Are You Serious?

Blog — By on May 12, 2009 at 6:47 am

A tip from my friend Kristy lead me to this poll, which sought to definitively decide which American city could truly be called “Beer City USA”. Allow me to quibble with the results. (Also, what’s the beer glass on that image doing in Edmonton, Alberta?)

1. Portland, OR
2. Asheville, NC
3. Philadelphia, PA
4. San Diego, CA
5. St. Louis, MO

These were followed by the Bay Area, Seattle, Denver, Portland (the Maine one), Milwaukee and Fort Collins.

Apparently, the battle for first and second, for some inexplicable reason, was close.

I’m a huge fan of North Carolina. My grandma was from there, and therefore most of my favorite culinary treats as a kid. When I barbecue pork shoulder, I douse it in vinegar sauce. I’ve spent some time there (unfortunately, in Fayetteville), and I want to go back. North Carolina is probably on my list of the top 10 states.

But Asheville as a brewing mecca? Hell, no. Nearly on par with Portland? Hell, no. And Philadelphia? What is that you saaaay?

So here’s my list. And since it’s a bit unfair to list “the Bay Area”, I’m revising the rules to include regions rather than just cities. Also, mass brewers count. A town like Milwaukee may not produce the greatest beer in the world, but that’s a beer town, no doubt about it. Let me know if I’m missing anyone.

1. Portland/Bend/Eugene/Oregon Coast (Widmer, Blitz-Weinhard, Deschutes, Bridgetown (correction: Bridgeport. I’m an idiot.), Rogue, Hair of the Dog, Hopworks, Full Sail, Double Mountain, McMenamins, Mt Hood, Bend, Pelican, Siletz, Ninkasi, Amnesia, Roots.)

2. Denver/Fort Collins/Boulder/Colorado Springs (Coors, New Belgium, Great Divide, Avery, Left Hand, Odell’s, Ska, Oskar Blues, Boulder, Flying Dog, Breckinridge.)

3. Bay Area/Northern California (Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam, Lagunitas, North Coast, Anderson Valley, Mendocina, Bear Republic, Russian River, North Coast, Bison, Speakeasy, Schmaltz)

4. San Diego/Escondido (Stone, Ballast Point, AleSmith, Green Flash, Coronado, Firehouse, Port/Lost Abbey)

5. Milwaukee/Chicago (Miller, Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Goose Island, Three Floyds, Flossmoor)

6. Seattle/Tacoma/Olympia (Hamms, Olympia, Dick’s, Pyramid, Mac and Jack’s, Elysian, Redhook)

7. East Coast* (Sam Adams, Dogfish Head, Allagash, Ommegang, Portsmouth)

8. St. Louis (Anheuser-Busch, Boulevard, Schlafly)

9. Idaho/Eastern Oregon/Montana (Big Sky, Beer Valley, Terminal Gravity, Grand Teton, Montana, Bozeman)

* “East Coast” refers to everything from Maine south to Delaware.

Actually, that’s all I’ve got. Any suggestions for #9 and #10? We’ve got a fair share of readers in NC…can anyone tell me how they made the list?

Obviously, there’s some west coast leaning here, which is to be expected. But there are also two practical reasons for the west being a dominant brewing culture.

First, the further west you go, the more likely you’ll find innovation. To establish identity and compete with major beer regions like the Midwest, England and Germany, western brewers had to think creatively and run over expectations.

Second, the Pacific Northwest is the best hop-growing region in the US, and hops also grow well in Sonoma County. Proximity to beer’s most important crop plays a major role.

This is a non-debatable point.

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    18 Comments

  • Grant says:

    I had the same reaction when I saw the list.

    One could argue that the most important ingredient is WATER and on that count, I have Denver/Ft. Collins as 1, Portland 1B.

    But full disclosure – I’m from Denver – so that’s my bias.

    The only list NC should be on is a BBQ list.

