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Tour the World's Best Beer Cities

The BC Top 20 Beer Cities
The Beer Connoisseur's Top 20 Beer Cities
Waterfront view of Portland photo by Air Van Rental Solutions

We asked our international correspondents to nominate and vote on the world’s best beer cities. The majority of them live outside the U.S., but not surprisingly American cities dominated the list, starting with ground zero for Beervana.


1. PORTLAND, OREGON

Density makes Portland the craft beer capital of the world. Not just that we have more breweries than any other city – about 85 in the metro area, a number that increasesPhoto by Lisa Morrison monthly. But craft beer is everywhere. The diviest dive bar has a couple of craft taps. Fried-chicken-and-cigarette mini marts are growler fill stations, as are some Safeways – all 49 of them easy to find on the latest growler-fill map. There's a Chinese restaurant that brews its own rice lager. We have taprooms, tasting rooms, bottleshops and brewpubs by the bushel. We have beer tour buses, walking pub tours and pedal lounges powered by enthusiastic beer tourists.

In short, good beer has gone viral: Portland has long had a great pub culture (how else to deal with a gray Portland winter?) and we have a wealth of resources – great water and some of the world's best hops within an hour's drive. Plus, the brewing infrastructure, maltsters, stainless steel fabricators, yeast suppliers, a bottle plant and more, was already in place from the days of Blitz Weinhard and other industrial brewers.

All these things made Portland ripe for revolution, but we beer drinkers can take credit too, because we were willing to try that funny cloudy hefeweizen or those first banana-y Red Hook beers, or BridgePort's shockingly hoppy India Pale Ale. Portlanders' love of artisan coffee, bread and chocolate and our passion for this amazing place – for community and local ingredients – are all reasons why the beer here flourishes. (Right: Hair of the Dog head brewer and owner Alan Sprints started at Widmer Brothers.)

– John Foyston                                                                                                                                                                            

 

2. LONDON

Photo by Elaine Mateo

Good beer has been part of the daily fabric of city life for centuries in London. It’s the original home to IPA and porter for good reason – demand has always been in place for better beer. For current beer drinkers, choices are increasingly good due to the proliferation of microbreweries in England and the standard of beer in the pubs being driven up by the discerning drinker wanting more from his or her pint.

There are great pubs all over the heaving metropolis in a wide variety of settings. A London resident and real ale aficionado, I can find independent as well as tied pubs in every segment of the city with multiple hand-pulled taps, where more than a few of the real ale casks are influenced by the new interest in more hoppy styles. The pubs are virtually all accessible on the London Underground and many of them in an area of the city that has some of the most popular sightseeing attractions celebrating England’s history, politics and culture.

In an ever-evolving beer scene, the keg beer versus real ale on cask debate has hotted up due to the presence of BrewDog and Meantime, each with lively modern pubs. If it’s beer history you’re after in addition to pubs that date back centuries, numerous markers and sights can be discovered where the once mighty have fallen in favor of new businesses. (Left: A bevy of cask pours are on tap at The Suffolk Arms.)

– Gary Watkins

 

Photo Courtesy of Strange Craft Brewing Company

A day's selection at Strange Craft Beer Company in Denver.

3. DENVER

A yearly beer pilgrimage from my home in Belgium brings me to Denver for plenty of reasons. Each fall, the Great American Beer Festival gathers beer lovers and professionals under one huge roof, allowing each to stand shoulder to shoulder and sample the best of U.S. craft. There’s a number of examples of any imaginable beer style.

During the same period, the city is awash with hundreds of super interesting and novel beer events, many including live music. Then, you have the brewery and brewpub scene, getting more and more vibrant and crowded over the years. Craft beer bar Falling Rock, an icon when it comes to multi-tap quality serving, was the first and is now joined by plenty others. Many of these pub stops are serving beers brewed in Denver by Crooked Stave, Dry Dock, Great Divide and Breckenridge in addition to nano brewpubs working on one-barrel systems.

– Carl Kins

A city where old and new mingle regularly.

4. PRAGUE

Picture this. You're in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You won't have to walk more than a couple of blocks to find an old school pub where about $ 1.50 can buy you half a litre of perfectly tapped, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell. But before going in you notice another pub – maybe around the corner, across the street or almost next door to the first one – that sells Pale Lager you've never heard of. It’s not only cheaper than Pilsner Urquell, but maybe even better!

