The 6 Best Craft Breweries in the Midwest
PHOTO: A row of beer glasses, ripe for cuisine pairings. (Photo via Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski)
Fans of good beer know that there are few things better than visiting the actual breweries that make them. It’s almost a pilgrimage of sorts—especially in the craft beer scene.
Going to the source and getting the beer straight from the tap (or freshly canned/bottled) is basically a right of passage in the transformation between beer enjoyer and beer enthusiast.
The beer is fresh. The taste is as it’s meant to be. If there’s a tour, there’s also the thrill of seeing how it’s made. Many breweries try to make a trip to the “motherland” an experience, so there’s often food, a bar with your favorite beers on tap, and generally some merch to take home.
For the beer enthusiast who also is a travel enthusiast, making a road trip to a brewery makes sense.
Surly Brewing Co. Minneapolis, MN
Surly Brewing Co. produces some of the best beer available in the Midwest, but depending on where you are, your only option may be to get it from the source.
This brewery started in 2005 by a home brewer named Omar and his partner, Todd Haug, so it has local and homebrew roots. That’s normally a sign of good, craft beer. The brewery and brand really started taking off between 2011 and 2013. Now, it’s one of the best destination breweries in America.
It has a beer hall with 25 beers on tap—including favorites like Todd The Axe Man and Abrasive Ale. It also has a Brewer’s table, event spaces and a tour of the large, mass-producing brewery.
Founder’s Brewing Co. Grand Rapids, MI
Grand Rapids is well worth the visit on its own. It’s a medium-sized city with a beautiful downtown area, an awesome art museum and many coffee shops and restaurants you should check out.
It’s also becoming known for its bustling craft beer scene, with Founder’s operating of the Godfather of that scene. They make some of the best beer around, and it may be some of the best beer not just in the Midwest, but in the entire United States.
Founders has an awesome, modernly styled, wood-adorned taproom that overlooks the brewery, and the patio is a great place to grab a beer or some food on a cool summer night in Western Michigan. They have a deli menu that ranges from hot pretzels to Reuben sandwiches, and of course, there’s the beer—the real main attraction.
Founders features year-round beers like All Day IPA and Dirty Bastard. Its seasonals and specials (like Breakfast Stout) are must-have when you can find them.
New Glarus Brewing. New Glarus, WI
If you know anything about Midwestern beer, you’ve certainly heard of New Glarus. Based in Wisconsin, it’s a staple in the state and the surrounding areas. If you’re somehow able to get it in a place it’s usually not, generally, it’s advisable to get as much as possible.
New Glarus beer is that good.
Of course, you could visit and have as much as you want as well.
Dan Carey is the is the Co-owner and Brewmaster of New Glarus, and you know he takes his beer seriously because he has a Diploma in it. He could basically call himself Dr. Beer.
His brewery has a free self-guided tour or a hard hat tour if you’re really into the nitty gritty of brewing. That’s on Friday’s at 1:00 PM, so plan your trip accordingly. Of course, New Glarus has a tasting room that includes three samples and a commemorative glass for eight dollars. As a bonus, if you’re in the military and have your ID, the tasting is free.
Year-round favorites from New Glarus include Spotted Cow and Moon Man. The brewery also offers specialty and seasonal beers. So, overall, there’s a little something for everybody.
READ MORE The Best Beers To Try on Each Continent
3 Floyds Brewing Co. Munster, IN
Based in small-town Munster, Indiana, 3 Floyds makes some of the best beer on the planet.
These are hard-hitting beers with a ton of flavor and sometimes a ton of ABV%. Necron 99 is a year-long IPA that checks in with 7.3 ABV% and a 61 IBU. Gumballhead is a citrusy wheat beer with plenty of taste and a surprising 5.6 ABV%
The king of 3 Floyds is Zombie Dust, which is year-round but is incredibly hard to find because it sells out so fast. It’s a smooth, hopped-up Pale Ale with a 6.2 ABV% and IBU of 50. It’s a treat to drink and well worth to trip to Munster all by itself.
The really cool and unique part about 3 Floyds is that it literally has a pickup window where you can buy six-packs and cases of your favorite beer. They keep the list of available beers updated online (keep an eye out for ZD!) but you can also stay awhile and enjoy their brewpub, which features tap beer and food.
Sun King Brewing. Indianapolis, IN.
Located right near downtown Indianapolis, Sun King is a destination brewery that’s perfect if you’re staying downtown or even just stopping through on your way somewhere else. It’s located in an industrial area right off the highway but still just a quick drive from downtown.
Sun King has been around since 2009, specializing in craft beer that’s mostly found in the surrounding areas. It’s pretty hard to find outside of Indianapolis, so a trip to the actual brewery is worth it.
There’s no food service, but you can bring food inside and sit at one of the tables. The tasting room is actually right inside and next to the brewery, so it’s basically like you’re sitting there drinking straight from the source itself. Sun King has a big tap supply lined up and a wall fridge near the entrance for those looking to take a four-pack or two home with them.
Sun King has a handful of seasonal and even monthly specialties that are all the rage when released. That list includes GFJ (Grapefruit Jungle) in June and the different colors/taste of Fistful of Hops every quarter. They also have in-house tap specialties by the month, a King’s reserve series, and a small-batch series.
Unique, flavorful beer is what Sun King does, and a stop in at its brewery has become an integral part of any trip to Indy.
Narrow Gauge Brewing Company. Florissant, MO
St. Louis is a city known for beer, but it’s increasingly becoming known also for craft beer. Right north of the city is perhaps some of the best flavor you’ll ever find from a brewery.
Narrow Gauge is a small brewery located in the basement of an Italian restaurant/bar, Cugino’s.
First of all, Cugino’s food is excellent, so even if you’re not into beer, it’s worth checking out. The fried meatballs are excellent, and the burgers and sandwiches are some of the best in the Midwest.
The same thing can be said about the beer.
Narrow Gauge is only a 3-barrel brew house, and the beer can only be found at Cugino’s. They specialize in packaging up some nice looking crowlers. Of course, you can also have a pint or two with your meal.
Fallen Flag American IPA is a fruity, flavorful beverage that checks in at 7.0% ABV and is worth checking out. Cloud City is another Narrow Gauge beer that’s incredibly good. Like Fallen Flag, it’s a 7% ABV American IPA, but it’s dry hopped with Citra, Mosaic, Galaxy and El Dorado.
Great food plus great beer equals a great time in North St. Louis.