  • Matt Worthington says:

    Jordan,

    I think you're highly unkind to not list my home state in your list of beers (or maybe just the south in general). While I like Denver's beers, I've noticed that most places outside of the south (specifically Texas) weaken the alcohol content of their brews.

    Too, in the South, I can think of a few delectable beers that didn't that didn't make your cut.

    Shiner Brewer (Shiner, TX), Abita Beer (New Orleans, LA), and Saint Arnold Brewery (Houston, TX).

    Also, it's worth mentioning that more and more breweries are opening up in South Texas (San Antonio & Austin area) quicker than I can type. So it should at least get a mention as a developing brewery region.

  • Jordan Green says:

    @Matt: I did consider Texas. I’ve had Shiner and Abita, both. Shiner is good (as far as lagers go), and Abita has to be the most overrated brewery out there. I just do not get the appeal.

    But as far as alcohol content goes, outside of Coors, I think you’re mistaken…Western brewing’s penchant for hops raises levels considerably.

    @Grant: It was a tough call, though I’d have to include Northern California in a three way tie.

  • Bryan Catherman says:

    Okay, what is this title really saying? Hockey Town USA, (Detroit) is not called Hockey Town because of it’s number of pro and amateur hockey teams (although as I understand it, they have lots of amateur teams). They are called Hockey Town because they have the best (and most) hockey fans.

    That being said, I’d like to see the list of the most astute beer drinkers. Open to variety, understands the nuances of the drink, can identify the differences between lagers and ales (and this has nothing to do with how dark the beer is for those of you that don’t know… faster/warmer top fermentation vs. slower/cooler bottom fermentation), appreciation of the various strains of hops, etc.

    I want to know which town appreciates beer the most. And honestly, I’m guessing a town in Washington or Oregon would probably take the prize. Denver, maybe (but not because Coors is there).

    That’s what I want to know!

  • Kristy says:

    Actually I would put the Madison area in contention (maybe tie it in with Milwaukee?). Not for top spots, but it definitely has a lot to offer for smaller craft beer:

    -Great Dane Brewpub
    -Ale Asylum Brewery
    -New Glarus Brewery
    -Capitol Brewery
    -BluCreek (never heard of this one, but found it online)
    -Central Waters Brewery
    -Lake Louie Brewing
    -Grumpy Troll
    -Tyranena

    Also missing from Milwaukee is Lakefront Brewery which is awesome, as well as Sprecher.

    Also in northern Wisconsin:
    -Viking Brewery
    -Leinie’s! (Leinenkugel)

    There are about 8 others I’m not listing too because I gotta get back to work.

    There’s definitely a huge beer culture here, lots of homebrewing, and TONS of local beers to choose from.

  • J says:

    Thank you for including Northern, CA. Especially Chico, CA my hometown (home of Sierra nevada brewery and butte creek brewery!)

  • ch says:

    Jordan..I’d agree quite a bit more with your list. I lived in Denver before moving to Portland…I’d say Colorado breweries off of I-70 and I-25 run a close second. You want to include Breckenridge Brewery, Tommyknocker and Flying Dog.

    My #9 or #10 would be some combination of Hawaii and Alaska…let’s not over look the Alaskan Brewing Co. or Kona Brewery.

  • Jordan Green says:

    @J: Gotta respect Sierra Nevada. Not a big fan of Butte Creek, though…it was my first hint that organic did not necessarily mean better.

    @ch: I considered Alaska, too, but there ultimately isn’t enough to make the list.

    I definitely agree I forgot Breckinridge and Flying Dog, both very good breweries. I’ve not had Tommyknocker, unfortunately, but i’ll keep a lookout.

    @Kristy: We’ll add Madison in there, too…good call.

  • Larry Shallenberger says:

    No Philly with it’s Yuenling?

    I’m calling a West Coast bias.

  • Ryan Squire says:

    You can’t go wrong with Portland but here’s another suggestion. Not really a city, but take a look at western Michigan. Bell’s out of Kalamazoo is one of the best in the nation with New Holland and Founders with it. Arcadia is great too. Not sure I have ever heard of a beer out of Asheville.

