Eight Best Brewery Tours

Tours at top microbreweries in the West offer a peek behind the scenes—and samples, too.

Anchor Brewing giant kettles, San Francisco, Calif., image

Artisan ales take shape in Anchor Brewing’s giant kettles.

The air is heavy with a sweet malt aroma, the bottling line’s clinking fills the room, and froth is rising in vats of fermenting ale. Go ahead—breathe deeply and say aah. After three decades of growth, craft brewing in the United States is booming, with the brewery count at a 110-year high. Factory tours can be varied and informative. Here are six favorites, all of them free.

  • The ale made by Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco may have gotten the name steam beer in the 1800s when the hot mix of raw ingredients—syrupy malt and flavorings—could be seen steaming as it cooled on the roof. Today’s version, heated in specialized copper kettles that visitors view during tours, also steams as it cools—these days in a sanitary room. A tasting follows. (415) 863-8350, anchorbrewing.com.
  • Participants in the tasting and tour at the Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Ore., visit the fermentation cellar, where ales take shape in stainless steel vats, and inspect the sensory tasting room, where employees learn to detect key flavors and aromas in the brewery’s latest products. (541) 385-8606, deschutesbrewery.com.
  • At Full Sail Brewing Company’s converted cannery in Hood River, Ore., visitors follow the beer from its locally sourced ingredients to the signature stubby bottles of Session Lager. Guides reveal how the company manages to make a gallon of beer using just three gallons of water when other breweries need as many as 10. (541) 386-2247, fullsailbrewing.com.
  • After an easygoing tour, visitors to Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, Calif., can order the week’s Freakin’ Firkin limited release—perhaps a pale ale scented with elder flowers—at the taproom and hear live music in the warm-season amphitheater. (707) 769-4495, lagunitas.com.
  • Follow your folly is the motto at New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo., which employs a full-time director of fun. The brewery’s good spirits are in evidence during tours, which are led by wisecracking guides and include a trip down a slide. (800) 622-4044, newbelgium.com.
  • Visitors to Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, Calif., get to taste the ready-to-ferment ingredients and can stop by the freezer of fresh hops to smell differences between varieties of the essential flavoring. (530) 893-3520, sierranevada.com.
  • Visitors to the Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau, Alaska, pass through hose-lined hallways, admire a collection of beer bottles from around the world, and sip free samples of old favorites and limited-edition brews. (907) 780-5866, alaskanbeer.com.
  • Grand Teton Brewing Company in Victor, Idaho, makes an asset of its small size. Casual tours start when customers arrive and include a chat with a brewer—if one is on the floor—and a look at the bottling line. Free tastings in the pub may feature such brewery-only experiments as bacon-infused stout or saison, a fresh, spiced Belgian-style ale. (888) 899-1656, grandtetonbrewing.com.

Photography by Terrence McCarthy/Anchor Brewing Co.

This article was first published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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