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Touring Tastebuds: 10 Famous Brewery Tours in America

America has a lot to offer when it comes to great brews. Small, independent microbreweries and large-scale production houses all welcome visitors to tour their facilities and learn about the process that goes into making their beer. On these brewery tours, you will be given a unique opportunity to try new brews and explore the world of beer-making.

General Tips for Taking a Brewery Tour

Before you embark on your tour, there’s a few general rules that you should follow while you’re there. First off, don’t wear any open-toed shoes, or you’ll probably be denied access to the fun parts of the tour. Also, and this should be common sense, don’t touch anything or wander away from the rest of the group. This is for your own safety, as well as the integrity of the equipment. Don’t be that guy. And finally, listen to the tour guide. He’s telling you about his passion and giving you the opportunity to learn about the beer they are making for you to enjoy. Take it in, ask a lot of questions, learn as much as you can, then sit back and enjoy your tasty sample.

So, in no particular order, here is our list of the best brewery tours in America.

1. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company   (Chico, CA)

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

At the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California, you can enjoy a variety of craft brews while touring this popular brewery. The tour takes you through all the stages of brewing beer. See and smell fresh hops and witness the fermentation process. After the tour, enjoy samples of famous beers sold by the brewery. If you are hungry for more, stop by the restaurant for a hearty meal. If you do, be sure to ask about pairing different beers with the restaurant dishes to find a brew that complements your menu choice.

2. Saint Arnold Brewing Company   (Houston, TX)

Saint Arnold Brewing Co.

To tour the oldest craft brewery in Texas, you’d have to travel down to Houston and visit Saint Arnold Brewing Company. Since 1994, Saint Arnold has been brewing their beer in Houston, making them the first microbrewery in the Bayou City. Over the last couple of decades, the Saint Arnold Brewery has managed to create a passionate following of beer enthusiasts. For $8 a person, you can tour the Saint Arnold brewery six days a week, plus receive a free souvenir tasting glass with every admission. While the Saturday tour lasts longer, it’s also more crowded. We would recommend going during the week, as you will have a better opportunity to tour the facility and talk with the brew crew. Be sure to get there early, as the brewery is known to hit its capacity pretty quickly.

3. Samuel Adams Brewery   (Boston, MA)

Samuel Adams Brewery

Founded in 1984, Samuel Adams Brewery exists because flavorful beer was hard to come by at that time. The success of the brewery was all due to a family beer recipe that dated back to the 1870′s, plus a lot of hard work from the great-great grandson of the man that came up with the recipe. Almost thirty years later, that same recipe, what we now know as Samuel Adams Boston Lager, is sold all over America and over twenty countries. There is simply no “Best Brewery Tour List” that does not contain Samuel Adams. Tours of the brewery start every 45 minutes, Monday through Saturday. Unless you have a large group, Samuel Adams Brewery does not take reservations. Because of this, it is wise to show up very early, especially on Saturdays. During your brewery tour, you’ll learn all about the craft brewing process, the history of Samuel Adams and taste a couple of their brews. This is a must-see brewery tour for every beer geek.

4. Live Oak Brewing Company   (Austin, TX)

Live Oak Brewery

Located in the heart of Texas, Live Oak Brewing Company is a small microbrewery located in Austin, TX. This brewery is unlike all others on this list, because they utilize an “old-world style of brewing” that you hardly find in the United States today. Founded by two homebrewers in Austin, Live Oak Brewing creates some very tasty beer, in very limited quantities. Brewery tours can be somewhat tricky to get into, but absolutely worth the effort if you can pull it off. In order to get in on this free tour, you gotta keep a close eye on their website. They will announce when their upcoming tours are, and then post a “reservation link” at 8am the Thursday before the tour date. If you can’t get in for a tour, they do offer a free ‘virtual tour’ on their website.

5. Deschutes Brewery   (Bend, OR)

Deschutes Brewery

Founded in 1988 as a tiny brew pub in downtown Bend, Oregon, the Deschutes Brewery has since grown into one of the most popular craft brewers in America. Five years after opening the brew pub, Deschutes moved into a large brewery along the Deschutes River in order to meet the high demand for their brew. Brewery tours are free and depart on the hour, every hour between 1-4pm. However, it’s wise to get there early because only fifteen people are allowed to go on each guided tour. This means that only sixty people a day will get to walk through and fully experience the brewery. Don’t fret if you can’t get in, as beer tastings still happen whether you make it into the brewery tour or not. You also have the opportunity to waste a lot of time – and money – in their gift shop.

