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May 05, 2011

The Best American Craft Beers & Breweries: Cheers, Slainthe, Prost, Kanpai to All That!

BEER HERE: Tasting room at Portland's Upright Brewing (Annalou Vincent)

American Craft Beer Week—the "mother of all beer weeks," according to event organizers—kicks off on May 16. To slake your thirst, we present five great places to celebrate all that is good, creative, and downright delicious about the American craft-beer movement. (Disclaimer: you don't have to be over 21 to continue reading.) We've come a long way since the bland ubiquity of all those barrels of Coors, Budweiser, and Miller in the latter half of the 20th century. Trust me, I visited the U.S. as a backpacking student from the ale-soaked hinterlands of Yorkshire, England, during the '90s and can attest to the impressive rise in quality and choice of what's on tap Stateside these days!

Upright Brewing (Portland, Oregon)
Marcus Hibdon of the Portland tourism bureau put me on to this spit-and-sawdust place when I was researching ideas for this post. "They're brewers, so these guys have to work on their customer-service skills," he jokes, "but the beers they're putting out are unbelievable." Gone are overhopped IPAs and flamboyant bottle labels. Upright's year-round pours are simply labeled Four, Five, Six, and Seven, referring to the starting gravity in Belgian brewing degrees, a traditional technique still employed by some brewers in Belgium today. The tasting room is a no-frills cellar of benches and upturned barrels, surrounded by the tools of the brewer's craft. And let's not forget Portland's place at the forefront of America's craft-brewing renaissance. Nicknamed "Beervana" and "Munich on the Willamette," Portland boasts more than 30 breweries within city limits—more than any other city on earth.

Top Ten Wineries, Breweries, and Distilleries

Abita (Abita Springs, Louisiana)
My neighbor, a born-and-bred New Orleanian and someone whose tastes I trust, named his dog after this brewery, located in St. Tammany Parish across Lake Pontchartrain from the Big Easy. Featuring barley sourced both domestically and internationally, plus hops from the Pacific Northwest, it's the pure, unadultered spring water drawn directly from the ground beneath the brewery's piney woods that gives Abita its distinctive local flavoring. Oh, and let's not forget the cypress-framed Abita Brewpub, site of the original brewing operations from 1986 till 1994. This popular locals' hangout also just so happens to look out over the Tammany Trace rail-trail for bikers looking for refreshments.

Top Ten Ski Resorts to Down a Local Beer

Crow Peak Brewing Co. (Spearfish, South Dakota)
With views out over nearby Crow Peak from its second-floor deck, this brewpub is the ideal spot for an end-of-the-day IPA in the outdoor-centric college town of Spearfish. And when we say outdoorsy, we don't mean the conga line of tourists traipsing to the observation deck at Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills region's main event. No, think quiet ponderosa-shaded hikes and the sweet singletrack of the Tinton Trail, which stealthily gains around 1,200 feet of elevation in just under eight miles without leaving you feeling like you've lost a lung. "It's got all the right ingredients," says local outdoors blogger Dan Daly. "Accessible from town, great scenery, some technical sections, and a sweet downhill back to town, food—and beer." In operation since 2007, Crow Peak's beers skew toward hoppier IPAs and dark, rich porters.

Public House Brewing Company (Rolla, Missouri)
As with most creative endeavors, it all started with two friends spitballing ideas over a few beers. But when one of those friends, Josh Stacy, happens to be the son of an award-winning homebrewer.... well, you can guess the rest. Open since November 2010 in the central Missouri town of Rolla, halfway between St. Louis and Springfield off I-44, Public House Brewing Company sharpens its craft-brewing skills with crisp German-style lagers like Kölsch and Hefeweizen. When you're not drinking, take a hike through the surrouding Ozarks countryside, featuring crystal-clear freshwater springs and waterfalls, scenic limestone bluffs, and twisting rivers along which 19th-century loggers first floated their lumber north to build St. Louis.

Dogfish Head (Milton, Delaware)
Dogfish Head's founder Sam Calagione recently took his peripatetic passion for beer on the road with Discovery Channel's "Brew Masters" series, meaning this Mid-Atlantic favorite isn't quite the hidden gem it once was. That's not to knock its roster of seasonal and year-round brews. Take a tasting tour of the brewery at Milton, Delaware, and/or sit down for a meal and a seasonal pint at Dogfish's original Rehoboth Beach brewpub. And while you're in this neck of the woods, don't miss a chance to camp out at Lewes' stunning Cape Henlopen State Park, the perfect spot to crack open that Dogfish Head carryout.

For more events throughout the United States to mark American Craft Beer Week, including new beer releases, festivals, unique craft beer dinners, and special brewery tours, visit the official event website or join the fan page on Facebook.

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