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5 awesome beer day trips from coast to coast

Looking to get out of town for a brewery adventure, but don't have more than a day? These itineraries have you covered.
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Rapp Brewery | Courtesy of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater

Rapp Brewing | Courtesy of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater

Phoenix → Flagstaff → Prescott
Phoenicians’ need for a summer getaway is pretty much unparalleled, as temperatures reach surface-of-the-sun levels and even kiddie pools full of ice cubes do little to combat the scorching heat. Luckily, Flagstaff is a day trip away; its significantly higher elevation making it a (relatively) cool oasis. Once in town, beer seekers should hit up Historic Brewing Co.’s downtown Barrel + Bottle House outpost for a glass of cult favorite Piehole Porter, which was recently pulled back to a taproom-only release. Hungry? Fresh, substantial sandwiches from next-door Proper Meats can be ordered to the patio. Next, hit up The State Bar for a 30-tap draft list that rounds up the best of Arizona’s breweries. (You’ll also want to take a photo of historic Route 66, just across the street.) Other great stops in Flag include Hops on Birch, Mother Road Brewing and a final stop at Pay ‘n’ Take bar/beer shop for souvenirs. Add on to the trip with an additional stop in quaint, small-town Prescott, where you can visit renowned Superstition Meadery and Prescott Brewing Co. in the same block.

Tampa → St. Petersburg → Tarpon Springs
Tampa has its own growing beer scene, but it’s just a 30-minute drive across the bay to the southern end of St. Petersburg’s newly launched Craft Beer Trail, which runs north to south from Tarpon Spring to St. Pete. Start off at the legendary Cycle Brewing, ideally with a seat at a picnic table on the front patio. Draft offerings rotate constantly, but you can’t go wrong with any barrel-aged and flavor-spiked stout on the menu. Then it’s onward to Green Bench Brewing for 20 taps of brewer Khris Johnson’s creations; try the refreshing Les Grisettes if it’s available (if not, don’t fear, bottles are available yearround). En route to Tarpon Springs, make a detour to Rapp Brewing, an unassuming tasting room in an industrial strip of Seminole, Florida. Its location belies the top-notch stuff flowing from the 650-square-foot taproom, including a thirst-quenching gose. Onward to Tarpon Springs for pilgrimage to St. Somewhere’s new, (dare we say adorable?) taproom for a taste of brewer Bob Sylvester’s unfiltered, exquisite farmhouse beers. Definitely pick up bottles to take home.

Fish tacos at Aslan Brewing

Fish tacos at Aslan Brewing

Seattle → Bellingham → Skagit Valley
There’s obviously no need to leave Seattle if you’re in search of great beer. But if you want some laidback charm and pastoral views with your pint, you’ll have to hit the road. Drive north for about an hour to Farmstrong Brewing in Mt. Vernon, where you can cool down with Cold Beer pilsner and learn about the brewery’s goal of one day using 100 percent local malts. Then hop on Chuckanut Drive/State Route 11 for a scenic, water-views drive to Bellingham where a smorgasbord of great breweries await (watch for bicyclists). Refuel with grilled rockfish tacos and a glass of Disco Lemonade Berliner weisse in Aslan Brewing’s sunny brewpub, then revel in the tart and sour spectrum of offerings while catching rays on the patio at Wander Brewing. On your route home, swing by Chuckanut Brewery’s new Skagit Valley spot in Burlington, affectionately called South Nut; there you’ll find two outdoor seating areas surrounded by verdant lawn (and giant Jenga and cornhole games), a fishing pond and plenty of nearby farm stands to pick up a fresh snack for later.

