As recently as 10 years ago, most self-respecting beer nerds could conduct a fairly thorough sweep of the nation’s craft offerings by simply scouring the shelves at a local bottle shop, BevMo, or Whole Foods. Cyclical as the craft beer revolution has become, it has also taken on elements of the microcosmic: that previously self-contained walk up and down the aisles of your local store now has a larger-scale, yet parallel equal. People hike, drive, and fly for their beer now, and this article seeks to determine which ones are worth the trouble.
A caveat: obviously, a great deal of this is contextual. If you live, for example, just outside Tillamook, Oregon or in the woods of Greensboro, VT, the breweries on this list won’t be too hard to find. Still, the vast majority of drinkers will have to make a trek. Here, then, are the greatest returns for your trekking.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Neither Hill Farmstead’s location nor their quality are that closely guarded anymore—being voted Best Brewery in the World by RateBeer.com can do that—but the physical trek to the brewery remains no less of a challenge. The route takes you on winding dirt roads that snake through the Vermont forest, cell reception is almost nil and, aside from the brewery itself, there’s not a whole hell of a lot else out there. But your tenacity is rewarded with some of the best beers in the world at beyond-reasonable prices, a breathtakingly scenic area to drink them in, and a staff that stays friendly and helpful throughout the growler-fill rush. Taps and bottles rotate, but you’ll typically get to try at least one IPA or pale ale, at least one saison, and at least one stout or porter. There are almost always great bottles to go, including some from friends of the brewery, like Anchorage and Mikkeller.
Tip: Shaun is in the middle of adding extra brewing space and a proper tasting room, but still—we cannot stress this enough—put on your patient pants. Hill Farmstead is a destination, an experience, and is worthy of savoring. Also take care to read the growler policy, helpfully posted on the brewery website. You’ll save yourself, the staff, and other patrons a lot of hassle.
This one is a bit of a sentimental entry. Translating to “exit” in Spanish, Salida is located in the far west of Colorado, about a three-hour bus ride from the Denver Greyhound station, at 7,000-foot elevation and with a population of 5500 people. I worked there for a summer in between semesters of graduate school, carving out Arizona Trail connectors and repairing fishing accesses for the Southwest Conservation Corps. Our projects generally went in two-week hitches, followed by three or four days off. After dropping our gear off at the home office and debriefing, our team would walk back into town and stuff our faces with Amicas’ wood-fired pizzas and refreshing, nourishing craft brews.
The brewery boasts the usual fare—a thirst-quenching blond ale, a solid IPA—but keep on the lookout for the more esoteric stuff: that entire summer, they poured a chocolate milk stout on nitro that resembled a liquefied 80% cocoa bar. Their green chile ale is more a curiosity than anything, but if you’re out that way anytime soon, spring for a pour of Infinite Search, their imperial oatmeal stout—a chocolatey, coffee-like nightcap.
Tip: Nurse your inevitable hangover at the Café Dawn, a converted garage, just a few blocks away. The coffee is first-rate, and the chorizo wraps will sate any hiker’s hunger. Tell them Josh sent you. They’ll have no idea what that means.
Oxbow just opened a brand-spanking new tasting room—Oxbow Bottling and Blending—in downtown Portland late last year, and it’s really cool: half a dozen beers on draft, mostly session-strength offerings at good prices. But if you really want to dig into what makes these folks tick, make the trek out to Newcastle, a ninety-minute drive outside of Portland. A farmhouse brewery in the truest sense, the place is basically in the middle of the woods, and features beers as rustic as the environment in which they’re crafted: their flagship Farmhouse Pale Ale sits serenely at the crossroads of saison, pale ale, and sour; La Griseta, a 3.8% ABV farmhouse ale, derives its palate-pleasing tartness from mixed fermentation. And look for any of Oxbow’s constantly-evolving Freestyle series—they’ll be sure to please, not to mention confound.
Tip: If you’re only able to visit once in a year, try to arrange a trip around the middle of autumn, when the brewery holds its annual Goods from the Woods event. Oxbow digs deep into their portfolio and cellar for this one, and have been known to stash an aged cask of something special out in the woods for you to traipse off and find. Maine’s finest food trucks are also on hand to provide some much-needed soakage.
De Garde has been getting Spidey-senses tingling recently with their series of tart, jammy Berliner weisses—so much so, they’ve been forced to close on the occasional weekend due to avid customers cleaning them out of both bottle and draft releases. That’s all the more impressive, considering that the new taproom (located at the brewery itself, instead of in downtown Tillamook) is off the highway on the outskirts of town; it’s not “wise hermit” isolated, but you have to mean to get there. The inside is cozy and small, with repurposed cognac barrels serving as tables, and a knowledgeable, enthusiastic skeleton crew manning the helm. A small niche brewery approximate to little else, this is a fine example of grassroots success.
Tip: Put your pucker face on, because these folks exclusively brew sours—berliner weisses, goses, non-classified wild ales, etc., so be ready. Also, they can’t accommodate minors or pets just yet, so leave the rugrats and…well, regular rats at home.
Okay, I know it sounds like I just asked a twelve-year-old to come up with what he thought was the most hilarious name ever for a brewery, but this place exists. Not only that, but it’s one of the best new breweries in the American Southeast. Located on a picturesque 260-acre farm, Lickinghole Creek boast a prolific and fairly diverse portfolio. A pilsner, pale, and session ale may look like they’re just there to help pay the bills, but LCCB takes care to lace their flagship brews with nuanced flourishes: Magic Beaver, a mid-strength pale ale, is brewed with Belgian yeast and a blend of American and New Zealand hops, lending the beer a more tropical fruit vibe than most of its ilk. The brewery also grows its own hops and barley for their Estate Series of farmhouse ales, and uses well water from the grounds for all of its beers.
Tips: Just be cool, man. This is one of the most laid-back places you’ll find, with plenty of room to roam around, enjoy nature, and mingle with like-minded patrons. Kids and dogs are welcome; just be sure you corral and clean up after them accordingly. Also, try to make it out for one of Lickinghole Creek’s fairly regular special releases—Heir Apparent, a Mexican-spiced imperial stout, is the most recent—to pick up some bottles and try a few cool tap-only offerings.
I’ve never been here, and neither have you. But it’s a craft brewpub IN FREAKING GUAM. That counts for something in our book—our thin, brightly colored pop-up book full of singing woodland creatures and tightly wrapped morality tales. Again, we don’t have firsthand experience here, but word is that the Oatmeal Stout and Vanilla Porter are pretty dang spot-on, and that the garlic shrimp is some of the best on the island.
Tip: Go to Guam. Proceed thusly.