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May 28, 2013

Beer Diary:

What Makes A Great Beer Town, Anyway?

Grand Rapids winning Beer Town, USA got me to thinking about this existential question.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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Grand Rapids, Michigan won the title of Beer City, USA for the second year running in a poll put out by Examiner.com. While I didn’t vote in the poll—even though I’m glad a Midwest city won, I kind of think the whole thing is a tad silly—I agree Grand Rapids is one Hell of a good beer town.

Which got me to thinking, what makes a good beer town, anyway?

Does it need a well-regarded craft brewery? While it certainly can’t hurt, I don’t think it makes or breaks a city’s status as a beer town. Until recently, Chicago was a pretty lame city for craft beer, even though it was home to Goose Island. Now Goose Island is gone, swallowed by AB-InBev, and the Windy City’s suddenly sprouted new craft breweries and begun to earn itself a rep of being a hotspot for great craft beer. Besides, nowadays it’s tough to find a decent-sized city without at least one good craft brewery calling it home.

For me, a good beer town can be judged by two things, the first being the pervasiveness of craft beer. Can you walk into any tavern, whether it’s a neighborhood pub, an upscale lounge, a giant sports bar, or a tourist trap theme bar and find decent beer? Or do you need to know where to go to get something other than a list of light beers with maybe a dusty bottle of Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada sitting in the cooler? Will every liquor store you walk into have a reasonable selection of craft beer? Will restaurants carry something other than bland swill—and will high-falutin’ places offer beer instead of just rotten grape juice?

Great craft beer is as much—if not more so—about the people that brew it, sell it, and drink it than it is about barley, hops, and yeast.
I can’t speak to this criteria for Grand Rapids, since every time I’ve been there I pretty much stick to known beer meccas like Founders and the Hop Cat. But to me it ixnays more than a few big cities. I’ve read a lot of hot air about Philly and Boston being great beer towns, but in my visits there I was less than impressed. Rings pointed out how underwhelming Boston’s scene can be despite being the home to Boston Beer Company, and I agree with him, and I distinctly remember with great distaste having to resort to drinking Blue fucking Moon (owned and brewed by MillerCoors) at several establishments in downtown Philadelphia.

The second criteria—at least in my book—for a great craft beer town actually creates the first criteria, and that’s the attitude of the people living there. Do people in general love good craft brew and are they proud of their locally made beer? Or are they close-minded assholes who think they’ve got everything figured out, and all they need is their Bud Light, thank you and your “fancy” beer, very much.

And if people do want to drink and promote their town’s local brews as well as buy and offer something more than mass-marketed cans of cold crap, my first criteria of pervasiveness will eventually follow suit. And if you think about it, that makes a lot of sense, because great craft beer is as much—if not more so—about the people that brew it, sell it, and drink it than it is about barley, hops, and yeast. Or money.

So raise a glass with me to congratulate Grand Rapids being voted Beer City, USA, and to all the other great beer towns in the Midwest.





Comments
Nice article, Eddie.
It is funny the publicity and controversy generated by "Beer City USA." In no way do I think this is a definitive award as there are many great beer regions nowadays...and for 3 of the top 4 in this vote to be from Michigan, it's probably it's own best evidence against legitimacy. That said, it's great for publicity and tourism, which is why so many locals are behind the vote. Along with some great beer bars, GR does have a ton of great beer retailers - even the big supermarkets - but there's also a fair number of licensees who serve nothing but commercial crap beer.
That said, it's 100x better than the aforementioned Boston and many other big cities. The VAST majority of bars & restaurants serve local/craft beer and that percentage is growing by the week - even hole in the wall places one would never suspect. For that, the publicity of "Beer City" has been a godsend, because no one wants to be left behind.
posted by rings | May 28, 2013, 12:09 PM
Nice article, indeed - and comment. I like the criteria of pervasiveness to measure the culture. I won't show my bias geographical bias here, but only one or two cities nationally fit into the category of "the majority of tap handles are of craft brew." That's what I believe is the tipping point and what I believe all beer cities should aspire to. Cheers!
posted by Ade Solomon | June 1, 2013, 12:27 PM