Courtesy of Sloop Brewing

Courtesy of Sloop Brewing

NYC → Hudson Valley
Just an hour and a half (ish) from New York City, Hudson Valley is a scenic destination with a growing food scene. The agricultural focus has also lead to a boom in farm breweries, many of which are located just a half-hour’s drive from each other. Start the rustic exploration at Hudson Valley Brewery in Beacon for a taste of easy-drinking, oak-fermented wild ales as well as dry-hopped IPAs and double IPAs (pick up some of the hoppy goods in cans, with barrel-aged sours in bottles debuting this summer as well). From there, head 30 minutes north to Plan Bee Farm Brewery in Poughkeepsie, whose mission is to brew with all in-state-grown ingredients, including many from the 25-acre farm itself. While the brewery’s taproom clears final licensing hurdles, Plan Bee has set up an event tent on hill from which they serve four draft beers and more than a dozen styles in bottles for onsite consumption or take away. Make sure to check hours before arriving; Plan Bee’s farmstand is only open to the public on weekends. Another 30 minutes’ drive north will get you to Suarez Family Brewery, an attention-garnering year-old outfit from a former Hill Farmstead brewer; if sitting in the sunshine drinking an unfiltered pilsner is your idea of a good time, you’ll find yourself in good company. If you still haven’t had your fill, Sloop Brewing is just a quick jaunt from Suarez and satisfies with all manner of IPAs, double IPAs and sour beers, plus live music on Sunday afternoons.

Chicago → Milwaukee
While this could technically constitute a road trip, it could also be accomplished as a rail trip: Amtrak operates 14 daily trains between Chicago and Milwaukee (12 on Sundays), with each leg lasting a leisurely 90 minutes. Milwaukee’s brewery scene has exploded recently; we won’t summarize all the new openings, but find them here in our recent Beertown: Milwaukee. In between brewery stops, you’ll want to make sure to check out the city’s beer bars, which are some of the best in the country. Start at Burnheart’s, where a formerly run-of-the-mill corner bar has maintained its Midwest hospitality but seriously upped its beer cred. Make sure you’re hungry for your next stop: Honeypie, a pie cafe with solid beer options (Milwaukee, we love you) where you can wash down a slice with a silky Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter or local favorite Bells Oberon. Then it’s an invigorating walk south along bustling Kinninickinnic Avenue to Palm Tavern, a small Bayview bar literally crammed with booze, including the best of regional and international beers as well as an impressive liquor back bar. Up for one more stop? End the tour at Romans’ Pub, a 20-plus-year-old Milwaukee beer institution, and a must for any first-time visitor.

 

One Comment

  • Walter Bonnett says:

