Serious Eats: Drinks
Which is the Best Beer City?
If you like beer, pretty much every city is getting to be a better place to live as more and more breweries start making and serving the fresh stuff. But some places really stand out as beer meccas, offering great local breweries and beer-focused events, good stuff on tap and beer-friendly restaurants. Spots like San Diego, Portland, and Asheville are often mentioned as beer meccas. But which city is truly the best for beer?
We want to know your opinion. Do you agree with any of these folks about which is the best place for beer?
Cicerone Tyler Morton of Taste of Tops believes that San Diego is among the best beer cities not just in the US, but worldwide: "It's the home of the best West coast IPAs, arguably the best Belgian style brewery (The Lost Abbey), the most innovative and daring brewery (Stone) and three of America's best beer bars (Toronado, Churchill's, and Hamilton's)." Morton notes. "San Diego, by no coincidence, has also been a frequent host to what is largely considered the biggest and best international beer competition, the World Beer Cup."
Dave McLean, brewmaster/owner of Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery chimed in for his home town: "It's often said that San Francisco is the birthplace of the American craft beer renaissance, since the creation story begins with Fritz Maytag buying Anchor Brewing in 1965 and spending the next ten years reviving it and using it to launch a series of post-Prohibition firsts—first holiday ale, first IPA, first porter, first wheat beer, and so on. Sonoma's New Albion and Chico's Sierra Nevada, both coming along in the late 70s and selling most of their beer in and around SF, further point to some of the deepest craft beer roots running through the area."
But it's not just about the history of beer, says McLean. "Equally, if not more important is the good food movement that sprang forth from the Bay Area. That SF has had 40+ years of small, local, independent food and beverage producers changing the way we think about what we eat and drink gives it an enormous edge. The beer culture in SF is now deeply woven into the wider artisan food movement and into the hearts and minds of the eating and drinking public. I don't think it's a coincidence that these movements began in and around San Francisco along with many others—that innovative and expressive spirit has defined SF for many decades and it continues to contribute to the beer and brewing community."
Kendall Jones of the Washington Beer Blog surprised us a bit with his pick: "I'd love to say Seattle is the best beer city because I'm a homer like that. But my pick is Portland, Oregon, because of the sheer number of breweries in the city limits, not to mention that they are so creative and make interesting beers. Plus I don't know of another major city that has a beer parade (marshaled by the mayor) through town to kick off their beer festival.Pound for pound, Portland is the undisputed heavyweight champion when it comes to kickass craft beer." Cicerone Ryan Spencer of Bailey's Taproom adds: "More recently, Portland has shown its diversity in brewing with new breweries making classic examples of European styles rather than focusing on hoppy American ales."
Jeff Alworth of Beervana offers a great tip for checking in on a city's beer cred: "If you want to tell how advanced a city's beer culture is, go to a dive bar. Most cities now have places beer geeks can go to find new, exotic beers. But drive out to the fringes of the city—way outside the hipster zone—and find some place called "Lucky's." If they're serving local craft beer, you've got a good beer city." Portland, Oregon passes the test, he says: "It's not possible to find a dive bar, chain restaurant, or convenience store in Portland that doesn't have at least two or three local choices. Some of them have several. Another clue that Portland's out in front is who drinks good beer. Walk into a random pub or restaurant and look around. You'll see a table of young people drinking good beer next to a table with a pair of middle-aged women leaning in over pints of IPA. Men, women, young, and old—in Portland, they're all drinking good beer. It's not the 50+ breweries or the scads of bottle shops and beer bars that makes this the best—it's the ubiquity of good beer. There are only a few cities in the world that can rival Portland on that score."
Cicerone James Tai of Pinch in Yonkers argues for New York City: "With all due respect to San Francisco, San Diego, Philadelphia, Asheville, et al, the best beer city in my estimation has to be New York City. While it may have lagged behind in the past, the momentum for a decent pint at any given establishment—not to mention the current boom happening in the outer boroughs such as the Bronx and Queens—really has NYC right at the forefront of the craft beer landscape. One can visit established watering holes (such as the Blind Tiger, Mug's Alehouse, and Jimmy's No 43), up and comers (Proletariat, Glorietta Baldy, Church Publick), and fantastic breweries (Barrier Brewing, Bronx Brewery, 508 Gastrobrewery) all within a short span of time—and via public transportation at that. The fact that the state has the political will to advocate for and promote local producers, coupled with possessing the physical climate to produce hops and barley carries the upshot of a true locally produced beer from grain to glass, thereby putting New York City in a different class altogether."
Cicerone Becki Kregoski of Bites 'n Brews argues that Northern Colorado is the best beer destination. "Set against the beautiful backdrop of the front range, Northern Colorado's brewery and beer scene is extensive and growing every day. With at least 24 breweries (and at least six preparing to open), the options are limitless for local brews with a view. Crafty bars like Choice City Butcher & Deli and Cranknstein (which features freshly roasted coffee and bike tuneups in the same location) are spreading the love of hard-to-get craft brews amongst their customers. Friendly people, seemingly endless supplies of new brews, masses of unpretentious beer nerds, and the gorgeous Rockies make Northern Colorado the best place to find and enjoy the wonder that is craft beer."
But there are great beer destinations outside of the US that shouldn't be forgotten. Jesse Friedman of Almanac Beer Co. highly recommends a trip to Belgium: "When you talk about a great beer city, only Brussels causes beers geeks eyes to roll back into their heads in ecstatic pleasure. It's the return to the motherland, where the world's greatest beers were born. Trappist ales, Lambic, Gueze, Kriek, Flanders Red are all local brews, being poured fresh having made the very short journey into town. Visit the working brewery museum of Cantillon, or try the selection of beers at the Hoppy Lounge at Delirium Cafe, where the import and local beer lists are so large they require separate binders."
Time to weigh in. What's your pick for the best beer city? Let us know in the comments below.