  • sara says:

    I have to defend Asheville a wee bit (try anything from Highland or French Broad Breweries…ahhh!).

    Side note: If you’ve ever been to Asheville, you know that it can’t really be lumped in with the rest of the state and all those barbeque jokes.

    Asheville has the largest number of breweries per capita in the country, so even if they don’t win on numbers, Asheville has a high percentage of people who know their beer, and they probably are loyal pollers too.

    I’m preggers right now, but my husband and I are taking a trip to the mountains outside of Asheville in a few weeks, and I plan on picking up a case of Highland’s St.Terese’s Pale Ale so I can make up for lost time once this baby comes. Is that bad?

  • Jordan Green says:

    @sara: I have to defend Asheville a wee bit (try anything from Highland or French Broad Breweries…ahhh!).

    Side note: If you’ve ever been to Asheville, you know that it can’t really be lumped in with the rest of the state and all those barbeque jokes.Just to let you know, I do not consider BBQ to be a laughing matter, and would never make fun of NC for its BBQ skill…it’s something I admire greatly.

    Asheville has the largest number of breweries per capita in the country, so even if they don’t win on numbers, Asheville has a high percentage of people who know their beer, and they probably are loyal pollers too.So THAT’S why it’s on the list. This is as good a reason as any, though I still don’t think it ranks up there with Oregon, Colorado and California. Still, thank you for letting me know…I was more confused than anything.

    I’m preggers right now, but my husband and I are taking a trip to the mountains outside of Asheville in a few weeks, and I plan on picking up a case of Highland’s St.Terese’s Pale Ale so I can make up for lost time once this baby comes. Is that bad?No.

    @Ryan: I’ve heard you’re right, and considered adding it to the Milwaukee/Chicago list. I didn’t because it’s not quite close enough geographically, and I’ve only had a small sampling of the beers there.

    @Larry: Oh, Larry. Philly may have given us the cheesesteak, freedom and “Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, but Yuenling alone does not carry it to the great beer regions of the world (though it could be added to the East Coast list).

  • Stephanie Nikolopoulos says:

    Okay, so let me get this straight. You're going to count Northern California and Southern California as two distinct regions but group ALL the states on the East Coast together? This just about rivals that time Burnside "forgot" to rank New York on the top 50 states:

    http://www.burnsidewriterscollective.com/letters/to_the_editor/all_50_states_ranked_and_filed.php

    Where's the love? I would venture to say there's a larger difference between Boston and New York than between Seattle and Porltand.

    And here's a list of NY breweries, in case you're interested:

    http://www.lewbryson.com/nyprogress.htm

    and

    http://www.nycbeer.org/brews.php

    And NJ:

    http://beerme.com/region.php?c=us&s=nj

  • allison says:

    I like that you labeled this post “portlander” and “elitism.” Hahahaha!

  • Jordan Green says:

    @Steph: That’s actually more of an insult than a geographical error…I’m 100% sure the difference between Boston, NY, Philly, et al. is wider than Portland, SF and Seattle. My point was, that’s the only way I could come up with enough breweries to make that region matter. Sam Adams and Dogfish Head are renown brewers, and I felt bad not mentioning them.

    @Ali: it’s actually “portlander elitism”. I’ve noticed it’s a common thread with my writing.

  • Stephen says:

    I had never heard of Highland or any other NC brewery. It feels good to learn things.

    @Jordan: Bridgeport

  • Mike says:

    I’m going to have to defend Asheville too. While it is a small city, the beer scene really runs the place. And I love Portland. Highland Brewing is really good as are Pisgah and Heinzelmännchen. The Brewgrass festival held there is definitely worth the trip. Bluegrass AND beer?! Yes, please.

  • diane says:

    Thank you, Ryan! For mentioning Bell’s, New Holland and Founders!

    And Jordan, Kalamazoo is maybe 90 minutes from Chicago? Clearly, that’s close enough for lumping.

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