Disclaimer before I start: I’m not really a beer snob. I have my preferences. Who doesn’t? But there are times when that preference strays very far from a trendy craft brew. This past Saturday, great drinking holiday that it was, I entered a bar and someone was nice enough to buy me a drink. When they asked what I wanted, I said, “American light beer.” Of course, that means Bud Light, Miller Lite, or Coors Light. It made no difference. At that point in the evening, another beer with more than 4% alcohol would have exacerbated what was already going to be a solid hangover. I’d been sucking down robust ales all day, time to throw it in neutral and coast back to the station. So with that professed love for Bud Light, and with an admitted distaste for most stouts and porters–I’m going to weave through my favorite beer states. This is one man’s opinion. I’ve hardly scratched the surface. Feel free to re-educate me with some jargon, hidden gems, and anything else beer related that I should know. I won’t change my mind, but I always appreciate the input.
Delaware: Even my craft beer tastes run mainstream, so if you say Delaware, pretty much all I know is Dogfish Head. But, that’s quite a good place to start. Dogfish has a massive selection of brews and I’ve only tried a few. I know that every fall people go wild for their Punkin Ale. I don’t do pumpkin, so I can’t elevate Dogfish or Delaware into the main ranks. Sorry, Small Wonder.
Michigan: Michigan has over 80 breweries. I have not tried them all. But, I’ve had a few and I am a big fan of Bell’s Brewery. The pride of Kalamazoo. Their Two Hearted Ale is probably the best beer I’ve tried in the last year.
Massachusetts: I’m not sure if Sam Adams (Boston Beer?) still qualifies as a craft beer. I think they at least deserve some credit for their contribution to the industry. And, I think Sam Adams makes good beer. I prefer Harpoon, though. That’s really good stuff. It’s always my go-to choice when dining at Abe & Louie’s with the illustrious JCK.
The Top Four:
4. Vermont. The only brewery I’ve ever visited was in Vermont. Of course, it was Harpoon. Does Vermont gets partial credit for Harpoon? No matter which state gets credit, I can recommend the Harpoon Brewery for a nice lunch outing. I’ve lost my Harpoon IPA t-shirt, so if you’re there, go ahead and pick me up a spare. That’d be great. Anyway, the closer you are to a state, the easier it is to get their craft beer, and so I’ve been able to sample many beers from Vermont’s 21 breweries (pretty impressive total). There’s Magic Hat, Otter Creek, Long Trail and Switchback to name a few. Vermont has successfully penetrated the Wegman’s market (always key) and even though the first beer I ever tried from Vermont (Magic Hat #9) did not blow me away, my tastes have changed a bit. At that point I was drinking mostly Natty, so I’ve since gone back to Vermont’s ales and been pleasantly rewarded. Something about cracking a Vermont beer makes you feel a bit rustic, and back-to-nature. Good times.
3. Oregon: I’ve got to include Orgeon because the Pacific Northwest takes craft brewing seriously. In consumption, breweries per capita and other pertinent brewing metrics, Oregon belongs in the top-4. I don’t want to be too married to my own region. I am an east coast, occasionally Miller drinking fraud, though, so don’t expect any real keen insight into Oregon’s brews. What I can tell you is that Oregon’s beer festival is the largest gathering of craft brewers in the country, and that would certainly make a hell of a trip. The most well-known craft brewery in Oregon is perhaps Rogue? Rogue Dead Guy Ale is a very memorable name, but they have a massive number of offerings. Aside from Rogue, I’ve seen some Widmer Brothers around, but the real trouble is finding Oregon’s vast selection on the east coast.
2. Pennsylvania. I’m not sure what kind of reputation Pennsylvania has on the national scene as far as beer is concerned. We love to drink beer, and I know many people inexplicably love Yuengling lager, but we’re not talking Yuengling, even if they consider themselves a large craft brewer. At one time, Philadelphia was one of the great macro-brewing cities (Schmidts!) and I think it’s come back strong as a home to craft beers. Of course, my experience drinking PA beers far outweighs any other state, but I think my bias remains in check. I actually went to college about two miles from the Lancaster Brewing Company and almost never set foot in the place. Too expensive. Too far to walk to, but I’ve since been back and they make good beer there. Pennsylvania also has Yards, Victory, Sly Fox, Stoudts, Troegs, and all of those should more than make up for the presence of Rock Bottom. If you are impressed by Yuengling, you really should give some of PA’s smaller breweries a chance.
1. California. I don’t like ranking California #1 in anything, but it’s just so damn vast and full of heavy hitters–I’m not sure how you would arrive at a different conclusion. For me, the discussion starts and stops with Sierra Nevada. It’s my favorite beer. It’s been discussed here repeatedly. There are three or four other varieties they make aside from the Pale Ale (Celebration, Summer, Ruthless Rye) that I also find quite enchanting. In even more exciting news, the Pale Ale is becoming available in cans. I’m not sure what to make of the can movement, but I’m pretty sure you could serve up a Sierra in just about anything and it would taste spectacular. I still mourn the loss of ESB, but I await its triumphant return. Some day. Since this is my list, Sierra Nevada would have won this contest all by itself, but there are countless other fine California breweries. Some I’ve sampled and enjoyed include Stone, Lagunitas, Anchor, Left Coast, and it goes on and on.
All right, fill me in your favorite beers–for those times when the Coors Light keg is kicked.