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TPFMy 2017 resolution to write shorter posts is sitting at about fifty/fifty, pass/fail. So I’m going to climb back on the bike, here:

Jim Vorel is a beer writer from Atlanta; a guy who – despite what he probably thinks – I actually like but have frequently gone after like a dog on a hamburger for some of his apparently uninformed lists, many of which read as though he had simply scanned RateBeer and BeerAdvocate and then compiled them. He has also done several lists which I thought were dead-on. I know he has the capability of doing them well, so I go after him because I’m hoping he’ll devote the same care to all of them that he does to that occasional gem.

Just yesterday, I saw a list from Vorel’s home base, pastemagazine.com, listing the fifty most underrated breweries in the US. This was apparently posted in June of 2016 but it just popped up on my radar yesterday, so I’m addressing it, anyway, because these posts rattle around and take on lives of their own and happen when they happen. I skipped immediately to Washington, Oregon, and Idaho and stopped…because those three were among the most clueless items I’ve ever read on any beer list, anywhere.

By actual  count, now that I have gone back and read the whole list, I actively disagree with 34 of them but let’s set that aside and focus on my own region. Here are the breweries Vorel names for Washington, Oregon, and Idaho…and the breweries which would have been FAR better choices for each state:

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EVERYBODY in Washington knows – and loves! – Manny’s

WASHINGTON: Vorel chose Georgetown Brewing of Seattle, using a very shaky rationale: “There does exist something of an us vs. them mentality at times between the huge beer community of Seattle and the rest of the state, and one almost feels it would be appropriate to name an underrated brewery from both the city and the rest of Washington State, but for the sake of this entry let’s just pick it: Georgetown.“…”Let’s just pick it…” Sure, Jim. Just pick one. Doesn’t matter if it’s at all rooted in any sort of logic or reason. It’s just a list, after all. But here’s why this is the wrong pick for Washington:

1.  Georgetown IS in Seattle and so wears a presumptively higher profile than those breweries not located in Sea-patch, where the balance of the state’s true beer geeks cluster. Would it have been appropriate to name one from Seattle and one from the rest of WA? NO, it would not. Because “underrated” is an un-level playing field, to begin with. Georgetown is far higher “rated” than equally fine breweries which are not in Seattle and cannot, then, be one of the “fifty most under-rated breweries”. That word “most” is the catch: you cannot be “most” if there are other great breweries that are more under-appreciated.

2.  That statement that about the duality of Seattle versus the rest of the state is true of most states…Portland versus Oregon, Asheville versus North Carolina, San Diego versus California, Denver versus Colorado, and Tampa versus Florida, as well. So…do we assign two slots to every state that contains a major brewing nexus? Fail.

3. Georgetown makes Washington’s second most popular beer, the iconic Manny’s Pale Ale. And when we say “second most“, it means just that: second most popular beer, not “craft beer“. (Mac & Jack’s African Amber is Number One) Manny’s outsells Bud and Miller and Coors, hereabouts, and it is only the fact that G’town doesn’t can or bottle that keeps the brewery from being as omnipresent in WA state as New Belgium, Sam Adams, and Sierra Nevada…or Budweiser. Ask any Washington beer fan to list their five favorite beers for just basic drinking pleasure – even your Faithful Fool – and they are going to name Manny’s…Hard to be “Underrated” when your beer is, literally, on everybody’s lips.

So…what are Washington’s actual “most underrated breweries”? Here’s a list. Pick one and you’re already a LOT closer to the truth than Paste’s list:

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Old Schoolhouse’s perfect entrance in the quaint old cow-town of Winthrop

 

  1.  Snoqualmie Falls Brewing, Snoqualmie
  2. Walking Man Brewing, Stephenson
  3.  Valholl Brewing, Poulsbo
  4.  Silver City Brewing, Bremerton
  5.  Old Schoolhouse Brewing, Winthrop
  6.  Iron Horse Brewing, Ellensburg
  7.  Bale Breaker Brewing, Yakima
  8.  Populuxe Brewing,  Ballard, Seattle
  9.  Standard Brewing, Seattle
  10.  Tin Dog Brewing, Seattle
  11.  Slippery Pig Brewing, Poulsbo (For sheer creativity and inspired weirdness, one of the best anywhere)
  12.  White Bluffs Brewing, Richlands
  13.  Skookum Brewery, Mount Vernon
  14.  Dystopian State Brewing, Tacoma (new)
  15.  Airways Brewing, Kent
  16.  7 Seas Brewing, Tacoma
  17.  Geaux Brewing, Bellevue
  18.  Counterbalance Brewing, Georgetown, Seattle
  19.  Iron Goat Brewing, Spokane
  20.  NoLi Brewhouse, Spokane
  21.  Pacific Brewing & Malting Co., Tacoma
  22.  Wander Brewing, Bellingham
  23.  Seapine Brewing, Seattle
  24.  Wingman Brewing, Tacoma
  25.  Loowit Brewing, Vancouver

My own choices are in red.

