Just today, a list of “Best Beer____” was circulating around the ‘net, this one from seattlerefined.com, in which a staff journalism student, whose bio has not one word in it about beer or brewing experience, compiled a post by simply pasting a highly suspect list from something called infogroup.com, which claimed to enumerate America’s “Hidden Gem” beer towns.
Bluntly put, the entire list is what the English (and me) would call “bollocks“. Bend, Oregon,was their number one pick, followed by Fort Collins, CO, and Asheville, NC – none of which can rationally be called “hidden” by ANY known standard.
At the end of this post, I’m going to give you a MUCH more accurate list of America’s “Hidden Gem” beer towns, composed of cities under 100,000 population, in which you can plan a vacation around and travel to an actual concentration of breweries that over-achieve and will give you a genuine Indie Beer min-vacation. Although Bend and several of the others on the seattlerefined list could be on my version, it’s patently absurd to include Bend, Fort Collins, and Asheville in with “Hidden” anything. All three get TONS of pub for their beer cultures (it’s at least arguable that Fort Collins is known almost totally for its amazing brewery cluster) and should come as no surprise to any Indie Beer fan who’s paying attention. The general criteria for my list were sub-100K and more than two breweries, with consideration definitely given to the quality of the breweries. A 35K town with five bad breweries in it belongs on the list of “Waste of Gas and Time”, not in “Hidden Gems”. As always, The Pour Fool is about celebrating excellence, not quantity.
The seattlerefined list was circulated here because one Washington town landed at number ten: Mount Vernon, Washington, a sleepy, pretty little river town, about forty-five miles north of Seattle, in Skagit County.
Mount Vernon has a nice little beer scene: THREE breweries, to be precise, and I would argue that none of the three are on a par with any of the five in Poulsbo, Washington, just across Puget Sound from downtown Seattle and fifteen miles due west on the Olympic Peninsula. Poulsbo – NOT Asheville, NC, despite what the Asheville Chamber of Commerce relentlessly peddles – has the most breweries per capita in the US. There are 9,900 people in this tiny fragment of Norway that broke off and Rolled West, (as opposed to 35,000 in Mount Vernon) and they sustain five very creative and accomplished breweries. Not only that, but if Mt. Vernon is on that list, how is Washougal, down in the Columbia River Gorge not there? They have three excellent breweries and are smaller than Mt. Vernon. Which begs the next question: Where’s Bellingham?!? Bellingham, Washington, is SMALLER than six of the other nine cities on that list and is home to several of the greatest breweries on the West Coast, including the world-class Chuckanut Brewery and the legendary Boundary Bay Brewing. Olympia, Washington, is the same population as Mt. Vernon and has SIX breweries. And, the biggest ommission of all: where the HELL is Hood River, Oregon!?! Hood River is home to 23,000 souls and is the site of six total breweries, including three absolute American beer icons: Full Sail Brewing, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, and pFriemFamily Brewers. Hood River is the second per-capita beer town in America and wasn’t on this silly list, either.
Here’s the problem with this kind of shite: The author, Gena Wynkoop’s, bio reads as follows:
“Gena is a journalism student and writer for Seattle Refined! When she isn’t studying or being a YoungScholar, she can be found writing music, reading mystery novels, binge watching Game of Thrones, making to-do lists, or planning her next travel adventure.
As a new Seattleite, Gena has made it her mission to eat at every Tom Douglas restaurant, try to go umbrella-free in the rain, and explore everything this beautiful city has to offer.”
In short, Gena Wynkoop – new to the Seattle area, not a full-fledged journalist yet, and with no established background in Indie brewing as either a profession or a serious area of study – was asked to take figures she found on a data-mining site and use that list to produce this one. NOWHERE in her bio does it say anything about beer knowledge or any real evidence that she knows about brewing AT ALL. And the information, compiled by something called “Infogroup” was described as “which metro areas, regardless of population, are home to the most beer retailers and breweries, including craft and microbreweries. Once these factors were compiled, these cities were ranked by their concentration of beer-related businesses per 10,000 residents.” They didn’t even get the list right BY THEIR OWN CRITERIA.
I’ll undoubtedly get emails that say, “Lighten up, Dude!” and/or “Chill and have a beer, man!” or one of the other studiously laid-back exclamations people utter when they are confronted by the terrifying spectre of un-sugar-coated anger or declarative statements. That, however, as always, is Not My Problem. I make no bones about it: I HATE IT that crap like this floats around the internet and makes waves, giving those reading it the completely WRONG information. Comparing cities like Niles-Benton Harbor, Great Falls, Burlington, Corvallis, Mansfield, and Mount Vernon with celebrated brewing meccas like Fort Collins and Bend and Boulder is just asinine; the textbook definition of “apples ‘n’ oranges”. It’s shameful that websites like this are so willing to saddle young and generally clueless writers, just out there trying to earn a living at their chosen craft, with no-win assignments like this; people who have NO beer knowledge beyond, “Uh, yeah, I go to a few breweries, now and again“, instead of tapping any of the three hundred+ brewers in Washington or the dozens of Seattle area beer writers or even someone within our frighteningly erudite community of Indie beer fans to at least consult on it. But, sadly, that would require actual thought and initiative, instead of just finding a warm body to do it, for the cachet of having something about the Uber-hip, trendy world of Indie beer in their pages. If Seattlerefined treated politics or sports or social issues that lazily, they’d be crucified for it. For beer, just any old crap is good enough.
