Beer Tourism is a big deal. If a city has a congregation of breweries in an area, it not only increases the likelihood of people gathering and making the community stronger, it increases the revenue and attraction of tourism in the city itself. As long as your product is good, people are going to want to come visit.
How do We Define the Best Beer City?
It’s not enough to just have beer available. The criteria needed to properly evaluate the best beer city involve quality of brew, diversity in available styles of beer, and beer-centered engagement by the people who call the city their home.
The three big trends in beer right now are barrel aging, sours and IPA’s. If a brewery has a unique marketing slant and can make those beers well, they’re going to succeed and are going to draw a crowd to their brewery. You’ll find these trends readily available in the cities that make this list.
Once we are all able to travel freely and responsibly congregate indoors again, keep the following best beer city information on hand.
The Best Beer Cities in the USA Right Now
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville has quickly garnered a reputation as a certified beer destination. Wicked Weed Brewing is one of the more notable local breweries, which is known to do a lot of really unique styles of beers, including a specialty in some of the best barrel aged beers you can find anywhere.
They have whiskey barrels and rum barrels that they’re putting these beers in. During non-Covid times, they do a big tour of their barrel room, which is a must see.
For the next two cities, I lovingly refer to them as “The Portlands.” I’ve always thought they are such similar cities, with similar ethos’. Things that they each have in common are that they both draw young artists to their towns. They’re are both big coffee and art-oriented cities. Both are walkable, beautiful…and you guessed it. Both belong in the Best Beer City conversation year after year.
Portland, Maine is always doing innovative things with their IPA’s. New England in general is huge on IPA’s.
Allagash Brewing is the local standard of big name breweries from the city. They’ve been around since 1995, but haven’t skipped a beat. They are known for their fantastic Belgian inspired beers.
At 18 breweries per 50,000 residents, you can’t go wrong drinking great beer in Portland, Maine. It’s a city that clearly cares about their beer scene and it shows.
Portland, Oregon has the best diversity in high quality breweries, doing some of the most inventive and excellent stuff you can find in a single area.
You can go there and completely immerse yourself in the city’s incredible beer scene and there’s so many different ways to do it.
It’s a city where you can go and just have a base goal of like, “I want to try this place, I want to try that place” and there’s different experiences for each person to both get what they want, and a little more.
San Diego, California
San Diego is probably the best beer city in the entire United States.
It’s got approximately 160 breweries within San Diego County. The County limits are two hours top to bottom, but there are just so many breweries out there. There’s so many great examples to name, from Pizza Port to Belching Beaver.
An especially notable San Diego area Brewery is the Lost Abby up in the North County, San Marcos.
The are has some storied breweries and many well-known people in the beer industry who have made their names down there.
It’s a beautiful place to visit. And they really conceptualize what it is to be a beer town. No matter where you are in San Diego, here’s so many clusters of different breweries. With 160+ breweries within it, it’s hard to do San Diego wrong.
Need further proof of San Diego being the best beer city?
San Diego State University even has a Business of Craft Beer Program (which I am an alumnus of). The program had its pros and cons, but the very fact that it was offered at all was pretty astounding and goes to show you how seriously the city of San Diego takes its best beer city reputation.
If you’re curious to hear my take on it…I’ll be brief.
An Honest Review of San Diego State’s Beer Business Program
It was a really good program, especially kind of going back to how Cicerone helps prepare you to take the Cicerone exam. Between the scope of classes, it really does put you on the path to making a career in the Craft Beer industry, which was exactly what I was looking for.
It’s a program that’s only one of two of its type that’s completely focused on the beer business side of it and not the brewing side of it. The University of Vermont has a beer business online program, and that’s always been the case. But San Diego State was the only one that had a beer business program in person.
What Beer Classes Did They Offer?
They had classes anywhere from brewery finance to brewery starting, like how to write a business plan, the things you need to know about like the laws and the build-out and the marketing of starting your own brewery.
And they had a beer marketing class where you learn how to write a craft beer marketing plan. If you were starting up a brewery or craft beer related business, they had distribution classes where you learn about like the laws of a three tier system, which includes retailers, wholesalers and brewers.
And then you’d also have classes that were education-based based, a beer tasting, beer and food pairing and other classes like that to enhance your knowledge about the beer world in general.
The Good and the Bad of SDSU’s Business of Craft Beer Program
The highlights were learning how to write a craft beer marketing plan. I got to conceptualize a brewery and create an entire a whole marketing plan based on a SWOT analysis and social media calendar, and hypothesize what would bring people to this brewery. And that was a really cool exercise to be able to conceptualize and build a marketing plan for “my own brewery.”
As much as I enjoyed it, I don’t know if I would start over and do it again, knowing what I know now. I think I got what I needed out of it at the time, and my life has been good to me since, so it’s hard to complain.
But being completely honest, the program itself was a little disjointed. For example, they wouldn’t always have the classes available they said they would offer. Or they’d have things come up last minute that would make them cancel the classes either two days or two weeks beforehand. And it became a little hard to get your way through it.
A lot of the people who are in the program are either like lifetime San Diegans who are taking these classes for fun, or they’re home brewers are looking to expand their knowledge or their industry professionals whose breweries may be paying for them to take these classes, to enhance their marketability. For them, it probably wasn’t a big deal when there would be hiccups, but for me – I moved out there just to take those classes, and it was frustrating when they’d be cancelled last second.