Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

December 18, 2006


Midwest Brewery Power Rankings

The Beer Dorks’ very first power rankings find Three Floyds on top by a hair.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
Welcome to the Beer Dorks’ very first Power Rankings for Midwest craft brewers! I've debated with many a fellow Dork about what brewery was the best in the Midwest, and I thought I'd make my arguments public. I can’t guarantee how often rankings will be released, but I do welcome comments and, yes, criticism. So let me have it, fellow Beer Dorks. Tell me why I’m an idiot. Or, more likely, a genius. And be a dear and let me know if I missed any glaringly awesome breweries in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan (the UP counts!), Indiana or Ohio. Now, on with the list!

1. Three Floyds Brewing
Munster, IN
Riding hops to the top.

2. Founders Brewing Co.
Grand Rapids, MI
Despite an embarassment of riches, just barely edged out by FFF.

3. New Glarus Brewing Company
New Glarus, WI
Limited distribution keeps Dan Carey and company out of the number-one spot.

4. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
Galesburg, MI
Fourth only by a hair. A very thin hair.

5. Capital Brewery
Middleton, WI
Mystifies this Beer Dork why we don’t see their stuff everywhere.

6. Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Cleveland, OH
Ohio’s best brewery coming on strong.

7. Two Brothers Brewing Company
Warrenville, IL
Big, new beers show major promise.

8. Goose Island Beer Co.
Chicago, IL
Hurt by association with the devil. By proxy.

9. Sprecher Brewing Co.
Glendale, WI
More innovative beers needed.

10. Summit Brewing Company
St. Paul, MN
Edges out a bevy of others.

The Criteria
Innovation: The American craft brewing movement was built upon innovation, and it’s that quality that is keeping the industry dynamic and alive. Possibly the most important criteria.

Overall Quality: Not just the number of good beers a brewer produces, but the consistency of the entire line up.

Availability: The only criteria not direcly tied to the brewers’ art, but important nonetheless. You could brew the greatest beers on Earth, but what good would it do if no one had the chance to drink them?

Monsterism: Beer Dorks like big beers. You know what they like more than big beers? Monstrously big beers.

Integrity and Attitude: How does the brewer approach the business of beer-making? Is the beer always first? It should be.

After the wonderful Brewers gone Wild brews this year, I dont know how you cannot include Tyranena of Wisconsin
posted by Tom Ciula | December 20, 2006, 5:52 AM
Well Eddie, I like my beer very much the same as you. Alpha King, Two-Hearted Ale, Crooked Tree are some of my top 10 favs. However, there's no way a brewery as one-dimensional as Three Floyds should be the #1 brewer in the Great Lakes/Midwest. All their beers are loaded down with hops. Which is fine for my personal preference, but not for the title of "Best Brewery" in the midwest!

Founders, Bell's, Great Lakes, then New Holland.
posted by Sopor | December 20, 2006, 9:41 AM
I think a criteria you're missing is value. Which breweries really make you pay for the good stuff, and which ones keep their big beers in line (~2x per oz) as the 'normal' beers. IMO, this bumps up Bell's, Capital, Summit while dropping 3F, GI Fnd
posted by Adam | December 20, 2006, 11:15 AM
I agree with sopor. Three Floyds is too one dimensional to be best. Innovation requires variety, I think. You deducted points from Sprecher for innovation. Great Lakes, Capital then....well we all have our ideas.
posted by Z | December 20, 2006, 4:57 PM
While I would only make minor adjustments to your top 10, I agree that Tyranena is a major omission- its easily better than at least 2 or 3 that made your list
posted by Nigel | December 20, 2006, 8:20 PM
I think sorrowfully missing here is the lakefront brewery. Also, while New Glarus loses on distribution; that is part of what makes it great. It's not available everywhere which makes it special when you unexpectedly find it.
posted by Frederick | December 20, 2006, 9:42 PM
I have to disagree with Frederick. Despite being a good brewery with a great location and decent distribution (and a phenomenal tour), I think most Lakefront brews fall short in terms of overall quality when compared to other Midwest craft breweries. It's a solid brewery, but definitely not top 10 with all the other fine brewers in the region
posted by Nigel | December 21, 2006, 12:50 AM
Watch out for Surly Brewing in Brooklyn Center, MN. They are only a year old, but make some great brews.
posted by Jeff | December 21, 2006, 11:00 AM
Nice list. There are two that I consider top 10 breweries and they are Jolly Pumpkin and Dark Horse. Both are in Michigan and have limited distribution. For JP I don't think any of the other midwest brewers can top them in Innovation or Integrity and their quality and monsterism are nothing to shake a stick at. They make amazing beer, unlike anything else in the midwest, and with few counterparts in the US. They have the perfect attitude as everything they do makes it obvious that they are 'all about the beer'.
I think where Dark Horse excells is their special beers. Their stout series, and other specials like Scotty Karate, 3 Guys off the Scale, and their DIPA are great big beers produced on small scale. I also think they have a great lineup of regular beers.
posted by Adam | December 22, 2006, 10:53 AM
I'm not sure that not being "innovative" should be a reason to deduct points; otherwise Brauerei Schneider (only brews Weizen), or Brasserai Fantome which brews primarily Saisons would never make it.

Otherwise, the list looks fine. My biggest metric is quality and consistency. While innovation is great, most breweries just don't have the time or resources to brew several different style well. If a brewery can brew 2 or 3 different styles well every single time - they are tops in my list. Sprecher is my favorite.
posted by JP | December 22, 2006, 3:23 PM
Boo distribution criteria! It's still good beer even if it isn't widely distributed. As long as they bottle and distribute outside their home region, they should not have points deducted- if you deduct points from New Glarus, Tyranena, etc. for distribution, in Wisconsin your list would then not include Two Brothers and Great Lakes, neither of which you can find anywhere around here. Gotta be careful with that criteria, because you may include beers that you think are common that others don't see, and exclude ones that are unavailable in your area but readily available in many other places.
posted by Nigel | December 27, 2006, 1:39 AM
I have to agree with Nigel about the distribution criteria. There has been no mention of Upland Brewery here in southern Indiana. While they may not distribute outside of IN, they have a great range of beers they produce, including some sensational seasonals. I also have to say that while 3F's make tasty hoppiness, I don't think that they should top the list.
posted by Rob | December 29, 2006, 2:26 PM

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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