Maybe it’s not a bar, but one of the 20 or so brewpubs in the city? Or perhaps one of the growing number of restaurants, cafés and even bookstores specialised in craft beers from the whole country, and beyond? The best of these nooks, by the way, are outside the center of the city, away from the tourist crowds. It’s almost Kafkaesque in terms of intrigue, but it's a more immediate and palate friendly quest. That's Prague, a place where the classic and the new live side by side, often in the same room.

 – Max Bahnson

 

5. SAN DIEGO

Is there a locale in the U.S. that has more impact breweries than San Diego? The brands of Stone, Ballast Point and Green Flash along with The Lost Abbey, Karl Strauss, AleSmith and Pizza Port can all be found in San Diego County. For foodies, it’s a similar story starting with the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, which is ground breaking in more ways than one given its own nearby farm. If you can’t get to the breweries, O'brien’s Pub is known as the hoppiest place on earth, which is saying something given the perennial sunshine in southernmost California and the love of West Coast hops in these environs. From 15-barrel breweries like Pizza Port Ocean Beach to tap houses like Churchill’s Pub or upscale eateries such as The Grill located at the Lodge at Torrey Pines, there’s plenty of imaginative dishes and excellent pairings to match. To quote the late Charlie Gow, “A determined enthusiast could spend a full week of continuous tours of breweries, brewpubs and alehouses in San Diego County, yet still not cover the rapidly growing beer scene.”  (Right: contrary to its name, The Lost Abbey is one of San Diego's landmarks.)                                     

– Jonathan Ingram                                                                                                                       

 

6. BOSTON

It wasn't the Boston Tea Party - It was the Boston BEER Party!  Boston celebrates with 16 breweries and brewpubs in the region and boasts the Bull & Finch, where tourist shtick lives on at the Original Cheers Bar. Boston’s celebrity includes Will Meyers of Cambridge Brewing and Jim Koch – “Isn’t that the guy on TV?” – of Sam Adams Beer fame. Sam Adams Boston Lager debuted at 25 Boston taprooms in the spring of 1985, closely followed by Harpoon Brewery in 1986. In Boston’s Publick House, “I’m working the Night Shift” takes on a whole new meaning with a Taza Stout in hand, or grab the world’s best lobster roll at Row 34. Like most big cities, there’s a beer fest for every season, but how about Beantown’s Bacon and Beer Fest? Need I say more?

– Carolyn Smagalksi

The Hofbrauhaus began as Bavaria's royal brewery.

7. MUNICH

Beer fests have evolved over time, but nothing compares to the Queen Mother of them all.  Oktoberfest can be described as part pilgrimage, part state fair and part family reunion with a dash of medieval revival. But even after the tents are packed, is there be a better place in the world to enjoy a stein of liquid bliss than Munich?  The original Seven Sisters of Munich breweries have effectively been reduced to three blended families, but the brewing tradition endures. There is even an aptly named Munich toasted malt that is used in Munich Dunkel, Märzen, Oktoberfest and Doppelbock, all classic beer styles with roots in the city. Helles, a close cousin of Pils, also can also be traced back to Munich. Bavarian Weizen flows year round and small breweries with a knack for innovation have returned.

Whether your choice is to grab a bench in a traditional beer hall in the old city, to take a seat on a glorious summer day in a well shaded outdoor beer garden in the city center, or a stool at a trendy beer bar, your stein will never be empty.  Traditional, modern, or a unique mixture of both, Munich never disappoints. Prost!

– Phil Farrell

 

8. BAMBERG

This most photogenic epicenter of a dense brewing scene has it all to seduce the traveling beer lover. Not only does this UNESCO Heritage city have stalwarts of the German import scene like Schlenkerla, Mahr’s and Spezial, but it also serves as the gateway to nearly 300 other traditional village breweries, all within a few kilometers from the center. Biking from brewery to brewery is often too fast a means of transport; there are just too many to try in every direction. Add to that a few beer bars, stunning viewpoints, and the exquisite Weyermann Maltings, and you start to understand the scope of this beer-centric city and region now known for its smoke beers. Simply put, Bamberg is a gem from a time forgotten where nearly every neighborhood and village in Germany had its own brewery. (Right: Schlenkerla Tavern, origin of the brand name for Brauerai Heller-Trum's smoke beers.)                                                                          

– Martin Thibault                                                                                                                                                  

Everyone's a Phanatic about beer in Philly.

