99 Best Beers in 99 Best Beer Cities
It’s no coincidence that the rise of the craft beer movement has coincided with the revitalization of many of our nation’s downtowns. Breweries have proven to be great draws capable of anchoring a nighttime economy that can help a Main Street development grow and thrive. This, then, is Livability’s inaugural list of Best Beers in the Best Cities, or as we like to call it: 99 Beers in 99 Cities. How did we create our ranking of best beer cities?
We wanted places that fit three criteria: They are good places to live, they are consumers of craft beer and they are producers of the best beer around. As always, data guided our selections. The “good places to live” criteria was met by our own LivScore methodology. The consumer data came from Esri, which helped us find cities that spend well on quality beer, spend less on domestic macro beers and overall support dining and drinking both in the home and out on the town. And for the “best beer,” we turned to the experts: beer drinkers, reviewers and the editors at RateBeer.com. Using their “overall” and “style” scores, we found a highly-rated beer to represent the town. As with brewing, there is some craft that goes into our list-making process alongside the science. We had a couple of additional requirements: A town had to have at least two breweries, and we chose no more than three cities per state to give us the best nationwide coverage for hop-heads. We also tried to have as many beers as possible be available (at least in-season) in a well-stocked liquor store near you, but some require an in-person visit. Trust us (and RateBeer) – it’ll be worth the trip.
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Beer is helping make ski country in Vermont a year-round destination. Waterbury, in the shadow of the Stowe Mountain Resort, has plenty to do out-of-doors with skiing, hiking, kayaking and more. But visitors and residents alike now enjoy farm-to-table restaurants and local craft beers. Stop in for barbecue and beer at Prohibition Pig, and while you’re in town, pick up a case of Alchemist’s Focal Banger. While Alchemist is moving to new digs nearby, you can still find this amazing IPA, which earns a perfect 100 from RateBeer.com. One reviewer on the site says, “Overall, hot damn, everything is in place to be the best AIPA on the market."
Located just up Maine’s coast from Portland, Freeport is best known as the home of the flagship L.L. Bean store. It’s a mecca for shoppers and a great place to live if you’re into the outdoors. You can drink a variety of Maine beers at the historic Jameson Tavern, founded in 1779, or stop in for fresh brews from the Maine Beer Co. The Red Wheelbarrow scores the highest marks on RateBeer.com, but as one visitor to its tasting room said, “I’m very impressed with every Maine beer I have had so far."
Baseball and beer make a nice pair, so it’s only fitting that in Cooperstown, N.Y., considered the birthplace of baseball, you’ll also find great brews. Not too far from the Baseball Hall of Fame is Brewery Ommegang, which produces an Abbey Ale that might just throw you a curve. This ale contains a rich, fruity flavor with a Burgundian finish. Between visits to Doubleday Field and the Fenimore Art Museum, brew lovers may want to try samples at Fly Creek Cider Mill or sip the concoctions at Cooperstown Distillery.
The oddly thought-provoking beer names at Tired Hands Brewing Co. may help you get a sense of what Ardmore, Pa., is like. This small, quirky town retains much of its historic charm while embracing aspects of the 21st century. Among the most praised beers coming out of Ardmore is a clementine IPA that Tired Hands named The Light That Spills Out of the Hole in Your Head. They’ve also got the FunnieDuddie and the Senseless and Scentless.
Considered America’s “Little Switzerland,” the village of New Glarus, Wisc., is the perfect setting for a unique and daring little brewery. Originally a Swiss colony, New Glarus has preserved its Alpine-style architecture, and residents embrace their heritage by throwing Swiss-themed festivals and events. New Glarus Brewing Co., a true mom-and-pop shop, churns out an impressive amount of beer in a wide variety of flavors and styles, from fruity brews like the Raspberry Tart and Serendipity, a concoction based on fermented apples, cranberries and cherries, to the Moon Man, a hoppy pale ale. The only hitch is you'll have to go to Wisconsin to get it because New Glarus doesn't distribute out of state.
The Rocky Mountain town of Boulder, Colo., ranks high when it comes to outdoor activities, restaurants and beer. Loaded with hiking and biking trails, rock climbing destinations, parks and farm-to-table restaurants, Boulder offers one of the nation’s largest collections of craft breweries. One of the anchors of the city's craft beer culture, Avery Brewing, recently opened an expanded brewing facility, taproom and restaurant that will dramatically increase capacity. Hopefully that means that the Maharaja, an imperial India pale ale with a dark amber hue and hoppy flavor, might be available in slightly-less-limited batches. Currently this 102 IBU bottle of bitterness disappears quickly, but at 10.2 percent alcohol by volume, it packs quite a punch.
Located east of Seattle, just above Lake Sammamish, the city of Redmond, Wash., is home to some of the biggest players in the tech industry including Microsoft, Nintendo of America and AT&T Mobility. Parks like the 560-acre Marymoor Park, hiking trails and bike paths give residents plenty of chances to get outdoors, while eight local breweries give them opportunities to enjoy craft beer. Mac & Jack’s African Amber leads the pack of Redmond beers. This unfiltered, dry hopped amber ale is made with Yakima Valley hops and locally sourced row grains.
The coastal town of Ipswich, Mass., located northeast of Boston, is best known for its clams, celebrated each year at the Ipswich Chowderfest. Thousands of tourists flock to Crane Beach each year, which provides mesmerizing views and miles of shoreline. A handful of craft breweries in Ipswich have made it a destination for beer lovers. An IPA called Space Cake from Clown Shoes Brewery is nothing to laugh about, it and gets high marks from beer raters.
Beer has become synonymous with Bend, Ore., home to one of the longest beer trails in the country. The Bend Ale Trail leads to 10 breweries, all of which produce high quality beer. This mountain town draws active types who take full advantage of opportunities to hike, bike and paddle. The city’s art scene has much to offer, from museums to music venues, but beer often steals the show. The Ale Apothecary’s Sahati, which is brewed in a hollowed out spruce tree, was among the city’s most celebrated beers, but you won’t be able to find it until they hollow out another tree.
The small town of Healdsburg, Calif., may be located in wine country, but a trio of breweries make this city a great stop for beer lovers. Healdsburg offers many of the finer things in life, from five-star cuisine to jazz concerts and vineyards. The beer made here matches the high-end feel of the city, from artisan cask ales to rich black stouts. Among the most asked for beers in Healdsburg is the multiple award winning Red Rocket Ale from Bear Republic Brewing Co., which lifts off with a hoppy punch but finishes with sweet, caramel malt flavors.