What You Should Know…
San Francisco, Indianapolis, and Chicago stand out as the top 3 best beer cities in America.
In 2020, the pandemic hit America’s $94 billion beer market hard. Approximately 10 million gallons were dumped when kegs in locked-down stadiums and restaurants passed their expiration dates. As breweries scrambled to repackage beer for consumers to take home, the industry faced shortages of both cans and crowlers.
But as the U.S. vaccinates an average of 2.4 million people daily, many are wondering if we’re on the brink of a second Roaring Twenties. More than 50% of Americans plan to splurge to celebrate the pandemic’s end, with half setting their sights on bars and restaurants.
Across the nation, breweries are preparing to navigate a new, post-pandemic reality — and the innovative strategies that kept them afloat during months of lockdown may be here to stay. Curbside pickup, online ordering, and canned beers are now proven strategies for distributing fresh craft brews to ever-expanding audiences, and the low-ABV pilsners, non-alcoholic beers, and $2 billion hard seltzer boom that struck a chord will continue to be served up alongside creative offerings such as hazy IPAs.
With beer enthusiasts eager to get back to tasting rooms across the country, we analyzed publicly available data to rank 50 of America’s most populous metropolitan areas from best to worst when it comes to beer. Our weighted rankings evaluated:
- The number of breweries within each metro area
- The density of breweries per 100 square miles
- The number of beers per brewery
- The number of beer styles per brewery
Read on to learn what we discovered — and how your hometown stacks up.
- Collectively, the 50 metro areas we examined offer a total of approximately 70,067 unique beers.
- The average American brewery offers 19 different brews — but the metro areas in our top 15 all offered more variety, with an average of 28 types of beer per brewery.
- Among the 50 metro areas we ranked, six are located in California. These California-based metros collectively boast 423 breweries, or 13% of the total number of breweries on our list.
- Portland, Ore., has the most breweries in a single city, with an impressive 183, or more than seven breweries per 100,000 residents.
- Nine metro areas on our list have more than 100 breweries: Portland; Chicago; Los Angeles; Denver; San Francisco; Philadelphia; New York; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; and Indianapolis.
- At the bottom of our list, Salt Lake City and Riverside, Calif., stand out for having the fewest breweries — with zero each.
The 50 Best Beer Cities, Ranked
1. San Francisco, California
🍺 High Density
With an average of six breweries per 100 square miles, the San Francisco metro area has double the density of breweries of the #2 metro area on our list.
San Francisco is home to Anchor Steam, the brewery that arguably kicked off the nation’s entire craft beer movement. Historians have competing theories about how “steam” beers earned their name — but they agree that it’s the first type of beer originally developed in the U.S.
Today, the metro area’s 144 breweries carry on the craft beer tradition. Though California’s Craft Beer Week was a virtual affair this year, there was no shortage of inventive brews to sample. Local breweries including Freewheel, Alpha Acid, and Clandestine Brewing all released brand-new beers in time for the statewide celebration, ranging from stouts to hazy IPAs. Participants could also pick up pandemic-friendly, multi-beer tasting packs from San Francisco’s Laughing Monk, Alameda’s Almanac, and Oakland’s Original Pattern.
2. Indianapolis, Indiana
🍺 Impressive Variety
Indianapolis breweries excel at offering variety, with an average of 39 brews per brewery — more than any other metro area on our list.
Indianapolis’s tourism website promises a “pint for every palate” — and with the greatest variety of brews of any metro area on our list, the region wholeheartedly delivers. According to the Brewers of Indiana Guild, the beer industry fuels more than $1 billion of the state’s overall economy.
Along with traditional pubs and tasting rooms, Indianapolis also offers unique tasting experiences such as Books & Brews, where you can order a literary-themed beer and browse the in-house used bookstore.
3. Chicago, Illinois
🍺 Plenty of Options
Chicago has an astounding 180 breweries, the second-highest number of breweries on our list.
The Second City prides itself on its tavern culture, which has been honed through 160 years of award-winning brewing tradition. The region recently experienced a craft beer boom, with approximately 60 new breweries debuting between 2011 and 2014 alone.
Time Out named local breweries Half Acre, Dovetail Brewery, and Goose Island among the city’s best — and movie buffs may recognize Revolution Brewing from its appearance in the 2013 movie Drinking Buddies starring Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick.
4. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
🍺 Large Delegation of Breweries
The Philadelphia area has nearly triple the number of breweries compared to the number of delegates at the Constitutional Convention — 139 breweries to 55 delegates.
Philadelphia prides itself on its role in America’s founding history — and the city played a role in the founding of the nation’s beer culture, too. In 1985, Philadelphia’s Dock Street Brewing Co. opened as one of the country’s first microbreweries.
Today, Philadelphia favorites such as Victory, Sly Fox, and Yards have gained a national following, while dozens of microbreweries such as Two Locals Brewing and Evil Genius Beer continue to delight locals.
