Where is the best place in the world for a porter/stout (beer) enthusiast to travel if they want to taste it all?
May 20, 2012 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Where is the best place in the world for a porter/stout (beer) enthusiast to travel if they want to taste it all? If there isn't a place that's best for those dark styles specifically, where do you go if you're a beer enthusiast generally?

Please exclude Washington, DC, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, OR, and London. We've been to those places and want to go somewhere new. The trip would depart from DC and we'd probably go for 1-2 weeks next year. Visiting multiple cities is definitely an option. For the sake of budget, let's say $3K/person (USD) for 2 people (and that would probably be a stretch).

I'd prefer to hear about destinations where you can visit the breweries, but locales with lots of high-variety pubs count, too.
posted by juliplease to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I've got to think you have a reason for not considering Dublin?
posted by xammerboy at 6:25 PM on May 20, 2012

Grand Rapids, MI and Asheville, NC just tied for beer city USA this year.

I can't vouch for Asheville, but Grand Rapids has fantastic breweries and is relatively affordable. This is decent starter list, but you may never leave Founder's.
posted by youknowwhatpart at 6:36 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Colorado is home to great scenery and a ton of breweries. You could easily spend a couple of weeks touring the state and hitting up all of the breweries that strike your fancy.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:42 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can vouch for the awesomeness of those beers on youknowwhatpart's list, and for the brewing culture of the upper midwest generally. To my mind, Michigan/Ohio/Indiana/Illinois have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of as far as craft brewing. If you head to Grand Rapids, definitely make sure you swing down to visit Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo.
posted by gauche at 6:43 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Dublin would be a good destination but drinking your way across Ireland's craft beers would actually be a lovely, very do-able vacation. The Franciscan Well in Cork is down the road from us, so you can host a meetup! The Porterhouse in Dublin is the most famous microbrew here, but the Brew Dock in Dublin has 100 craft beers from assorted brewers. (And both have Galway Hooker, and who doesn't want to drink something called Galway Hooker?)
posted by DarlingBri at 6:45 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I was thinking good ole Grand Rapids as well. In addition to Founders, you can scoot down to Kalamazoo and get the Bell's Brewery. And then why not go to Chicago for Goose Island or maybe Cleveland for Great Lakes Brewing Company...
posted by Stewriffic at 6:45 PM on May 20, 2012

posted by JPD at 6:45 PM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have visited the Theakston brewery in Yorkshire and the Weihenstephan brewery in Bavaria. Both feature some pretty extraordinary dark beers. Munich and surrounding areas are a beer-lover's paradise.
posted by Jode at 7:03 PM on May 20, 2012

The Denver-Fort Collins-Boulder triad would be perfect for you. There are tons of small breweries in these cities. In addition, a lot of these smaller breweries don't distribute east of the Mississippi so a lot of them will be new to you.
posted by mmascolino at 7:13 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Chicago. I've been here three years and the beer scene keeps getting better and better.

Goose Island is probably our best-known brewery. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to find Bourbon County Stout on tap somewhere in the city. The Goose Island Clybourn location is a must, as they'll have a bunch of pub exclusives and usually a cask option.

Revolution Brewing is my personal favorite of the new wave of breweries to open in the past few years. If you consider yourself a fan of porters, you owe yourself a taste of their Eugene (as in, V. Debs), especially from the beer engine. Rev also has a kickass dark mild, Workingman, that's sadly been cut back to a fall/winter seasonal. At any given time you'll find 8-12 house beers on tap, with solid guest taps to fill out the rest of their lines. The food is mostly your typical pub grub, but very well executed.

Half Acre is the darling of beer geeks that's seen a huge spike in mainstream popularity. Daisy Cutter Pale Ale makes up the majority of their sales, but if you head to the brewery you can sample their one-off creations - they'll generally have one or two on tap in addition to their core lineup. As of last week, they were still filling growlers of Chocolate Camaro, a super smooth chocolate milk stout. Half Acre is also opening a taproom next door later this summer with plenty of brewery exclusives.

