Chefs and other experts pick the best beers from 28 cities across America

Chefs and other experts pick the best beers from 28 cities across America
The bottling line at the Back Forty Beer Brewery in Gadsden bottles its Truck Stop Honey. (Bernard Troncale / Alabama NewsCenter)

To all the beer drinkers out there, there’s good news and bad news.

Bad news first: The beer market has been slowing down. At least Goldman Sachs thinks so. This spring, the firm downgraded the stocks of Boston Beer Co. and Corona’s parent company, Constellation Brands.

On the positive side, the number of breweries in the U.S. had risen to 4,656 as of last October. That means there’s more opportunity than ever to get your hands on a singular local draught, one that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else and that shows off the creative genius that has made the craft beer market so thrilling over the past dozen years.

From well-packaged cans, to bottles, to tap beers with clever names, here are favorites chosen by chefs, bartenders, sommeliers and other restaurant professionals – people who are surrounded by these beers on the job and seek them out as soon as they’re done with work.

Midwest

Chicago

Beer: Le Woof Biere de Garde from Off Color Brewing

Major Fan: Paul Kahan, chef and partner of One Off Hospitality, which includes the crowd-pleasing Publican tavern. “It’s hard to pick a favorite, they’re all good. [Co-founder] John Laffler has incredible knowledge and knows how to make super-balanced, delicious beers” – such as this big, French-style pale ale with malty, caramel flavor and 7.3 percent alcohol by volume that packs a punch. “They’re a breath of fresh air compared to all the hoppiness you see in so many craft brews right now.”

 

Minneapolis

Beer:  Wonderstuff from Bauhaus Brew Labs

Major Fan:  Robb Jones, bartender at the farmhouse restaurant Spoon & Stable. “With the staggering amount of breweries that have opened in our area in the last decade, the best thing to do as a local beer drinker is to visit some taprooms. One of my favorites is Bauhaus. Their Wonderstuff is a Pilsner that pairs particularly well with our entire bar menu. It’s our go-to for someone looking for a beer like a Stella Artois. It’s so good with a cheese curd-stuffed brat.”

Indianapolis

Beer: Ottermelon Gose from Central State

Major Fan: Jonathan Brooks, chef/owner of hip diner Milktooth. “The Ottermelon is a Leipziger-style gose, on the tart side with a great balance of sweetness and salt. This beer reminds me of being a kid in the summers, dipping my watermelon slices in salt from my pocket, and spitting out the seeds onto the sidewalk in front of my neighbor’s house.”

 

St. Louis

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Beer: Derivation, a barrel-aged imperial stout series from Side Project Brewing

Major Fan: Kevin Nashan, chef/owner of New American powerhouse Sidney Street Café. “These big beers are dark and complex and a fun challenge to pair with food. In particular, I love Double Barrel Derivation, which was aged in Willet bourbon barrels – I’m also a huge bourbon fan – and then in port wine barrels. Derivation releases are very limited, which makes these beers even more special.”

 

Kansas City, Missouri

Beer: Radical Candor from Martin City Brewing Co.

Major Fan: James Beard-winning chef Colby Garrelts of elegant Bluestem. “I recently had a few Radical Candor IPAs, and they’re a fantastic Double IPA. Martin City Brewing is a tiny little brewery in a very, very small municipality in south K.C. They are making some impressive beers.”

 

Grand Rapids, Michigan

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Beer: Angelina from Brewery Vivant

Major Fan: Emily Shaieb, manager of upcoming steakhouse Prime + Proper. “Vivant has mastered the art of Belgian- and French-style beers unique to our state. Angelina is a wood-barrel-aged sour ale, part of their Plein De Vie ‘Full of Life’ Series – wild fermentation and wood aging in a heavenly marriage of funk and toasted oak. It has bright, fruit flavors like tart cherry and strawberry combined with black pepper, brioche and brown sugar; it’s fruity, funky, yeasty, malty and mildly acidic all at once. In my opinion, it is a beer for even those who aren’t beer lovers.”

 

South

Gadsden

Beer: Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale from Back Forty Beer Co.

Major Fan: Executive chef Rob McDaniel of the modern Southern restaurant SpringHouse. “This is a delicious local beer that’s brewed with Alabama wildflower honey. It’s a good all-around, easy-drinking beer for all occasions.”

Back Forty Beer Co. is a golden-brewed gateway from Gadsden to the world from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

 

Hillsborough, North Carolina

Beer: The Golden Hind from Mystery Brewing

Major Fan: Jamie DeMent, owner of tomato specialists Coon Rock Farm. “The offerings change by season, but they always have the Golden Hind, an American pale ale whose hop content changes seasonally. The summer version is fruity and almost tropical, and the fall version has an herbal quality that brings to mind roasting fires.”

