The Brooklyn Growler

"Life is all skittles and beer." — Tom Lehrer

Vermont No. 1 in Unofficial Per Capita List of U.S. Breweries

While doing some research yesterday, I began to wonder what state had the most breweries in the U.S. in 2010. Because I couldn’t find the data I wanted, I started collecting it myself.

The results were not what I expected. States with smaller populations actually had the largest per capita number of breweries. Vermont, with a population of just over 600,000 people topped the list, beating California which is just shy of 40 million people.

Go figure. Just because there are more people and more of a certain thing in a place, doesn’t mean that it diffuses as far into the culture. I think. I guess. I suppose.

Before I get to a sample of the data, I want to share my methods for the data collection.

First, I pulled all of the state-by-state population numbers from the 2010 Census. That includes all fifty states plus Washington, D.C. for a total of fifty-one entries. Second, I used Beer Advocate’s current list of Beer Places in the U.S. to get a statewide number of breweries. For this number, I combined both state-by-state numbers of breweries and brewpubs. The Brewer’s Association defines a brewpub as “A restaurant-brewery that sells 25% or more of its beer on site.” They brew beer. Fair game. Then I calculated how many breweries each state had for each 100,000 residents.

This list is, of course, unofficial. These numbers have not been collected by any official agency or professional number cruncher. This 2010 per capita list was created primarily as an intellectual exercise. I welcome input, arguments, corrections, clarifications, and questions.

The data for previous years has been expertly compiled by the Brewer’s Association (2008) and by Lug Wrench Brewing (2009). I have not included their data in my chart, but I have referred to it for the purposes of this informal analysis.

Also, I have created a public Google spreadsheet of the data (plus here is a version you can manipulate). If you would like a copy as an Excel file or PDF, my contact info is in the sidebar.

That all said–

2010: Top 5 Breweries Per Capita U.S. States

2010 Rank State 2010 Population Breweries & Brewpubs Breweries Per 100,000
1 Vermont 625,741 21 3.36
2 Oregon 3,831,074 110 2.87
3 Maine 1,328,361 37 2.79
4 Montana 989,415 25 2.53
5 Wyoming 563,626 13 2.31

2010: Bottom 5 Breweries Per Capita U.S. States

2010 Rank State 2010 Population Breweries & Brewpubs Breweries Per 100,000
47 Texas 25,145,561 39 0.15
48 North Dakota 672,591 1 0.15
49 Arkansas 2,915,918 4 0.14
50 Alabama 4,779,736 5 0.1
51 Mississippi 2,967,297 1 o.3

The results indicate that even though a state might have the highest population, it does not have the highest number of breweries/brewpubs per capita. California’s population (37,253,956) makes it the highest-populated state in the U.S. and it also has the most breweries/brewpubs (255). However, it is No. 19 for per capita breweries on my list.

Vermont, which is No. 1 per capita, is the the 49th largest state by actual population. Since 2008 (at least) it has been the state with the most breweries per capita, according to the Brewer’s Association and Lug Wrench. The Top 5 shifts from year to year. Montana was at No. 2 in 2008, No. 3 in 2009, and has fallen to No. 4 in 2010.

Wyoming was the least-populated U.S. state in 2010 and yet it makes it into the Top 5 for per capita breweries. Montana is the forty-fourth most populated state, and it consistently remains in the Top 5.

To put this in perspective, states with the largest populations actually have the smallest per capita number of breweries. So Texas has 0.15 breweries for every 100,000 people, while Vermont has 3.36 breweries for every 100,000 people.

What conclusions can we draw from this informal sampling?

Except for North Dakota (Midwest), the Bottom 5 states are all southern states. Meanwhile, the Top 5 are in the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast.

Though these northern states in the Top 5 have smaller populations of people, those people help foster environments that are rich in brewing beer – mostly craft beer. Does that mean those in the Top 5 produce the best beers in the country or, necessarily, have the best beer cultures?

No, not necessarily.

It does make me wonder… What’s more important? To have more to enjoy or to be able to enjoy less more?

All I can say is definitively is – let’s all go to Vermont and get drunk.

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Cascadian Dark Ales: East Coast Style Meets West Coast Hops

There are times when you have to get away from it all to discover something that’s been staring at you without your notice for far too long. For me, that was rediscovering the glories of an IPA, while tasting beers in Montana.

American IPAs can be some heady brews with bold and bitter flavors offset by strong citric acids. The high alcohol by volume (ABV) means these beers often pack more than just a flavor punch.

Maybe it’s my East Coast-centric worldview, but it’s easy to forget how the Pacific Northwest is such a fertile bed for hop production – hence the proliferation of so many West Coast IPAs. The Pacific Northwest’s Cascades range is one such region, which is thick in hop production. And, ahem, not that IPAs haven’t spread throughout the U.S. and not that I don’t have something to say about it, just that I’m trying to wind my way to a point without mentioning how New York State used to be one of the largest U.S. producers of hops or that Brooklyn’s Six Point Craft Ale‘s Sweet Action is an IPA to inspire.

My point, and I suppose I might have one, is that with so many hops grown in Washington and Oregon – and with craft brewers excited to experiment with new varieties – a trip out West should be one where myriad IPAs are consumed.

Enter the Bozeman Brewing Co.

Bozeman Brewing was founded by Todd Scott, former employee of Spanish Peaks Brewing Co., around 2001. The brewery, a former pea cannery, produces three basic beers and five seasonal varieties. Its logo (pictured above) features elements from historic Montana beers (see New West for a detailed profile of the brewery). Scott has added a tasting room to the front of the business where about five beers are on tap and growler refills are in quick supply. The Bozone Select Amber Ale is its flagship beer.