6. Stone Brewing Co.   (Escondido, CA)

Stone Brewing Company

While visiting the Golden State, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t stop by Stone Brewing Company in Escondido. Famous for its bold, hoppy beers, this brewery is easily one of the most unique tours you can take. But make sure you get there early, as the tours usually sell out rather quickly and are limited to only 25 people at a time. Tours only cost $3 for adults and come with a free tasting glass and four 4oz beers of your choice. There’s a wide range of public tour times that stretch over all seven days of the week. But, if you’re looking for the full ‘Stone experience’, you would be better served booking a private tour through their website. The outdoor garden, featuring waterfalls, vegetation and rock formations, creates a unique atmosphere to relax and enjoy a great-tasting brew!

7. Magic Hat Brewing Co.   (South Burlington, VT)

Magic Hat Brewing Co.

In the cozy little town of South Burlington, Vermont, the Magic Hat Brewing Co. has been attracting beer enthusiasts with its creative brews and fun ambiance since 1994. Tours of the “Artifactory” are free and no reservations are required, but the hours may vary depending on whether it’s summer or winter, so be sure to check out their website. At the bar, you have the option to choose from 48 brews on tap, including their year-round favorites, rotating seasonal brews and maybe even a few experimental brews.

8. New Belgium Brewing Company   (Fort Collins, CO)

New Belgium Brewing Company

If you ever find yourself in Fort Collins, Colorado, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t stop by and visit the New Belgium Brewing Company. Officially launched in 1991, this brewery has become so popular that they now distribute in 34 states, and they recently confirmed that they’ll be distributing in Ohio soon. If you want to take a brewery tour, you’re going to need to book it far in advance. To do this, just log onto their website and check out their tour calender. Brewery tours happen Tuesday through Saturday and depart every half hour starting at 11am, with the last one departing at 4:30pm. The tours are free, open to all ages and generally last about 90 minutes. During your tour you will be able to sample the tasty beer.

9. Brooklyn Brewery   (Brooklyn, NY)

Brooklyn Brewery

Since its founding in the late eighties, the Brooklyn Brewery has been brewing some of the most flavorful beer in the Big Apple. In fact, over the last couple of decades, beer enthusiasts across America have discovered how tasty their beer really is, which is why the Brooklyn Brewery now distributes its beer in over 25 states, as well as 20 countries. The brewery offers tours every day of the week except Fridays, however if you plan on dropping by Monday-Thursday, you will need to make a reservation online and pay $8 to get in. On the weekends, the brewery is open to the public with no admission fee, with tours starting on the hour throughout most of the day. No trip to NYC is complete, without checking out this brewery.

10. Dogfish Head Brewery   (Milton, DE)

Dogfish Head Brewery

Founded in 1995, the Dogfish Head Brewery is a wildly popular brewery in Milton, Deleware that was once deemed “America’s most interesting and adventurous small brewery” by one of the world’s most respected beer writers. To take a guided tour of this brewery, you need to reserve your tickets online. They allow walk-ins, but only if there are spots available. They offer tours every half hour from Tuesday to Saturday. The tour times range based on the day, but Dogfish offers tours from 11am-4pm during those days.

We realize that everybody reading this is going to have a brewery that they think should be on the list. The truth is, there are a ton of great brewery tours out there, and if you’re given the opportunity to tour a facility that is not on this list, then you should jump at it.

Brewery tours are increasingly popular as more and more breweries cater to visitors and tourists. Easy access, free tours and on-site dining opportunities entice visitors to linger and explore. Of course, many beer fans end the day by stocking up on their favorite brews or buying a souvenir t-shirt. No matter how you celebrate your brewery trip, just enjoy yourself while you’re there.

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Real Ale 17th Anniversary Party

real ale anniversary party banner

On April 13th, Real Ale held their 17th anniversary party at their brewery in Blanco, TX. This year they decided to have it in April when it is much more pleasant outside than in previous years when it was held in the middle of the sweltering Texas summer.  The beautiful weather and the promise of FREE beer was a great excuse for a day trip into the hill country to see what the Real Ale 17th Anniversary Party was all about. It didn’t take much convincing to get several people to tag along with me.

