Any time a beer tourist comes to Brooklyn, there’s always one place they want to go: Other Half. Well why wouldn’t they? Other Half was one of the earliest masters of the New England-style IPA and for about, oh, the last 200 Saturdays, there’s been a line of beer geeks wrapping around their Carroll Gardens block, waiting to buy cases of cans. There’s no question, Other Half is great and any visitor to my fair city should want to go there.
But the funny thing is...most of my Brooklyn-based beer-drinking buddies rarely go there any more. It’s too busy, too crowded, too stressful, too been-there-done that. In fact, you can usually find the real locals around the corner at a brewery you probably haven’t heard of: Folksbier Brauerei.
Which got me thinking, every time I travel to a new city that is not my own, I must be mindlessly going to their “Other Half” (highly-acclaimed, but overhyped mob scene) instead of digging deeper to find their “Folksbier” (chill, under-the-radar spot that locals love). Thus, I set out to ask beer friends in several major cities, “Forget about the hype, where do the locals go?”
Gets all the hype: Other Half Brewing Co.
The locals go to: Folksbier Brauerei
In many ways, Folksbier is an antidote to Other Half and the modern beer scene in general. Opened a couple years back with an ethos of crafting technically-sound “old world” styles, even today Travis Kauffman’s brewery will mostly offer highly-crushable lagers on tap when you visit. One of the most gorgeous tasting rooms you’ll ever see, it could be a showroom for hand-carved wood furniture, with a one-of-a-kind bar, tap-handles, branded stools and a bathroom that still smells like a sawmill. Alas, Folksbier isn’t fully stuck back in time—they can roll out a top-notch hazy slash hoppy beer if need, and their stellar Berliner weisse series, Glow-Up, comes in geek-friendly cans.
Gets all the hype: Trillium Brewing Co.
The locals go to: Lamplighter Brewing Co.
Trillium is one of the most ballyhooed breweries in the country, and well-deserved. It’s so popular it can have two brewery locations, plus a seasonal beer garden, and still not have enough beer to go around. If even locals struggle to get into Trillium sometimes, at the least they can comfort themselves with plenty of other breweries like Night Shift and Aeronaut, that beer tourists mostly don’t know about. In Cambridge, Lamplighter’s year-old spot is also highly-focused on local support with everybody from nearby college kids to area families filling the space. While Lamplighter makes the necessary pilsners and NEIPAs, they also focus a lot of effort on Brettanomyces-backed beers like Leopard King, a Brett pale ale.
Gets all the hype: Tired Hands Brewing Co.
The locals go to: Second District Brewing Co.
It doesn’t even matter that Tired Hands isn’t in Philadelphia proper. Jean Broillet’s Ardmore spot is so popular, geeks have lined up lawn chairs (without sitting in them) in order to land his Milkshake IPAs. No one disputes Tired Hands’ greatness—there’s a reason they have two bustling locations—but a lot of city-dwellers have started skipping a SEPTA to the suburbs to stay in South Philadelphia. Set just a couple miles from Lincoln Financial Field, the brewery, located in a former tool-sharpening shop, opened in just early 2017. The doors to the tasting room come up at 11 a.m. daily and stay open until 2 a.m. most nights, giving locals in the know ample time to sip on Second District’s many experimental beers like Huy, a Vietnamese coffee stout. Of course, its in-town popularity might have a simpler explanation, which will bring us full circle. As one local explained, “Head brewer Ben Potts is a former Tired Hands guy. Instant street cred.”
Gets all the hype: The Alchemist
The locals go to: Foam Brewers
In a way, Vermont has become the most hyped beer place on planet earth. Even today, no brewery is more hyped than a (former) little business just outside of Burlington, but now in Stowe, whose Heady Topper changed the beer world. If the Alchemist inadvertently stumbled upon the recipe that Juicy IPAs plus 16 oz. cans equals money-clutching nerds in line, the rest of the world quickly followed suit. Heady, as well as their other world-class beers like Focal Banger, are now easier to find in Burlington, yet people are still making pilgrimages to the Green Mountain State to stock up. That’s unfortunate, as locals know there’s a lot of great off-the-radar breweries there these days. None more so than Foam Brewers, actually in downtown Burlington, in a historic brick building right off Lake Champlain. Started in 2016, Foam’s roomy taproom offers juicy IPAs every bit as good as the state’s more famed purveyors, while also producing killer wild ales, sours and even pilsners.
Gets all the hype: Bissell Brothers Brewing Co.
The locals go to: Oxbow Blending & Bottling
Maine’s biggest city has a beer market much more mature than its size. Allagash is the big dog, of course, and of-the-moment beer geeks who visit are drawn to the long lines at Bissell Brothers’ taproom, where even getting something on draught can be a chore. Meanwhile, across town—about only a ten minute drive, this is Portland after all—sits a quieter local scene. The urban location sets the stage for this upstate farmhouse brewery. Here, Oxbow blends their funky, tart and avant-garde beers. The crowd is more relaxed, with twenty-somethings playing board games and older folks sipping pilsners while chasing around their children, and many of the city’s best restaurants, like Duckfat, offer pop-ups at the brewery.
Gets all the hype: Half Acre Beer Company
The locals go to: Forbidden Root Restaurant & Brewery
Unlike a lot of the other cities featured here, Chicago doesn’t really have a brewery where geeks line up for “freshies” of “juice.” In town you have Goose Island, of course, whose Bourbon County Brand Stout remains a nationwide phenomenon. Meanwhile, the ’burbs has 3 Floyds, perhaps the progenitor of the rare beer release. When most tourists hit town, however, Half Acre and one of their two taprooms is where everyone usually heads first. But such a diverse and growing beer scene means many other spots are still only locally know. Off Color’s Mousetrap tap room burst on the scene late last year. But the real trendsters are visiting an offbeat spot most out-of-towners haven’t heard of. Forbidden Root started as an all-botanical brewery, making a rootbeer beer before that was a thing. Today, however, they’re crushing hazy IPA can releases as well as unique and interesting botanical beers like Fernetic, an imperial black ale collaboration with Fernet-Branca. “The experimentation they’re doing and the flavors they’re wrangling, draws a diverse crowd of people,” one local told me. “It’s not just beer people who pack the place out.”
Gets all the hype: Monkish Brewing Co.
The locals go to: Cellador Ales (sorta)
One of the few west coast breweries that can get hours-long lines for their NEIPAs, Monkish has become the LA-area’s most geek-friendly spot. But locals are increasingly avoiding that Torrance spot for the newer and less-known. Cellador is a blendery in North Hills producing 100% oak-barrel fermented mixed-culture brews. As one local told me, “While I love what (the more famous) Beachwood is doing at their own blendery, Cellador is arguably doing it better and at a better price point with far less experience.” Unfortunately, they’ve had some permitting issues which keeps their tap room closed, but they do have a membership program for bottles like Lady Lay, a blended sour aged in red wine puncheons with Rainier cherries. Likewise, savvy sippers follow the Cellador show are the city to the numerous events they have been holding at bottle shops and bar, while waiting for bureaucracy to allow them to open. Maybe they will be known nationwide by then...
Gets all the hype: Modern Times
The locals go to: Second Chance Brewing
San Diego is one of the true beer meccas of this country, with some of the biggest names in craft stationed there—Stone, AleSmith, Ballast Point and Modern Times. There’s an equally impressive groundswell of smaller breweries most visitors might not be aware of, like Mike Hess Brewing, Rip Current and Bagby. While one local noted that the three aforementioned all are “known for having exceptional reputations, outstanding beer, and some notable accomplishments in the last year,” she leaned toward Second Chance for its top-notch “beer lounge” in the trendy North Park neighborhood. Owned by Marty Mendiola, a former head brewer at Rock Bottom, who brews both classic styles and hybrid beers, like a coffee IPA. His Tabula Rasa Toasted Porter has won back-to-back gold medals at GABF, meaning, pretty soon it might be more than locals landing there.