    I’m sure by now your readers are familiar with the beer scene in Asheville, NC (aka, Portland of the Southeast), but there is a growing (if not, exploding) local craft beer movement in far western North Carolina as well. There is an arc of towns about 90 minutes west of Asheville along the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway (US Hwy 19, 23, 74, 441) that have seen nearly a dozen breweries pop up in the last 5-10 years. We can start our journey at the northern end of the route in Bryson City where you’ll find Nantahala Brewing (oldest) and Mountain Elevations (newest) of the breweries on our trek.
    Nantahala Brewing has a solid, established following with several year round beers on their taproom menu along with numerous specialty and aged selections (chocolate covered cherry stout). They also have special releases (The “Trail Magic” series) three times a year (spring,summer,fall). As part of their latest expansion, Nantahala recently opened a larger production brewery about 4 blocks east of their taproom on Depot St. The new facility also has a restaurant.
    Mountain Elevations opened in the summer of 2017 and their riverside brewery has a rooftop deck overlooking the Tuckasegee River. A solid lineup of beers, but still experimenting.
    Meandering south on NC 28 thru the Nantahala National Forest, we make our way about 25 miles to Franklin where we’ll drop in on the Lazy Hiker. With its proximity to the Appalachian Trail, the hiking theme is evident in both the décor as well as the beer list. Large selection of beers available (IIRC, 10 when I was there a few weeks ago). With both indoor and outdoor stages, there’s usually music no matter what the weather. It’s also likely that there’ll be at least one food truck there as well. About a mile away is Curahee Brewing. With its large tasting room and German-inspired biergarten overlooking the Little Tennessee River, it’s a perfect spot to enjoy a pint with friends.
    Heading northwest on Hwy 23, the next stop is Sylva where we’ll find Sneak-E-Squirrel and Innovation Brewing. The Sneak-E-Squirrel is the first stop and about a mile and a half north of the downtown historic area. The taproom is spartan, but with a wide variety of beers and a full menu of sandwiches, burgers, wings and “South of the Border” fare, it’s a pleasant stop. They usually have 3-5 of their “rotating” IPAs available and it makes for an interesting tasting session just to get a flight of these to compare the effects various hop varieties have on taste and aroma. The Clockwork Zombie (their “Clockwork Orange” Belgian Wit with Pomegranate and cherry) is interesting as well.
    A short hop down Main Street is Innovation. With more than 30 beers in their repertoire (1/3 of which are always available!), I think they win the prize for variety and in all the times I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad beer (so they’re consistent as well). Not a huge place, but the rustic décor is cozy and with a large (covered) outdoor area, it’s a pleasant place to hang out. There’s also the “Cosmic Carryout” food truck there every day if you get hungry. (Just up the street, there is a fantastic vegetarian restaurant, City Lights, if that’s your fancy.)
    Sylva was also home to one of western North Carolina’s oldest craft breweries, but sadly, Heinzelmännchen, specializing in authentic German beers, recently closed after nearly 14 years of operation.
    Back to Hwy 23/74 and at Exit 100, our next stop is Waynesville and the Boojum Brewing Taproom on South Main Street. This section of Waynesville is loaded with antique and furniture stores so if you need a break from beer, there’s plenty else to see, do and buy. However, the Boojum Taproom has a full restaurant (excellent food!) and another great line up of beers (usually about 20). They recently expanded and have a beautiful outdoor deck. King of the Mountain (DIPA) and Graveyard Fields (Blueberry Coffee Porter) are both solid, consistent and delicious.
    Just down the hill from Boojum is a section of Waynesville known as Frog Level, so named by the local community because of its low-lying location along Richland Creek, aka the “frog level” when the area flooded and here we’ll find Frog Level Brewing. Their specialty is “distinctive English style beers brewed with attitude and proudly served.” With a large outdoor deck overlooking the creek, it, too, is a great place to hang out, quaff a pint and enjoy the entertainment. The ESB is my fav here.
    Our final stop before getting back to Asheville and its plethora of breweries is the town of Canton where we find the newly relocated BearWaters Brewing. The original location of this brewery was in Waynesville, but the tract of land where it was located was sold to build a new Publix shopping center. But I must say, the new facility beats the pants off the old one! The taproom is a beautiful, large open space with high ceilings. The outdoor area is right on the Pigeon River and on our last visit, an outdoor stage was under construction. With more than 30 recipes in their cookbook, there’s always something different on tap when you stop by. With a full menu of bar food (appetizers, sandwiches, salads, wings, etc) available from the Pigeon River Grill, there’s plenty to eat as well. My “go to” beers from here are the Stiff Paddle IPA and the Blueberry Pale Ale for summertime.
    That’s the end of our Western North Carolina brewery day trip. Back on I-40, and in 30 minutes we’re back in Asheville where we can start all over again with visits to New Belgium and the Wedge along the French Broad River then work our way into downtown to hit One World, Wicked Weed (and their Funkatorium), Bhramari, Burial, Green Man, HiWire, Twin Leaf, Asheville Brewing, Lexington Ave Brewing (LaB) — note these are all within stumbling distance of each other.
    Many of the smaller breweries source some of their ingredients from locals since there are now hop and grain farms providing regionally grown hops and malt. Thanks to the climate, soil and water, some of these beers are like no others available anywhere. So, enjoy the rich variety brewed into every beer and make Western North Carolina your beer destination.
    Addendum: I should also mention that south of Asheville are several additional breweries. Small locals such as Sweeten Creek and Blue Ghost and the stunning Sierra Nevada Brewery adjacent to the Asheville airport. Further south in Brevard, there’s Oskar Blues and its associated mount biking business REEB, but we’ll have to do that tour another day.

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