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OREGON:  In what has to be the oddest choice in the whole list, Vorel chooses – from a state literally bursting at the seams with incredible breweries – a brewer and name that is literally known world-wide. For many of us, very much including me, Hair of The Dog is THE iconic Northwest brewery. European brewers regularly seek out HoTD’s eminence grise, Alan Sprints, for collaboration. Their warehousey digs down in East Portland’s industrial ghetto, is a virtual mecca for every serious beer geek who has ever set foot in PDX. For me, Hair of The Dog is my church; a hallowed place where immortal beers like Fred and Adam (in their many incarnations) Blue Dot, Doggy Claws, Ruth, Lila, Otto, Maja, Mike, Rose, and Michael were conceived and ultimately born. Alan could, at this point, just leave HoTD and sell his house and become a gypsy brewer because there is no brewer, nowhere, who would not barter off an appendage to work with him. “Underrated”? Hardly. If we want to say, “occasionally overlooked in the trendy rush toward The Next Shiny Bauble“, okay…maybe. But Oregon is bustin’ with breweries that are achieving at a stratospheric level without 10% of the reverence shown to Hair of The Dog, daily. I’m limiting this list to 25, only because that’s what I wound up with in Washington. There could be MANY more…

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deGarde’s bottles: 750ML of sour perfection

 

  1. The Ale Apothecary, Bend
  2.  Bend Brewing Company, Bend
  3.  Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Hood River
  4.  Upright Brewing, Portland
  5.  Block 15 Brewing, Corvallis
  6.  Barley Brown’s, Baker City
  7.  Buckman Botanical Brewery, Portland
  8.  Burnside Brewing, Portland
  9.  Coalition Brewing, Portland
  10.  deGarde Brewing, Tillamook
  11.  Double Mountain Brewing, Hood River
  12.  Ecliptic Brewing, Portland
  13.  Ex Novo Brewing, Portland
  14.  Gigantic Brewing, Portland
  15.  Heater Allen Brewing, McMinnville
  16.  Laurelwood Brewing, Portland
  17.  Lompoc Brewery, Portland
  18.  Mazama Brewing, Corvallis
  19.  Monkless Belgian Ales, Bend
  20.  Silver Moon Brewing, Bend
  21.  Terminal Gravity Brewing, Enterprise
  22.  Oakshire Brewing, Eugene
  23.  The Commons, Portland
  24.  Solera Brewing, Parkdale Mount Hood
  25.  Santiam Brewing, Salem

My picks are in red.

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12003946_10153499605831210_5213340741324845445_nIDAHO:  For the Sexy Potatoes State, Vorel basically names the only ID brewery that most Americans can think of: Laughing Dog, of Ponderay. Given that just being in Idaho guarantees any brewery a certain degree of “underratedness”, choosing LD, while somewhat accurate, shows a howling lack of ambition. Poll any fifty PNW beer geeks – never mind the rest of America – and say, “Name an Idaho brewery“. Go…

All fifty – or, at least, all the ones who could come up with any at all – will say “Laughing Dog”. If Vorel had just observed that, “The whole state of Idaho gets my vote for underrated”, I would have just said, “Here, here” and dropped it. But since he persevered and decided to name one, it cannot be Laughing Dog. LD is, for a fact, vastly underappreciated. People who confess to having tried the beers invariably like them BUT…they’re over there, in the wilds of ID, and fall eternal victim to the principle of “out of sight, out of mind“. But the name of the list, again, is “…most underrated” and the only brewery in the state that has a widely-known name cannot be the “most underrated”. The only brewery in ID that has arguably risen to the point of universal prominence of LD is Grand Teton Brewing, the Victor behemoth that’s winning brewing awards as though they were printing their own. But there are somewhere north of fifty breweries in the state and there are some very good ones that you are more or less guaranteed to know nothing about…

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Owner/brewer Jeff Whitman sets the welcoming tone at Selkirk Abbey

 

  1. Selkirk Abbey, Post Falls
  2.  Barbarian Brewing, Garden City
  3.  Boise Brewing, Boise
  4.  Cloud 9 Brewing, Boise
  5.  Daft Badger Brewing, Coeur d’ Alene
  6.  Crooked Fence Brewing, Garden City
  7.  Idaho Brewing, Idaho Falls
  8.  Mad Bomber Brewing, Hayden
  9.  Woodland Empire Ale Craft, Boise
  10.  Salmon River Brewing, McCall

My pick is in red.

If you were to opine that picking on another beer writer is dirty pool, I’d agree with you. It IS dirty pool. But it’s happening now because I have communicated this idea – that turning out a list of “The Best of” or “The Top Fifty…”, etc. actually means something – directly to Jim, several times, as have DOZENS of other commenters on his list posts. Jim’s response, many times, has been to argue and over-explain and then go crank out another half effort. I wouldn’t have his job for anything because his job IS to create these lists and it takes a LOT of actual work, if you hope to get it at all right. Jim’s a young guy and, eventually, he will advance beyond being compelled to do insane stuff like this and become a respected writer. There is NO question that he has the ability. If this seems patronizing, I’ll own that. Patronizing dirty pool. There: stipulated. But this is here, nonetheless, and it will remain here because, as I found out the hard way, young writers who hope to be good get most of their lessons in life by being called out on what they do. I have been on the receiving end of that sort of tough-love instruction in my own youth and if I am now the instrument of it, so be it. I wouldn’t bother with it at all of James Vorel were not so promising. But the thing about promise is…you have to deliver on it.

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One thought on “The PNW’s REAL “Underrated” Breweries: The Antidote to a ?able List

  1. Pingback: Professor Good Ales » Post Topic

Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

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