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Jan 31, 2013 04:17 PM

Beer towns

Solid read here out of the Seattle PI - America's Ten Best Beer Towns: The Non-Fiction List.

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  1. A very West Coast centric list, I am afraid. I travel a lot and have been to most of the places listed and while they all have their merits, any list that doesn't include Philadelphia in its top 10 is suspect in my book. It is not just about what breweries are located in the area but about the beer scene overall. And, for my two cents, Philadelphia is as beer-centric a place as any in the country save Portland.

    Even though I live in North Carolina, I would agree that Asheville does not deserve a top 10 ranking. Lots of breweries there, but little that is knock your socks off impressive. I do have high hopes for a new brewpub there called Wicked Weed, that may lift the scene to a new level.

    I think Austin merits consideration, as does Minneapolis. Charleston, SC, is a place to watch.

    1. Nice report... I think this is based on concentration of micro-breweries in the cities listed, no?

      Hands down, US best "overall" beer town for great microbrews from the world over: Chicago (sorry New York)

      Find a better beer bar than the Map Room or Hop Leaf and you've found something. I notice the Hop Leaf has Brooklyn Choc Stout on tap, would that ever be a treat right now...

      Dodging eggs and flames....

      20 Replies
      1. re: TombstoneShadow

        Both Chicago and NYC started very slowly.

        Credit John Hall and the Chicago Beer Society (and especially Ray Daniels) for leading the way in Chicago.

        The Brooklyn Brewery did a lot of the heavy lifting in New York.

        Philadelphia is another interesting beer town, becoming well known for Belgian beers, thanks largely to Tom Peters of Monk's Cafe.

        1. re: Jim Dorsch

          Yes, they were some of the pioneers... The Map Room's been open over 20 years and the CBS now 35 years.

          Looks like the authors weigh their study based on the number of micro-breweries in the city, not the full range of micro-brewed products from all over the world available to (and demanded by) consumers in the city.

          My issue with weighing it by micro-brewery presence is that for the average micro-brew bar I visit, I usually end up liking only a few of the varieties on tap... on more than one occasion I've visited micro-brewery bars where I didn't find a single brew I really liked... I'll order flights of samplers and end up liking nothing.

          I'd rather sit in a bar that gives me the cream of the crop from all over the world.

          1. re: TombstoneShadow

            I agree. A more interesting list would be the cities with the best beer pubs and bottle shops, not necessarily the most microbreweries.As a consumer, I'd rather have access to the best beers from all over the country and world than just local microbreweries. The problem as I see it is that it's hard to get great beers from different parts of the country. Most of it is probably due to the fact that there's not enough supply to even meet local demand for some of the better breweries. I know that Avery stopped distributing in many parts of California, for example. Heck, some of the great beers from Southern California are often hard to find in Northern California. It's slowly getting better, though.

            1. re: chuckl

              "it is that it's hard to get great beers from different parts of the country...."

              Yes, it's totally up to what's available via the suppliers in each particular state or locality.

              I've heard of "beer sharing" networks where I send you some great brews from my area, you send me yours etc... cool idea.

          2. re: Jim Dorsch

            There is much more to Philadelphia than simply Monks... we have a wealth of places that serve craft beers.. we have adopted the UK Gastropub model and have tons of places where beer and great food meet... from Standard Tap in Northern Liberties, to Village Whiskey from Iron Chef Jose Garces... Brauhaus Schmidtz with homemade wurst and german beers you cannot find many places in the USA to South Philly Tap Room. And to top it off we have Philly Beer Week.. the largest celebration of beer in North America stretching for almost a fortnight with events, beer pairings, parades and tons of beer all over the Philadelphia area.

            1. re: cwdonald

              Philadelphia is way ahead of any other city east of the Rockies when it comes to the beer scene. You can go into just about any restaurant or bar and find multiple craft options and that just doesn't happen in Chicago and certainly not in NYC.

              In addition to the places mentioned by cwdonald, there is also a new brewpub out in Ardmore called Tired Hands which is going to give Russian River a run for its money.

              1. re: brentk

                When was the last time you were in NYC and knew what you were doing? It is pretty much a full-on craft beer boom here now. Besides a growing list of great beer bars, good restaurants almost always offer local craft beer and usually a few out of state craft brews. And speciality beer stores, with growler services or in-house serving counters, have been popping up like mad. Not to mention that many bodegas have excellent selections of beer as well. While the brewing scene isn't in the same class as the cities on that list, New York has plenty of great beer drinking opportunities- and many within walking distance of each other.

