If you’re looking for a great place to relax with friends and enjoy a cold beer, then a beer garden is the perfect spot.
Beer gardens have been around for centuries and have become popular spots to get together for a drink and conversation.
A traditional beer garden is little more than a shaded area with a few communal picnic tables but US craft brewers and restauranteurs have been enhancing the concept over the last few years.
But why are so many beer gardens German?
The beer garden tradition is thought to have originated in Bavaria when brewers, needing to keep their lagers cool for longer periods in the lagering process, dug cellars alongside the cooler river banks.
They would often cover these cellars with trees for more shade which also made them a desirable area for local drinkers to sit and drink their beers.
Never shy of making a few extra bucks, the German brewers would open these areas up as the first German beer gardens or biergartens.
Beer Gardens and America
German immigrants to the US wasted little time in setting up their first beer halls and ensuing beer gardens when they first arrived in the US in the early 19th Century.
The first beer garden is thought to have opened in 1824 in Manhattan and many more have followed since.
The original German beer gardens were big sprawling affairs that would serve as family-friendly outdoor spaces where people could play games and perform music, and where many other forms of entertainment would be on offer too.
Some would resemble large outdoor public parks or amusement parks. Even Anheuser-Busch would later capitalize on the beer garden concept by opening up a series of theme parks, Busch Gardens.
What is the Oldest Beer Garden in America?
Although it wasn’t the first beer garden to open in the US, (that honor goes to Manhattan’s Castle Clinton in Battery Park, which opened in 1824), the oldest beer garden in the US still operating today is Scholz Garten in Austin, Texas. First opened in 1866 it quickly became a hub for German immigrants.
Today the Scholz Garten retains many of its original fixtures and fittings (the same building still houses the bar area) and in 2019 it was taken over by new management who brought a Texas-German influence to the menu and beers.
In addition to the classic beer styles of Bavaria and Germany, it now serves many of the local ales and has a full cocktail menu.
Where is the Largest Beer Garden in the World?
You could be forgiven for thinking the world’s largest beer garden would be in Germany, in particular in Munich, home of the world’s largest beer festival, Oktoberfest, every year. But no, the world’s largest beer garden is actually here on our very own shores of the US.
It’s not in Portland, San Diego, or Colorado, those self-appointed craft beer capitals of the US, but in North Carolina at the most easterly point of the area known as The Research Triangle.
A 3-storey beer behemoth and surrounding gardens, the Raleigh Beer Gardens sit on what used to be a grove of pecan trees in the city’s resurgent Glenwood South neighborhood.
(NOTE: According to data published by the Brewers Association, Chicago is the brewing capital of the USA with over 167 breweries across the city and its suburbs. Portland is the capital of craft beer when it comes to brewers per capita with 18 breweries for every 50,000 people.)
Where is the World’s Largest Selection of Draft Beers?
Again, this title goes to the Raleigh Beer Garden in North Carolina.
Although there are many pretenders to the title like the Yardhouse in Long Beach or the Charlotte Beer Garden, also in North Carolina, only the Raleigh Beer Garden has been recognized three times by the Guinness Book of World record as having the most draft beers on tap at any one time in the world.
10 Beer Gardens to Visit This Spring or Summer
Hopefully, one of the American beer gardens we have listed below is local to your area, but if not, don’t worry, as many of them are more than worthy of a road trip or even maybe a short vacation.
Don’t tell the wife, but last year’s mini-break to vacation ended up being a weekend in North Carolina because of one beer garden I really wanted to visit (sad, I know, but you will probably want to visit too when you read about the Raleigh Beer Garden below!).
Raleigh Beer Garden, Raleigh, North Carolina
Originally opening with a staggering 366 beers on tap, this has since increased to 378 and keeps climbing with innovations like the rotating 24 taps located at the latest addition – the roof bar.
Although it still holds three world records for the largest beer garden and largest selection of draft beers in the world, its sister bar across state, the Charlotte Beer Garden, is challenging for the title with an unofficial world record beer list of 430 draft beers.
Watch this space to find out who the Guinness World record book recognizes next edition!
A huge structure with surrounding gardens, the main block has three floors including the ground floor beer bar, where you will find 144 of the local North Carolina brews including Raleigh’s own Crank Arm Rickshaw Rye IPA, a recent winner of the North Carolina Brewers Cup.
Move upstairs to the second floor and you will find a further 222 drafts from around the world, including hard-to-find German imports like the Dussledoff beer Zum Uergie Doppelsticke.
There’s also one of the widest ranges of draft ciders, perfect for sipping in the expansive gardens on a summer’s afternoon.
On the roof bar, you will find another 12 taps and a rotating 24-tap system that features newer favorites like Sculpin Grapefruit IPA from Ballast Point, along with other seasonal beers.