5. Los Angeles, California
🍺 Los Angeles Is in the Lead
Among metro areas in California, Los Angeles leads with an impressive 158 breweries.
Los Angeles is often associated with plentiful vegan food, New Age wellness culture, and the entertainment industry — but it also has an outstanding local beer culture.
LA Beer Hop cites local brewers such as Eagle Rock, Lincoln Beer Company, and Arts District Brewery among the city’s many offerings. In nearby Long Beach, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing has earned dozens of awards from the San Diego International Beer Competition, Great American Beer Festival, World Beer Cup Competition, and more.
6. Portland, Oregon
🍺 Most Breweries Overall
Portland has the most breweries in a single city, with an impressive 183 — more than seven breweries per 100,000 residents. Of the 50 cities we ranked, just 11 have more than half the number of breweries Portland has.
In April 2021, Oregon beer enthusiasts narrowly dodged a proposed tax increase that would have hiked rates on beer and wine up by 2,800%. Though pandemic layoffs hit Portland’s many breweries hard, the vast majority have remained in operation — suggesting that the city’s resilient beer scene is here to stay.
In 2020, Portland’s Breakside Brewery and Culmination Brewing were named the Best Large and Medium Breweries, respectively, in the statewide Oregon Beer Awards. Rob and Kurt Widmer, two real-life brothers who run Portland’s inventive Widmer Brothers Brewing, were also inducted into the Oregon Beer Hall of Fame.
7. Denver, Colorado
🍺 Thousands of Beers to Try
Collectively, Denver’s 155 breweries serve up an impressive 3,720 different beers.
Denver famously gets 300 sunny days per year — providing perfect weather for the Great American Beer Festival, a three-day event that is the largest ticketed beer festival in the nation. There, more than 60,000 attendees can browse offerings from thousands of breweries that travel from every corner of the U.S. to showcase their best brews.
The pandemic forced the festival’s organizers to put their plans for in-person events on hold until 2022. Until then, beer lovers and industry professionals alike are eagerly awaiting its return.
8. Tampa, Florida
🍺 Wide Variety of Beers
If you’re a beer enthusiast in Tampa, you’ll never get bored. The area’s 83 breweries boast an impressive average of 29 beers each, which is 42% higher than the national average.
Tampa is well known for its long history of cigar making — but what’s less widely recognized is the way cigar industry moguls fueled the city’s beer industry. Even Prohibition couldn’t stand between residents and their enthusiasm for sipping on a cold one — according to historians, Tampa just kept drinking.
Today, Tampa is home to a wide range of craft breweries, with some attracting fans from all over the country. In 2018, local spots Cigar City Brewing and Angry Chair Brewing were recognized among the 101 Best Beers in America.
9. Cleveland, Ohio
🍺 Punches Above Its Weight
Although the Cleveland area only has 49 breweries, it punches above its weight when it comes to variety. A typical brewery offers 33 different brews on average, placing it among the top three metro areas on our list for variety.
Cleveland’s beer industry dates back nearly to the city’s founding. In the city’s first directory (1837-1838), the record shows that just 13 individual brewers managed to keep the city supplied with 177,000 gallons of beer and ale.
Today, Cleveland’s dozens of breweries keep the tradition alive, with a busy regional event schedule and award-winning beers. Great Lakes Brewing Company, whose Chillwave Double IPA was named a 2018 Best in America brew, recently published a 2021 calendar full of creative offerings ranging from lime-tinged lagers to low-calorie citrus wheat brews.
10. San Diego, California
🍺 Plenty of Styles
Among metro areas in California, breweries in San Diego offer the most variety. You can sample an average of 36 beers available in an average of 14 different styles at each brewery.
With dozens of breweries to choose from, San Diego is a craft beer enthusiast’s dream. In fact, Travel + Leisure once called the beachy city “perhaps the best city to grab a pint in California.”
The city’s playful spirit has inspired breweries such as Belching Beaver, Green Flash, and Ballast Point to capture national attention. In 2019, Merry Jane reported that San Diego even became home to the nation’s first weed-infused beer — a non-alcoholic brew by Two Roots.
11. Cincinnati, Ohio
🍺 Creative Options
Cincinnati breweries aren’t afraid to get creative. The average brewery offers 17 distinct styles of beer, placing it in the top three among cities on our list.
As European immigrants settled in Cincinnati in the early 1800s, they brought their beer traditions with them. The city’s beer history experienced waves of growth and challenges — from the highs of rise of German lager to the lows of Prohibition. More recently, the 1980s brought a craft brewing revival that pushed back against the dominance of Budweiser, Miller, and other national corporations.
