Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

June 8, 2009


Voting Results For The Midwest 2009 Brewery Power Rankings

With no shocks in this year’s results, we’re going to assume the drunk voting was held to a minimum.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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The results are in for our vaguely annual polling of the electorate, the Midwest Brewery Power Rankings. Here you go:

1. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
2. Founders Brewing Co.
3. Three Floyds Brewing Co.
4(t). New Glarus Brewing Company
4(t). Goose Island Beer Co.
6. Great Lakes Brewing Co.
7. Surly Brewing Co.
8. Tyranena Brewing Company
9(t). Dark Horse Brewing Co.
9(t). Furthermore Beer

Once again, like last year, Bell’s sits atop the list, and it’s pretty clear why: their reach blankets the Midwest, and their range of offerings—from the easy drinkin’, but still complex Oberon, to the hop-happy Two Hearted and Hopslam, all the way up to the anvil-heavy Expedition Stout—is amazingly huge, all while featuring some of the best beers in the country.

Founders’ recent expansion allowed them to flood the region with their damn near peerless brews, like Red’s Rye, Porter, Breakfast Stout, Imperial Stout, Curmudgeon, Backwoods Bastard, and Centennial IPA, along with crazy-good newcomers Cerise and Double Trouble. All that incredible beer garnered them placement in the second spot in our voting.

Founders’ beer swarm pushed Three Floyds down to third place through no fault of the Munster, Indiana brewery’s own. Despite a still relatively limited distribution, now-classic entries Alpha King, Robert the Bruce, Dreadnaught, and, of course, Dark Lord, along with stunning new concoctions like Oat Goop, Blackheart, and Moloko, still make Three Floyds one of the best breweries in the country, maybe even the world.

The innovation and quality control of New Glarus is impressive beyond words.
Then we have New Glarus, with, which a wider reach, would probably be sitting on top of the list. Their Alt was one of the beer highlights of the last year, and the Unplugged Series seems to be home run after home run—Imperial Weizen, Iced Barley Wine, Berliner Weiss, to just name a few. Then you’ve got the wheat-beer trifecta of Dancing Man Wheat, Black Wheat, and Crack’d Wheat to burnish an already solid lineup. The innovation and quality control of this Wisconsin-only brewery is impressive beyond words.

The big climber was Goose Island, partly thanks to the increased distribution (mostly in thanks to their partial ownership by Anheuser-Busch InBev via Widmer) of their very good Reserve series of flavorful brews like Matilda and Bourbon County Stout.

A solid, wide-ranging set of beers paired with big reach and consistently top-notch quality is why Great Lakes sits in the top 10. They don’t go crazy with über-hoppy double IPAs or 13 percent ABV imperial stouts. But strong-and-steady brews like Burning River Pale Ale, Dortmunder Gold, and Commodore Perry—along with tasty specialties Blackout Stout, Nosferatu, and Christmas Ale— make this brewery a stabilizing force in the Midwest. Their recently released saison, Grassroots Ale, looks like another winner.

In-your-face attitude and offensively great beers puts Surly in the top 10 again this year.
Surly’s tiny footprint and equally miniscule lineup are only minor inconveniences to this brewery’s popularity, evidenced by their sitting at number seven in the voting. In-your-face attitude and brews—the crushing darkness of Darkness and the offensively good Furious—play surprisingly well with tamer but quality entries Bender, Bitter Brewer, and CynicAle.

Tyranena, another small brewery with limited distribution—basically Wisconsin and Minnesota—tenaciously hangs on to the number eight spot. Their Brewers Gone Wild! series—Devil Over a Barrel, Paradise by the Dash Board Lights, and many others—gets all the press (deservingly so), but behind all those big, aggressive brews are some damn fine year-round offerings—Headless Man Amber Alt, Bitter Woman, Rocky’s Revenge—and solid seasonals—Shantytown Doppelbock, Fargo Brothers Hefeweizen.

Dark Horse debuts on the top 10 list this year after expanding its reach into a huge chunk of the Midwest. Although their consistency can sometimes be hit-and-miss, the talent and innovation is more than evident in solid offerings Crooked Tree IPA, Scotty Karate Scotch Ale, and Amber Ale. They really shine in their Holiday Stout Series, with One Oatmeal Stout Ale, Too Cream Stout, Tres Blueberry Stout, and Fore Smoked Stout. It’ll be exciting to see what directions Dark Horse takes as it matures as a brewery.