We tried all of the beers on tap that afternoon. There were four of us in my party, so we were able to spread the beers around to get a full sampling (worth noting because Montana breweries not only have to close by 8 p.m. but also must limit each patron’s sampling to a total of three beers).

Hop-heavy beers dominated the Bozeman Brewing menu, with one hefeweizen thrown in for good measure (in tasting, the IPAs knocked it sadly into submission). Among the beers on tap were:

  • Hopzone IPA (7 percent ABV)
  • Hefeweizen (6 percent ABV)
  • Imperial IPA (9.6 percent ABV)
  • Belgian-Style Wit Beer (5 percent ABV)
  • Cascadian Dark Ale (7.5 percent ABV)

I was impressed by all of them, although, the Hopzone was a little too astringent in its bitterness to me. I can be sensitive to overly bitter flavors at times, which means that after one IPA, I’m usually done and ready to move on to an ale. I’m not into this drive of late to push the alcohol envelope in beers. Give me flavor and I’ll keep coming back.

It was with this in mindset that I dipped my beak into the Imperial IPA (everyone’s gotta have a high-ABV IPA that costs a few sheckels more) and, though enjoyable, didn’t blow me away. I liked the Belgian-Style Wit Beer and have to side with Tim Webb who noted that “American imitations [knock] the socks off certain freshly imported ‘real’ Trappist ales,” in his introduction to Stan Hieronymus’s must-read Brew Like a Monk.

But I’d yet to find “the one” to rule them all. That’s when I had my first taste of a Cascadian Dark Ale.

Cascadian Dark Ales are a relatively new variety of IPA, originated by Shaun Hill at Vermont’s Shed Brewery. Speaking to Imbibe Magazine, Hill described this new style of beer as one that can “drink like an IPA but look like a stout.”

The style was picked up by San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. with the brewery’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, which is a double IPA (see this Beer Advocate article on American double IPAs for more info; in America, we go big with everything, y’know). The style has spread like a hop vine from there.

I’d not had the pleasure of drinking a Cascadian Dark Ale until I hit Bozeman Brewing. It was fantastic. Not too bracingly bitter, easy to drink, distinctively stout with a rich roasty malty taste and an IPA’s carbonation. I didn’t take it for an IPA at all at first. I thought it was a just a stout. My initial ignorance made me overlook the complexity going on with this beer. Further sips brought out the hoppy crispness of an IPA.

There’s a lot going on in these Cascadian Dark Ales. Though the style originated on the East Coast, it took a trip out West for me to discover this amazing beer. Expect more on these beauties in the future.

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MillerCoors Cruises for Craft Beer at Corner of 10th & Blake

MillerCoors today announced it is going to launch a craft and import beer business that will remain independent of the main MillerCoors company (see The Business Journal of Milwaukee story).

The new craft/import company will be called Tenth and Blake Beer Company. The name comes from the two successful craft breweries where Leinenkugel‘s and Blue Moon are brewed. Both breweries are now owned by MillerCoors.

Leinenkugel’s is brewed at Miller’s Milwaukee, Wis. brewery located at 1515 N. 10th St., while Blue Moon is brewed at a brewery (the Sandlot) on Blake St. in Denver, Colo.

The article also states that –

The crafts and imports business have been performing well for MillerCoors of late. In the second quarter, the business was led by a strong performance of Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s, and the segment delivered double-digit growth. Crafts and imports are outperforming MillerCoors premium flagship brands like Miller Lite and Coors Light, which are posting flat or declining sales.

So now that Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s are outselling Miller Lite and Coors Light, MillerCoors is following the money and seeing where it will lead. In addition to being a standalone company, Tenth and Blake will also have its own marketing budget and sales organization.

It will be interesting to see how this affects existing craft breweries.

The distribution might of MillerCoors means whatever beers are created and branded by Tenth and Blake will be spread widely through supermarkets and convenience stores. It also means that unlike Budweiser – which has released craft-style beers such as its American Ale and Bud Light Golden Wheat brands – MillerCoors intends to put all of its craft-style beers inside of a different bucket than the main MillerCoors bucket. You’re not going to see a Coors Light Amber Bock or an MGD Farmhouse Ale, basically. Instead, it will be Olde Timey Eccentric Craft Beer Name’s Lager.

Long and short of it, Tenth and Blake could shove existing craft beers off the shelves.

The one positive is that, as the Biz Journal article states, MillerCoors is having much more success selling hefeweizens, ales, and bocks over light beers in gimmicky bottles and cans – when the mountains turn blue this beer vortex manipulator is gonna get you drunk faster.

Hence, the average American beer drinker is seeking more flavorful and interesting beers than the old standards, while the big, industrial, mass-market beer-makers of yore are looking to take advantage of that. Can craft beer win out with its historically smaller market share or will it be shoved into becoming a niche market for beer snobs alone?

This is the part of the story where we wander our way into the very tip of the inverted triangle. Ahem.

Some assistance could arrive in the craft brewing bill S. 3330. The bill, which was introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), would enact a reduced, graduated tax rate for small, American brewers (see Brewers Association for more info). The bill would free up money for craft brewers by cutting the Federal excise tax from $7 a barrel to $3.50 a barrel for the first 60,000 barrels a brewer produces. More cuts would be enacted as more barrels are produced.

In other news, earlier this week Vermont’s Magic Hat craft brewery was purchased by Genesee Brewing Company and Dundee Ales & Lagers, which distributes Labatt beers and Seagram coolers (see AP story).

Photo of the Miller Brewing Co. in Milwaukee, Wis. via Conspirator/Flickr/Creative Commons.

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