I IMPLORE YOU not to take ANY list of “Best Beer____” – or really even “Best of” anything – (even mine!) at face value. In purely beer terms, about 90% of all lists are every bit as slap-dash and lazy as this one and you do yourself a great disservice if you use something like seattlerefined’s asinine “Hidden Gems” and pass up Poulsbo and Spokane and Ballard and Woodinville and Olympia and Tacoma and Bellingham(!) to get to Mount Vernon. By ALL means, include Mount Vernon in a trip north to visit the Bellingham breweries. Make a stop in Arlington, too, at the excellent Skookum Brewing. Visit the venerable Skagit River Valley Brewing, the fascinating Farmstrong, and the quietly exceptional North Sound Brewing, all in Mount Vernon. This list is NOT the fault of those breweries and they are all very much worth a visit. But if you skip Chuckanut and Boundary Bay and Kulshan and cut off the trip south of Bellingham, you’ve cheated yourself – or should I say seattlerefined has cheated you – out of some truly spectacular beer experiences.
THAT is the primary damage in lists like this: they make good people miss great breweries, all for the sake of clickbait.
AMERICA’S REAL “HIDDEN GEM” BEER TOWNS
(in no particular order) (breweries of special merit listed in bold face)
(includes breweries within 10 miles)
Hood River, OR / population 23,000
Breweries: Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Full Sail Brewing, pFriem Family Brewers, Double Mountain Brewing, Everybody’s Brewing, Big Horse Brewpub
Poulsbo, WA / population 10,000
Breweries: Rainy Daze Brewing, Sound Brewery, Valholl Brewing, Slippery Pig Brewing, Hood Canal Brewing, Cash Brewing, Silver City Brewpub, Bainbridge Island Brewing
Olympia, WA / population 42,000
Breweries: Fish Brewing, Three Magnets Brewing, Matchless Brewing, O-Town Brewing, S&M Brewing, Top Rung Brewing, Tricerahops Brewing, Cascadia Homebrew, Hoh River Brewing
Bellingham, WA / population 75,000
Breweries: Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen, Aslan Brewing, Kulshan Brewing, Boundary Bay Brewing, Gruff Brewing, Structures Brewing, Wander Brewing, Menace Brewing, Fairhaven Stone’s Throw Brewing
Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls, ID / combined population 70,000
(Post Falls is considered a suburb(?) of Coeur d’Alene, so it’s one market)
Breweries: Selkirk Abbey Brewing, Daft Badger Brewing, Slate Creek Brewing, Trickster’s Brewing, Downdraft Brewing, Post Falls Brewing, Mad Bomber Brewing
Missoula, MT / population 71,000
Breweries: Lolo Peak Brewing, Kettle House Brewing, Bayern Brewing, Big Sky Brewing, Imagine Nation Brewing, Draught Works, Flathead Lake Brewing, Tamarack Brewing, Great Burn Brewing
Bozeman, MT / population 43,000
Breweries: Madison River Brewing, Outlaw Brewing, 406 Brewing, MAP Brewing, Bridger Brewing, Bunkhouse Brewing, White Dog Brewing, Montana Aleworks, Bozeman Brewing
Petoskey, MI / population 6,200
Breweries: Beard’s Brewery, Tunnel Vision Brewery, Petoskey Brewing, Burnt Marshmallow Brewing, Mackinaw Brewing
Santa Fe, NM / population 72,000
Breweries: Chili Line Brewing, Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery, Rowley Farmhouse Ales, Second Street Brewery, Santa Fe Brewing
Portsmouth, NH / population 23,000
Breweries: Earth Eagle Brewings, Beara Irish Brewing, Portsmouth Brewery, Tributary Brewing, Blue Current Brewing, Liar’s Bench Beer Co., Great Rhythm Brewing, and one large crap brewery you can safely avoid.
Burlington, VT / population 43,000
(Burlington really shouldn’t be on this list, too, except for the maddening fact that most people don’t think “vacation” and then think “Vermont”. But Burlington is just over 43,000 and look at the list of breweries below! If you’re planning a beercation, Burlington is as good a destination as there is in North America.)
Breweries: Burlington Beer Company, Goodwater Brewing, Traveler Beer Co., Switchback Brewing, Farnham Ale and Lager VT, Four Quarters Brewing, Halyard Brewing, Foam Brewers, Queen City Brewery, House of Fermentation, Vermont Brewery, The Just Beer Project, Zero Gravity Brewing, Three Needs Brewery – within a ten minute drive, Simple Roots Brewing, 1st Republic Brewing, Stone Corral Brewery, Fiddlehead Brewing, and one large crap brewery you can safely avoid.