9. PHILADELPHIA

For 17 years, Beer Hunter Michael Jackson entranced Philadelphia with his signature beer tastings at the Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, drawing 4,000 people to experience his entertaining digressions each year. These days, Philadelphia boasts a grass-roots reputation as the life-blood of Philly Beer Week, Philly Beer Geek, and a flash-mob of award-winning breweries, festivals, and beer clubs. Its location near the coast marries the beer-rich culture of the Northeast with the diversity of European and Scandinavian traditions. Through an appreciation for out-of-the-box thinking, big names like Tom Peters, Fergus Carey, Joe Sixpack and William Reed have turned Philly into The City of Brotherly Suds, where pairing your favorite Yard’s, Iron Hill, or Victory brew with a Philly cheesesteak -- wit or wit-out -- is a regional “must.” While you’re at it, look out for ALEiens.

– Carolyn Smagalksi

Photo by Yann Ostiguy

The Dieu du Ciel! brewpub in Montreal, where Péché Mortel made its debut.

10. MONTREAL

Within this mostly French Canadian metropolis thrive more than 20 breweries, the majority of which are within walking distance of each other – that’s when winter winds aren’t howling, of course. Icons like Dieu du Ciel! serve as a beacon around which more discreet brewers of equal quality such as L’Amère à Boire, Benelux, Le Cheval Blanc and Hopfenstark share their wares at their respectively warming locations. Specialty beer bars like Vices et Versa, Brouhaha, Isle de Garde and Le Saint-Bock are also proud of their roots and allow the wandering visitor to sample beers from dozens of faraway breweries nestled in hard-to-reach corners of Quebec. Nowhere in Canada can one taste so much variety in a unique cultural setting -- without driving hundreds of kilometers from one corner of a province to another.

– Martin Thibault

 

11. NEW YORK CITY

Beer Week in New York City has all the flash and dance of Times Square, bottled into the likes of Jimmy Carbone, Garrett Oliver, Jeremy Cowan, Susan Greene and a host of heavy-hitters that make this beer scene one of the hottest on earth. From the Brooklyn Brewery with its Local 1 and secretive Black Ops to the Coney Island series and He’Brew Jewbelation of Schmaltz Brewing, New York’s neighborhoods scream with in-your-face diversity. Want Belgians? BXL East, Markt, Spuyten Duyvil and Vol de Nuit serve a masterful list, blended with cuisine à la Bière and flavorful snacks. For the meat lover, go with The Cannibal in Midtown East. But don’t miss the Blind Tiger Ale House, Ginger Man and d.b.a. where beer is bigger than the Big Apple itself. (Right: The Cannibal features meats and an extensive Belgian list.)                                                                                              

– Carolyn Smagalski

Photo by Martin Thibault

Real ale is on tap in Japan.

12. TOKYO

Hiding somewhere around zooming trains, blinding neon and millions of minions walking to and fro are dozens of minuscule bars serving ji-biru. That is, Japanese artisanal beer. Service here is as courteous as it gets in the brewing universe and the import scene tends to bring in some of the West Coast superstars quite often. Some bars like Popeye’s seem to be stuck in time, imitating brown bars from old Europe, while newcomers such as Goodbeer Faucets take the thirsty to futuristic realms with its shiny decor and tapline setup. Reservations are recommended at most of them because of limited seating – that is the reality of such a dense megalopolis – but a little planning can take you from one memorable closet-size standing room-only bar to a dizzyingly high skyscraper tasting room.

– Martin Thibault

 

13. SEATTLE

A day spent walking around the city‘s renowned market, peeking into Pike Brewing’s beer history museum, leaning into a pint of one of the city's many friendly brewpubs, is much more refreshing than any coastal rain shower. Dazzling craft beer establishments such as Brouwers’ Café deserve to grace many of the world's best lists while a plethora of other beer bars manage to stand out by showcasing under-the-radar breweries from across the state. It’s a state which, for hard-to-fathom reasons, houses over 200 breweries completely unknown to the rest of the country. From the Beveridge Place Pub's annual Barley Wine fest to Über Tavern's amazingly deep year-round selection, there is enough in the Emerald City to keep your tastebuds going till the next ray of sunshine. Don't be disappointed if you don't find time to go up the Space Needle... (Right: Brouwers Café is located in the Fremont neighborhood.)

