With “quality” applied to something as subjective as beer, you have to be very careful how you define it. Are sales enough? Some would point to the mass brands as evidence that popularity does not equal quality. What about consistency? More consistency is better, sure. But the most consistent brands are, again, the mass brands. How about availability – if it’s only available in one location and you have to win lottery tickets to buy any, does that mean “quality”? Well, no. There is some ghastly beer out there which is only available in tiny quantities.
How about looking at prizes awarded? Well, sure, so long as you aren’t referring to a Blue Ribbon awarded in the 19th Century! Thankfully, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has just ended and we can look at the medals awarded there, and we can also look at a wonderful statistical analysis done by an economist working for the Brewers’ Association, the trade body that awarded the medals.
A word of warning before diving into the report – I know of a lot of great breweries who missed out on tickets to GABF due to the popularity of the event and the sheer number of breweries that now exist. At best, the GABF will only ever show the results from the minority of breweries that attended, which are becoming more and more of a minority of the total number of breweries, which number continues to grow at an explosive rate.
With that warning, let’s take a look at the figures. The top 3 states, unsurprisingly, were California, Colorado, and Oregon. These states have well established craft brewing industries that have been going for many decades. With that lead of experience it comes as no surprise that these 3 states were so highly awarded at GABF. Significantly, these 3 states did not win more medals than all the other states combined – sure, they won 40% of all the medals, but their advantage in the age and experience levels of their brewers does not equate to “these are the 3 best beer states in the country”.
The other thing the analysis revealed was that each state won pretty much as many medals as one would expect them to win based on the number of entries the state had in the competition. What this means is that “beer is pretty darn good everywhere”, at least according to the business association that awards the medals!
In the absence of a national consumer organisation taking on the task of rating beers from every state, the GABF is probably the best evidence we have of the quality of craft beer today.
Still not convinced? Let’s take a look at the Business Insider editorial on “The Best Beer From Every State“. Leaving aside the usual criticism that high ABV and high IBU beers disproportionately dominate such lists, the point is that every state has a flagship beer. I live less than 3 miles from Good People brewery and have been approached multiple times by people spread out across the USA looking for their Snake Handler DIPA.
All of this – awards, editorials, personal experience – goes to show that we are in a new Golden Era for beer. We are in the Golden Era of Local Craft Beer. With 75% of the US population now living within 10 miles of a brewery, what more excuse do you need to go have a local craft beer? You can do so in the knowledge that you are drinking some of the best beer in the world, and one that people all over the world would be happy to try!