Idle time remains an inevitable consequence of modern air travel. From layovers and flight delays to TSA-fueled “must be there two hours early” paranoia, chances are you’ll spend at least an hour or two waiting to get on that damn plane. And while push notifications from airline apps can help you track your flight’s boarding status, that down time is arguably best spent not by cluttering around the gate like hovering gnats but by tempering some of that travel anxiety by tossing back a few beers.
Except airport bars are often a desert of poor options—and don’t be fooled by so-called “craft” bars. Their tap lines might look legit, until you realize that the offerings—Ten Barrel, Devil’s Backbone, Wicked Weed, Elysian, Goose Island, the list goes on —are all owned by AB InBev, the macro-brew monster that also lays claim to foreign craft beers like Stella Artois, Becks, Corona, Leffe, and so, so many more.
That’s why finding a legit craft beer spot while traveling is akin to an oasis in the driest of desert, which is how I came to know and love Stone Arch, in the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport on a recent layover while traveling from LA to DC. Named after the Stone Arch Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, the tap list at this bar is culled exclusively from the Minnesota Brewer’s Guild of craft brewers, which means you can sample a handful of the state’s best beer without actually setting foot in the state (because, come on, layovers don’t count as an actual visit). The full-service restaurant also includes a bakery and hosts special Craft Lab events with local brewers. And, unlike most airport outposts that are often chains or extensions of a brick-and-mortar success story in the nearby city, Stone Arch only exists in MSP Airport, in terminal one, after security.
Denver Airport’s Root Down, another clutch refuge from the madness, is an extension of the same restaurant that sits on the 1600 block of W 33rd Avenue near downtown—and that’s a good thing. Its beer list draws from the rich bounty of Colorado craft, including Funkwerks, River North, Odell, Boulder Beer, and Avery, alongside a rotating seasonal. DIA also boasts a New Belgium Brewery outpost tucked into terminal B, but given that brewery’s wide distribution, I gravitate toward the unexpected variety (and eclectic world-inspired cuisine) of Root Down whenever my itinerary drops me at the Mile High City airport.
Breweries in airports typically follow New Belgium’s approach—extensions of an established brand, though I suspect an airport-only brewery will come soon. Until then, Sam Adams and Rock Bottom are probably the most prominent, and work in a pinch. But brewers in most beer-centric cities have planted their flags at the airports, too. San Diego has Stone, Cleveland has Great Lakes, Tampa has Cigar City, San Fran has Anchor, Boston has Harpoon, St. Louis has Schlafly, and Portland has Rogue, as well as more than a few places to buy a few 750-ML bottles. At each location, you’ll find all the brewery’s usual suspects, as welcome as a wave from an old friend, as well as a few airport-only experimentals and seasonal drafts, along with all the merch you don’t need but will probably purchase after your third round.
Just remember to keep checking your flight’s boarding time. With options like these, it’s easy to forget that you’re actually in limbo, waiting for the start or continuation of your journey, a trip that just got a little bit easier to endure.