We’re continuing our regional series on must-visit American breweries with a stop in the Midwest, home to both top commercial brewers and thriving craft brew brands pushing the boundaries of conventional brewing. Although some of the companies on this list couldn’t be more different, each has impacted Midwestern beer culture in its own unique way.
It’s an exciting time to be a beer lover; thanks to the current craft boom, it’s possible to find local brews in more communities than ever before. Why does that matter? Because many of these new companies are woven into the fabric of their communities, founded by dreamers and risk-takers brewing a taste of the neighborhood in the form of pale ales and lagers.
Traveling to breweries has become a way to see and experience the world through the eyes of a local—a lot like booking a TripAdvisor vacation rental. Whether you’ve been to most of these cities or only a few, each one is a destination worth exploring; start planning your own beer-inspired getaway today!
When this brewpub made its Nebraska brewing scene debut in 2007, it swiftly attracted a loyal following of locals and tourists who came for the nuanced, inventive beers and returned for the great atmosphere. Today, Nebraska Brewing Company has expanded to meet demand, and the La Vista production brewery offers tours and tastings in addition to weekly events like trivia night.
Our Beer Pick: Ale Storm, “The perfect baseball beer,” a balance of “the delicate sweetness of Pilsner malt and lemony/spicy notes of Sterling hops.”
Visiting La Vista: A growing suburb of Omaha, La Vista is a short drive from Nebraska’s largest city. Visit one of Omaha’s superb museums (try the Joslyn Art Museum or the Omaha Children’s Museum) or spend the day exploring scenic spots like Heartland of America Park or Zorinsky Lake.
Since founders Jesse Scheitler and Tom Silbernagel opened the doors to Lost Cabin Beer Co. in May 2016, the pair has pulled no punches in creating brews that embody the spirit of the Black Hills. Their unique ales and lagers (not to mention the new barrel and sour aging program!) make Lost Cabin one of the region’s most exciting new breweries. Kick back with a pint in the 50-seat tasting room and enjoy a commanding view of the production brewery.
Our Beer Pick: Smokewagon Coffee Stout, a dry Irish stout “aged with whole bean coffee from Pure Bean Roasters.”
Visiting Rapid City: Bound for the Black Hills? Make South Dakota’s second-largest city your HQ. With a convenient location (35 minutes from Mount Rushmore), unique attractions and vibrant shops like Prairie Edge Trading Co., there’s no shortage of spectacular things to do in Rapid City. Make yourself at home in a private lodge or cozy creekfront retreat.
The oldest operating brewery in the state has made itself at home in one of the coolest places in Rapid City: the area’s first fire station. It’s only appropriate that free tours of the brewery cover both the history of the building and the brewing process; the décor, which features vintage firefighting memorabilia, kicks the atmosphere into high gear.
Our Beer Pick: Firehouse Red, “A soft yet balanced Irish red with caramel notes.”
Visiting Rapid City: You can’t leave Mount Rushmore off your Black Hills itinerary, but this iconic attraction isn’t the region’s only highlight. Black Hills National Forest, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Custer State Park (home to antelope and roaming buffalo) offer unique sights you’ll never forget.
A crowd-favorite stop on the Crossroads Quartet Brewery Tour, this North Kansas City brewery may not be big, but the beer selection is solid and the variety is top-notch. With superb service, friendly staff and a low-key vibe—old, B-roll sci-fi films often play in the background—it’s a quirky, authentic place to explore the city’s burgeoning craft beer scene. Not a big beer fan? Order a homemade root beer with vanilla vodka instead.
Our Beer Pick: Big Rip Groovy Pale Ale, “a smooth pale ale using Amarillo hops.”
Visiting North Kansas City: Located just nine minutes outside KC, Big Rip is certainly worth adding to your list of things to do in Kansas City—right alongside taking advantage of the city’s visionary, thriving arts scene. Pay a visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, catch the Kansas City Symphony at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts or attend a poetry jazz event at the American Jazz Museum.
Boulevard Brewing Company transported its first keg to a local restaurant in the back of owner John McDonald’s pickup truck. That was in 1989; today, the well-known company has a huge fan base and a brand new, three-story brewery and packaging facility with a beer hall and gift shop. Catch one of the free, hour-long Boulevard brewery tours, or—if you’re a true beer nerd—sign up for a Smokestack Tour & Tasting (featuring food pairings and a walking tour) or an Unfiltered Tour & Tasting (spotlighting off-limits areas of the brewery).
Our Beer Pick: Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat Beer, “a lively, refreshing ale with a natural citrusy flavor” that has become “the best-selling craft beer in the Midwest.”
