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JUN/JUL 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 cities!

#1: Portland — 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 tripels.

We celebrate beer in Portland because it's what we are. And it's a part of our lives. Every day.

#2: 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.

#3: Denver

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 to like?

#5: Philadelphia

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
— Gregg Wiggins
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 city.

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