It’s easy to appreciate the precision, perseverance, and perspiration that goes into a perfect pint of craft beer. Perhaps at no other time of the year is the microbrew community more popular than during the fall and winter—when seasonal beers are released to remind us of the bounties of our harvests, help us celebrate the holidays, and reward our palates with inventive flavor combinations. Travelocity recently teamed with the Brewers Association to develop a Beer Tourism Index identifying craft beer destinations across the country. With the holiday spirit at heart, we took a closer look at festive flavors; our gift to you is the list of 15 destinations to enjoy some of the best seasonal brews in the country.
Buzz about this brew peaks between October and December, putting us right in the heart of the hoppy holiday hoopla. We analyzed nearly 1.5 million social conversations to see which beers, cities, and festivals people are talking about the most. It almost goes without saying that pumpkin-flavored ales have beer fans lining up like trick-or-treaters at that house in the neighborhood that hands out full-size candy bars. Pumpkin-flavored brews accounted for 47 percent of the social buzz. But other seasonal varieties are worth the flight test too: Winter ales warm your bones on a dark and chilly eve; Christmas brews put a holiday smile on the most miserly of Scrooges; Oktoberfest beers bring European tradition to the beer garden; and harvest ales complement the crisp air on a starry autumn night.
As a lover of good travel and great beer, consider visiting these cities to discover a hidden gem, make some new friends, and maybe even find a new favorite beer this—and every—holiday beer season. Make sure to leave some extra room in your suitcase. You’re going to want to bring a growler—or two—back home with you.
Pints at Blackrocks Microbrewery in Marquette, MI. Photo via Yelp/Kurt S
With just over 20,000 residents, Marquette is the largest town on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s in a perfect location for exploring Hiawatha and Ontario National Forests, as well as for fun on and around Lake Superior. Even more than its surrounding natural beauty, Marquette is becoming renowned for its beer scene. Stop by Ore Dock Brewing Company to sample a Dickens-inspired Glad Tidings ale or the chocolate and fruity French Saison D’Hiver. Or head over to Blackrocks nano-brewery (as opposed to a microbrewery) for a dark, roasty North Third Stout or a seasonally special Mint Stout. If you can’t get enough of Marquette’s malty magnificence, be sure to visit during the annual Upper Peninsula Fall Beer Festival, where every September over 80 breweries come together to kick off the season in style.
Great Lakes Christmas Ale in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo via Flickr/Erik Drost
Typically, when you think of Cleveland, passionate sports fans and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame spring to mind. Make sure to add beer to that list, too, because the city is a legitimate destination for the foamy, amber wonder-stuff. Great Lakes is one of Cleveland’s most popular breweries, and their Christmas Ale is the most talked-about beer in town. They even make a barrel-aged version that adds a subtle bourbon tone to the cinnamon, honey, and ginger.
The seasonal festivals are what really set Cleveland apart from other beer towns, though. You read that correctly: plural, as in multiple opportunities for you to sample some of the region’s finest ales, stouts, and lagers. The Cleveland Winter Beerfest fills the convention center for two days with music, beer fans, and over 400 craft brews. That is followed by the Ohio Craft Brewers Association Winter Warmer Fest, where 50 ale-smiths present their seasonal releases.
Local brews at the Vermont Brewery Festival in Burlington, VT. Photo via Flickr/Sam Szapucki
On the shores of Lake Champlain is the quaint town of Burlington, Vermont. Here the Green State’s Queen City is home to a thriving beer culture, and any visit should include stops at a few local establishments . . . in between carving your way through the trees on a pair of cross-country skis. Magic Hat may be Burlington’s most popular brewery, with its #9 sold nationwide. But the brewmasters there also pump out seasonal specialties like Vamplifier Red Ale, Starlight Porter, and Howl Black-As-Night Lager. Zero Gravity is a local favorite, with a host of holiday releases. Make sure to check out their monthly event calendar, full of tastings and food-pairings all season long.
If you can’t decide which brewery to visit, we have a few suggestions: You could sample a wide selection of craft beers at The Windjammer pub, or hop on the Burlington Brew Tour and enjoy stops at over a half-dozen local facilities.
Asheville, North Carolina
Flight of beer at Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC. Photo via Yelp/Leah A.
Asheville visitors can roam the expansive grounds and impressive buildings of the opulent Biltmore estate, or take a scenic afternoon drive along the picturesque Blue Ridge Highway. After your day out and about in the western Carolina foothills, there’s no better way to unwind than with a pint—or two—of some of Asheville’s many amazing craft beers. New Belgium Brewing Co.—previously available only in the western half of the U.S.—recently opened a shop on Craven Street, bringing their Accumulation White IPA with them. They also have some inventive ideas on which of their beers pair best with various Halloween candies, guaranteeing an outing of no tricks, only treats.
