By Tom White for the Orbitz Travel Blog
This St. Patrick's Day, the focus might be on the quantity of beer imbibed versus the quality. But with upward of 3,000 craft breweries now brewing in the U.S., there's no shortage of places to go to get a behind-the-scenes look and sample something special, whether it's your favorite IPA, Imperial Stout or Hefeweizen. Consider these top brew tours, listed in no particular order: Whether it's for their energetic tour guides, great samples, or just the opportunity to see something beautiful, they're all worth traveling for.
1. Magic Hat Brewery and Artifactory - South Burlington, VT
Magic Hat Brewing Company in Vermont has always been a little... quirky. If you've ever seen one of their six packs on your local store shelf or their tap handle at your local haunt, they're instantly recognizable. That same vibe flows through their "Artifactory" taproom and tours. While they do offer free guided tours, many recommend the self-guided "tour ramp" which gives a glimpse of the behind the scenes action at the brewery as well as the many strange artifacts which make this place so unique.
2. Kona Brewing Company, Kona, HI
Hawaii isn't exactly most people's first thought when it comes to craft beer. That shouldn't stop you from taking the tour at Kona Brewing, however. The Big Island's craft pioneer creates some truly unique beers on site made with local ingredients and offers a setting that can't be passed up. After all, what's better than touring a brewery steps from the beach with a Coconut Brown in hand?
3. Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA
Perhaps the gold standard of all beer gardens in the U.S., the experience at Stone Brewing starts in their beautiful "Zen Garden." If you can drag yourself away your seat amongst the rocks, ponds, and plants, a tour of their facility by one of their "Indoctrination Specialists" is the way to go. The tour offers a behind the scenes look at one of America's biggest production breweries and a guided tasting included in the $3 price.
4. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, Chico, CA
Price: Free for the Brewhouse, Sustainability, or Self-guided Tour; $25 for the Beer Geek Tour
If you're a beer drinker (why else would you be reading this?) you already know Sierra Nevada. The Chico, California brewery is a landmark on the American craft beer map. The impressive brewery offers tours of both the Brewhouse and the outdoor grounds showcasing their sustainability efforts. If you're really into the nitty gritty though, check out the Beer Geek Tour; a 3 hour small group exploration of every nook and cranny of the massive facility.
5. Lagunitas Brewing, Chicago, IL
While the California based brewery has long been a West Coast staple, the recent opening of Lagunitas' Chicago facility was the return home for founder Tony Magee. The experience at the massive west side facility really starts the second you enter as bright lights and "Pure Imagination" from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory serenade you on the long walk to the tap room. The brewery itself seems to have been built with tours in mind and soaring cat walks offer the perfect aerial views of the cavernous brewery.
6. Bell's Comstock Brewery - Comstock, MI
Bell's Brewery has long been a Midwestern staple and can be found in all corners of the country. The rapid expansion of the Kalamazoo based brewery meant that they quickly outgrew their tiny "Eccentric Café" downtown. The newer production facility offers a behind the scenes look at one of the more stunning breweries in the country and, like Lagunitas, was clearly built with tours in mind. The entire brewery is accessible from strategically placed viewing platforms and huge windows so you can watch the brewers at work.
7. Boulevard Brewing Co - Kansas City, MO
Price: Free for the Public Tour, $20 for the expanded tours
Boulevard Brewing has been around since 1989, a long time in American craft beer terms. The constant expansion they've seen over the years has meant they've built themselves quite the impressive facility, and the guided tours are the best way to see it. Aside from the highly recommended public tour, visitors can sign up for the "Smokestack Tour," a tour combined with a food a beer pairing, or the "Unfiltered Tour," a 90-minute deep dive into the inner workings of the brewery.
8. Lakefront Brewery - Milwaukee, WI
While a little pricier than some of the other options on this list, perhaps no other brewery tour came as highly praised as the one at Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee. The tour includes the usual suspect; a tour of the facility, a souvenir pint glass, samples of beer. What you might not expect is to become crowned the "Bunghole Queen" (don't worry it's not dirty) while singing the Laverne and Shirly theme song at the top of your lungs. No doubt an essential MKE experience.
9. Brewery Ommegang - Cooperstown, NY
Price: Free, optional $5 tasting
Brewery Ommegang is Belgium in America... or at least as close as you're going to get without a passport. The brewery itself sits on a rural mountainside farmstead in a town best known as the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The tour guides are said to be passionate, knowledgeable, and entertaining and the tour is followed up by an optional, $5 tasting of six different beers.
10. Dogfish Head Brewery - Milton, DE
Tiny Milton, Delaware, is home to Dogfish Head, one of the country's most successful breweries. Owner Sam Calagione has built his creation into a world renowned, finely tuned machine; all while managing to maintain the humble, small town attitude that they started with. Taking a tour from one of the knowledgeable guides at Dogfish offers a glimpse inside the passion that has driven the brewery to the top of the game.
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