 

Raleigh, North Carolina

Beer: Cloudsurfer from Trophy Brewing Co.

Major Fan: John May, executive chef of seasonally focused Piedmont. “Trophy Brewing’s Cloudsurfer is a New England-style IPA brewed in Raleigh and only released about four times a year. With my hectic schedule in the kitchen at Piedmont, I never know when that next release is coming, but I always get so excited when I see that it’s available. Cloudsurfer is hazy, juicy and delivers a good amount of hop without being bitter. It’s an awesome food beer, but it’s also bold enough to enjoy on its own.”

 

Athens

Beer: The Reclaimed Rye from Creature Comforts Brewing Co.

Major Fan: Executive chef Richard Neal of inspired Southern destination 5 & 10. “Reclaimed Rye is by far the best staple beer Creature Comforts has on hand, and you can really only get it on tap at the brewery. It’s the redheaded stepchild we should pay more attention to. And it goes with pretty much anything you want in the moment, from a pumpernickel everything bagel from Ideal Bagel Co. on Broad Street to a pork taco.”

 

Austin

Beer: Tejas Clara from Big Bend Brewing Co.

Major Fan: Bartender Sun McColgin from music venue Sahara Lounge. “Drinking in Austin is all about keeping cool and simple. Big Bend’s beers, more than most craft beers, truly embody the place where they come from. Just like West Texas, they are totally unpretentious, yet complex and interesting. And the Clara in particular has a light crisp flavor that always tastes great, even when it’s over 100 degrees outside – and it’s usually over 100 degrees outside.”

 

San Antonio

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Beer: Gold Export Lager and Koalas, Cocker Spaniels and Unicorns from Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery

Major Fan: Andres Rizo, the culinary concierge at the grand Hotel Emma. “Southerleigh is our next-door neighbor, so of course it’s our go-to for local beer. Some of our favorites include Gold Export Lager, a clean, full bodied Dortmunder-style German lager. Another really unique one that we like is Koalas, Cocker Spaniels and Unicorns, with whimsical cucumber raspa gose, some watermelon notes and tamarind. It’s a lot of fun to drink and very unique to San Antonio.”

 

Dallas

Beer: Freaky Deaky from Oak Highland Brewery

Major Fan: Anna Pereda, beverage manager of the fine dining French Room at the Adolphus. “Freaky Deaky is one of my favorite locals. It is a Belgian Tripel brewed right down the street from us. Really great rendition of a Belgian with a higher American hops level than most traditional recipes. It’s also sitting at 10 percent ABV, so it definitely packs a punch.”

 

New Orleans

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Beer: Blonde Ale from NOLA Brewing Co.

Major Fan: John Besh, chef/owner of New Orleans’s famed Restaurant August. “New Orleans has long been a beer town. After all, who’d dispute the fact that a beer is the best pairing with oysters on the half shell, or for that matter, a heaping bowl of spicy gumbo. NOLA’s blonde ale is my favorite because it’s such a food-friendly beer. It’s light and crisp with a bold hoppy finish, perfect for all of the above, plus a soft shell crab po’ boy finished with lots of Tabasco sauce.”

 

Miami

Beer: El Jefe from J Wakefield Brewing

Major Fan: Michael Schwartz, chef/owner of the modern American Michael’s Genuine. “I will always recommend El Jefe. It’s a cloudy, golden Berliner Weisse with a tart lemony hit of flavor.”

 

West

San Francisco

Beer: Villager IPA from Fort Point Beer Co.

Major Fan: Shelley Lindgren, co-owner and wine director of casual Italian spot A16. “Fort Point is named after the former military fort under the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The IPA almost drinks like a pilsner with its Northwest hops and contemporary yeasts, giving it flavors of lemon peel, nectarines and wildflowers. The Villager is by far our most popular beer as it is local; it’s made within a mile distance from A16.”

 

Los Angeles

Beer: 1903 Lager and Poppyfields English Pale Ale from Craftsman Brewing

Major Fan: Caroline Styne, co-owner and sommelier of the elegant modern Californian restaurant Lucques. “They’re based in Pasadena and their beers are well-made, balanced, delicious and truly artisanal. I’m a particular fan of their 1903 lager, which is bright, fresh and crisp but super flavorful. And I love their Poppyfields English Pale Ale with its caramel notes, creamy texture and balanced tannic structure.”

 

San Diego

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Beer: Murklands from Pure Project Brewing

Major Fan: Trey Foshee, chef and co-owner of ambitious oceanside restaurant George’s at the Cove. “Pure Project is one of the newer kids on the block that not only support sustainability, but also create well-balanced and flavorful beers. Murky unfiltered IPAs are kind of a trend right now, and Pure Project does one of the best that I and my team have tasted.”