The history of Real Ale Brewing Company begins in 1996 when Philip and Diane Conner, along with their son Charles, started brewing their first three beer recipes in the basement of an antique store in the town square of Blanco, TX.  The three beers they began brewing were Full Moon Pale Rye Ale, Rio Blanco Pale Ale and Brewhouse Brown Ale.  All three of these recipes are still brewed today.

Real Ale brewery beer

The Full Moon Pale Rye Ale is an American amber ale with 5.70% alcohol by volume.  This ale is described as “tawny red and full of malt and hops, Full Moon’s unique flavor truly satisfies. The smooth sweetness of malted rye and barley is complemented by generous helpings of Willamette and Cascade hops.” The Rio Blanco Pale Ale is “a uniquely Texan interpretation of an English-style pale ale,” coming in at 5.30% alcohol by volume.  It is described as “deep golden and malty, with a spicy hop flavor and well-balanced hop bitterness.”  It is the 2010 Great American Beer Festival’s Gold Medal winner in the Ordinary or Special Bitter category.  Finally, Brewhouse Brown Ale is their brown ale coming in at 5.40% alcohol by volume.  It is described as “rich and roasty, yet with a dry finish…the perfect companion for a hearty meal.”

In 1998, they sold their brewery to Brad Farbstein, who was a big fan of the Real Ale beers and often found himself in Blanco helping Philip and Charles bottle and label their beers in exchange for taking home some beer of his own.  The year that Brad became owner of Real Ale they brewed 500 barrels of beer.  In 2006, they maxed out the basement space and their 15-barrel system when they brewed 5500 barrels.  Their brewery is much larger now and consists of “a 60-barrel, four-vessel, steam-fired brewhouse capable of producing between 54,000 and 72,000 barrels a year.”

The party was held from 12-5 PM and we arrived at the brewery around 1 PM.  It seemed that word had spread about this once smaller anniversary party as parking was filling up quickly and people were filing in.  We got to the entrance shortly after walking by their bulk silo that holds 50,000 lbs. of 2-Row malted barley.

real ale bulk siloreal ale party entrance

At the entrance we were handed a Real Ale 17th Anniversary booklet.  In it were four drink tickets to use as we wished from the selection of 30 different kinds of beers they had available.  We staked our claim and set up our lawn chairs in an area between the food tent and the warehouse where the beer lines were.  We then headed inside the warehouse to the beer line and quickly realized that Real Ale hadn’t anticipated the popularity of their anniversary party.  The line was insane for the keg and cask-conditioned beer, so we first opted for the canned beer line to quench our thirst with a Hans’ Pils (a 2012 Great American Beer Festival Silver medal winner in the German-Style Pilsner category) and vowed to go back to the giant cask-conditioned and keg line when it looked to have settled down a bit.

real ale hans pils

We settled in our chairs and listened to the band as well as got a bite to eat.  In year’s past, food was free, but this year, they were selling food with proceeds going to the PAWS Shelter and Humane Society.  I didn’t mind paying for the food since it was for a good cause and they were already giving me free beer. The food they offered were the perfect quick bites for coupling with a beer.  The choices included a sausage tortilla wrap, Frito pie or soft pretzel and, of course, the one condiment available was mustard. They had live bands throughout the day as well as brewery tours every 20 minutes.  There was also plenty of Real Ale merchandise for sale from T-shirts to glasses.  We all opted to purchase some pint glasses as you can always use another good pint glass to add to your collection and we decided we could put it to use that day.

four squared dry-hopped aleWe ventured into the warehouse again to check out the beer line and quickly realized that to wait in the long line for the keg and cask-conditioned beers, you needed to first have a beer in hand.  We each got another canned beer from the much shorter canned beer line and then proceeded to wait in the keg and cask-conditioned beer line while happily enjoying our ice cold canned Four Squared, a seasonally-released dry-hopped Ale that I have now spotted in some stores around town in Austin.

Finally, we got through the line and enjoyed a cask-conditioned Firemans 4 which is one of the breweries more popular beers and one of my personal favorites.  When we finally ventured back to the beer line, my fourth selection was the Full Moon Pale Rye Ale, which, along with Firemans 4, is among the seven beers that Real Ale brews year-round. Now, some of you may be thinking I should have tried some more of the harder-to-find or seasonal beers, but I can’t help it… a girl likes what she likes.

Real Ale Pilsner

All and all it was a good time.  Good people watching, good music, good friends, good food and of course, GREAT BEER.

