2006 | REVIEWS | TOP 10 BEER CITIES IN AMERICA
The following is a collection of short essays by Celebrator
writers extolling the beery virtues of their regions. The
rankings are the result of a poll of Celebrator writers. Be
sure to let us know how you would rank America's best beer
— Lisa Morrison
The art of conversation over a finely crafted ale or lager
has found its home in Portland. We Portlanders love to meet
for a beer. Sure, there are several pubs that have a TV on
(muted), but many do not, preferring to revive the spirit
of community and invigorate that once-lost, pleasurable pastime
of enjoying good company and an artisan quaff.
Craft beer has become such a part of our lives that it is
woven into the fabric of our community. We usually don't make
a big to-do about it like some places do, with numerous brewers'
dinners and competitions and festivals (although we have our
share of all those).
Instead, Portlanders quietly rejoice in our beer every time
we walk or bike over to our local pubs to share a pint. We
elevate good beer when we ask for the beer menu at a nice
restaurant. We advance craft beer when we take the kids to
a family-friendly brewpub. We appreciate beer when we strike
up a conversation with the stranger on the next barstool and
speak intelligently about local breweries, or hops, or Belgian
We celebrate beer in Portland because it's what we are. And
it's a part of our lives. Every day.
San Francisco — Tom Dalldorf
The San Francisco Bay Area was ground zero for the good-beer
renaissance in the U.S. Beginning with Fritz Maytag's last-minute
rescue of the iconic but failing Anchor Brewing Company in
1965, the City by the Bay was the scene of many early brewing
endeavors. New Albion Brewing opened in Sonoma, north of San
Francisco, in 1977 as the first microbrewery in the country
since Prohibition. Early breweries included names like DeBakker,
Thousand Oaks, River City and Palo Alto Real Ales. The first
two brewpubs (second and third in the U.S.) opened in 1983
in Mendocino and Hayward. Triple Rock and San Francisco Brewing
Company quickly followed.
As is the case with other mature markets, craft beer is almost
taken for granted in San Francisco. It is assumed that pubs,
taverns, restaurants and the region’s sports facilities
will offer great beer, and they do! The City's seminal beer
bar, the Toronado, is a must for all visiting beer lovers.
Beer dinners, festivals and events take place all year long.
Beer appreciation has developed a culture and a spirit in
the San Francisco Bay Area. We continue to enjoy some of the
best microbrewery and brewpub beers in the country. And the
number one pilsner beer, according to this year's World Beer
Cup, is made in Berkeley. Make plans to visit the beautiful
Beer City by the Bay.
To many beer fiends, Denver is the nation’s top beer
city. Why? For starters, the city’s center is home to
some of the most trailblazing (and successful) craft breweries
in the nation: Wynkoop, Flying Dog, Breckenridge, Great Divide
and the first Rock Bottom location, for example. D-Town’s
downtown also holds three other brewpubs and produces arguably
more great craft beer than any other city’s downtown.
It is also home to one of America’s best beer venues,
Falling Rock Tap House.
Granted, Denver lacks the broad alehouse culture and devout
local-beer allegiance enjoyed by a few other beery U.S. cities.
And most of the area’s chefs continue to foolishly ignore
the world-class beers made locally.
But the metro area does welcome the mighty Coors and its
SandLot brewpub, nearby Boulder’s many beery riches
(including Avery Brewing, Mountain Sun and the Brewers Association/American
Homebrewers Association) and many other small-batch brewers
and brewpubs. Better still, Denver lays claim to a craft-beer-pioneer
mayor (Wynkoop founder John Hickenlooper) and hosts the annual
Great American Beer Festival, the globe’s best beer-tasting
event. All told, these beery assets make Denver a Mile High
City that’s miles above other beer burgs.
#4: Seattle — Don Scheidt
Try not to be too surprised that Seattle does pretty well
in the Celebrator’s pick of top 10 American beer cities.
Seattle has brewing and alehouses in abundance, and it’s
easy to find a good beer in most parts of town. Starting with
the brewpubs, Elysian, Pike, Pyramid, Gordon Biersch, Rock
Bottom, McMenamins Six Arms, McMenamins Roy Street, Hale’s,
Maritime Pacific’s Jolly Roger taproom, the RAM-University
Village, the Big Time, Elliott Bay Brewing, Pacific Crest’s
taproom and Pacific Rim’s taproom all feature fresh
beers made on the premises — and there’s more
in the suburbs.
