Is Every City Now Essentially a “Beer City”?
When I first got into the craft beer world in the late 2000s, there was still a decidedly “underground” feel to the scene in many places. Granted, these were the last, fleeting remnants of an earlier era when “craft” beer really was a novel curiosity – by the time I turned 21 in 2007, almost every parcel store would have had at least a colorful collection of craft brands very strange today.
When it comes to locally produced beer, however, the options were often quite limited. Bottle shops routinely stocked dusty, near-expired bottles of British ales and continental lagers for variety, at least in part because those beers simply weren’t made by any of the local brewers in many cities. In fact, many cities didn’t have local brewers to call themselves. Case in point: Between 2010 and 2014, I lived in the small, extremely average town of Decatur, Illinois, in central Illinois, with a population of 72,000. When I wrote for the local newspaper, I often complained about the fact that all of the neighboring towns had local breweries to call themselves, but Decatur (a sleepier, more rural community) didn’t have any. Flash forward to 2021, and even in Decatur, Illinois, there are three distinct, thriving local breweries.
This thought of not being able to discard hypothetical questions I encounter online, along with a writer’s curse, has always led me back to a question I first saw on reddit a few months ago: Is every city more or has it become less of a “beer town”? ”? Has the craft beer movement been normalized in such a way that you can reasonably expect to find a quality beer source in just about every city to visit, regardless of size or population? The more I research, the more I think the answer is “pretty much yes”.
And that’s a pretty remarkable thing, considering how things were in the 2000s. When I started beer at the age of 21, most cities certainly couldn’t be described as “beer towns” in the sense of “this is a good destination for local beer”. Even some of the largest cities in the country had very limited options at the time. Places like Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis, and even NYC and LA were still well below the quality beer index in the mid to late 2000s, but all saw a craft beer renaissance in the early 2010s. Within a few years they were added to the list of beer freaks of fixed “beer towns” – lists previously defined by places like San Diego, Portland (Oregon or Maine, make your choice), Denver, Grand Rapids and Burlington or Asheville.
I remember the awesome, almost mythological way beer freaks talked about these types of cities back then, a little over a decade ago. “Beer cities” were oases of refreshment, experimentation and discovery in a sea of other cities where the craft beer revolution had not yet fully arrived. A real “beer town” had the meaning of a holy place and was also worthy of a pilgrimage because the breweries in these places did things that literally could not be tasted anywhere else. In the early 2010s, this led me to travel to explore places like Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Denver, and Fort Collins in search of great, up and coming breweries.
If the emergence of these places became widely recognized as prestigious “beer towns,” it may have been easier for most of us to overlook the slow trickle of more quality beer in less famous cities. That shouldn’t really surprise us – in the 2010s, the craft beer scene was increasingly revolving around a cycle of hype for certain styles and breweries, and the types of everyday quality breweries that spring up in small towns weren’t often the kind of Companies that make the latest styles of beer that grab attention. The latest trends in IPA, keg stout, and wild ales didn’t often come from … Lincoln, Nebraska … but if you look around there today, you’ll find at least 10 breweries, plus one company that specializes in selling brewing equipment Has. Installation and maintenance. Yet you’ve probably never heard anyone dares Lincoln, NE, as a notable “beer town”, have you?
Curious about how this would affect a slightly larger sample, I looked up a few lists of cities that are considered demographically “average” or unimpressive in the US and have names like Lynchburg (VA), Jacksonville (FL), and Redding (CA) result). And in each place you will find an embarrassment of breweries, many of which are touted by the locals for their quality. There are at least a dozen breweries in Jacksonville, Florida alone today. Two of these areas (Jacksonville, Redding) also had their own homebrew product store, indicating that the next generation of homebrewers are quietly brewing at the same time.
This is all to say the more I look at it, the more dated the concept of “beer town” now appears as we once understood it. There are of course places that are characterized by the concentration and passion of their beer cultures and these places will always remain a Mecca for craft beer believers. It’s not that the country’s major beer towns have somehow declined. Rather, it is the small towns and less touted cities in the country that have slowly but surely developed their own quality beer sources – and probably underestimated at least at the national or regional level.
The point is, we seem pretty far now from where a road trip was necessary to visit a city with great beer. You probably already live in one. And that seems worth a toast, doesn’t it?
Jim Vorel is a paste employee and a resident beer freak. You can follow him on Twitter to write more about drinks.