Finding a great micro beer has turned into a never-ending game of Where’s Waldo. That little bastard’s always hiding out behind a tree, hanging from playground equipment or doing who knows what with that goofy grin and wave (do they still print those books?). Or, maybe a better analogy is to use a great line from Saving Private Ryan, “It’s like finding a needle in a stack of needles.”
Craft beer has taken the country by storm. But where to find the best craft beer? Well, that would require a continual booze drinking tour of the entire United States. Someday. For now, I’m stuck with what’s shipped and distributed to my area of residence.
So what states have the best-distributed beer? It’s an entirely personal question, but as I’m 100% universally correct 100% of the time, I’m confident what I have to say goes with this (I can’t imagine why only dogs share my home). Anyway, here at 2 Dudes and a 6 Pack, these are, in my opinion, the five best beer producing states in terms of quality and availability.
Oregon is in here partially because of default and partially because of Rogue. Rogue was one of the first real craft breweries I could readily find in the early days of beer drinking. Outside of maybe Anchor and Sierra Nevada, stores in Michigan and Georgia carried these beers. Dead Guy Ale became a bit of the early day’s beer staple.
The thing about Oregon is I also find it, in general, to be a bit overrated in terms of beers. People rave about the breweries in Portland, but most of those breweries just aren’t that great. I could care less if you have a 10 hipsters to one brewery ratio. If it sucks it sucks. So for every Rogue, there’s also a Deschutes, which I just haven’t found anything I like from (the beers okay…just plain).
Full Sail has options, but I wouldn’t put it at the tops of the highest quality breweries out there. Frankly, there are better breweries like Trillium and Crooked Tree in the New England area…but the only reason that area’s not on the list is because the distribution of those beers more or less doesn’t exist.
So Oregon is my #5 placeholder. Or maybe I should say Rogue is my #5 placeholder. Just waiting for that distribution to pick up.
4. New York
Outside of the top spot on this list, most of the states here are a bit interchangeable and come down to what I’m in the mood for. These are four-season beer states, which will always help bring about a wider variety of beer offered by the breweries. It allows them to focus not just on the mandated sours and IPAs (thank god).
New York is here thanks to several great breweries. Ommegang is one of the better breweries in the country, thanks to its Duvel Moortgat ownership (which also owns Firestone Walker in California).
Beyond Ommegang, Brooklyn Brewery is fantastic, and one of my newer favorites is Southern Tier Brewing Company. Southern Tier relies a bit more on flavor infusion, which I’m a bit iffy on, but the flavored beers here are some of the very best out there.
Before beers were widely available across state lines, Colorado stood as one of those beer states you just had to visit. I’d always hear stories of people raving about this beer called “Fat Tire” from New Belgium Brewing Company. The beer is widely available now, but it hasn’t been taken over by major corporations, which helps maintain the quality. It doesn’t have that allure to it any longer, but it’s still a great beer.
Add in other great breweries like Avery, which has some of the best IPAs out there, Left Hand (even though their hard pour nitro beers leave me rolling my eyes and wishing it had a can widget) and Odell and you have one of the best beer producing states in the country.
Am I a little biased here? It’s possible. I mean I did grow up in Michigan. But, with that said, of the 10+ (legal) beer drinking years I’ve been alive, 2/3 of those years have been spent out of the Great Lakes State. And the other two states I’ve lived (Georgia and Arizona) don’t scratch the surface of this list.
To me, one of the most important elements you need in a great beer producing state is the cold. Not to say you can’t make great beer in warm states. Maybe the best coffee stout I’ve ever had comes from New Mexico, so it’s not a set-in-stone rule. However, you do make beer for your local demographic.
In Arizona it’s hot. Hot as balls. So you want a beer to cool off those hot balls. This means most of the beers are lighter and fruitier. And Georgia, it’s not as hot as balls, but it does lead to swamp ass syndrome, which is much much worse. Likewise, you want a lighter, crisper beer to fight off swamp thing (not to mention four showers a day).
In the cold, you have a reason to produce varying seasonal beers. Heck, the Alaskan Brewing Company is the most awarded brewery in the history of the Great American Beer Festival. In the cold, you don’t want a light beer. You want something heftier. A beer stew. Michigan has the weather and the beer to go along with it. And in terms of sheer quality of beer, it’s hard to find another state capable of competing with Founders and Bells. These are just two of the best available beers in the state.
Above all else, Michigan offers more quality over quantity. Those beers distributed almost always provide an excellent drinking experience (despite Oberon representing the most overrated beer in the history of beers).
This is a bit of a default answer, yes. The state has a microbrewery number fast approaching 700. That’s crazy. So for every one great brewery, there’s about 70 treading water. But those good breweries are sure good. Ballast Point slings out some of the best widely available IPAs on the market. Anchor more or less created the micro beer industry; Sierra Nevada has some great brews, including their Christmas seasonals (although I totally disliked the 2017 offering). Firestone Walker, owned by Duvel out of Belgium, is possibly my favorite current brewery thanks to not diving into trendy beers and instead focusing on the craft.
You just have to watch out for those breweries that build itself up, sell itself off, and screw the company while doing it (I’m looking at you, Golden Road Brewing Company…your little Facebook brewing videos won’t improve your standing).
Sure, there are plenty of breweries to stub toes on, but in terms of the number of great options, I just can’t see any other state competing with it.
Beer…It’s What’s For Dinner
As a good Savannah friend of mine has and continues to say, “…it’s in the beer group.” To him, the food pyramid had its own beer category. Can’t go wrong with that. So drink what makes you happy. But keep on the lookout for great beer options. You just never know where that Waldo might pop up.