Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

February 19, 2008


Voting Results For The Midwest Brewery Power Rankings

Bell’s takes home the viewers’ vote, while the Beer Dorks are split.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
The votes are in, the polls are closed, and all those other voting cliches that I was too lazy to look up. Here’s the top 10 breweries in the Midwest according to us and our readers, based on the criteria of innovation, overall quality, integrity and attitude, monsterism, and availability. The number of first place votes a brewery received is in parantheses:

1. Bell’s Brewery, Inc. (4)
2. Three Floyds Brewing (4)
3. New Glarus Brewing Company (6)
4. Founders Brewing Co. (2)
5. Great Lakes Brewing Co. (4)
6. Surly Brewing Co. (3)
7. Capital Brewery (1)
8(t). Jolly Pumpkin (1)
8(t). Tyranena Brewing Company (1)
10. Goose Island Beer Co. (1)

No shockers in this bunch. Although I didn’t put Bell’s at number one, trying to choose between the top four or five are just splitting hairs. User Severstad put it best in his vote: “An old-school brewery still cranks out surprises (Hopslam). The integrity of Larry Bell cannot be matched.”

Three Floyds taking number two is, again, no suprise. They get stereotyped as being a one trick pony (hops), but it’s way off base. Sure, they get the press for Alpha King, Dreadnaught, and Gumballhead, but their saison, Rabid Rabbit, is phenomenal, and the Alpha Kong is a beast in every sense of the word. Our friend mrmcgibblets tells it like it is when he says, “Just the best and what I would drink daily or if stranded on a desert island.” Amen, brother.

New Glarus took the bronze, but had the most first-place votes. I think this shows how distribution affected the voting, in that New Glarus is only available in Wisconsin. Some voters may have never even had a New Glarus beer. But those who have ranked them at the top. This brewery is downright amazing, which is why it overcomes the distribution criterion and challenges for the top spot in the Midwest.

Another top-five no brainer is Founders which, despite it’s high ranking, only pulled down two first place votes. Their mantra roughly translates to “fuck mainstream,” and they go at it something fierce, with their Centennial and Devil Dancer, followed by the one-two punch of Breakfast Stout and Kentucky Breakfast Stout. The range of this brewery is absolutely incredible, as iterated by user briankeyes: “They do big, they do hoppy, they do dark and they do them all well. Personally I drink Red’s Rye on my Corn Flakes in the morning.”

Great Lakes is one of those brewers that is so good at what they do that you just take them for granted. The quality of their pretty extensive lineup is completely solid, their distribution is outstanding, and although they don’t have any blowout monsters (except the wickedly good Nosferatu), they refuse to cop out with watery beers for the philistines. User proc says it nicely with, “Great Lakes beers should be in every beer lover’s refrigerator,” although mrmcgibblets’s eloquence is quoteworthy: “Lots of quality shit here.”

Now we come to Surly. Beer Advocate recently proclaimed them the best brewery in America, which may or may not have swayed some voters to overrank them. Darkness was outstanding, and Furious is 16 ounces of ass-kicking hop insanity. The rest of their lineup is solid but small, and their availability is borderline nonexistent outside of Minneapolis and a handful of lucky Chicago bars. They’re young, and it’ll be interesting to see how they fare once their lineup expands and their distribution gets too big for them to keep a close eye on. The skills and the death metal attitude can take them a long way, though.

About as old school as it gets, Capital can still deliver, hence their landing in the top 10. They tend to shackle themselves by sticking strictly German-style, but the quality of their bocks—Maibock, Blonde Dopplebock, and Autumnal Fire—cannot be denied. They’ve dipped their toes into the hop water with their U.S. Pale Ale late last year. We can only hope this hints at some excitement to come.

I’ve read posts in which the writer trashes Three Floyds for being one dimensional while praising Jolly Pumpkin as spectacularly innovating. Which I think is dead wrong. Jolly Pumpkin makes good, solid beers, all spiked with Brett due to their open fermenting system and/or barrel aging. For those who love the lactic sourness, Jolly Pumpkin’s stuff is like an imperial IPA to hopheads. The craftmanship of these beers is superb (which is one reason why this Dexter, Michigan brewer sits in the top 10), but I have to admit I’m not the biggest fan.

I’m wondering if we got an oversampling of Wisconsin votes. Tyranena’s availability doesn’t get too far outside of Wisconsin, but they garnered enough votes to get up there with the elite. To me they are one of those breweries that hit doubles every other at bat but can’t quite poke one out of the ballpark. Not in my top 10, but close.

Goose Island is a bit like Great Lakes in that their consistency is solid (except for the shitty, shitty 312 Urban Wheat) and their availability is widespread … especially since their deal with Anheuser-Busch via Widmer. Their big beer series—Matilda, Demolition, Pere Jacques, Imperial IPA, and Bourbon County Stout—push them over the edge and help them overcome that nasty A-B stain.

A few interesting votes that didn’t make the top 10:

• Someone gave Berghoff a number one ranking.
• Atwater Block in Detroit got only two votes, both of them number ones.
• How many people have heard of the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company? It’s in Cincinnati and got one 10th place nod late in the voting.
• Leinenkugel’s got five votes, most of them ninth or 10th place, although someone put them as high as number three.

