Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Breweries Per Capita

As I was planning our recent trip to Bar Harbor, I got to thinking about what areas have the greatest number of breweries per capita. Of course, I assumed that, among major U.S. cities, Portland, Oregon would rank #1. But, what about New England? With Boston, as the largest city in the region, being pretty poorly represented, my focus was on smaller areas. So, I started trying to determine what county in New England has the highest rate of breweries per capita, believing that Hancock County, Maine—with three breweries and a population of just over 50,000—would top the list.

Hancock, of course, is the county that Bar Harbor is in. The process of trying to figure this out proved to be fairly tedious, and I have yet to finish it, but I'm pretty certain I'm correct about Hancock County. I'll get back to that little project eventually.

KJ and I were in Vermont this past weekend, checking out a potential venue for a pretty big party we're throwing next year. While there, we stopped in at a little place called Pleasant Valley Brewing in Saxtons River. We were a little unclear as to the reason—something license-related—but they're not yet serving their own beer. Still, we really liked the place.

Quite often, brew pubs are too posh, with more of a focus on atmosphere and dining experience than quality beer. Pleasant Valley was a no-nonsense blue collar place with a really friendly vibe. While conversing with the owner, he told us that Vermont has the most breweries per capita in the country. KJ was quick to defend her home state, but he stood his ground, claiming that while Portland has the most breweries, Vermont tops the list of states.

A little post-trip research confirmed that he was right. According to statistics released by the Brewers Association in 2008, Vermont—with 19 breweries and a population of just over 620,000—has one brewery per 32,698 people. Oregon has a population over six times that of Vermont, but their 93 breweries translates to one per 40,753 people, the third highest rate in the nation. Here are the top five:
  1. Vermont
  2. Montana
  3. Oregon
  4. Maine
  5. Colorado
When we weren't discussing brewery statistics, we were tasting some of the local flavor. First up was Switchback Ale, described by Pleasant Valley's owner as the hottest beer in Vermont. It wasn't difficult to understand why. It's simply a very solid ale, hazy and pale to copper colored, slightly hoppy but excellently balanced. It wasn't advertised as overly strong, but both KJ and I felt a little buzzed after only one pint.

Later in the evening, while dining at the Old Tavern in Grafton, I enjoyed a McNeill's Dead Horse IPA, another excellent choice. True to the style, it's nicely hopped, but well balanced, although a tad higher on the hops side of the equation. To close out the night, we shared a 22 oz. bottle of McNeill's Firehouse Amber Ale, while watching game two of the ALCS at the Old Tavern's cozy Phelps Barn.

The Firehouse Amber is bottle-conditioned, which places it in the real ale category with Gritty McDuff's cask-conditioned Best Bitter. However, while low in carbonation, it didn't taste flat like Gritty's cask offering did. It was only slightly hoppy, but with some really tasty, caramel malt character.

This trip left me wondering what I was thinking when I called Maine the state that puts all others in New England to shame. Clearly, Vermont has something to say about that. Based on my recent experiences, I'm feeling partial to the Green Mountain State.

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