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by Bill Newcott, AARP The Magazine, July/August 2010 issue
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.
New Belgium Brewing
Fort Collins, Colorado
The employees at the Liquid Center tasting room are cheery; each gets a fat-wheeled bike for commuting.
Popular brew: It's the Fat Tire Amber Ale‚Äînamed for a 1980s Belgian bike trip by the company's cofounder.
V.I.P. view: Free tours and sampling are Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Reserve online.
What else to do: Locals say nearby Horsetooth Rock is the petrified heart of an evil giant.
Woodstock Inn, Station and Brewery
Woodstock, New Hampshire
Nestled in the White Mountains, Woodstock offers free tours‚ and overnight stays in 33 guest rooms.
Popular brew: Pig's Ear Brown Ale was Grand Champion at the U.S. Beer Tasting Championships in 2006.
V.I.P. view: Tours are daily at noon.
What else to do: Don't miss the gorges and waterfalls of nearby Franconia Notch State Park.
Barrio Brewing Company
Despite the drab South Tucson surroundings, the old industrial building houses an oasis of copper, wood, and breathtaking mountain views.
Popular brew: Many like Copperhead Pale Ale; or try up to 12 brews for $12.
V.I.P. view: No tours here, but you can't beat sitting on the old loading dock, brew in hand, during a thunderstorm.
What else to do: Down I-19 South about 25 miles sits the Titan Missile Museum, a decommissioned silo where you can turn the key that once might have vaporized Moscow.
New Glarus Brewing Company
New Glarus, Wisconsin
At this small hilltop brewery you'll discover a reconstructed Swiss-style village and the company's new $21 million facility. You might also get to meet Deborah Carey, 50, one of the first women to found and operate a brewery in the United States.
Popular brew: To give the Old English Porter its distinctive vinegary flavor, the brewmasters of New Glarus add sour beer to new, fresh beer.
V.I.P. view: Tours and tastings ($3.50 for three samples and a glass) are daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
What else to do: Settled in 1845 by Swiss immigrants, the town of New Glarus really earns its title of Little Switzerland, with its authentic Swiss bakery, Swiss restaurants, antiques stores, and two museums.
Full Sail Brewing Company
Hood River, Oregon
You'll find some of the world's best windsurfing here, where the wind-whipped Columbia River rolls by the town of Hood River. Perched on a bluff overlooking an array of rainbow-colored sails is Full Sail Tasting Room and Pub, which just might be the country's most scenic brewery.
Popular brews: Full Sail's Session Black won gold at the World Beer Cup in April. The malty Full Sail Amber is another crowd pleaser.
V.I.P. view: Tours (a taste is $1 per beer, including a free pint glass) run hourly every day from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., but you'll want to linger on the patio with your ale, watching the sails below and the snow-capped volcanic peaks in the far distance.
What else to do: Visit the Oregon Cascades Birding Trail and watch for the Lewis's woodpecker and the Clark's nutcracker, named for the state's illustrious early explorers.
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