beach, where Dogfish Head got its start, on my Top 25 list. Nor will you find Saratoga, NY, where I sipped Mendocino Red Tail Ale while watching an opinionated bartender, a real New Yorker, hold court; Clearfield, PA, where a waitress talked me into trying a locally brewed red ale that turned out to be delightful; and dozens of other cities. Fact is, you’re likely to run into good beer—and, more important, the right people to enjoy it with—in the most unexpected places.
My list of cities is just the tip of the iceberg, a starting point for creating your own travel memories. Now it’s your turn to get out there.