Today, the city’s craft beer scene is thriving. You can find breweries that specialize in certain beers, such as aptly named dark beer experts at Darkness Brewing, as well as national award-winning companies such as Brink Brewing Co., which took home the prize for Very Small Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival in 2018.
12. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
🍺 Plenty of Choices
For every 100,000 residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, you’ll find roughly three breweries.
For decades, Minneapolis’s beer industry could rightly have been considered an underdog as companies struggled to endure Prohibition and competition from international conglomerates. That changed in the early 2000s, when a craft beer revival brought a boom of creative brews back to the city.
Across the river in St. Paul, brewers seem to have had a bit more luck. One company, the family-run Yoerg Brewing Company, was the first brewery in Minnesota history and endured for a century before closing during the 1950s.
Today, the region is home to innovative craft breweries such as Fair State Cooperative, which specializes in sours, and Summit Brewing’s famous Extra Pale Ale.
13. Baltimore, Maryland
🍺 Thriving Craft Beer Community
The Baltimore metro area has 55 breweries — nearly four times the number of horror stories penned by famous Baltimorean Edgar Allan Poe.
Beer is so central to Baltimore’s history that an entire neighborhood is named Brewers Hill for two breweries — National Bohemian and Gunther Brewery — that were once located there. The city is also home to the Baltimore Beer Babes, a collective of women who are all craft beer enthusiasts.
Fun fact: The iconic Irish brewery Guinness maintains a Baltimore-based location, helmed by head brewer Hollie Stephenson, who was named Imbibe’s 2019 Beer Person of the Year.
14. Detroit, Michigan
🍺 Historic Beverage Industry
The Detroit metro area is home to the nation’s oldest continuously produced ginger ale — but it’s also home to 58 breweries that collectively serve up approximately 1,740 unique beers.
Detroit’s beer history dates back to 1706, when the first brewer arrived in the then-French trading post. When Prohibition shut down alcohol production, Detroit’s biggest beer producer, Stroh, publicly switched to soda but privately kept brewing — which allowed it to bounce back as soon as the law was repealed.
Since then, Motor City’s beer scene has blossomed into a thriving community of craft breweries. Locals and visitors can sample brews from Atwater Brewery, Dragonmead Brewery, and Eastern Market Brewing Co., among many others.
15. Columbus, Ohio
🍺 Thousands of Beers
Columbus’s Park of Roses offers visitors a glimpse of more than 350 varieties — but the city offers even more beer, with approximately 1,800 different beers among its 60 breweries.
Columbus was once home to Guy Fieri, the beloved Mayor of Flavortown, who BuzzFeed recently named “the only good food person.” Fieri is best known for his warm, gregarious enthusiasm for bold flavors — and the same praise could be lavished on the city’s thriving craft beer scene.
Visitors to the city’s Brewery District will find locally produced beers from Hoof Hearted, BrewDog USA, and Wolf’s Ridge Brewing Company, among numerous others.
The 10 Worst Beer Cities
Of course, not every metro area has an overflowing beer culture. At the bottom of our list, 10 metro areas stood out for their relatively slim offerings:
- Salt Lake City, Utah
- Riverside, California
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Birmingham, Alabama
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Orlando, Florida
- Miami, Florida
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
- San Antonio, Texas
Altogether, these 10 metro areas offer a total of 195 breweries — which is fewer than the top two cities on our list combined. Two cities, Salt Lake City and Riverside, had no breweries listed in the publicly available database we used to calculate our rankings.
The metro areas in our bottom 10 also offer less variety. Each brewery offers an average of roughly 10 beers, which is half the national average and one-third of the average of our top 15 beer cities.
All data related to the breweries were sourced from breweryDB.com.
Using breweryDB’s map search, we curated a list of breweries within 25 miles of the top 50 most populous metropolitan areas in the U.S. We used the U.S. Census Gazetteer Files to find the latitude and longitude coordinates of each metro’s center point.
To gather data about varieties and styles of beer, we used each brewery’s breweryDB.com profile to gather:
- The number of beers
- The number of styles of beers (e.g., American Pale Ale)
Then, we averaged the numbers of beers and beer styles across each metro area. (Note: Breweries that did not have any beers listed on BreweryDB were not used in our calculations.)
To calculate the number of breweries per 100 square miles, we divided the number of breweries by the square mile area of each of the metro areas.
Each of our ranking metrics — total number of breweries, beers per brewery, styles per brewery, and breweries per 100 square miles — were standardized using z-score calculations, then weighted as follows:
- 2x: The number of breweries indicated beer availability within a metro area.
- 2x: The number of breweries per 100 square miles measured the density of breweries in a metro area.
- 1.5x: The number of beers per brewery measured the different unique beers available at any given brewery.
- 1x: The number of beer styles per brewery indicated the variety of tastes the brewery caters to.
Standardized values were multiplied by their respective weight, then scores on each metric were summed for each metro and rank ordered from the highest to the lowest.
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