The region is proud of its Scottish ancestry, and nowhere is that more prevalent than in the offerings from Highland Brewing Company. Their Cold Mountain Winter Ale’s mix of vanilla, hazelnut, and other spices adds a festive touch to any holiday celebration. If you happen to be in town in January, make sure to attend Asheville’s annual Winter Warmer Beer Festival and sample dozens of craft brews from throughout the region.
Local pints from the Alaskan Brewing Company. Photo via Flickr/Patty Mooney
As the state capital of the Last Frontier, Juneau offers visitors a chance to witness the changing landscape of endangered glaciers crumbling into the sea, the opportunity to spot a humpback whale breach the water’s surface, and the ability to sample seasonal favorites that will make brewers from the Lower 48 rethink their recipes. The Alaskan Brewing Company puts out its aptly named Winter, a true warmer, to help the long northern nights become more festive. You can try many of the offerings from this and other local breweries at the Red Dog Saloon while you are in town. A throwback to the town’s mining history, the saloon can take you back in time, pint by tasty pint. Before you leave town, stop by Gourmet Alaska and treat yourself to a homebrew kit so you can make your own holiday beer. See how close you can come to replicating some of the flavors you savored while in Juneau.
Tasting flight of beers at Rhinegeist Brewery in Cininnati, OH. Photo via Yelp/Travis E.
You can work up a huge hunger on a crisp autumn day at the world-famous Cincinnati Zoo, learning about tigers. The same can be said about watching other ferocious felines in the Queen City, when the NFL Bengals and University of Cincinnati Bearcats take on their foes on the gridiron. Nothing satisfies that craving like a large plate of Cincinnati chili. And the best thing to pair with your heaping plate of spicy goodness is a seasonal beer from one of the city’s brewmasters.
With caution thrown to the wind, the adventurous brewers at Rhinegeist have created a beer for nearly every flavor palette, with inventive bottling to match. The can for “Dad”—their hoppy holiday ale—is even wrapped in a flannel motif. Another local favorite, Bad Tom Smith Brewing’s Cheating the Gallows Harvest Ale may be a mouthful to say, but the smooth pumpkin-pie-in-a-pint is anything but a tongue-twister. Can’t decide which seasonal suds to sample? Try them all at one of the best winter beer festivals on the cold-weather calendar: The Cincy Winter Beerfest offers the opportunity to taste over 500 local craft beers with thousands of your fellow hop-heads.
Beer flight at Harpoon Brewery. Photo via Yelp/Gerry S.
Any craft beer road trip would not be worth its weight in barley without a stop in Beantown. The revolutionary spirit that helped forge our nation is still on display today in the city’s beer scene. In fact, one could argue that Samuel Adams led the revolt against the tyranny of bland, mass-produced beer. When you are in town, stay at a hotel in Boston close to the brewery so you can tour the facility and learn how humble ingredients are combined to create a pint worth savoring. If you visit during the fall or winter, you will be able to sample one of their seven—yes, seven—seasonal beers.
Samuel Adams isn’t the only Boston brewer making microbrew magic. Harpoon Brewery’s Oktoberfest is like drinking a ray of autumn sunshine, and their Winter Warmer can help take the chill off even the iciest New England day. In addition to their Pumpkin Café Noir, Boston Beer Works’ Belgian holiday dark ale, Sinterklaas, is stone-fruit cheer in a stem glass. All Boston’s craft breweries come together to expand the community’s collective palate at the annual Beer Summit Winter Jubilee, giving guests the opportunity to sample many local favorites.
Flight of Seasonal Brews at Bell’s Brewery in Comstock, MI. Photo via Flickr/Bernt Rostad
Comstock needs to be more than a pit-stop in the middle of “The Mitten” on your Midwest brewery tour. The small town is a legitimate destination for the true beer-lover. As the Bedding Plant Capital of the World, Comstock’s soil makes an ideal bed for growing hops. This has allowed local brewers access to ingredients they would otherwise have to ship in from out-of-state. The result is some of the best farm-to-pint local craft beers in the country.
Bell’s Brewery has been passionately crafting delicious beer since 1985. Their Best Brown Ale is the perfect companion for watching leaves turn color. And the Belgian-inspired Winter White Ale is an amazing alternative to the typically heavy, dark, overly spicy seasonal beers. Founders Brewing Company keeps the pace with two proper seasonal pours. Hazy, golden straw in a bottle, their Harvest Ale is hoppy, citrus-y liquid gold. And, released every January, the malty caramel flavor of the Azacca IPA is an impressive kickoff to the New Year. If you time your visit to Comstock correctly, you can attend the Annual Winter Beer Festival in February, where you can sample beers from over 100 Michigan breweries.
