En español | Summer is the time to chill out with friends and family—so why not use that as an excuse to drop in on the birthplaces of some remarkable small beers? There are some 1,500 "craft breweries" in the United States, the highest total since before Prohibition. We set out to find a nationwide sampling of some that throw open their doors (and often their taps) to visitors.
Yards Brewing Company
First it was a warehouse; now it's home to Philly's largest brewery. It's also one of the nation's greenest brew pubs, from the recycled concrete floors to the wind-powered electrical system.
Popular brews:Yards's Ales of the Revolution use personal brewing recipes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin.
V.I.P. view: Take one-hour tours on Saturdays from noon to 4:00 p.m.; the tasting room is open daily.
What else to do: After sampling Ben Franklin's recipe for Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce Ale, visit The Franklin Institute science museum and walk through its giant beating heart.
Lexington Avenue Brewery
Asheville, North Carolina
LAB opened this past January in downtown Asheville. Whereas most brew pubs keep their equipment out back‚ those fermentation tanks can rise more than 20 feet high‚ LAB's brewing tanks are in full view behind glass in the spacious restaurant. A 92-foot-long serpentine bar winds around them.
Popular brew: LAB's brewmaster, Ben "Mad Scientist" Pierson, recently came up with a Belgian golden ale, carbonated like champagne.
V.I.P. view: The are no formal tours, but LAB hosts an eclectic mix of live concerts, ranging from rock bands to string quartets. Check the website.
What else to do: "This is a mountain town. Hiking, biking, and kayaking are huge," says co-owner Mike Healy.
Karl Strauss Brewing Company
San Diego, California
Strauss brews its beer at the downtown San Diego location, but the place to savor it is at the brewery's garden restaurant nearby in Sorrento Mesa (858-587-2739). Settle down in the rocky Japanese garden or stroll over the little wooden bridge, Amber Lager in hand, and watch the koi fish.
Popular brew: Red Trolley Ale won gold at the World Beer Cup 2010.
V.I.P. view: Tour times at the downtown brewery vary (619-234-2739).
What else to do: Nearby is the Museum of Photographic Arts, with works by the world's finest shutterbugs.
Kelly's Caribbean Bar, Grill & Brewery
Key West, Florida
Pan Am welcomed its first customers here in 1927 (Flight 1 to Havana); now the former ticket office is home to the southernmost brewery in the continental United States. Top Gun star Kelly McGillis opened and co-owns it. You can dine indoors or under the stars in Kelly's tropical garden.
Popular brew: The food and ambiance are the draws here (the flash-fried yellowtail snapper gets raves). Of the three house beers, aficionados favor the Southern Clipper Wheat.
V.I.P. view: There are no tours, but you're two blocks from the most beautiful sunsets in North America.
What else to do: Just a few steps away is a taste of local history at the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens.
SweetWater Brewing Company
Breweries aren't allowed to sell beer directly to the public in Georgia. "So we give it away," says SweetWater's marketing director, Steve Farace. Some 2,000 people turn up weekly for samples at the downtown Atlanta brewery.
Popular brew: Georgia Brown Ale won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2001.
V.I.P. view: Tours are Wednesday through Friday at 5:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m.
What else to do: Atlanta's nearby Piedmont Park is a bird watcher's haven and perfect for a picnic.
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