Visiting Kansas City: When it comes to major Kansas City attractions, barbecue joints like Arthur Bryant’s BBQ, Jack Stack Barbecue and Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que rank high on the list—and with good reason. The city’s signature style of smoky meat paired with tangy, tomato-based sauce is a delicious treat you can’t leave town without enjoying.
As the country’s leading brewer, Anheuser-Busch is known for a long list of products, including the first American beer brand. The company is so large that it operates 12 breweries in states across the country, but only half of those locations offer tours. At the facility in St. Louis, the largest and oldest site, you can score a simple, complimentary tour or a more in-depth experience like the Beer School course. The polished grounds, historic buildings and famous Clydesdales make this St. Louis landmark a worthwhile spot to visit, whether you’re passionate about the brewing process or merely curious.
Our Beer Pick: Branch out and try something new; in the past, the brewery has offered limited-release brews like Shock Top’s Twisted Pretzel Wheat alongside its more familiar labels.
Visiting St. Louis: If you’ve got little ones in tow, St. Louis offers a number of awesome, out-of-the-box experiences for kids—from City Museum (featuring a playground for kids of all ages) and the Saint Louis Science Center (known for its animatronic T-Rex) to the Magic House, a children’s museum. Book a spacious suburban home just outside the city for a little more room to spread out.
From brewing in a local garage to building two Minneapolis breweries in three years, Fulton has grown quite a bit since it hit the brewing scene in 2009. Today, most of the magic happens in the Fulton brewery northeast of the city; at the taproom in downtown Minneapolis, you can try a pint for yourself while enjoying fun events like free live music on Sundays.
Our Beer Pick: Fulton Lonely Blonde, an American Blonde Ale with “a delicate fragrance of German noble hops” and “a touch of white wheat between American pale and crystal malts.”
Visiting Minneapolis: As a top American city for cyclists, one of the best ways to explore Minneapolis is from the seat of your bike. Fantastic trails include the Midtown Greenway and Cedar Lake Trail, but with more than 80 miles of off-street trails and nearly 50 miles of bike lanes, you’re bound to enjoy a great ride no matter what part of the city you’re in.
Barely more than a year and a half after Surly brewed their first batch, BeerAdvocate magazine named them the 2007 Best Brewery in America—high honors for a company so new to the game—and the Minneapolis brewery has been making waves ever sense. Take an hour-long Surly brewery tour to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the brewing process, then order some snacks at the Beer Hall and kick back with a pint or two.
Our Beer Pick: Surly Coffee Bender, a coffee-flavored American Oatmeal Brown Ale with “cold press coffee aromas, intense coffee flavors balanced by the oats in the malt bill, resulting in a cappuccino-like creaminess.”
Visiting Minneapolis: This Twin Cities destination is a bustling creative hub known for its arts and culture. Enjoy the vast permanent collection and special exhibits at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, view the groundbreaking contemporary art at the Walker Art Center or catch a production at the Tony Award-winning Guthrie Theater, a stunning building as well-known for its performances as its dramatic architecture. (Ready for a cool connection? The same architects who designed the Guthrie are also responsible for Surly’s brewery facility.)
As the second oldest family-owned brewery in America (passed down through six generations!), Schell’s is deeply rooted in the history of the state and legacy of Minnesota beer. Located just two hours from Minneapolis, it’s a worthwhile day trip—whether you get a chance to take the tour or spend your time exploring the beautiful grounds and museum.
Our Beer Pick: Schell’s Dark, an American Dark Lager with “a light but classic maltiness” and “excellent drinkability.”
Visiting New Ulm: With so many craft breweries popping up across the Twin Cities, your best bet is to make Minneapolis your home base and spend a day in New Ulm. Plan to tour Schell’s to delve into the history of the brewery, then take a hike at Flandrau State Park or order a glass of wine at scenic Morgan Creek Vineyards.
Lakefront Brewery started crafting innovative brews in 1987, and this local landmark undoubtedly makes the list of Milwaukee brewery tours worth traveling for. (In fact, TripAdvisor ranked it the fourth best brewery tour in the nation; you can chalk that up to the friendly guides, generous samples, great beer or some combination of the three.) Be sure to stick around for the Friday Night Fish Fry and live music provided by The Brewhaus Polka Kings; it’s a vibrant experience you won’t want to miss.
Our Beer Pick: Lakefront New Grist Ginger, “light gold with a rocky white head kicking out aromas of ginger and malted sorghum.”
Visiting Milwaukee: In a city that’s been called the Beer Capital of the World, there’s a long list of great tours to take and legendary brews to sample. Make your own itinerary or climb aboard the country’s only brewery tour by boat.