Metropolitan Brewing does a great job filling the craft lager niche, and Haymarket Pub & Brewery is a great spot that I haven't been to enough. Just outside Chicago, in Munster, Indiana, you'll find Three Floyds Brewing. They're best known for stuff like Gumballhead and Dark Lord, but they also do some fantastic Belgian, English, and German styles. Back in Chicago, Pipeworks Brewing is just getting off the ground and has already released several amazing beers. More breweries are scheduled to open in 2012 and still further breweries are in planning. Oh, and did I mention that Lagunitas is building a second production facility here?
posted by HumuloneRanger at 8:08 PM on May 20, 2012

And, since you've got 1-2 weeks, I should add that other great beer destinations (Madison, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids) are within a three hour drive of Chicago.
posted by HumuloneRanger at 8:16 PM on May 20, 2012

Good lord, man, go to Scandinavia. Take the tour at Närke Kulturbryggeri, and drink at Akkurat, One Pint Pub, Mikkeller Bar, Olbuttikken, and Olutravintola Pikkulintu. It may stretch your budget (though $3k/person is not at all unreasonable) but it will be the best stout/porter adventure you can have.
posted by j.edwards at 8:29 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just outside Chicago: http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?p=363508#p363508
posted by xammerboy at 8:37 PM on May 20, 2012

You should be able to do a fine trip like that for a lot less than $6 Large! I guess the thing I'd like to know is whether you enjoy drving & enjoy each others company. If so, I'd do a multi-state pub & brewery crawl.

Maybe Dogfish Head is too close to you, and only sporadically has porter, and maybe you've already been, but from DC that's where I'd start, then up to Philly for Triumph and/or Nodding Head (I'm partial to the former). I'd skip NYC, not because there aren't brewpubs--Brooklyn Brewery's Chocolate Stout is quite good, but New York should be enjoyed for a lot of other reasons than pub crawling. Like NYC, you may or may not want to hit Boston for Harpoon, where they have a nice Dunkel, but definitely head up to Portsmouth, NH for Smuttynose. Their porter is a-ma-zing.

Now, a side trip where you enjoy a nice upstate NY neighborhood with food, pubs, whisky, excellent Thai and barbecue (if you are so inclined). From Portsmouth, head west to Syracuse, NY and to Armory Square there. Just outside Armory Square is Dinosaur Bar-B-Q. These folks started out at biker festivals in the early 80s, eventually opening in Syracuse. I understand they've opened 5 or so others, so I hope that the original isn't diminished. Better than Dino, tho, is Lemon Grass on Jefferson at the south end of the square. Great Thai food and since you've got a decent budget, you won't mind that this is an upscale restaurant with excellent food. Across the cobbled walkway is The Blue Tusk, a pub with an extensive selection of brews. Another block east is Awful Al's Whisky & Cigar Bar. The cigar area is hermetically sealed off from the bar, so not to worry if you aren't smokers (I'm not).

Syracuse is an industrial city that has seen better days, but the Tusk, Lemon Grass, and Al's can stand with any--at least the last time I saw them (2006/2007). Head from Syracuse to Corning, NY. The Market Street is in this picturesque town & the Corning Museum of Glass is interesting (but not everyone's cuppa). You could side trip up to Rochester & Buffalo. Rochester has a few brew/pubs--unless someone wants to argue differently, most are not distinguished as far as I'm concerned. Buffalo has Pearl Street Brewing, which had decent beer and pretty good food. I remember two other things about Pearl Street: when I left a comment on their website that I thought could have been better, I got a personal call from the owner thanking me for my advice; also, the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons field is a block or two away. We strolled by around the 4th inning & they let us in free. Nice way to spend the afternoon.

I'd go from Corning to Jamestown (Lakewood, NY) to Southern Tier Brewing. They have porters & stouts year round. Jamestown to Cleveland to the outstanding Great Lakes Brewing Company. I've never been to their brewpub, but their Edmund Fitzgerald is one of our favorite porters. Their entire range of beers are favorites in our house, in fact.

From Cleveland to Pittsburgh for the Church Brew Works. This was St. John the Baptist Catholic church, decommissioned after the diocese determined that they could no longer support the parish. Walk in the front door and gaze upon the kettles set where the altar once was. They have a Dunkel and a Brown Ale, decent food, and (in our experience) intelligent waitstaff.

At that point, you should have had a week or a little more of great pub crawling.

I'm from Michigan, so my recommendations of Arbor Brewing/Corner Brewery, Founders, North Peak, Bells, Arcadia, and Dark Horse would be state boosterism if they weren't all pretty damned good. Also, re: Chicago--I grew up there, and have tons of relatives there. Once upon a time, Goose Island was an amazing brewpub. But the block-sized mall & emporium was lost to a developers squabble and then Goose Island was bought by Anheuser Busch. I don't think they've fiddled with the running of the brew company, but still...and I have to say, most of the brew pubs I have been to in Chicago are underwhelming, and the ones in Milwaukee and Madison, while possessing great brews (Sprechers in Milw, Asylum in Mad Town) they are hardly destination locations. Founders in Grand Rapids, hands down, is the best in the region, with Great lakes and Corner Brewery close runner ups.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:50 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consider Belgium, not just for the beer, but also for the delicious “Cuisine a la Bière ”.