Another newcomer to the list rounds out the top 10, Furthermore Beer, and represents the only brewery whose products are contract-brewed, in this case at the Sand Creek Brewery in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. This fact doesn’t mean a thing when you consider Furthermore’s roster of quietly complex, super funky beers along the lines of Makeweight, Fatty Boombalatty, and Knot Stock.

How some of the other Dorks voted:

1. Three Floyds Brewing Co.: Two words: Gorch Fock. This excellent beer made me realize that FFF wasn’t just a one-trick hops pony.
2. Founders Brewing Co.
3. Goose Island Beer Co.: Goose Island’s lineup continues to expand, and they’re really putting out a lot of new, interesting beers.
4. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
5. Flossmoor Station: Not the easiest beer to find, but the Killer Kowalski Baltic Porter was pretty damn amazing.
6. Jolly Pumpkin
7. New Glarus Brewing Company
8. Great Lakes Brewing Co.
9. New Holland Brewing Co.
10. Two Brothers Brewing Company

1. Founders Brewing Co.: Undisputed champ for the second straight year, in my opinion. A ton of phenomenal new releases in the past year solidified their lofty ranking.
2. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.: Another solid year from one of America’s best.
3. New Glarus Brewing Company: A ton of new releases, excellent rotating seasonals, the creativity of the Unplugged series … phenomenal. If New Glarus could expand outside of Wisconsin, they could be the next big thing.
4. Three Floyds Brewing Co.: Welcome back to Wisconsin … looking forward to rediscovering this Indiana gem after more than a year of missing out on their wacky, hoppy creations.
5. Surly Brewing Co.: Awesome beer, awesome ideology, but too hard to find which drags them down.
6. Dark Horse Brewing Co.: Continues to impress without socking you upside the head. I think they’ve slowly climbed my list each year.
7. Central Waters Brewing Company: A new entrant to my Top 10. The Brewers Reserve line is second to none, and a solid everyday lineup that continues to find expanded distribution makes this small town brewery one to keep an eye on.
8. Great Lakes Brewing Co.: Solid. Easy to locate. Creative. Everything you want from a craft brewer is found on the shores of Lake Erie.
9. Short’s Brewing Company: Another new entrant to my Top 10, although I’ve only had a couple of samples. Was very impressed and am going out on a limb, hoping my initial impressions hold up.
10. Tyranena Brewing Company: Still solid, but the new releases significantly lagged in the past year. Hoping for something new and exciting from Lake Mills to push one of my favorites back up the list … if not, they may slip out of my rankings next year.

1. New Glarus Brewing Company: With a plethora of kick ass limited releases how can this brewery not be #1. They do this without falling into the trendy over-hopped beers. Also they are one of the few breweries introducing new good lagers.
2. Lake Louie Brewing: New releases and better consistency moved this brewery up in the rankings. Also, availability has increased, which is commendable for a self distributor.
3. Capital Brewery: Big new releases say a lot about the company’s direction. A champion lager-producer that seemed to be lagging over the last couple years, but is obviously making an effort to reestablish itself as the king of lagers. Barbara, the Baltic Porter and the Hop Bock are evidence.
4. Founders Brewing Co.: Trendy but damn good beer.
5. Dark Horse Brewing Co.: Good big lagers. Would like to see better distribution.
6. Lakefront Brewery, Inc.: Bridge Burner alone is a good enough beer to qualify it for the top 10 list. It’s probably a little over-ranked at the moment in hope of innovative new products in the future.
7. New Holland Brewing Co.
8. Three Floyds Brewing Co.: Bad distribution hurt this great brewery’s rank this year.
9. Sprecher Brewing Co.
10. Tyranena Brewing Company

1. Founders Brewing Co.
2. Three Floyds Brewing Co.
3. New Glarus Brewing Company
4. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
5. Great Lakes Brewing Co.
6. Goose Island Beer Co.
7. Dark Horse Brewing Co.
8. New Holland Brewing Co.
9. Lakefront Brewery, Inc.
10. Capital Brewery

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