Best Places to Live

2014 10 Best Beer 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
    Photo courtesy of Visit Billings

    If you hear someone mention whitetail, Devil’s Tower or Boothill in Billings, MT, they could either be talking about the rugged mountains that surround the city or its craft beers. Many of the brews concocted in Billings have been named after the impressive geological formations and abundant wildlife you’ll find here. The scenery surrounding Billings makes drinking beer that much more pleasurable and yes, that helped make it one of our best beer cities.

    Billings residents drink beer more frequently than the average American and prefer craft brews over imported or mass-produced domestic beer. Out of the six breweries located in downtown Billings, one of our Top 100 Best Places to Live, Montana Brewing Co. takes the pinnacle position. The brewery has picked up six medals at the Great American Beer Festival since 2008, three of which were gold. Montana Brewing Co., which started in 1994, combines the concepts of a small brewery, saloon and restaurant. Uberbrew tapped into a partnership with Fort Collins Brewery to bring their beers to a wider audience. Using a small 10-barrel brewing system, Uberbrew produces a strong lineup of beers ranging from its Hi-Line Porter to its award-winning White Noise Hefeweizen. Carter’s Brewing is perhaps the most experimental brewery in Billings. Owner and brewmaster Michael Uhrich has crafted 70 different styles of beer since opening shop in 2007. The De-Railed IPA gets the most pours at Carter’s, while its Blackened CDA picked up a silver medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival.