MILWAUKEE, Wis. (TheStreet) -- Beer as a vacation is usually a bad idea that warrants an intervention, but American craft brewers have managed to make their brews and breweries worthy of a trip.
Craft brewing grew 11% by volume and 12% in sales to $7.6 billion last year, according to the Brewers Association.More than 1,750 breweries operated for some or all of that year, giving the U.S. its largest pool of breweries since the late 1800s. Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, estimates that the majority of Americans live less than 10 miles from a brewery. Why not call a cab and take a tour?
In many cases, a craft brewery opens its tours to the public either for free or for less than the cost of a pint at a local pub. When it's free, that usually means free beer, but even when a visitor pays it usually means they're going home with a glass or some other knickknack along with some free beer for their troubles.
It's a growing field, too, as last year 55 brewpubs and 97 microbreweries opened for business. Existing craft brewers are also getting bigger, with Yuengling (6.6%), Samuel Adams (11.8%) and North American Brewing (owner of Magic Hat, Anchor Brewing and Gennessee -- 6.8%) all experiencing growth last year.
With lots of options to choose from and only a few summer months to work with, TheStreet narrowed down its craft beer travel guide to a 10-pack of must-see destinations. Enjoy responsibly:
Full Sail Brewery, Hood River, Ore.
It's really tough to go wrong with a brewery tour in Oregon. A beer lover could spend a whole vacation taking a tour of the state's largest beer maker, Deschutes Brewery, and tasting its Inversion IPA at the brewpub in Bend; visiting Deschutes' Portland-based brewpub after checking out the facilities at the Craft Brewers Alliance's Widmer Brewing, nearby BridgePort Brewing or the MacTarnahan's Taproom; or knocking back some Dead Guy Ale at any of the Rogue Ales Brewery "meeting rooms."
If you really want to get a taste of Oregon while sampling some of its finest brews, there's no place like Full Sail Brewery. Within viewing distance of Mount Hood, where it gets its spring water, and located in an old Diamond Fruits cannery overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, the Full Sail Brewery tour is less about seeing how the beer is made and more about enjoying it in the environment that inspired it. The tasting room and pub is stocked with Full Sail's pale ales and seasonal lagers, but also has a large deck looking out on the gorge. Out there are the sailboarders and kiteboarders that gave the brewery its name, catching a ride on the breezes whipping through it.
"Many of my faves are those that are almost anywhere in Portland, Ore. -- but especially Full Sail, just outside it, in Hood River," says Matt Simpson, owner of The Beer Sommelier and TheBeerExpert.com. "On a pretty summer day, it's gorgeous -- great beer and an amazing view."