 

Portland, Oregon

Beer: Fumé de Miel part Deux from Culmination Brewing

Major Fan: Matthew Jarrell, chef de cuisine of the grill-centric Imperial. “I have collaborated on multiple brews with head brewer Conrad Andrus. Part Deux is a French farmhouse saison with our rooftop honey that I had smoked for 20 hours on hazelnut shells and an infusion of fennel bulb. Culmination brewery shares the building with a company that makes colorful socks, so it’s the authentic Portland experience.”

 

Seattle

Beer: Cool Story IPA and Not My Favorite IPA from Cloudburst Brewing

Major Fan: Brian Dalbey, beer director at the bustling pub Brave Horse. “Cloudburst specializes in Northwest-centric beer and produces mostly one-off, hop-heavy beers. Our recent favorite was Cool Story IPA. Another was Not My Favorite IPA. Supposedly a guest commented that he liked the new IPA, but it wasn’t his favorite. The folks at Cloudburst realized this was the perfect name to not so subtly jab at the snobby element of the beer community here. Cloudburst is located just north of the Pike Place Market. They are rogue, laid-back and recognize their own talent much like the city of Seattle itself.”

 

Denver/Boulder

Beer: Joe’s Pils from Avery Brewing Co.

Major Fan: Bobby Stuckey, co-owner of renowned Friulian restaurant Frasca Food & Wine. “Avery is the grandaddy of the grandaddy of the Boulder brewing scene; Joe’s is my favorite local beer. I like to wash it down with house-made Frasca potato chips, of course.”

 

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Beer: Heyzeus from Melvin Brewing

Major Fan: Chef Paulie O’Connor of meat-centric Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse. “As a longtime head chef in Jackson Hole, I am a big fan of Melvin Brewing. While I love their hoppier offerings, the recent release of Heyzeus is one drinkable beer. It is great to have a few after a long day in the kitchen. Very sessionable, light-bodied. I like to add a slice of lime.”

 

Las Vegas

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Beer: SuperBloom from Crafthaus Brewery

Major Fan:  Mariena Mercer, head mixologist for the groovy, boutique-styled Cosmopolitan hotel. “People don’t always associate Las Vegas with craft beers, but breweries like this help put us on the map. My favorite brew is the SuperBloom, a citrus-driven hoppy white IPA with toasted coriander and fruity Belgian esters. It is sessionable and refreshing and has a dreamy quality to it, just like the phenomenon it is named after, in which wildflowers take over our dry desert landscapes for a brief window of time.”

 

East

New York

Beer: IPA from Other Half Brewing

Major Fan: Beverage director Juliet De Rose of barbecue joint Blue Smoke. “We only feature domestic beers that are local or from the South at Blue Smoke. The Other Half is only available in New York. They specialize in brewing funky IPAs, so going to their Brooklyn taproom to try different brews is quite the experience.”

 

Boston

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Beer: Zwickel from Notch Brewery & Tap Room

Major Fan: Tony Maws, chef/owner of the innovative bistro Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Mass. “Notch Brewery in Salem isn’t super fancy, but wicked good, old-world-style, session beers. Easy drinking, not overhopped and delicious. It’s a great beer after a busy kitchen shift. Their classic Pils is always good, but I just did a pop-up at their biergarten, and the Zwickel, a German pale lager, was super tasty.”

 

Portland, Maine

Beer: Afterglow IPA from Foundation Brewing Co.

Major Fan Brian Hill, chef/owner of the charming, local-ingredient-focused Francine Bistro. “My favorite after work beer is the aptly named Afterglow IPA from those genius brewers at Foundation. It’s nutty, super clean and refreshing. Just a really impressive IPA in a sea of not-so-shiny ones. And it has a good name.”

 

Washington, D.C.

Beer: Kick.Kick.Snare Berliner Weisse from Right Proper

Major Fan: Tim Linaberry, assistant general manager at modern bistro DBGB DC. “This sour has mouth-puckering appeal. The lemon and citrus notes make it very food-friendly. It would go great with almost any kind of seafood such as some Chesapeake oysters. The low ABV also allows for this brew to be imbibed all day long.”

 

Baltimore

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Beer: Beazly Golden Ale from The Brewer’s Art

Major Fan: Alex Zink, co-owner of mid-Atlantic-focused tavern the Dabney. “The Brewer’s Art is located in Baltimore but has a dedicated following in D.C., too. Their Beazly Golden Ale is a serious beer that manages to drink clean but rich at the same time. It’s pretty easy to drink but also has a sneakily high ABV, so drink carefully.”

 

(Contact the author at [email protected].)

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