Christian DeBenedetti has built a career out of beer. Back in college, he published homebrew guides in the school paper and when he graduated, he won a Watson Fellowship (similar to a Fulbright) and lit out for Europe and West Africa where he toured and apprenticed in the brewing cultures of 14 countries. But he’s spent the years since hunting the best brews here in the States, and his new book The Great American Ale Trail—with an elegant preface from Brooklyn Brewery’s own Garrett Oliver—is the Road Food of craft brewing, a 368-page state-by-state guide to over 400 of the best breweries, beer bars, bottle shops, brew fests and beer-forward eateries from Boston to Austin, from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon.
Keep a copy in your suitcase, and wherever life takes you it will keep you in superlative suds, from a lobster pound-equipped brewpub in Maine to an artisanal operation in Oregon, and from a swank Thomas Keller restaurant in Beverly Hills to bayou brewpubs in rural Louisiana. He highlights eminently drivable brewery pilgrimages (take a designated driver, of course), but even if you stay close to home, the book is worth its weight in hops just for its coverage in the Empire State, from classic Lower East Side watering holes to the Belgian farm-house stylings of Ommegang up in Cooperstown.
DeBenedetti, a longtime Cobble Hill resident who was just crowned Food & Wine’s first Beer Correspondent, gives Brooklyn brew its due, showcasing places like South Slope’s Mission Dolores; Williamsburg’s Spuyten Duyvil; even the dilapidated Carroll Gardens institution Gowanus Yacht Club and Red Hook’s timeless tavern, Sunny’s. DeBenedetti’s task was daunting: There are now close to 1,800 craft breweries and brewpubs in America, plus hundreds upon hundreds of sophisticated craft beer bars, and new ventures opening almost weekly. We’re living in what DeBenedetti calls a “new golden age of beer,” but instead of writing an encyclopedia, he wrote an ode to the very best destinations, the distant taps worth cashing in miles and vacation time in order to taste. He even makes a compelling case for visiting Alaska—and in mid-January, no less.
“I hope that with this book you’ll begin your own search,” writes DeBenedetti. “The only question: Where to go first?”
Photo credit: Megan Flynn.