The first-floor bar also features an extensive wine list and cocktail menu, and, if you are with someone who doesn’t appreciate good beers, there are also domestic beers like Bud or Miller Lite on draft too.
Moving inside doesn’t mean you leave the garden outside as the bar has real trees planted around the interior, including an impressively large Sycamore tree enveloping the first-floor bar.
Food is of a decent quality, although the menu is limited compared to many other similar beer gardens.
The expansive gardens regularly host events like trivia night, silent discos, and drag brunches. The gardens are also pet-friendly and family-friendly too, making it the ideal place for either a family day out, catching up with some friends, or even bringing a date to.
One day doesn’t seem enough with this excellent beer list, so why not make a long weekend out of it, perhaps even taking a trip along the Raleigh beer Trail taking in up to 30 of the local craft breweries?
Lowry Beer Garden, Denver, Colorado
Denver is already established as a beer lover’s mecca with an outstanding number of Craft beer brewers in Colorado state, and the Lowry bar just seems to reinforce that reputation.
Guests can sit at Oktoberfest-style communal tables while enjoying a wide selection of bottled and draft beers, with Colorado brews heavily represented. There are even 16 all-Colorado craft beer taps at one end of the bar.
The Lowry Beer Garden sits within its own parklands, using a converted 1939 aircraft hangar with over 9000 square feet of gardens, including a covered pavilion area.
The outdoor picnic tables can host up to 500 guests and they also serve an impressive menu that includes locally made bratwursts, some creative burgers, and freshly baked pretzels – the perfect foods for sitting back and enjoying with a beer.
Regular events here include a locally famous “Geeks who Drink” Trivia Night every Tuesday in addition to the many outdoor concerts throughout the warmer months.
A new Private Party deck offers the perfect venue for smaller and more intimate gatherings of up to 35 people.
Stone World Bistro & Gardens, Escondido, California (Also now at Liberty Station, San Diego, California)
Stone is without a doubt one of my personal favorite brewers, and probably one of the most influential beer companies in the craft beer industry.
Their brewery-adjacent beer garden is one of the most picturesque in the United States today.
A 12,000-square-foot restaurant and bar sits next to a one-acre organic garden space complete with koi ponds, olive trees, creek-side seating, and fire pits along the many walkways. The space is perfect for strolling through with one of Stone’s 30 or so excellent house beer options.
Being a large distributor of beers, the taps in the restaurant also have offerings from many other craft breweries, including a wide selection of both domestic craft beers and imports such as Belgian beers.
The food menu is varied, many using some of the finest craft beers in imaginative ways as devised by the Michelin star-rated chefs who head up the actual restaurant.
If you love Stone beers, like me, this beer garden and bistro is a must-visit in the summer months and there’s now the second Stone World Bistro & Gardens to visit in San Diego at Liberty Station too.
Estabrook Beer Garden, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Situated on the east bank of the Milwaukee River, Estabrook Park is an urban green space.
Modeled along the lines of a modern-day Munich biergarten, this was the first public beer garden to open in America in nearly 100 years and celebrates Milwaukee’s rich brewing legacy, with many local brews available in addition to the imported beers from Hofbräu München in Munich.
The Estabrook Beer Garden is located on a bluff just above a waterfall and patrons can arrive by foot, bicycle, car, or kayak – public transport doesn’t serve this area of the park yet.
Other park amenities nearby include trails, playgrounds, a disc golf course, a dog park, soccer fields, and river walks.
Being a public park, alcohol is only permitted in licensed areas such as the Beer Garden, and no carry-in alcohol is allowed. Food is limited to Bavarian-style beer garden snacks such as bratwurst, hotdogs, and giant baked soft bagels, but guests are encouraged to bring their own picnics.
The bar even encourages beer drinkers to bring their own steins for drinking the fine German lagers.
Note: This beer garden is now cashless but does accept all major credit cards and Apple or Android Pay.
Bayou Beer Garden, New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is known for its vibrant nightlife and diverse dining options, and the city’s craft beer scene is no exception.
Surrounded by swaying palm trees and adorned with multiple flat screens around the bar, the Bayou Beer Garden comes across as a beachside bar, a sports-themed drive-in, and a lively New Orleans party bar all rolled into one.
You can keep cool in the New Orleans summer months with a selection of over 180 global beers including 24 rotating taps.
The food selection is all Louisiana-based, with items such as amped-up crab cakes or Disco fries topped with beef debris. And if you should wander into the bar with somebody who doesn’t care too much for beer, there’s a bridge connecting over to the adjoining Bayou Wine Garden.
Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, Astoria, Queens, New York
Established in 1910, the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden is one of the oldest beer gardens still existing in the Astoria area of NY.
It is still owned and run by a Czech and Slovak community group with those influences reflected in Czech favorites such as draft Staropramen on the beer list, or fried Muenster on the food menu.
One of the quintessential New York summer hangouts, Bohemian Hall is one of the largest outdoor drinking spaces in New York.
Whether they’re enjoying sports on the large garden screens or traditional festivals such as Oktoberfest, you will find patrons chomping down on traditional Slovenian kielbasa sausages and drinking refreshing pitchers of Czech draft beers like Krusovice pilsner well into the fall months.
There’s even an indoor heated basement beer hall for the colder months of winter.
Banger’s Sausage & Beer Garden, Austin, Texas
If you’re looking for one of the best al-fresco sausage sizzles in town while in Austin, make sure you head to Banger’s Beer garden.
With over 100 beers on tap and thirty types of sausage produced in-house, it’s one the best booze-soaked sausage parties you will find this summer.
It’s also a great place to hang out for a lazy brunch with an extensive brunch menu too. Best of all, if you like to take your four-legged friend out for a day in the city, it’s dog friendly too.
The beer hall menu carries many Texas favorites such as beers from Shiner, including their seasonal beers like Holiday Cheer, and local beers from breweries in Austin, Houston, and Carrolton in addition to the many US craft brews and German/European imports too.
All styles are catered for – from Hoppy IPAs, Gose beers, Amber, Dark & Roasty beers, stouts, and porters to Belgian farmhouse beers, just to name a few!
And the sausage menu to pair with the beers is just as extensive with traditional brats, Italian sausages, drunk chicken sausage (beer, Serrano peppers & more beer), Andouille sausages, Duck, bacon & Fig sausages, and even vegetarian Portabella mushroom sausage.
Served either in a bun or turned into a salad, the bangers are so popular you can now order online for delivery nationwide. Shame you can’t fit 100+ draft beers in a parcel too!!!
Kaiser Tiger, Chicago, Illinois
Rated as Chicago’s best beer garden, Kaiser Tiger is brought to you by the guys behind the beloved Chicago beer bar Paddy Long’s.
A devotion to all things beer and bacon is behind the inspiration for this huge sprawling beer garden in the center of Chicago.
You can enjoy some of the midwest’s finest brews on the rotating 20 taps while chomping down on delicacies such as bacon grenades (meatballs wrapped in bacon with a Three Floyds Alpha King sauce) and many other bacon-orientated snacks.
Kaiser Tiger even brews their own house beers, with the Great Central Hefeweizen ( a German-style hefeweizen with aromas of banana and clove) and the Great Central Lager (a Helles Lager as an easy-drinking beer) being two of the more popular choices.
One of the more interesting imports on tap spotted in recent years was Belgian Brouwerij Verhaeghe Duchese Chocolate Cherry sour ale, which combined the sweetness of chocolate with the sourness of cherries.
In the winter months, the bocce courts of the summer make way for curling lanes where you can practice your winter sports in between sipping ales in the large adjoining bar/restaurant.
Bay Street Biergarten, Charleston, South Carolina
Although Charleston has plenty of food and drink options on its vibrant nightlife circuit, the Bay Street Biergarten should be top of your list if you ever find yourself visiting this bustling town.
This 7,400 square foot space ties together the Bavarian style of a beer hall with the rich culture of the South.
A contemporary spin on the classic beer gardens of Munich with a menu focused on traditional German foods (think brats, diner kebabs, and huge pretzels), the bar also features a whopping 62 taps with both domestic craft beers as well as a wide selection from German brewers.
Prost!, Portland, Oregon
Prost is the German term for cheers, and you’ll certainly hear that a few times if you should ever visit one of Portland’s best beer gardens.
As well as being blessed with the most breweries per capita (remember Portland is classed as the capital of Craft beers by many), Portland also has a staggering amount of German biergartens, where you will find the folk of Portland drinking liters of beer at picnic tables every weekend.
A dog-friendly outdoor deck, along with a wide array of German beers (all served in the proper glassware), and some excellent German food make this the undisputed king of local biergartens, and its located slap-bang in the middle of the wildly popular Mississippi drag of downtown Portland.
Every October, Prost! hosts one of the biggest Oktoberfest parties in the US.
Recently, the owners bought the entire property, including the food truck yard next door where you can find esteemed food carts such as Matts BBQ, home to some of the finest brisket in the nation (sorry, Texas!).
Yet another reason to swing by Prost! this summer.
No matter what kind of beer garden experience you’re looking for, these are some of the best in the United States.
So grab a few friends and head to one of these great beer gardens for an unforgettable evening.