FOOD AND DRINK

10 Best Beer Cities

Beer enhances livability of cities.

How did we rank the best cities for craft beer lovers? Maybe a better starter question is why did we rate the top 10 best beer cities? Can good brews and breweries really make a city more livable?

Without question.

For starters, we wouldn’t have cities at all if it weren’t for beer because beer is the root of all civilization. For thousands of years, humans have been creating batches big and small of this wonderful combination of water, malt, hops and yeast. In recent decades, breweries have sprung up all over America - in towns big and small – evolving the art and science of brewing into a craft.

It’s a growing business and source of entrepreneurship. The Brewers Association estimates that in 2013 overall beer consumption slipped slightly, but craft beer sales grew more than 17 percent and now make up nearly 15 percent of all beer revenue in the U.S. The world is taking notice, too. Exports of craft beer rose 49 percent in 2013. More importantly, the craft beer movement has spread. Just 30 years ago there were 100 breweries in the U.S. Today, there are more than 2,800. That’s a lot of beer.

Microbreweries tend to be attached to restaurants, so a good foodie and beer culture in a city often go hand in hand and well, feed off each other. These kinds of amenities can help cities both attract and retain residents, foster new businesses, keep downtowns thriving and, frankly, make cities more fun to live in.

“[Beer] generates its own tourism,” said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell in an interview last year. “People come to try craft beers and spend a few days in Grand Rapids enjoying our local breweries.” 

That’s the why. Let’s get back to the how. We wanted to look at both sides of the beer equation: production and consumption. On the production side, we looked at the number of award-winning breweries and beers the town has crafted in recent years according to the Great American Beer Festival. On the consumption side, we used data from Esri to find cities where people were drinking more craft and high-end beers than average, and less macro-brews than average. We also considered the number of liquor stores per capita. Finally, we weighed in the city’s reputation as a beer town, its overall livability, and a shot of our editor’s own experiences with the towns and their ales.

As always, we try to focus on the small and mid-sized cities that often get overlooked on lists like these. But a couple of larger cities like Denver and San Diego were hard to ignore so we included them, too.

Each of these cities is a fine place to live and have a beer. We at Livability raise a pint to their success. 

Ranking Criteria

beer consumption • beer preference • award-winning breweries • breweries per capita

10. Billings, MT Population 108,134
9. Hershey, PA Population 14,469
8. Bellingham, WA Population 82,944
7. St. Louis, MO Population 317,850
6. Grand Rapids, MI Population 192,416
5. Tampa, FL Population 355,603
4. Albuquerque, NM Population 556,092
3. San Diego, CA Population 1,359,791
2. Denver, CO Population 649,654
1. Bend, OR Population 81,780