Seasonal Brews at Tröegs Independent Brewing, Hershey, PA. Photo via Flickr/Robert Nelson
Hershey may be best known for its indirect contributions to the retirement funds of dentists across the country. But the “Sweetest Place on Earth” is home to more than just the eponymous chocolate company. Hershey, and the surrounding South-Central Pennsylvania area, deserves equal footing with the giants of the craft brew world.
Tröegs Independent Brewing is leading the charge for seasonal supremacy thanks to Hop Knife Harvest Ale and Blizzard of Hops Winter IPA. Those large-batch brews are complemented by once-a-year offerings that include the fall favorite Master of Pumpkins, and holiday headiness Mad Elf, Naked Elf, and Wild Elf . . . they’re not elf-ing around. Sample them and other regional ales at local brewpubs like Smoked Bar and Grill in Hummelstown, where they pair farm-to-table food with amazing local lagers. Just south of Hershey, in Chambersburg, GearHouse Brewing Co. is primed to take the local beer scene by storm thanks to inventive ingredients like local gooseberries and artisan chocolate.
If you are looking for a one-stop option to sample all of Cumberland Valley’s best brews, be in town for one of the top 10 beer festivals—the traveling Hibrewnation Festival of Beer, where local breweries share their tried-and-true favorites as well as some hard-to-find seasonal concoctions.
A selection of ales from Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, CO. Photo via Avery Brewing Co.
The Rocky Mountains may be synonymous with Coors, but a host of microbreweries in the state have carved their way into the conversation like a snowboarder on a double-diamond ski run. Because Boulder is known as “America’s Foodie Town,” it comes as no surprise that it has become the epicenter of the Colorado craft beer explosion—nothing goes better with a farm-fresh meal than a locally made craft beer from one of the town’s 20+ breweries.
Avery Brewing is Boulder’s most popular brewery, with a taproom in town where you can sample their wares. They have an amazing selection of year-round pours, but their Jubilation Ale is a seasonal must-have. A local up-and-comer, Upslope Brewing puts Boulder’s pristine natural surroundings into every can. When the main ingredient is Rocky Mountain snowmelt, you know it’s going to be refreshing. Make sure to be there in February, when the entire Boulder beer community comes together at the Wintercraft Beer Festival to celebrate the skills and dedication necessary to create incredible ales.
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Brews on tap at Rikenjaks Brewing Company in Lake Charles, LA. Photo via Yelp/Heather C.
Admittedly Lake Charles, Louisiana, may not be the first town that pops into your head when you think of cold-weather beers, and that’s OK. When the average temperature is nearly 70˚F, a winter warmer seems out of place. Still, after a day exploring the scenic Creole Nature Trail and feasting on Cajun delicacies, sipping a local seasonal craft beer is a fitting way to wind down. Rikenjaks Brewing makes two very drinkable brews to complement your Lake Charles adventure: the nutty Contraband Brown Ale and the dark, complex Old Hardhead traditional Scottish ale.
We recommend visiting the other towns on this list when the days are shorter in the middle of winter. But at the end of the season, just after Mardi Gras revelry comes to a close, make sure to cap the festivities with a stop at the Louisiana Winter Beer Fest. Every March, downtown Lake Charles turns into a pop-up beer garden and live-music venue, with local breweries and national musical acts coming together to say “thank you” to beer enthusiasts from across the state. Not only will you find Rikenjaks there, but other Louisiana seasonal favorites like Abita’s Pecan Harvest Ale, Oktoberfest, and Christmas Ale, as well as Covington Brewhouse’s Electric Porter, Winter Warmer, and Fest Bier.
Beer flight at The Pike Brewing Co., Seattle, WA. Photo via Yelp/Melissa G.
The Emerald City is known around the world for its coffee roasting, iconic skyline, rabid sports fans, and waterfront public market. And while a morning cup of joe can fuel your exploration of everything Seattle has to offer, a pint of one of the city’s local seasonal lagers can add a little holiday spirit to the day’s events. In fact, some of the best West Coast brewery tours are found in Seattle. Stop by Elysian—the city’s most popular brewery—to see what goes into their seasonal specialties like Bitfrost Winter Ale, Great Pumpkin Ale, and Dark o’ the Moon stout. Follow that with a session at Fremont Brewing with their Field to Ferment harvest IPA, Winter Ale, and Bourbon Barrel Abominable. Finally, The Pike Brewing Company pays homage to local lore with its extensive seasonal beer selection, with the award-winning Auld Acquaintance holiday ale and Harlot’s Harvest pumpkin ale.
