I came upon this fascinating map a couple days ago — click on the image to have a closer look and interact with it. I'll be consulting it regularly in advance of future trips across the United States.
Right now, I'm in northern Michigan visiting my parents' summer home and have already visited one local brewery — Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. On the way back to Chicago, I plan to hit up at least one more — New Holland Brewing Company in Holland. (Humor me, if you would. While others may boast about, say, their professional or academic accomplishments, I nurse my fragile ego by bragging about where I've gone to drink beer.)
On that note, I've adapted a personal policy of only drinking local ales wherever I visit. In the same way that I wouldn't visit Omaha for fresh salmon — or Seattle for fresh corn-on-the-cob — I won't drink Sam Adams or Redhook when I'm in the Upper Midwest.
Sound a bit pretentious? Maybe so. But it's worth noting that if I were to visit San Francisco, I'd first be sure to hit up all of the must-see tourist spots: Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, the Mission District, etc. Immediately thereafter, however, I'd be headed off to visit the most intriguing microbreweries in the area that, of course, I would have researched in advance — location, hours, tours, standard taps, seasonals, specials.
To me, locally brewed craft beer is every bit as important to a sense of place as any tourist attraction.
|Here's happiness for me. Where am I, you ask? The |
beer garden at Port Townsend Brewing Company in
Port Townsend, Washington, enjoying a great
Scotch ale. I highly recommend it.
Which is exactly why I call the craft beer movement an art. You don't seek out Budweiser or Coors or some other large, mass-distributed brewer to find beer that's inventive, unique, groundbreaking, and memorable. (Several have tried to break in to this industry, but they won't ever make a dent in that market, because the people to whom it caters are seeking attributes that big brewers can't ever provide.)
Art implies creativity, experimentation, and expression. That's exactly what craft beer is. At no two microbreweries are the selection of ales the same. Even the same styles of ale taste subtly different among different brewers. That's why it's necessary to visit — and taste — as many of them as possible.
Local craft beer is a surprisingly new trend. Almost all of my favorite microbreweries were established within the last 15 years; the oldest among them opened in the early- to mid-1980s. Prior to that, giant brewers and bland beers were, for the most part, your only option. Hard to believe that now.
Most industries are moving away from local ownership, production, distribution, and investment, to a norm in which large, for-profit, national or international corporations control everything and have little interest in local causes. It's nice to see at least one industry moving decisively in the opposite direction.
Good beer, like good coffee, is a comfort beverage. It brings people together. It facilitates good conversation. It builds community. It bridges divisions. Even if my beer-drinking buddy disagrees with me on almost every issue I've covered on this blog, we can at least see eye to eye on the delicious ales we're enjoying.
And I'll drink to that anytime.