<P>In the name of fun, I’m going to ooze with bias and bat for my soon-to-be home team by picking Denver, Colorado as the best beer city. IMHO, I feel a good “beer city” should embody many characteristics. A good “beer city” should be (but not limited to): thick with beer culture, offering a variety of styles, inundated with brewpubs, microbreweries, beer stores & beer bars, saturated with tasty brews, brewing a large quantity of beer, and entrenched in beer history – all in a fun and interesting environment.
While there are many cities equal to Denver’s beer culture, I severely doubt that there are many that are greater. Ok, maybe Portland. But while Portland might be slightly more “concentrated,” Denver makes up for it by being twice its size. All of my experiences in Denver have been positive. While there, I’ve come across a surprising amount of knowledgeable, discerning beer drinkers, not to mention well-trained wait staff and bartenders – more than average, in my opinion. There also seems to be more of an awareness within the public’s collective consciousness for craft / quality beer than in many other American cities (one example, Fat Tire is served just about everywhere). In addition, every year Denver hosts the largest beer festival in the country (and one of the most prestigious in the world), the Great American Beer Festival. And then on top of that, there’s the Colorado Beer Festival in Fort Collins. Sure, many states now have what they like to call “beer festivals,” but many are leveraged by macro distributors and/or food vendors, and they are not as beer-focused or as intensely localized. When you see A-B Amber Bock, Killian’s, and Blue Moon right next to $5 Elephant Ears and a cart with Billy’s Spicy Chicken Wings, all the while listening to a band named Burning Razors on stage, you’ll know what I mean. Oh, and I almost forgot, note who’s attending the festival: serious beer drinkers or just a bunch of rednecks looking for an excuse to take their shirts off and get drunk? Redneck to beer booth volunteer: “What do you have that tastes like Budweiser?”
Name a beer style and there’s a good chance it’s on tap or on cask somewhere in the Denver area – right now! Most brewpubs I’ve been to (in and around Denver) have at least 8-10 different beers flowing at any given time, everything from Milds to IPAs to Belgians to Gruits. Sometimes you’ll even find three different sub-styles (i.e., a dry stout, an imperial stout, and an oatmeal stout) served at the same time. Michael Jackson recently stated (something to the effect) that most of the larger American cities serve more styles of beer than any single European country. Even though it’s the 20th-largest city in America, Denver is definitely one of the cities M.J cites.
<h2>Brewpubs, Microbreweries, Beer Stores & Beer Bars</h2>
The Denver area is host to a slew of breweries and beer bars. Believe me, I have my work cut out for me after I move there. There are also some great, grocery-store-sized beer stores out there, with a never-ending selection (complete with hard-to-find beers from Oregon to Belgium). Being centrally located in the continental U.S. has its perks. And then you have Falling Rock, one of the best tap houses in the country, with their excellent, 69-deep selection of “no crap on tap,” diversified selection of bottled beers, state-of-the-art draft system, and very knowledgeable, down-to-earth staff.
Ok, so maybe there are a few “average” breweries in the Denver area, but then there are also many excellent micros and some small, jewel brewpubs tucked away (i.e., Bull & Bush). And nearby Denver, you have Avery, Left Hand/Tabernash, New Belgium Brewing, Coopersmith’s, etc.
According to one statistic I recently read, “Denver brews more beer per capita than any other American city.” Granted, Coors was probably a factor in that mix (the area’s leading export). But needless to say, Denver still has a very large number of microbreweries and brewpubs. Among them, the Wynkoop, which brews more beer than any other brewpub in the country.
Denver has a long history with beer at its side. Gold miners and westward travelers were some serious beer guzzlers (in modern times, it’s the skiers). But I’m not a historian so I won’t get into the details, but brewpubs started popping up there like mad in the late 80s and early 90s – right there with Cali and the PNW. But then, even before brewpubs, homebrewing was (and is) very big there. Just up the road sits Boulder and the location of AHA’s (American Homebrewer’s Association) headquarters and their magazine, Zymurgy. [BTW, Greenpeace is headquartered there also.]
<P>To sum up, I truly believe Denver is one of the best beer cities in the world. However, I wholeheartedly admit that there are many other great cities out there just as good – maybe even better! And I’ll admit – as far as European cities go – I am inexperienced. From what I’ve read (and sampled of those Euro beers available here), European cities make a few styles very well, but they lack diversity and progression (in other words, they are anchored in time-honored tradition and quality and shy away from change, progress, or pushing the envelope). Nevertheless, quality beers and quality beer drinkers are spreading around the globe like viruses. There really is no single greatest beer city; they all have something to offer, in one way or another. It’s our job to find out what that is and decide if it’s good or not!