April 1, 2009

The AAA Beer City

I've been meaning to discuss this for a long, long time, and yesterday's mention in Kasper On Tap provides a good opening. In it, I'm quoted as saying,
"I really miss the bright hoppiness of the West Coast beers. But I think the beer scene here is kind of thriving. There are a lot of places here that I think would be right at home in other beer capitals in the United States - Portland, Denver, San Diego, Philadelphia. Baltimore's maybe not quite in that tier, but is maybe just a step below, like a Triple-A ballclub."
Ignoring the west coast beers thing for a minute, is my classification of Baltimore/Maryland as AAA to those other areas fair? Accurate?

Beyond that, what kinds of things would make it a "Major League" beer city? Feel free to comment below, there's no right answer and what follows of my own thoughts could be completely wrong, its an open question here.

I haven't personally been to many of the so-called beer capitals, but here's what I like when it comes to a city or region's cumulative beer presence:

-- High volume of great beer bars. Meaning -- lots of taps, rotation, access to great beers from within the region and without, regular beer events, great fridges stocked with amazing bottle collections, meticulous care of the beer and lines, a lack of pretension about the places.

-- Great local breweries. In volume and quality and variety, not everyone making the same beers, a tremendous deal of experimentation and quality overall, reasonably accessible distribution within the area, a decent number of publicly acknowledged great beers produced from within those breweries.

-- Access to great beer. Part and parcel with the two above, plus the various bottle shops and general beer drinking and producing community's commitment to beer allowing access to great beer from outside the region.

-- Miscellaneous. Big beer geekery things like abundant cask conditioned beers and beer engines in a variety of bars, strong connectedness of establishments and breweries in the area, a public that embraces and acknowledges beer's role in the community, things like city beer weeks etc.

-- An accepted city/region style. Call this the center of gravity or identity concept. San Diego has tremendous variety within its breweries but is generally known for its intensely hoppy beers. Portland does the brewpub every other corner concept. San Francisco and Northern California are experimental and progressive, Philadelphia has the best pub culture, you get the picture.

Baltimore hits on a lot of that, through a fairly large geographic area. The limitations I see are that the area doesn't have a ton of great breweries, is missing a bit of an identity, and although in general the variety and availability of beer borders on excellent, there are some great, can't-miss breweries/beer that have not made their way here for various reasons. I'd also add that although the situation has improved *immensely* in the time I've been here, the connectedness of the brewing and bar (and beer geek) community seems lacking, for now (hopefully the suddenly burgeoning beer blog community is an indicator that history is on the march). Hopefully Baltimore Beer Week will be a huge step forward in that department.

One thing that isn't missing is great beer though. At the end of the day all complaining is relative when you have a Max's, a Mahaffey's, a Frisco Grille, a Brewers Art, a Flying Dog and Clipper City, a Judges Bench, and a million other similar places that take this stuff seriously and work their tails off for us, the beer consumer. Its a blast being here and being able to participate -- as a consumer -- in all of this.


BaltimoreMan said...

I know what you mean, but I would rather consider us a Middle of the Road city. Looking at the bars and restaurants, good beer is all over. I think a huge difference between Beer Citys and Non Beer cities is the small place that not everyone knows about. Baltimore has brewpubs throughout the city. Or if you take a local corner bar, many times you can find good beer on tap. If you go to many other cities you will get BMC, Guinness, and maybe Sam Adams on draft. Walk into many bars in Baltimore you will see a selection. It might not be the best and greatest, but there is a selection. I am very Canton centric (moved in from out of state, I like to walk), but you get places like Baltimore Taphouse (Growlers), jacks Bistro (restaurant with great beer selection), Pickled Parrot (where else on the square can you get Delirium), not to mention McHaffeys, Max's et cetera. Baltimore has a few breweries as well (ppl who say Phily is all brweries are full of it, as many are 30-40 miles from the city, so that gives us Flying Dog and Clipper City). I don't think Baltimore competes with the Philly/San Diego/Portlands of the world, but we are better off than many other cities.

Just my two cents.

BaltimoreMan said...

Sorry for the long comment.

BeerGuy said...

No need to apologize! Its an interesting comment, I welcome those :)