If you go to Scandinavia, try the moose casserole [elggryte] with dark beer and perhaps a glass of Nøgne Ø Oatmeal Stout.
posted by iviken at 9:26 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Alaska is worth considering if your budget is $3K total, not per person. Anywhere in Europe on 3K total would be a stretch for 2 weeks I think, specially with flights the way they are at the moment. It's not going to be the best beer in the world but it's something different for sure.

Anchorage has a bunch of breweries and there are also good ones in Healy, Talkeetna, near Fairbanks and on the Kenai Peninsula. If you rented a car and camped you'd save a lot of money and it's off the beaten track. Most of the breweries are really small and friendly. They pretty much all have tasting rooms and/or food on site.

The other place I'd suggest is Sonoma/ Mendocino County/ Humboldt based out of Santa Rosa area. There are so many amazing breweries in or within a days drive of Santa Rosa. I think Russian River Brewery is the best I've ever been to but you can barely throw a stone without hitting a way-above average brewery. Again they're small and friendly and you're in a cool place with lots of other stuff to do.
posted by fshgrl at 9:55 PM on May 20, 2012

Definitely Belgium.

American craft brews are cute and all, but Belgium and into Germany is a whole other level.
posted by bardic at 2:12 AM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Specifically asking about porter then I would take a trip to Yorkshire. I've lived here for 5 years now and if you head to the nicer beer pubs there is always something new on tap that I've never had before and is made within a 50 mile radius. You could do a couple of days just in the Leeds area visiting breweries (Elland Road, Leeds Brewery, Saltaire Brewery, Timothy Taylors, Black Sheep, Theakstons, Samuel Smiths, Warfedale, Ilkley Brewery, Roosters, York Brew not counting the brewpubs around the area. You can fly into Manchester UK and hop a train to Leeds and take the local trainlines and buses out to these places.

If you like porters than I wouldn't head to Germany at all. When I was in Munich I know it is supposed to be a beer lovers paradise, but it is more a light lager lovers paradise. I had some nice beers while I was in Germany, but I was dying for a nice ale by the end of the fortnight. I would avoid Belgium as well, unless you like the phenolic taste that is so prevalent in many of their beers. I know some people love the clovey- banana- phenolic taste that can be overemphasized in many Belgian beers. I've had some nice beers from that part of the world, but many taste way too phenolic for me.

Another plus for Yorkshire around now is that if you like hiking then there are lots of books that have pub walks in them. You catch a train and then walk (about 2 miles) to a pub and have a nice pub lunch and a couple of pints and then walk a bit further and then get a train back. You'll see lots of people walking with poles and really strong hiking boots and full waterproofs, but being from Vermont I do these walks in my boat shoes shorts and a polo shirt so they're not actually that strenuous. It is usually on some sort of a gravel path and the English think it is getting out into the wilderness.
posted by koolkat at 2:35 AM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

Nthing Asheville. You can also swing by the Duck-Rabbit brewery on the way down. It's a bit out of the way though.
posted by nulledge at 4:53 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, Belgium.
posted by trip and a half at 5:53 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Staying in the states, St. Louis would make for a fantastic beer-tourism vacation. There are at least a dozen craft breweries in the city, plus a load of beer bars that offer fantastic selections. The Beer Advocate beer guide for St. Louis has a good roundup of destinations.
posted by slogger at 11:46 AM on May 21, 2012

beelzbubba: Rochester has a few brew/pubs--unless someone wants to argue differently, most are not distinguished as far as I'm concerned.
I'm going to argue differently.
Tap And Mallet has a great selection & some lovely servers. The Old Toad is a classic. Out in Fairport, there's Donnelly's, which my Rochester beer-loving friends adore. You can also visit Roc Brewing Co..

Specifics within Belgium: you must must visit the Kulminator in Antwerp and the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels.
posted by knile at 6:42 AM on May 22, 2012

If you end up in Yorkshire I'll take you on a pub crawl of the best pubs in the city center of Leeds. Or if you rather I can drive you out to one of the oldest pubs in England where there has been a pub since 955 or so.
posted by koolkat at 2:24 AM on May 23, 2012

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