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


  1. Too many gut reactions that I'll need to organize, but first one is Vermont over Maine and Mass.?! Maybe I'll make a list of the best breweries not mentioned on your list! ;)

    1. Thanks Sara, I'd love to see that list, although I'm sure it will include some breweries I'm not that familiar with yet. For example, the only beer I've had by Maine's Rising Tide is Zephyr, so they weren't a candidate for my favorite Maine brewery.

      I did kind of take into consideration that Vermont is so small, but I suppose, in hindsight, I also overlooked its mediocre breweries like Magic Hat and Long Trail.

      The bottom line is the top five are clearly in a different class from the others IMO, although once I finally check out brews by Night Shift, Trillium, Idle Hands, etc., Massachusetts has a serious shot to move up.

  2. I am glad that Michigan made your list! In the last ten years our craft beer scene has boomed. Grand Rapids (Founders, Brewery Vivant), Kalamazoo (Arcadia, Bells, Dark Horse) Traverse City (North Peak, Right Brain) and other favorites like Tri City (Midland), Greenbush (Sawyer) and Odd Side (Grand Haven) can hold their own with anyone nationally, in my opinion.

    1. I honestly wish I was more familiar with the scene in Michigan. I would expect that it might rank top five.