The history of Miller Brewing (now MillerCoors) stretches all the way back to the mid-1850s, when Frederick Miller founded the company in Milwaukee. Today, you can join one of the Miller Visitor Center’s free, guided walking tours to learn about the company’s origins and modern-day brewing process. The guides are entertaining and knowledgeable, and there’s something fascinating about standing in the caves that the company used to pack with blocks of ice in its early, pre-refrigeration days.
Our Beer Pick: Milwaukee’s Best Premium, a lager with “quality malted barley, selected grains and choicest hops” introduced in 1984; this quintessentially Milwaukee beer was originally crafted by Gettelman Brewing Company, a company Miller Brewing acquired in 1961.
Visiting Milwaukee: A great way to experience Milwaukee (and enjoy a little more beer in the process!) is to follow the RiverWalk, a two-mile path along the Milwaukee River that winds past brewpubs, boutiques and even an outdoor art gallery. Book a stay at modern loft or chic home within walking distance of downtown, and you won’t need to worry about designating a driver.
If you’re looking for a brewpub that makes great beer and really delivers when it comes to flavorful food, the Revolution Brewing Logan Square location should sit atop your list of places to eat in Chicago. Interested in taking a tour? Visit the Kedzie Avenue brewery in northwest Chicago for a complimentary peek behind the curtain, then grab a pint in the tasting room.
Our Beer Pick: Revolution Brewing Eugene Porter, “A striking, robust porter full of warmth and chocolate malt.”
Visiting Chicago: Put simply, Chitown is passionate about beer. With nearly 100 breweries in and around the Windy City, the Chicago beer scene is hopping, and there’s never been a better time to strike out on a brewery tour and try something new. Book a charming townhouse in a neighborhood like Roscoe Village, Wicker Park or Bucktown, known for great craft brews, beer gardens and delicious cocktails.
Goose Island founder John Hall started brewing back in 1988, long before craft beer or homebrew kits were even a thing—but it didn’t take long for people in Chicago to develop a thirst for his delicious brews. By 1995, demand for Goose Island beer had skyrocketed, and today, the brewery’s packaging line bottles 500 cases an hour (in other words, a lot of beer). The packaging process is just one of the cool things you’ll get to see on the Goose Island brewery tour, along with a glimpse of brewers in action and the fermentation process.
Our Beer Pick: Goose Island Honker’s Ale, an English Style Bitter that “combines a fruity hop aroma with a rich malt middle.”
Visiting Chicago: Since Hyde Park, Chicago, played host to the World’s Fair in 1893, the bustling neighborhood has attracted curious tourists, culture lovers and architecture aficionados. Spend the afternoon in this South Side district to explore grassy parks and thriving galleries, plus the Museum of Science and Industry and historic homes like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. Don’t have time to visit the South Side? You can still enjoy great Chicago views and incredible artwork in the Loop, home to Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Brewmaster Jared Rouben has a simple philosophy: use high-quality ingredients to craft balanced brews that play up flavors and aromatics. The result? Sophisticated beers that pair well with food. The Culinary Institute of America graduate has a chef-like approach to brewing that distinguishes the taste of Moody Tongue from other Chicago beer, and the proof is on tap at the company’s new tasting room.
Our Beer Pick: Moody Tongue Sliced Nectarine IPA, a crisp beer with “a bright tropical aroma of stone fruits that balances the grapefruit acidity of the Chinook hops.”
Visiting Chicago: A true culinary destination, Chicago is known for regional food traditions representing countries from all over the world. Don’t leave town without trying something new—perhaps a jibarito (a sandwich that replaces bread with friend plantains), Turkish kebabs, udon noodles or tres leches cake.
Upland Brewing, one of the largest craft breweries in Indiana, is beloved for its selection of seasonal and everyday beers (including a number of delicious sour beers). Visit the brewpub, a favorite local hangout spot, to sample a beer with dinner, or take a tour of the production brewery to learn about how the company crafts its ales and lagers.
Our Beer Pick: Upland Wheat Ale, “a classic rendition of the Belgian Witbier style.”
Visiting Bloomington: To discover why this bustling city has been named one of the country’s top adventure towns, set sail on Monroe Lake, take a hike through Hoosier National Forest or hit the cycling trails in Wapehani Mountain Bike Park. If you’re a cycling fan, keep an eye out for members of Team Upland, the sustainable cycling team sponsored by the brewery.
