While the pandemic and its related challenges have lingered, there are some hopeful signs for beer enthusiasts and travelers in 2022. The Craft Brewers Conference is currently scheduled for an in-person event in Minneapolis in May, and the Great American Beer Festival is poised to celebrate its 40th anniversary October 6–8 in Denver. As states reopen at different intervals and welcome tourists back, a few can’t-miss opportunities for beer travelers have become possible again. Here’s a top 10 list of coveted beers that mirror the spirit and history of their local community, and are best enjoyed near the breweries that crafted them.
Washington is the top hop-producing state in the U.S. and no time of year quite matches the excitement and anticipation of the fall hop harvest. For IPA lovers, fresh-hop and wet-hop versions are some of the most intense in the beer world. Short of drinking straight from the fermenter, there is no way to get a fresher hop experience than sipping the award-winning Topcutter IPA in the heart of hop country.
The beer that helped establish the Belgian white ale style in the United States comes from one of the many fine breweries in the Pine Tree State, but whether it’s the nostalgia (it was the only style the brewery made for years after its founding, was recently awarded a GABF silver medal, and pairs wonderfully with any kind of weather) or the tranquil photos of Maine that Allagash shared with followers during the stress of the pandemic, White seems to taste even better off the taps at its birthplace.
While Sierra Nevada’s calling card is undoubtedly its Pale Ale, the brewery’s open-fermented Kellerweis wheat beer stands as a testament to traditional brewing methods. The brewery has showcased the mammoth head the beer develops during fermentation and the spectacle was even part of the advertising campaign when Kellerweis made its debut. While the beer is no longer part of Sierra Nevada’s year-round lineup, savvy enthusiasts can enjoy it in the brewery’s Mills River restaurant overlooking the French Broad River at the facility many fittingly refer to as Malt Disney World.
Jester King is nestled in the Hill Country outside of Austin, and during COVID, this 165-acre brewery, farm, and event hall opened up walking trails on its property that were previously inaccessible. Strolling the trails or simply enjoying the quietude of this part of the Lone Star State with a spontaneously fermented beer in hand is an experience not to be missed. To enjoy this rustic saison in the heart of Texas Hill Country is to understand the spirit that helped craft it.
While many brewers set up their tasting rooms in industrial plazas and off-the-beaten-path warehouses out of necessity, Stone Brewing went the extra mile to establish an upscale brewery-restaurant in a tranquil, aesthetically pleasing setting. To drink the groundbreaking Enjoy By IPA at the place where it was brewed is to experience the passion and ambition that led Stone to challenge its distributors and retailers to get the beer into consumers’ hands as quickly as possible. It doesn’t get much fresher than this.
The Last Frontier’s first brewery has soldiered on and flourished with its signature smoked porter long after many brewers had abandoned the style. This world-class version of a German rauchbier is made with local alder wood that is smoked under carefully controlled conditions at the brewery, then released in limited amounts on November 1 each year. To enjoy this beer at the source is to appreciate the devotion and appeal of warming up with a pleasantly smoky beer on a cold Alaska evening.
Central Waters Brewing Company is one of the best kept secrets in Wisconsin (and maybe the entire U.S.) thanks in part to its coveted Brewer’s Reserve Series. While the series has innovated over the years, the over-the-top caramel, vanilla, and bourbon notes permeate this wintertime sipper that beer lovers keep coming back to. Drinking the beer at the source means enjoying a unique version of BBBW when it is fresh, somewhat boozy, and full of vibrant flavor that will mellow out over time in the bottle.
For those who seek a great beer with no “added things,” Bierstadt Lagerhaus in downtown Denver is a destination. Chosen by their peers as Denver Metro Brewery of the Year in 2021, and sought out by many of the brewers who come for the Great American Beer Festival and other beer-centric events, Bierstadt’s beautiful, copper-clad Old World-inspired brewery shines through in every pint. Drinking Slow Pour Pils in the Bierhalle provides a pleasing glimpse into Pilsner history as a social beverage and one that will reveal its flavorful secrets if a drinker has the time and patience.
A Miami original founded by homebrewer Johnathan Wakefield in the Wynwood Arts District, this brewery is on the must-stop list, and if visitors arrive on a fortuitous release day, J. Wakefield’s Dragonfruit Passionfruit Florida Weisse might just be the prize. DFPF’s deep pink color and massive fruit addition highlight one of the beers that earned J. Wakefield its stellar reputation. And if this beer’s not on the menu, drinkers can be consoled by 16 other offerings on tap served in the Star Wars-muraled tasting room, an area as unique as Miami itself.
A pilgrimage to Sonoma County is one of the only ways to sample this mammoth triple IPA. Pliny the Younger is released from Russian River’s facilities in very limited amounts each year and the lion’s share is consumed onsite once the beer is tapped (March 25–April 7 in 2022). Once you get a taste of flagship Pliny the Elder’s alter ego, you’ll quickly understand why it’s one of the most anticipated and highly regarded beers in the world, and why it’s on almost every beer lover’s bucket list.
Whatever 2022 holds, hopefully this year is remembered as one when life returned to some semblance of normalcy and when sharing beers in person became possible again.
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