In the craft beer world, there are some undeniable strongholds. San Diego. Denver. Portland. San Francisco. Go to any of these cities and it's a safe bet you're going to find plenty of craft beers to rave about.
But as the craft expansion continues at a phenomenal clip, other cities are starting to build strong reputations of their own. To avoid any regional bias, we spoke to people throughout the beer industry - from brewers to hop farmers - to get their take on areas that are showing a lot of potential, though may still be under-the-radar on a national basis.
Here are some of their picks.
Minneapolis, MN - Shaun O'Sullivan, co-founder of and brewmaster at 21st Amendment Brewery, calls this area "the New Oregon," saying the brewers are knocking it out of the park these days. Town Hall Brewery is making west coast style IPAs and Dangerous Man Brewing Co. (located in a former bank) is putting out great stuff as well. Drive an hour or so outside of the city and there's plenty of other good examples to find, including Beaver Island Brewing, Lift Bridge Brewing Co. and Third Street Brewhouse.
Asheville, NC - Ashville's not exactly under the radar for many beer lovers. Home to breweries like Wicked Weed and Highland, it's been an area enthusiasts have been watching and increasingly making a destination. But both Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione and Toppling Golliath's Clark Lewey say it's a city that's only gaining in prominence. There are a lot of Southern towns putting out great beer these days, but to many inside and outside of the industry, Asheville is the region's epicenter.
Nashville, TN - Beau Evers, regional account manager for Crosby Hop Farm, says Music City is a town that's poised to explode among craft beer fans. Fat Bottom Brewery is expanding at a rapid pace, he says. And other breweries, like Little Harpeth (specializing in lagers) and Black Abbey (which focuses more on Belgian beers), are gaining regional followings.
Atlanta, GA - The beer laws in Georgia are archaic, but that's not preventing brewers from making some terrific products. Sweetwater Brewing is fast on the way to becoming a national brand. Monday Night Brewing is gaining a regional fan base. And Woodstock's Reformation Brewery could be the area's best secret (be sure to try its line of Belgians if you head there).
Athens, GA - Just an hour and a half away from Atlanta, another beer renaissance is underway. Creature Comforts makes Tropicália, one of the hottest IPAs to hit the market in years. The city is also home to Terrapin and Southern Brewing Co. "A seemingly small college town that gave rise to an incredible music scene back in the 1980s with the likes of R.E.M., the B-52s and the Drive-by Truckers, Athens also has an incredible craft beer scene," says O'Sullivan.
Boston, MA - Calagione says there's a lot more to Boston than the well-known (and well-loved brands like Samuel Adams and Harpoon. There are "great new small cult breweries like Trillium and, outside of the city, Tree House and Lord Hobo" that could boost the city's reputation.
Charlotte, NC - Asheville may get all the attention, but it would be foolish to overlook Charlotte if you're hunting for the next great beer. While there are still just a small number of brewers, that's changing - and they're winning major awards, like NoDa's Hop Drop 'N Roll, which took home a gold medal from the 2014 World Beer Cup. Other breweries to try include Birdsong and Sycamore Brewing.
Tampa, FL - Cigar City Brewing is the name that comes to mind for most people when they think about Tampa beer, but Lewey says he thinks others are "going to be noticed real soon". Tampa Bay Brewing Co is getting high marks for its pale ales and IPAs. Others to try include the Florida Ave. Brewing Co. and fast-rising Coppertail Brewing.
Cincinnati, OH - In the past five years, the number of breweries in Cincinnati and nearby northern Kentucky has more than tripled to 25. And Evers is a big fan of the city. Two breweries have seen particularly large expansion - Rhinegeist (whose IPA, dubbed The Truth, is a solid, piney, nicely bitter beer) and MadTree, which is preparing to build an $18 million brewery and taproom.
Austin, TX - Like Georgia, the state beer laws don't do a lot to help craft brewers, but there's still a vibrant market growing in Austin. Unfortunately, you'll likely have to visit there yourself to try many of best brands. Jester King is the brewer with the best known national name, but don't miss offerings from Hops & Grain, Thirsty Planet or Austin Beerworks. Brewers in the city say they're 10-15 years behind Portland, but that seems inaccurate for the quality of beer coming out there.