Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Top Ten States for Craft Brewing

USA Today recently ran an article ranking the ten "best" craft brew states in America. As it turns out, it was really just a list, in descending order, of the states with the most craft breweries.

While I hardly consider myself fully qualified to evaluate all 50 states in the union—although with a little more time and money, I'd be happy to take on the challenge—I do have some of my own opinions on the subject.

So, this will be a quickly produced list of my top ten craft brewing states which, admittedly, will be heavily influenced by where I live, what's available here, and where I've traveled. So, if you happen to be an advocate of North Carolina's or or Texas's craft brewing scenes, I apologize that those states, among others, didn't really get fairly evaluated.

As I like to do with these things, the list is presented in countdown format:

10. (tie) Washington/Michigan - I'm awarding 10th place to the two states most known for craft beer among those whose offerings I have less experience with than the nine listed below. While Washington's breweries are mostly on the smaller side, Michigan's Bell's Brewery is the 7th largest craft brewer in the nation, but unfortunately they don't distribute to New England.
Personal favorites: Yakima (WA), Founders (MI).

9. Maine - I appreciate the brewing scene in New England's largest state area-wise, but the mediocrity of a few of its more well-known brewers (Shipyard, Geary's, Gritty McDuff's) drags it down a bit. Still, I know there's at least one highly regarded brewer whose beers I've never tried (Maine Beer Co.) and I'm sure there are a few other hidden gems as well.
Personal favorites
: Baxter, Allagash.

8. Maryland - If only Maryland and Delaware could join forces, they'd probably make the top five on the strength of Dogfish alone, not that Maryland doesn't also pull its weight.
Personal favorites: Stillwater, Flying Dog.

7. Massachusetts - It wasn't long ago that I was pretty critical of the dearth of good craft breweries in the state where I've resided for over 15 years now. But, oh my how things have changed since the days when there wasn't much beyond Samuel Adams and Harpoon. There are many newer, smaller breweries I haven't checked out yet, but Massachusetts has made some serious progress.
Personal favorites
: Pretty Things, Clown Shoes.

6. Vermont - The best brewing state in New England also holds the distinction as the state with the most breweries per capita. In what is already becoming a common theme, there are a few breweries I'm aching to visit, namely Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist. Unfortunately for me, both are in the northern half of the state.
Personal favorites
: Rock Art, McNeill's.

5. Pennsylvania - I'm sure there are microbreweries in the western half of the state—no, Iron City doesn't count—but my knowledge of this state's great brewers is entirely from the east.
Personal favorites: Victory, Stoudt's, Tröegs.

4. New York - My home state easily beats out my current state of residence, at least for now. Ithaca Beer Company is another upstate New York brewer I need to explore further.
Personal favorites: Southern Tier, Ommegang, Sixpoint.

3. Colorado - It says a lot about Colorado's brewing scene that I've spent a total of only two or three nights there and it still ranks this highly. What this also tells me is I need to spend more time in Colorado.
Personal favorites: Oskar Blues, Great Divide, Boulder.

2. Oregon - Despite living in New York for six post-college years and Massachusetts for almost 16, and spending a grand total of about five weeks in Oregon, I'm pretty sure I've been to more Oregon breweries than those two states combined. Enough said.
Personal favorites: Ninkasi, Lompoc, Rogue, Amnesia

1. California - With more than twice as many breweries as any other state, California has an obvious size advantage, but it's my pick as the best craft brewing state based on quality not quantity.
Personal favorites: Lagunitas, 21st Amendment, Stone, Anderson Valley

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Frequent Spins (2013.2)

Anders & Kendall - Wild Chorus
Unless you're a newbie here, you know I've been a fan of Anders Parker for years, and a friend of his as well. To a somewhat lesser extent, I also admire the work of Kendall Meade, with her band Mascott and the harmonious backing vocals her voice has added to some of Anders' songs. I wasn't initially as enamored with this one as expected, but it's grown on me, especially it's high moments like album opener "We're On Fire, Babe," "Play It," and my personal favorite "Sleepwalking," the latter of which is reminiscent of some older duets these two have teamed up for, except this time Kendall takes the lead. 

Cloud Cult - Love
I am unabashedly a huge fan of Craig Minowa's songs and the emotional themes they often capture. For the most part, he seems to be done mourning the death of his son through his music, but there's still an undercurrent of that heartbreak even as the content is more about the celebration of life and, most importantly and perhaps obviously, love.

Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse
It's a little disconcerting to realize I've listened to so many albums by so many different bands over the years that my impressions sometimes run together. I was pretty sure I didn't like this band until I listened to the album and the lead singer's Scottish accent didn't ring a bell at all. So, maybe I had them confused with White Rabbits, a band whom I honestly couldn't tell you why it is I'm not a fan. Anyway, it's probably the Scottish thing, but I'm reminded of Malcolm Middleton here, except without any songs as profanely awesome as "Fuck It, I Love You."

The Lone Bellow - The Lone Bellow
I'll admit I initially wrote this one off pretty quickly and I'm not really sure why. Honestly, it may have been that the album cover reminds me of other uninspiring country/rock crossover acts. I won't name names, but I'm certainly glad I gave this band's self-described "Brooklyn country music" a second—or, should I say first?—chance, thanks to a Twitter recommendation from Dan Turkenkopf.

Matt Pond - The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand
On his first album since dropping PA from his moniker, there's not much change in Pond's brand of introspective indie pop, although the outlook seems a little brighter. Whether because of the latter, or in spite of it, this just might be his best, at least since I started listening circa 2004's Emblems.

Phosphorescent - Muchacho
2005's Aw Come Aw Wry was my introduction to Mathew Houck's Will Oldham-esque stylings, but it wasn't until his last album, Here's to Taking it Easy, that the comparison really took hold for me. A less chaotic version of Palace Music's brilliant Viva Last Blues was what that album reminded me of at times, and that energy continues here. Nothing quite as tremendous as "Work Hard/Play Hard," but quite good nonetheless.

Son Volt - Honky Tonk
Nothing earth-shattering here, just Jay Farrar and Co. taking on the Bakersfield sound with mostly positive results, in my opinion. Then again, Farrar could sing an album of show tunes and I'd probably still like it. Come to think of it, that sounds like a fantastic idea.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Best of 2012 Playlist

I've been putting together a year-end compilation ever since I started my annual best albums list in 1996. For the first four years it was a cassette, of course, which requires a lot more effort than creating a playlist in iTunes, inserting a disc, and clicking File > Burn Playlist to Disc. Then, I skipped 2000 completely, for no better reason than the dilemma created by Richard Buckner's The Hill. It was one 34-minute track and I didn't know of any software for editing it down at the time.

From 2001 on, I've been using the CD format, which has the added advantage of allowing me to create my own "cover art," which usually consists of a photo of me drinking a beer. It's been suggested in recent years that CD is an outdated format, a fact I'm not going to try to deny. In fact, I'm generally the type who tries to stay current with technology, but there are still things I try to cling to, mostly for nostalgic reasons, but sometimes because I'm frugal.

I don't really feel this way about mixed CDs, though. The mix tape is really the format that inspires a feeling of nostalgia in me. But, when that no longer was a viable alternative, the CD mix became its logical extension.

Now the question is who really listens to CDs anymore? I'd be willing to guess most of the friends I've burned CDs for in recent years just rip them to mp3. I'm sure some of us have a stash of CDs in our cars, particularly those who have cars without mp3 capability. KJ and I have a 2010 Toyota Highlander with an mp3 player jack, but we still prefer to have a rotating selection of prior years' compilations on the 6-CD system, in addition to the children's music, of course.

But, I already admitted I have a tendency towards clinging to outdated ideals. Am I alone? Probably not, but I'm prepared to render that question a moot point, as far as the aforementioned dilemma is concerned.

I've only handed out three 2012 CD compilations so far this year, and I didn't give out that many more last year. By comparison, my list used to be in the 20-25 range. Part of this has to do with logistics. I stopped mailing them a couple years ago, mainly due to time constraints. But, I suppose it could also be attributed to laziness. Or maybe that's just me being hard on myself. Either way, now I only give them to people as I see them. That is, when I remember.

What this is all leading up to is saying I've produced a Best of 2012 Spotify playlist. Most people are using Spotify it seems, at least the free version on their computers, so I think this makes sense. I'm still going to continue making the CDs, and handing them out at least as sparingly as the last couple of years, but I'll also produce them by request if asked.

But, the playlist format does afford a little more flexibility, allowing me to not have to worry about fitting all my favorites onto a couple 80-minute discs. So, this playlist has three distinct differences from the CD format: the inclusion of the 16-minute "Walk Like a Giant" instead of "Born in Ontario," from Neil Young & Crazy Horse's Psychedelic Pill; and an additional song each from Spiritualized and Of Monsters and Men, in keeping with my old, but sometimes broken-by-necessity, tradition of including two songs from each of my top ten albums.

One potential drawback is not every artist/label has licensed with Spotify, but that doesn't apply to 2012's list. If it does in the future, I'll deal with it then.