– Martin Thibault

Photo: Seth Levy

14. PORTLAND, MAINE

Portland, Maine's beer scene germinated during the craft brew revolution, with pioneers like D.L Geary Brewing, Shipyard Brewing, and others sowing the seeds. Now, the little “city by the sea” is enjoying an effervescent beer revival with new breweries opening monthly, each with a unique style. Our vibrant, diverse beer ecosystem is populated by wild-fermented Belgians (Allagash), fresh-hopped, floral canned ales (Bissel Brothers), farmhouse Ales (Oxbow), continental lagers (Bunker Brewing) and stylistic outliers like alcoholic kombucha, hopped cider and mead (Urban Farm and Fermentory). This ecosystem is nurtured by a huge swath of bars, pubs and fine-dining restaurants that know a tap line-up is just as important as the wine list. Better still, Portland nurtures new brewers, encouraging collaboration, experimentation, unique flavors and plenty of special events. Perched on the shores of scenic Casco Bay, most bars, restaurants and breweries are a short walk from a compact downtown.    (Left: Novare Res has one of the port city's best beer cellars in addition to an extensive beer list.)

– Seth Levy

 

15. CHICAGO

It took a while for the Windy City to outgrow its first dominating brewsters, but it has now emerged as one of the most exciting brewing scenes in the USA. From rocking specialty bars like Local Option and The Map Room to talented microbreweries like Revolution and Half Acre, this bustling megacity has it all. And most of it is easily accessible through the inner-city train system; as if you were being constantly tempted to indulge a bit more than you usually do. As if all of this weren't enough, you also know you are a few moments away from Indiana's most renowned brewery, 3 Floyd's, and their hordes of devilishly delicious Double IPAs. You'll probably need to breathe it all in on the shores of Lake Michigan, honestly...

– Martin Thibault

Photo by Roy Stevenson

The Abbotsford on Rose Street in Edinburgh features an island bar of hand-carved Spanish mahogony.

16. EDINBURGH

Edinburgh breathes beer as surely as bonny gales blow across Scotland. The founding of Holyrood Abbey in 1125 spawned an entire center of brewing, building a foundation for the Edinburgh Society of Brewers by 1598. Affectionately nicknamed "Auld Reekie”, Edinburgh arose from shadows and fog as the legendary home to Heriot Watt’s International Centre of Brewing and Distilling, spewing out world-class brewers like dragons throwing fire. Edinburgh hosts CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Scotland Competition, the Scottish Real Ale Festival and Independents’ Beer Festival Celt Experience, with a focus on innovative styles. For an authentic Scottish pub experience, the Victorian-styled Guilford Arms and classic Bow Bar will surely tilt your kilt … or go high-def with a crawl to BrewDog, The Hanging Bat, and Holyrood9A.

– Carolyn Smagalski

Photo Courtesy of Tourism Ireland

There are a wide variety of pubs to be found on either side of Dublin's Ha' Penny Bridge.

17. DUBLIN

Face it, when you are lost in a new city with no destination in mind you gravitate to “the Irish Pub.” Dublin is the greatest city in the world to enjoy a beer precisely because you would never run out of Irish pubs in a lifetime. There are quiet watering holes, neighborhood sports houses, multi-level craft beer meccas, quiet writer pubs, and live music venues to choose from plus variations on all of these. Dublin is an excellent walking city due to the density of statuary, bridges and architecture that invoke Ireland’s political and literary history in addition to memorable gardens and markets. Stopping for a pint is always easy and what better place to enjoy a stout, that delicious black elixir, than its birthplace? More than 800 years old, the Brazen Head is the oldest in Ireland and still offers Dubliners and tourists alike pints, food, poetry and live music within walking distance of Guinness Brewery at St. James Gate.  If you want to be totally swept away by a beverage and a city, enjoy a pint or three in Dublin. Sláinte!

