craft beer at airports

Where to find great craft beer at airports

Did you know that Orlando International Airport once had an on-site brewery – where you could play darts?

My “At the Airport” column on USA TODAY this month is all about the history of craft beer at airports – and some good choices for where to find it.

In the past, grabbing a beer at the airport meant something generic, sudsy and over-priced. But as the craft beer industry has boomed in towns and cities around the country, it’s now possible to find locally-made brews in just about every airport.

Boston-based Samuel Adams may have started the airport brewpub trend back in 1993, when it opened a branch at Boston Logan International Airport. The company now has 12 airport brewpubs around the country, in Atlanta; Boston, Cincinnati (2); Richmond, VA; Miami, St. Petersburg, and West Palm Beach, FL; Fort Wayne, IN; Charleston, S.C.; Flint, MI; and at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

“As a brewer, I travel a lot and knowing that I can have a taste of home at most airports across the country is something I’ll never take for granted,” said Jim Koch, Found and Brewer of Samuel Adams, “It makes my travels a lot more fun.”

Today, brew pubs such as Cask & Larder offer  up a wide variety of local and regionally-made beer at Orlando International Airport, but in the late 1990s the airport was the first to have a working brewery.

In April, 1997 the Shipyard Brewing Company of Portland, Maine opened a 20-barrel, 5,000-square-foot microbrewery in the airport’s main terminal. Passengers could look thorough 6-foot glass windows, watch beer being produced, and take a self-guided tour along the perimeter of the facility to learn about the workings of the brewery.

There were also two nautically-themed Shipyard Brew Pubs in the airport, offering pub food and games, such as checkers, backgammon and darts (!), along with a half dozen fresh-brewed beers.

“Back then, finding good beer anywhere was difficult and there no security matters at the airport to worry about, so I had no reservations about making the trip from Tampa to Orlando to experience the coolness of a brewery inside of an airport,” said Gregg Rottler, creator of the Flights from Hell website.

But the brewery didn’t last that long.

“Our 5 year lease ended just after 9/11 and the [airport] administration at the time decided that they would rather move in the direction of a food court instead of a brewery due to the times we were in,” said Fred Forsley, Shipyard Brewing Company owner and CEO, “We were replaced by a Quiznos, and we are still bummed about it.”

Modern day airport brewpubs  

Today, it’s a rare airport that doesn’t have a brewpub on site or a few restaurants and bars with a good selection of local beers on tap – or in cans. And not all beers have to be consumed on site: in Memphis International, Nashville International and a handful of other airports, travelers can get a craft beer (or other adult beverage) in a to-go cup to drink it as they walk through the concourses or hang out at the gate. And at Nashville airport’s Yazoo Beer Cart and some other airport brewpubs, passengers can purchase six-packs and, in some cases, fresh-filled growlers of local craft beer to take home.

While far from complete, here are some airport brewpubs where a delay offers a great excuse to order up a pint.

At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Flying Dog Tap House  on Concourse A not only offers a variety of what it calls a “life-changing” selection of beers, but a menu where some of the dishes incorporate signature Flying Dog beers.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, the Goose Island Bar (Terminal 1, Concourse B; there are two others as well) is a horseshoe gathering spot in the middle of the concourse. Beers on tap focus on brews that reflect the local region, such as the Chicago-inspired 312 Urban Wheat Ale and the Green Line Pale Ale.

Year-round, there’s plenty of Colorado craft beer served at the New Belgium Hub (Concourse B), the Boulder Beer Tap House (Jeppesen Terminal) and many other pubs and restaurants in Denver International Airport, but from September 28 to October 9 the airport will be hosting its fourth annual “Beer Flights” beer garden from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily in the outdoor plaza between the Jeppesen Terminal and Westin Denver International Airport.  10 Colorado breweries will be represented with two beers each. A $10 beer garden ticket includes a souvenir glass and ten, 2-ounce samples of beer.


In Leinenkugel’s Leinie Lodge on Concourse D at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport there are self-serve beer taps where travelers can pour their own beer from Wisconsin’s Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company.

There are more on the way, but currently more than a half dozen venues, including the Country Cat and Rouge Ales (which sells bottles and growlers to go) pour local craft beers at Portland International Airport.

Elsewhere, you’ll find Core Brewery represented at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, Caps Beer Garden in United’s Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport, the just-opened Germantown Biergarten at Philadelphia International Airport and, at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, plenty of local beers served up at Landry’s, The Local, Ember, the American Craft Tavern and Mockingbird Distillery.

In October, Southbound Brewing Company will open a pre-security taproom at Georgia’s Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.

And by the end this year, Cigar City Brewing Company will reopen in its new location at Florida’s Tampa International Airport and regain the title of the country’s only in-airport brewery, with several exclusive-to-the-airport beers alongside the Tampa-style Cuban food on the menu.

Have some favorite spots to grab a beer at the airport? Add it in the comments section below.