In addition to great neighborhood alehouses, we have restaurants
that pour local, too. West Seattle’s Ovio Bistro reserves
its two taps for local brewer Georgetown Brewing. That’s
the kind of dedication you’ll find in Seattle. We support
our brewers, and the Washington Brewers Guild gets the word
out via Washington Beer Lovers (WA.B.L.). What’s not
Why Philadelphia? The answer is lager. But let’s get
the other stuff out of the way first.
Start with diversity. More beers of more styles are brewed
the Philadelphia region than anywhere else in the U.S. Most
are excellent. A few are superior. And the lot of them are
generally balanced, nuanced brews that represent all the detailed
complexity of the brewer’s art at its finest.
Consider the milieu. Our best beer venues have been as highly
praised for their culinary skills as for their beer selections
for years now. We get virtually every popular craft beer from
other areas of the country. Philadelphia is where the American
craze for Belgian beers began; it remains the largest U.S.
market for Belgians.
Still, it’s lager beers that set Philadelphia apart.
There’s Yuengling Lager, the beer that stopped Budweiser
in its tracks in this market. Or Victory Brewing’s flagship
Prima Pils, named Top Pilsner in the World by The New York
Times a few months back. On a grander scale, the annual Sly
Fox Bock Festival poured four bocks (plus two eisbock versions)
— Helles Lager, Dark Lager, Pilsner and Rauchbier —
this May. Got anything like that where you live?
#6: San Diego — Rich Link
Twenty years ago, San Diego was a beer wasteland. There were
no breweries and few taps other than "the big three"
and a few imports. That began to change in 1989 when the first
Karl Strauss Brewery opened as Old Columbia Brewery and Restaurant.
A year later, two more brewpubs opened. Today there are more
than 20 superb breweries in the area. Many have won numerous
awards for their beers in domestic and international competitions.
Several local breweries are considered world-class. Most likely
you'll find any beer style to suit your fancy at one of the
local breweries. Belgian, English, German, hoppy, very hoppy
and exponentially hoppy beers are all available here. Add
to that several of the best tap houses around — including
O'Brien's and Liar's Club — plus many more multi-tap
houses, and you have the beer destination called San Diego.
#7: Washington, D.C./Baltimore —
Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Md., are good beer towns
in different ways. Combined, they're easily in the top 10
beer cities in the U.S.
I'd start in D.C. with a legend: the Brickskeller. Over 1,000
beers are on hand, along with an equally dazzling calendar
of beer tastings and talks. Throw in a burgeoning availability
of Belgian beers on the local bar scene and several good brewpubs
around the city and in the suburbs, and this is a fine place
to be a beer geek.
Want English-style ales? Baltimore has the Wharf Rat brewpub.
Belgian-style beers? The Brewer's Art brewpub features them.
Baltimore's Clipper City Brewing is making some of the best
beers east of the Mississippi River, and they're on draft
and in bottles all over the area. Add excellent and comfortable
beer bars like Max's on Broadway and Racers, and it's easy
to be charmed by the beers of Charm City.
#8: Boston — Kerry J. Byrne
For all of Boston's contributions to culture, education and
history, its biggest tourist attractions are a barroom (Cheers)
and a brewery (Sam Adams). It's no coincidence that the largest
craft brewery in America is the BOSTON Beer Company, which
routinely brews special beers for the Boston market. The waterfront
Harpoon Brewery is also among the nation's biggest. Boston-area
brewpubs and specialty beer bars are too numerous to mention.
But the true measure of Boston's sudsy love affair is that
you don't NEED a specialty bar: Upscale restaurants have adopted
fine beer, and every pub has 10 to 20 taps. Good luck finding
a Coors or Miller handle among them. Beer festivals abound,
while a small army of Boston writers make the case for beer
in books, newspapers and magazines. BeerAdvocate.com, one
of the world's leading online beer resources, is headquartered
in Boston. Oh yeah: Bostonians reportedly drink, per capita,
more beer and more imports than any other Americans. Not bad
for No. 8.
#9: New York and Chicago (a tie)
Good beer is alive and well in the nation's most densely populated
metropolitan cities. New York and Chicago tied in our Celebrator
writers’ poll for ninth place, and we like that. New
York features breweries and brewpubs doing the almost impossible
task of making beer on some of the most expensive real estate
on the planet. Classic bars and taverns now feature good beer
along with some of the A-list beer venues like dba and The
Ginger Man. Brooklyn is a destination, with Mugs Ale House,
Spuyten Duyvil, Waterfront Ale House and the legendary Brooklyn
Brewery, to name a few.
Chicago, home of the blues, is also home of the brews with
Goose Island's three venues and a plethora of great beer places
within walking distance of Navy Pier. Clark Street is a great
crawl for music and beer happenings, and good beer is to be
found in most of the classic pubs and taverns of this great