                1. re: Silverjay

                  I think Brooklyn has some world class beer bars... I think the selection in Manhattan, given its size and population is sorely lacking. That said, Blind Tiger, Gingerman, and Rattle n Hum amongst others are good places...

                  1. re: cwdonald

                    I love those three. They are on the national radar. But for locals, there are tons of places. Dropoff Service, DBA, Jimmy's 43, East Village Tavern, Pony Bar (2 locations now), Top Hops, Good Beer, Beer Authority, Tap Room 307, Waterfront Ale House. Semi-beer focused restaurants like Cannibal, Colichio & Sons, Birerria, and DBGB. Burp Castle and Markt for Belgian beers. Zum Schneider, Hello Berlin, Loreley for German beers. That's off the top of my head. Pretty sure there are more. Most of these are all between Delancy and 59th, where the overwhelming majority of any visitors to Manhattan are going to stay and eat and drink. That's pretty good coverage for places with a beer focus. There are many more I'm sure with good tap lists......Most of the new American and farm-to-table type of restaurants that are popular in the city now are pretty into doing legit craft beer. And there are tons of other non-dive bars that will almost have a nicely curated non-Inbevish type of beer menu.

                    Brooklyn, it totally depends on which neighborhood. Brooklyn is a separate city with its own list.

                    1. re: cwdonald

                      The gingerman has maybe a better selection, but for ambiance I like that dumpy place in the east village also.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          The d.b.a. bar at 41 1st Ave:


                          The beer tap list on the front is dated December, so prolly out of date. I see Anchor Foghorn barleywine on tap.... worth a trip just for that.

                          Overall not the greatest selection of taps but very solid... and they have real good bottle back up (Dogfish Immortale in barleywines, for ex.)...

                          ... but the atmosphere is right on about perfect for a microbrew bar I think... somewhat like the Clark St. Ale House in Chicago: old, funky, and un-rushed.

                          1. re: TombstoneShadow

                            That is one of my all time favorite bars.

                    2. re: Silverjay

                      I get to NYC half a dozen times a year. Brooklyn has a great beer scene. Manhattan is getting much, much better but it is still way behind Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, Austin and the west coast cities. I would put Manhattan on a par with Boston, Minneapolis and Cleveland, all of which have very good beer scenes as well.

                      1. re: brentk

                        Minneapolis? Come on. Anyway, Manhattan kills Brooklyn for beer. But Williamsburg/Greenpoint in Brooklyn might be the single best beer neighborhood in the country.

                        Maybe for brewery industry there is a lag but I don't think the beer scene in NY is anywhere near behind anywhere in the country. I've just spend some time the last couple of years in both Portland and Seattle, both amazing beer scenes. Those places benefit by having better and more abundant local breweries. But New York is just as good as those places to drink great beer. Not to mention some fun beer events here.....Well this all said, I loved Portland. I did an epic crawl a few years ago- Cascade, Hair of the Dog, and the Rogue and Deschutes brew pubs in one night. I circled back and hit them again in a piecemeal manner just because they are each great in their own way. But man, those places , plus Upright and all the great beer bars there. And you can pretty much walk or take a quick bus. Great beer town.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          Yes, Minneapolis. The high end restaurants have good beer lists, too. There are plenty of tremendous local beer bars. The area has some great local breweries (Surly, IMO, is better than any of the NYC area breweries and Harriet and Steel Toe are two new, very promising breweries). And, with Minneapolis Town Hall, it has a better brewpub than anything in the NYC area.

                          1. re: brentk

                            Agree about Minneapolis. I travel the country a lot and the restaurants and bars in Minneapolis are consistently more adventurous in their beer offerings than most parts of the country that seem to think BudMillerCoors and light beers are good enough.

                            They had been behind in native craft beers but now there is a literal explosion of micro breweries with tap rooms going on with the changes in Minnesota liquor laws. It is a plus that the Minneapolis mayor, RT Rybak, is a big beer advocate.