And in case you’re wondering, here’s how the Dorks voted:

1. Atwater Block Brewery
2. Great Lakes Brewing Co.
3. Jolly Pumpkin
4. Three Floyds Brewing
5. Two Brothers Brewing Company
6. Tyranena Brewing Company
7. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
8. Surly Brewing Co.
9. New Holland Brewing Co.
10. Capital Brewery

1. Atwater Block Brewery: The hell beer rocks.
2. New Holland Brewing Co.: Dragon’s Milk Ale—like killing a dragon and drinking its blood!
3. Founders Brewing Co.: Kentucky Breakfast Stout is the only breakfast one should eat!
4. Goose Island Beer Co.: The sultriness of Bourbon County Stout mmmmm.

1. Founders Brewing Co.: Flat out the best all around brewer in the region, be it from the maltiest of malt monsters to the hoppiest of hop monsters. Everything I’ve had from Founders hasn’t been just “good,” it’s been amazingly good. Bonus point as well for doing an excellent job of creating big beers of all types.
2. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.: Hard to not put Larry Bell and crew number one, but there are too many so-so offerings (Pale Ale, Lager of the Lakes, etc.) to catapult them to the top. They do deserve credit for continued creativity, the willingness to go to the extreme, and a wide variety of excellent offerings, but I just can’t quite put them at the top.
3. Surly Brewing Co.: Can’t put them with the top two, as they aren’t yet as heavily distributed. However, the selections I’ve had are as equal in size and quality as anything by Bell’s, Founders, Three Floyds, et. al. Bonus point for the 16 oz. cans, and another bonus point for a fun, edgy image.
4. Three Floyds Brewing: As much as I love Three Floyds, they don’t quite stack up to the first three in diversity and quality of ALL styles in their lineup. While they have hops mastered and do very well with some of the darker brews, there’s a couple of minor holes in their lineup that keeps them a notch lower … fun attitude works in their favor.
5. New Glarus Brewing Company: Gotta give ’em credit for continually trying to be new and innovative. The Unplugged series has been both big and tasty, and they roll out so many new beers overall, its hard to keep up. Some of them have been duds, but they get credit for trying. I just don’t ever seem to think of them quite as highly as Founders, Bell’s, and FFF.
6. Tyranena Brewing Company: I always liked Tyranena, but they jumped up my list with the wonderful … and big … offerings in the Brewers Gone Wild series. Great at utilizing hops, but not quite as good with the maltier beers.
7. Dark Horse Brewing Co.: The top 6 were no-brainers for me. I’ll go with Dark Horse next due to a fairly impressive lineup and good quality. I’ve had about 5 or 6 different selections from them, and they’ve all been very, very good.
8. Lake Louie Brewing: Lake Louie would be top 5 if they weren’t so tiny, and thus nearly impossible to locate outside of southwestern Wisconsin. Great innovation, great attitiude, and most importantly … great beer. Again, just too small to be any higher on the list.
9. Great Lakes Brewing Co.: Toss up here between Great Lakes, Two Brothers, and Capital. I’ll go with Great Lakes because they have a more diverse lineup than Captial, and are slightly higher in quality (IMO) than Two Brothers. Decent American hop offerings as well as some lighter offerings … not too familiar with their maltier selections.
10. Two Brothers Brewing Company: Barely gets the nod over Capital due to a more diverse lineup. I’d actually put them neck and neck, but there’s no room for ties on here (ahem …), so Two Brothers gets the nod not only for a wider variety, but also for bigger beers (hello, Hop Juice).

1. New Glarus Brewing Company: Just good consistent beers. It’s continous flow of limited releases is proof of it’s love of beer.
2. Capital Brewery: When it comes to Bavarian style lagers, nobody does it better. Although Capital doesn’t expand it’s horizons much, what it does make is good consistant beer. I also credit Capital for not going mainstream and creating ‘trendy’ style beers.
3. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.: OBERON!
4. Lake Louie Brewing: Although I find most of these beers mediocre, he is living the beer dork (or at least my) dream. Chief, committee and crew of his own brewery located on the other side of his driveway.

1. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
2. Three Floyds Brewing
3. New Glarus Brewing Company
4. Tyranena Brewing Company
5. Sprecher Brewing Co.
6. Founders Brewing Co.
7. New Holland Brewing Co.
8. Two Brothers Brewing Company
9. Capital Brewery
10. Lakefront Brewery, Inc.

And then there’s me, Eddie Glick. I’ve commented on most of them, but there’s a few I have that didn’t make the voters’ lists:

1. Three Floyds Brewing
2. Founders Brewing Co.
3. Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
4. New Glarus Brewing Company
5. Surly Brewing Co.
6. Dark Horse Brewing Co.: I’m surprised these guys didn’t make the cut (they came in number 12). Their Crooked Tree IPA is one of the best in the Midwest and their amber is phenomenal. Their approach to brewing is just as in-your-face and iconoclastic as Surly’s or Founders’.
7. Great Lakes Brewing Co.
8. Goose Island Beer Co.
9. Two Brothers Brewing Company: Missed the general vote top ten by a hair (six points shy of Goose Island). Their “artisnal” beers help the Ebel brothers stand out, although their every day lineup shows very few cracks. Cane and Ebel is one of my staples, and is much easier to find now that they’ve completed their brewery expansion.
10. Capital Brewery

Thanks every one for voting! Use the comment form below to sound off on what you think of the results.

Happy anniversary, Lakefront Brewery!

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