It’s difficult to miss the degree of variety beer lovers can enjoy at this moment in the US. This is due to the explosion of small breweries and craft beer coming on to the scene, which emphasizes experimenting with flavors and styles.
Over the past 40 years (thanks to deregulation in the beer industry) the number of breweries in America expanded from a post-prohibition low of under 100 to over 5,000 in 2016. The bulk of this growth comes from small breweries, the most familiar to consumers being the microbrewery.
According to the Brewers Association, a trade group for American craft brewers, a microbrewery is any local and independent brewer. The microbrewery sells fewer than 15,000 barrels of craft beer per year and at least 75% through other bars, restaurants, and liquor stores.
Unfortunately, can’t walk to your local liquor store and choose from 5,000 different breweries to bring home tonight. With a limited and local distribution, most microbreweries call particular markets home. The variety from these small craft breweries is typically limited to the state or metro area of where the brewery. The fact is, some areas of the country are just better for craft beer aficionados who want lots of options.
So where do you have the best chance to sample the greatest variety of beer possible? Which states and cities have the most breweries overall?
Datafiniti can offer some perspective into that. We utilized our business data to search for breweries across the country. We combined this with supplementary information from the Brewers Association catalog of breweries, to offer more specific details. From our analysis, we can find out in what parts of America breweries and craft beer reign supreme.
We found that cities in the Pacific Northwest and Colorado are your best bet for finding the most breweries in one place. Cities along the coasts and in the Midwest are also solid destinations. There are also some exciting small cities outside of this trend that should not be overlooked (like Asheville, NC).
We’ll look at the state level to begin our investigation. So, which state has the most breweries?
Number one is California by a serious margin, with over 600 breweries. Colorado and Washington are the next closest with about 350 each. With 15 or fewer breweries, Hawaii, Mississippi, Washington D.C. and North Dakota are at the bottom of our list. Overall we see a greater number of breweries in coastal states, as well as the Great Lakes region.
Colorado is an outlier in this overall trend, but that’s because it independently developed one of the most distinct state beer cultures. It is both the home of a brewing giant, Coors, and a major player in the craft beer revolution. Driving home the importance of brewing in the state is the fact that the current governor was a co-founder of one of Denver’s first microbreweries.
Looking at the information in absolute terms skews our list towards the larger states with a greater population. It’s intuitive that states with more people (and therefore more beer drinkers) would be able to support more breweries. Understanding the number of breweries per capita will tell us where breweries are most plentiful relative to population.
The title of most breweries per capita goes to Vermont. Even though they only have about 50 in total, since the state is so small, that equates to 8 breweries per 100,000 people. Montana, Colorado, Maine, and Oregon all have about 6 breweries per 100,000 people. Overall we see a strong presence of breweries in the Pacific Northwest, New England, and the Midwest.
Vermont has a strong craft beer tradition. After changes in state law in the late 80’s allowed more small breweries, there was a dramatic increase in brewpubs (brewery-restaurant hybrids that brew the beer they serve on site) and later microbreweries. Another interesting inclusion is Montana. Its craft brewing sector has grown over the past several years, with industrial production increasing by 50% between 2010 and 2013. Maine is also experiencing a recent boom with an increase from 34 breweries in 2011 to 59 in 2015.
Breweries have always had a tight connection with cities. In the wave of immigration from Europe, immigrants came into cities and brought their beer-making traditions. In fact, before prohibition, there were just as many breweries in America as there are now (each much smaller in size and production, of course).
From Brewerytown in Philadelphia, a neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places, characterized by the remains of the ten breweries that once stood there, to New York City’s host of former breweries, run mostly by German immigrants – our early cities loved craft beer. Cities were important because of their access to clean water, available labor, and ease of distribution. Prohibition destroyed the industry, and the remains of this era are gone. However, the importance of cities is apparent today for many of the same reasons.
For this analysis, we looked at Metropolitan Statistical Areas, geographic areas with high population density which are interconnected economically and socially. City boundaries are not the best markers for the purposes of what beers are available in which markets. For example, San Francisco connects with other cities in the Bay Area such as Oakland (both are part of the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA MSA). A beer brewed in one city is likely available in another city.
So, which MSA has the most breweries? Where is our the US brewing capital?
Seattle-Tacoma wins that title with 174 breweries. Other top MSAs include Chicago, IL, Denver, CO, and Portland, OR.
Similar to the case with the state analysis, it is important that we not only consider absolute number and breweries per capita.
Boulder, CO is our top MSA with 13 breweries per person. Boulder is a key contributor to the rich brewing tradition of Colorado (mentioned previously) and had a strong homebrewing culture in the late 80’s. In fact, Colorado has the most metropolitan areas on our list; these areas include Fort Collins, Denver (host of the Great American Beer Festival), Colorado Springs, and Boulder.
A few other metropolitan areas are worth noting because they are different than what most people would expect. Asheville, NC is the only city in the South on our list. Craft brewing grew here in late 90’s. It has since been named the best beer city in America by several publications. Also, the city of Portland is a compelling case, but not the one you’re thinking of. It may be surprising, but Portland, Maine ranks higher than Portland, Oregon.
We’ve equipped you with a comprehensive and exhaustive survey of American breweries. By digging into the numbers we can see that if you want a variety of breweries to choose from, your best options are on the West Coast or Colorado, but you really can’t go wrong in most big cities. We hope you use this information responsibly when sampling all that America has to offer.