In 2014, the number of craft breweries in the United States topped 3,000. In most cities throughout the country, and in quite a few small towns, it’s pretty easy to find a bar featuring a wide selection of craft beers. If you go straight to the source, you’ll often be well rewarded. From art galleries to souvenir glasses, from obscure facts to samples of rare brews, touring the country’s breweries is both fun and – dare we say it – educational. So many breweries provide fantastic tours that it was difficult to narrow it down to the 10 best, but we managed cook up a list.
10. Boulevard Brewing Company– Kansas City, Missouri
Boulevard began with the goal of providing fantastic beer to the Kansas City area, but it just keeps growing, and its beers are now distributed in 25 states. But that doesn’t mean the brewery has lost its personal touch. Each of the staff that conducts the free 40-minute tour is warm and knowledgeable, and ready to talk you through the different tasting options available at the end. For those ready to dive deeper, Boulevard offers two specialized tours. For $20, the Unfiltered tour offers the chance to see areas off-limits on the general tours and taste limited offerings, while the Smokestack offers a guided tasting session with food pairings.
9. Brooklyn Brewery– Brooklyn, New York
Another brewery that builds upon its basic tour with offerings for the true beer geek…er, aficionado. The free tour is short and to the point, ending in the tasting room where you can get five tastes of beers you’re unlikely to find away from the brewery for only $20. The Small Batch Tour, which is limited to 30 people, challenges participants by asserting Brooklyn’s expert guides “can answer just about any beer or Brooklyn Brewery question you can think of.” For $12, you get the tour, a souvenir glass, and four tastings to pour into that glass while the expert outlines exactly what you’re drinking.
8. Dogfish Head Brewery– Milton, Delaware
Dogfish Head is one of the more infamous craft breweries in the United States, having been the subject of the Discovery Channel’s Brew Masters and featured in the documentary Beer Wars. Beer lovers know Dogfish is an experimental brewery, loving to combine different spices and fruits for distinctive tastes. The tour reflects the unique vibe of the brewery, taking in the treehouse outside, showing off the state-of-the-art bottling facilities, and inviting guests to play games on the lawn while waiting for their tour to start. After come the samples of the brewery’s standard offerings, while the brewpub in Rehoboth serves the difficult to find beers.
7. Samuel Adams– Boston, Massachusetts
This is the brewery to visit if you want a little history before you get down to the serious business of drinking. The brewery named itself after Samuel Adams, a founding father rumored to be a brewer himself, and the tour includes plenty of tidbits related to both the man and the area. Of course, you also learn plenty about the brewing process on the hour-long tour, and sample a few of the Samuel Adams beers along the way. There’s also a special early tour, called the Morning Mash In, that gives participants the opportunity to taste some of the brewery’s specialty beers.
6. Magic Hat Brewing Company– South Burlington, Vermont
Anyone after a distinctive brewery tour must make sure to swing by South Burlington, where Magic Hat entices visitors into its “Artifactory” first with its displays from local artist, then with tantalizing promises of a mysterious and strange ambiance. The brewery’s secrets must be kept, of course, but think of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory crossed with a trippy circus. Guests have the option to take a guided tour or simply walk through the facility themselves – either way it’s free, and it comes with four samples of Magic Hat’s characteristic brews.
5. Stone Brewing Company– Escondido, California
If you’ve never tried a beer from Stone Brewing, by the end of this tour you’ll be converted. It’s practically a guarantee: those leading the tours aren’t called guides but rather “indoctrination specialists,” and are known as some of the best in the business. The tour itself lasts about 45 minutes, after which the indoctrination specialist guides participants through a tasting of four of the brewery’s offerings, including one special release. The cost is $3, with $1 from each ticket donated to a local charity. Be sure to check out the beautiful gardens, and do your best to eat at Stone’s bistro after.
4. Brewery Ommegang– Cooperstown, New York
Craving a little taste of Europe without leaving the U.S.? Ommegang specializes in Belgian-style brews and provides an idyllic farmhouse setting to go along with them. The brewery is open seven days a week, offering free 30 minute guided tours from entertaining guides. Five dollars buys a sampler of six beers after the tour, along with a souvenir tasting glass. Each summer, the brewery hosts a concert series on its grounds, but the big event of the season is Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, where guests can sample Belgian-style beers offered by over 100 brewers from around the world.
3. New Belgium Brewing– Fort Collins, Colorado
If you’re headed to Fort Collins, book your New Belgium tour far ahead of time. In busy periods, this popular brewery can fill up weeks in advance. In addition to its delicious, Belgian-inspired beers, New Belgium is known for its progressive views and commitment to sustainability. The company is entirely owned by its employees, and from the 90 minute tour and sampling, it’s obvious they’re enthusiastic about their jobs. New Belgium also brings its enthusiasm to other cities with its Tour de Fat, a bicycling carnival both celebrating beer and enticing others to trade their car keys for bike wheels.
2. Yuengling– Pottsville, Pennsylvania
For the biggest beer nerds, Yuengling might not even register. The brewery doesn’t dabble in experimental flavors or pack as many hops as possible into its ales. But stopping by Pottsville should be a must for anyone interested in the history of beer. Founded in 1829, Yuengling is the oldest brewery in the United States, and the guides fill the 75-minute tours with plenty of facts about the company’s history and the effects of Prohibition. The tour concludes with a trip down to the fermentation caves, where beer was stored before refrigeration, followed by offering up free samples from the current taps.
1. Sierra Nevada– Chico, California
The country’s oldest craft brewery wants you to get up close and personal with its beers – provided that’s what you want, of course. For those who just want to poke their nose around the facilities, a pamphlet is available to help you along a self-guided tour. The free 90-minute tour has participants getting their hands dirty. Literally, as you rub your hands over the hops. The Sustainability Tour takes guests throughout the grounds, finishing with a tasting in a beautiful garden. Finally, the $30 Beer Geek tour provides three fantastic hours to beer nerds, outlining the history of craft brewing while allowing the small group to taste brews right from the tanks.