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Circle Brewery Tour

Circle Brewery Kegs

A few weeks ago, Groupon offered a deal for a brewery tour at Circle Brewing here in Austin. For $15, you got a brewery tour package for two, which included two Circle pint glasses with koozies and a self-guided tour. It also technically came with 6 drink tickets (3 each), but Groupon advertises that alcohol isn’t included in the cost of the package.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when the day of the tour came around. The website said we could arrive any time between 1 and 5 pm to take the tour. My friend and I showed up around 2 pm and the place looked packed. They had marked off a huge area in front of the brewery for people to hang out and eat food (available from two local food trucks) and there were quite a few groups of people just standing around. It looked like a carnival that had forgotten all of their rides and games. There wasn’t much of a line though to get in, so we showed our IDs, got our drink tickets and picked out which color koozie we wanted for our pint glass.

Circle Brewing

The Crowd at Circle Brewing

We decided our best bet would be to grab a pint before starting the self-guided tour. Luckily, the line for beer wasn’t very long and the people were pouring pretty quickly. I opted to try the Envy, an amber beer they offer year round, and my friend got the winter brew, Nameless, a winter amber. I definitely preferred Nameless to Envy, though both were very tasty.

Outdoor Beer Station     Pouring the Envy

Once we had our beer, we ventured inside the warehouse to start our tour. There was actually a line for the self-guided tour, which we thought was a little strange, but we jumped in line and waited. At the start of the tour, there were some Self-Guided Tour handouts to explain what you were seeing as you walked by the equipment. The handout included the line:

Please DO NOT TOUCH any tanks, pipes, valves, hoses, etc. Bad things could happen.

An appropriate warning, but just in case you missed it, all of the equipment was also blocked off with yellow tape. It seemed overly cautious to me at first, but I was still on beer #1; who knows what I would have been capable of after beer #3.

Turned out the tour line was completely pointless and only forming because some people had decided to stand and talk in front of the equipment. We stepped out of the line and walked next to it to get glimpses of the equipment. Honestly though, if you’ve been on one brewery tour, you’ve been on them all. What really makes a brewery tour interesting and unique is getting to talk to the actual brewer, ask questions and learn unique things about the brewery. All of that was stripped away on the self-guided tour, which was disappointing, but getting to try the beers made up for it. It turned into more of an afternoon happy hour, which is never a bad thing.

I will say I learned one interesting fact from the tour handout:

It takes us about 2 minutes and 35 seconds to wash a keg, and about 2 minutes and 15 seconds to fill one.

Checkout the gallery for the rest of my pictures from Circle Brewing (Please forgive any blurriness. It isn’t really easy to hold a beer in one hand and take steady pictures with your iPhone in the other.):

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Black Star Co-op Brewery Tour

Black Star Co-op is a fairly new brewery and pub in Austin, TX, and the first co-op brewery in town. Being a co-operative means that the business is owned by the people (or members, in the case of Black Star) and the employees. We decided to check them out by scheduling a brewery tour for Kegerator.com employees that were interested.

One of the first things I learned about Black Star when I arrived is that the employees at the bar don’t accept tips. I ordered my first beer (a Thirsty Goat Amber) and looked around for a tip jar with no luck. I asked the girl who took my order where I could leave a tip, and she informed me that the employees of Black Star all receive living wages. So no tip jars on the bar and no tip line on the receipt. Awesome.

    

A few of us in the group enjoyed a beer as we waited for everyone to arrive and the tour to begin. It’s definitely a nice setup for hanging out with friends, inside or out on the patio.

The tour began with us climbing a ladder to a loft in the brewery room where the grains and mill are stored. We tasted some of the grains on hand and got a quick overview of Black Star’s process. The next part of the tour included two mash tuns where the grains are steeped and 4 fermenters, which each can hold 20 half barrels of beer. The final stop was the cold room where the beer being served at the bar is stored and kept cool.

         

We learned that Black Star never makes the same beer twice; they’re constantly tweaking and improving the recipes, so while the beer might have the same name, there could be subtle changes in the taste.

After the tour, some of us hung around to drink some more, chat, play darts and try some food. The place got fairly crowded in the evening, so there was a bit of a line to order beer or food, but the atmosphere was very relaxed and enjoyable.

I look forward to going back soon and possibly becoming a member. Do you have any co-op breweries near you? Plug them in the comments!

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