As Great Lakes Brewing approaches 28 years in the beer business, it’s only gotten clearer that this award-winning microbrewery is a true Cleveland tradition. (The spot captures the spirit of the city so well that the New York Times included the company in its recent 36 Hours guide.) Don’t miss the brewery tour, which covers both the brewing process and the history of Cleveland itself.
Our Beer Pick: Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, featuring “rich roasted barley and bittersweet chocolate-coffee notes.”
Visiting Cleveland: From the Cleveland Museum of Art to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, Playhouse Square and the Cleveland Institute of Music, this vibrant destination boasts landmark cultural attractions, plus incredible public art, music festivals and unforgettable theater performances.
Founded in 2006, Hoppin’ Frog Brewery has affectionately nicknamed its tasting room “an every-week beer festival,” and with a regular line-up of events (including experimental draft infusions on Tuesdays and live music on Thursdays), the atmosphere alone makes this brewery worth a visit. Of course, it goes without saying that the award-winning beer is the star of the show, but the food menu also deserves a mention—and pairs well with what’s on tap.
Our Beer Pick: Hoppin’ Frog Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout, with “rich characters of vanilla, dark fruit, oak, and spice.”
Visiting Akron: Akron is full of gems like Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, a stunning landmark that offers tours of The Manor House and the historic grounds and gardens. After you finish visiting the Hall (one of the largest private residences in the country), take a hike at the F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm or check out the collection at the Akron Art Museum.
Stop by the tasting room inside Thirsty Dog’s production brewery, located in a re-purposed warehouse, to enjoy one of the everyday or seasonal brews that has earned this company a regional cult following. Crowd favorites include Thirsty Dog Barrel Aged Siberian Night Imperial Stout and 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale (featuring toasted and caramel malts, honey, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg).
Our Beer Pick: Thirsty Dog Whippet Wheat, “an unfiltered yeasty wheat beer.”
Visiting Akron: Wind through the beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park with a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, an excursion railway from Akron to Rockside. Beer lovers will appreciate the two-hour-long “Ales on the Rails” tour option, which includes a beer tasting and commemorative glass.
This Michigan beer company is celebrating two decades of producing award-winning British-inspired ales, and you can toast to their success with a pint at one of two locations: Battle Creek, the original brewery; or the new downtown Kalamazoo facility, located along the riverfront. Over the years, Arcadia Ales has also developed a reputation for their wood-fired pizza and smoked barbecue, so save some room for dinner.
Our Beer Pick: Arcadia Ale Cheap Date, a pale gold ale “overloaded with tropical Citra hops, citrusy Simcoe hops, and the perfect malty balance.”
Visiting Battle Creek: Get a bird’s-eye view of Battle Creek with a hot air balloon ride (the city plays host to a major hot-air balloon festival every summer), play golf at one of the area’s affordable public courses or stop to smell the flowers at Leila Arboretum and Children’s Garden.
Family-owned Bell’s Brewery was originally a home-brewing supply store when it began in 1983, but soon pivoted to selling its own brand of beer; today, Bell’s Beer is available in nearly half of the 50 states, from the Midwest to the South. Take a tour of the original brewery in Kalamazoo before heading next door to Bell’s Eccentric Cafe to enjoy the great food, spacious patio and beer garden.
Our Beer Pick: Bell’s Lager of the Lakes, “a combination of firm malt and herbal hop bitterness.”
Visiting Kalamazoo: This southwest Michigan city is a scenic spot to head out for a hike before closing out the day with a beer. Try the paved, walkable Kalamazoo River Valley Trail or the 34-mile-long Kal-Haven Trail.
When it comes to Michigan breweries, Founders is undoubtedly a major player. In the words of the brewmasters, Founders beer is a boundary-pushing brew originally crafted for “a small cadre of renegades and rebels” that ultimately grew into a huge fan base of passionate beer drinks. Serious beer geeks will appreciate not only the brewery tour and tasting experience, but also classes like Beer 101 and the Palate Exploration Series.
Our Beer Picks: Founders All Day IPA, a highly drinkable beer “naturally brewed with a complex array of malts, grains and hops,” and Founders Breakfast Stout, featuring “an intense fresh-roasted java nose topped with a frothy, cinnamon-colored head.”
Visiting Grand Rapids: Beer Examiner blog voted Grand Rapids Best Beer City in 2012 and 2013, and with more than 20 area craft breweries, it’s not hard to see why. Better yet, if you’ve got the whole family in tow, there are plenty of great attractions for kids, including the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the 143-acre Blandford Nature Center.
Update: voting is closed as of March 1, 2017. Congratulations to Big Rip Brewing Company in North Kansas City for winning our readers’ choice best Midwest brewery!