Try to find a hotel in Seattle’s Sand Point neighborhood to be close to the Washington Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival, held every December. Unlike some other microbrew events, this festival allows attendees to vote for a People’s Choice Award Winner. Another uniquely Seattle beer event is the Phinney Neighborhood Association Winter Beer Taste, where local breweries donate their time and wares to a good cause. All proceeds go to the community’s kids and senior citizens. So stop by and drink up to support a worthy nonprofit.
Punkin Ale – One of the Seasonal Brews from Dogfish Head
Located in the heart of the Delmarva Peninsula, Milton is a great home base for day trips to Rehoboth Beach, Ocean City, and Chincoteague Island. You can even hop on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry and take the 17-mile cruise to South Jersey. More than anything else, though, Milton is home to one of the most prolific craft breweries in the industry. The visionary brew masters at Dogfish Head have made it their mission to disrupt the beer world, one inventive pint at a time. Their seasonal menu alone is worth visiting for. Start the season with a Fall on Me Farmhouse Ale, then move on to a Pennsylvania Tuxedo—a pale ale infused with fresh spruce-tip trimmings. Named for the local Punkin Chunkin competition, the world-renowned Punkin Ale has been a seasonal standard since 1994. And there is no better way to ring in the New Year than by sharing a bottle of Raison d’Etre with that special someone.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Seasonal brews at Nickelpoint Brewing Co. in Raleigh, NC. Photo via Yelp/Stephanie H.
As one corner of the Research Triangle, Raleigh understands that great things come through trial and error. The first draft is rarely the best, and the final version has typically been refined multiple times. Visitors to the “City of Oaks” benefit from the process of continual improvement, whether in the form of the area’s creative culinary scene, its academic institutions, or the modern works at the Contemporary Art Museum. That visionary spirit especially shines through in Raleigh’s craft beer community, playing host to some of the industry’s most inventive brewers.
The Raleigh Brewing Company taproom delivers seasonal specialties throughout the year, with Miller’s Tool Imperial Oatmeal Stout, Oktoberfest Lager, and Holiday Bash Spiced Winter Warmer highlighting the calendar. Next on your itinerary should be Nickelpoint Brewing Company Beer Garden for a Pecan Nut Brown Ale fall seasonal, or a Scotch Wee Heavy or Nickelator Doppelbock winter offering.
Those in the Raleigh beer scene must have put their heads together and conducted some serious research before coming up with its signature seasonal beer event. The Black Friday Cask Festival is a great way to avoid the crowds at the malls while enjoying this unique style of ale conditioning. This year’s fest will be held at Lynnwood Brewing Concern. Make sure to try one of Lynnwood’s seasonals while you are there, like the Shut Your Pumpkin Pie Hole Wheat.
St. Louis, Missouri
Beer Flight at 4 Hands Brewery. Photo via Yelp/Amber S.
From the observation deck high atop the Gateway Arch, you get a different perspective of the world around you. Average becomes insignificant, leaving a void for the creative mind to fill. The Spirit of St. Louis is more than just the name of Charles Lindbergh’s aircraft; it is also the impetus behind the city’s urge to make the mundane marvelous.
Rightfully so, when you think about beer in St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch immediately comes to mind. However, a whole craft brew community in the city is working to change that. Not happy with the status quo of mass-produced beer, brewers across St. Louis are creating amazing artisanal seasonal brews that beg to be savored by visitors to this great city. 4 Hands Brewery has created a pair of unique seasonal pours in its Pyrus, made with pear juice and white peppercorns, and its fruitcake-inspired Sugar and Spice Ale. As the name would imply, Perennial Artisan Ales provides delicious beers all year long. Make sure to try their Peace Offering, flavored with maple-roasted local squash, and their Brew for the Crew farmhouse-style harvest lager.
St. Louis isn’t settling for the current state of seasonal beer festivals, either. And, just like their beer, they’ve taken matters into their own hands. Schlafly, one of the city’s premier microbreweries, is leading the charge. In addition to their vast beer selection, the brewery hosts seasonal events like the Great Pumpkin Festival and Cabin Fever Beer Fest.
Well, there you have it. Depending on your sense of adventure—and discerning palate for fine craft brews—you have a full list of beer towns that will welcome you with open arms . . . and maybe a winter warmer, too. Tell us about your favorite holiday beer festivals and seasonal brews. Who knows? Maybe they can make next year’s list of festive favorites.
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