– Phil Farrell  

 

18. BRUGES

With a Medieval city center, Bruges, the Venice of the North, attracts millions of tourists. For most, gastronomy is high on the agenda, and in Belgium this includes beer. That is why the first Belgian specialized “artisanal beer café” saw the light here over a quarter century ago – the world famous Brugs Beertje. Meanwhile there are literally hundreds of specialized beer bars, from easy going pubs to beer restaurants such as De Garre, Erasmus, Cambrinus, etc. There is only one brewery though, Halve Maan, well known for its Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrik range, but in walking around town old brewery relics can be discovered as well. An interesting and interactive beer museum, covering all aspects of brewing and beer, opened its doors recently in the old post office. Finally, the second largest Belgian beer festival is held here yearly in February, with 80 plus Belgian breweries attending. More info can be found in the booklet “Around Bruges in 80 Beers.”  (Right: A tall glass of Kwak is one of many Belgian wonders.)                                       

– Carl Kins

 

19. SAN FRANCISCO

One doesn’t usually connect The Haight district with beer, but the ground-shaking cultural changes emanating from San Francisco in the 1960s eventually found their way into the foundation of craft brewing.  Two years before the Summer of Love, Fritz Maytag took over the Anchor Brewing Company on Potrero Hill and brought some counter-cultural ideas to brewing. “Among those good ideas,” said Maytag, “was to be open-minded, to value creativity and to try new things and not be afraid.” Is there a better way to sum up the craft beer movement? In addition to a chance to visit ground zero at Anchor, a visitor can also take in the nearby Toronado pub, where brewers meet. Although another ground-breaking brewery, New Albion, crashed early, one of Anchor’s offshoots was Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in not-too-distant Chico, where Ken Grossman employed some of Maytag’s inspiration. While in The City, head over to the 21st Amendment brewpub or grab some Almanac beers to sample the local gypsy brewing scene or stop in at the Monk’s Kettle, where the kitchen and menu are directed by Adam Dulye, the Brewers Association’s pairings guru. 

– Jonathan Ingram

Photo Courtesy of Birrificio Le Baladin

Rome's Bar Open Baladin features an altar of craft beers.

20. ROME

Italy’s craft beer renaissance started 20 years ago in the country’s north, i.e. Piemonte, Lombardia and Veneto. Rome is, however, where the beer passion exploded, boosted by Birra Del Borgo’s hoppy ales and Baladin’s incredible concoctions. Currently, the Italian capital boasts an ever increasing number of beer lovers, wanting more than the industrial pilsner brands, leading to literally hundreds of good pubs and plenty beer shops. Just two great recommendations: the tiny, often very crowded beer-only “Ma che siete venuti a fa’ (literally What the Hell Are You Doing Here?);  And “Open Baladin.” run by Baladin and Del Borgo breweries, offering around 40 taps of Italian craft beers and a selection of excellent food. But keep wandering, and you will find (hidden) beer gems everywhere you go.

– Carl Kins

Comments

Martin Thibault's picture
John, Bamberg is situated in Franken (Franconia, in English), a region in northern Bavaria. You can learn about this region's 300 or so breweries here: http://franconiabeerguide.com/index.php
thomas.barbera's picture
I did 12 of these 20 cities I should say than I mostly agree with your selection except maybe Dublin. Intesresting city but I think than some other ones deserve to be into this post before. I am thinking about Barcelona, Paris or Brussels which are for me better to visit than Dublin.
JOSEPH T BURKE's picture
I have gone to 16 of the 20 and most of them just because of the beer. First I would move Bruges to a much higher position as it is all about beer there. Second, I love Dublin however as the other fellow said, not much of a selection of beers there, but the pubs are great if you drink stout. Put Brussels on the list in it's place, or maybe Ghent.

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Comments

Martin Thibault's picture
John, Bamberg is situated in Franken (Franconia, in English), a region in northern Bavaria. You can learn about this region's 300 or so breweries here: http://franconiabeerguide.com/index.php
thomas.barbera's picture
I did 12 of these 20 cities I should say than I mostly agree with your selection except maybe Dublin. Intesresting city but I think than some other ones deserve to be into this post before. I am thinking about Barcelona, Paris or Brussels which are for me better to visit than Dublin.
JOSEPH T BURKE's picture
I have gone to 16 of the 20 and most of them just because of the beer. First I would move Bruges to a much higher position as it is all about beer there. Second, I love Dublin however as the other fellow said, not much of a selection of beers there, but the pubs are great if you drink stout. Put Brussels on the list in it's place, or maybe Ghent.