                          2. re: Silverjay

                            Theres no doubt New York has plenty of great places to drink if you like beer. And yes, Im a big fan of Brooklyn myself having spent plenty of time working my way between Spuyten Duyvil and Barcade (how can you go wrong with a bar that has vintage arcade games STILL for a quarter AND a top notch beer selection just feet away!!! Such a dream come true for some of us who still ache to play Asteroids but have graduated to good beer since we were 15. I mean it sounds like a crazy idea I would come up with drunk one night and looking to throw away my life savings on something designed specifically for me. Throw in a blues band 4 days a week and youd have it). And Ill sometimes swing by the city on my way up or down 95 to fill a few growlers at Brouwerij Lane or one of the many shops that provide great beer-to-go choices that seems to have sprung up all over in the last 10 years or so. And of course Manhattan has their fair share of bars with decent beer but it just doesnt FEEL like a beer city to me. Its too big. Theres too much more to New York to get that vibe (which I get in Philly or Baltimore or even Chicago to some extent). I mean its the same name as a mixed drink after all. That says it all really. "Beer is quaint but we have bigger concerns". So for me beer will always be more about a subculture of New York then an integral part of the city itself.

                            I always associate New York with irish bars where you go to seek a good pint of Guinness. McSorleys is STILL high on my must visit list every time I go to the city. After that I want some good pizza, some good sushi, a bagel, a few other things before I even start thinking about places to go to for good beer. Its never like that in any other city for me. I usually plan everything around the best beer places to go (much to the chagrin of my wife). But New York is somehow different. You are right about Portland (and much of the Pac. NW). It has a beer brewing culture FIRST and was able to build from the ground up a beer culture that emphasis LOCAL stuff on so many different levels. New York has nothing like that. They have opened a bunch of beer bars because micro beer is trendy now and the sheer population of NY and its status as a national trendsetter in almost all things have made this an inevitable development. So I would say New York is a better DRINKERS city but Philly is easily the better BEER city because its more a part of the culture there from my perspective.

                            That being said New York is still a quite excellent place for a a beer head to visit and heres a resource someone posted once that, although a few years old, has some great information for those so inclined:

                            1. re: Insidious Rex

                              Yeah, that's a good way of putting it. The craft beer scene in NYC is a layer among many but certainly doesn't wear it on the surface as well as other places.

                              It's of course very fluid and dynamic here and even living in the city, it's difficult to keep up with developments. Speaking of which, BTW, not far from Brouwerij Lane, 3 more of similar type shops have opened in the last year or so. And few years ago Barcade guys opened another place- The Gutter, which sounds like another late night drunk idea- "let's take an oldMid-Western bowling alley and relocate it to Brooklyn and serve a dozen or so craft beers on tap."

                              It's on that map, which was developed by Alex Hall, who's an active beer advocate dude I always read on the internet...That map is already pretty well behind the times already! So many more places have opened since 2010.

                        2. re: Silverjay

                          Yeah, seriously. NYC has some great places for beer, and almost all of the high-end restaurants have serious beer lists now.

                2. My wife and I spend a week in Bend, Oregon every summer. I am surprised to see that they got their own spot on this list. I would have expected to see them lumped in with Portland. Having said that, I really do believe that for a beer lover, Bend is the center of the universe.

                  1. Great list. I think San Diego is the nation's best beer town based on any reasonable criteria. It boasts the most great breweries in any metropolitan area, many small production beers are regularly available on tap that are rarely seen elsewhere, the selection of imports available is fantastic, there are many great beer bars and bottle shops, rare beers are often available, and even bars and restaurants that are not beer centric often offer a solid selection. Many restaurants offer great food that is specifically created to compliment beer, there are beer pairing dinners nearly every night. New York and Chicago are great beer towns, too, but I'd rather go pub crawling in San Diego than any other US city.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Idyllwild

                      I DO love San Diego beers, but what I cannot figure out is why the beers are so strong and heavy for a place with such a mild, warm climate. Basically, beers in San Diego are brewed for Alaska weather, and I really cannot figure out the reason for this.

                      1. re: Tripeler

                        I too love living in SD and the access to so many great breweries and the local beer culture. I think the reason that many strong beers manage to do well here might be that coastal SD is really not that warm of a climate. Even in Aug and Sep the average high is south of 80F. It's rare that I choose a lighter beer because the weather is too hot, though I live just a couple miles from the ocean..

                        1. re: Tripeler

                          That's not really true, it's just those are the ones that get the most attention and are most widely shipped outside the city.

                          I moved out of SD about 8 months ago, but when I was there my favorite locals were all great for hot weather.

                          1. re: Josh

                            Good point. Not being from SD means I am most exposed to the beers that are shipped out.