I’ve never been on a dedicated beercation, but lately I’ve been inching closer and closer in that direction every time I leave the house for more than an underwear-change’s worth of time. This is why I’m stressed out that I’m leaving for Chicago in a couple of days and have yet to schedule a single brewery visit.
There are tons of beer makers in Chicago, and a fair few of them seem conveniently clustered in what appears to be the quasi-industrial district the locals refer to as Up Three and Over Two From Will’s Hotel (many old-timers still insist on calling it Way Left of Wrigley). So I could pull this off, and I’m motivated to. But here’s the thing: Chicago looks gigantic. Most cities do when you’re from Boston, but even knowing that, I still wasn’t prepared for the “two neighborhoods over on Google Maps equals one nap-length $40 cab ride” chrono-economic cartography of the place. I am intimidated, and I need help.
I will make it to at least one brewery, though, and I’ll drink exclusively local beer while I’m in town, because why else venture so far out of bed? After a couple years of ambivalence, I’m firmly — and yes, belatedly — in the Drink Local camp, both at home and on the road. But I’m no hard-liner about it, which is why I’m glad so many out-of-the-way brewers bother to send their beer to our overstuffed beer shelves and tap handles. Too many do, if I’m being honest. I love the concept of infinite variety, but it’s just not practical. In fact, next week I’m going to do the bummer version of this list: Eight Perfectly Good Breweries That Should Probably Skedaddle On Out of Massachusetts. But today, let’s take the greedy and optimistic route of discussing the brewers we wish we could get to distribute in our region.
The only ground rule is that the companies in question have to sell their wares in at least two states other than their own. (This distribution map is very good, and it’d be even better if we all chipped in a six-pack!) I did this to keep it feasible, so we don’t all end up with minor variations on the impossible Alchemist-Tree House-Russian River dream. Exercises like this are more fun when they’re grounded in reality. Even I can’t get Tree House, and I’m a world-famous beer celebrity who shares its little state, so what hope is there for you, the only-nationally renowned beer celebrity in Pennsylvania? All right, enough jibber jabber. Here are eight breweries I’d love to see in Massachusetts.
Ale Asylum; Madison, Wisconsin
Current distribution: Uh oh, only Wisconsin and Illinois. That’s not three states. But Illinois is our fifth most-populous state, and Wisconsin is essentially its own planet (they make Old Fashioneds with brandy and act like that’s normal!), so we’re going to overlook this little detail for now.
I’ve tried and loved: Hopalicious Pale Ale, Velveteen Habit IPA, Big Slick Stout.
My favorite: Bedlam Belgian IPA might be an overall top-10 beer for me.
Need to get my hands on: Impending Descent Imperial Stout, Satisfaction Jacksin Double IPA.
Deschutes; Bend, Oregon
Current distribution (per Seek a Brew map linked above): Most of the West and Midwest, and as far east as Pennsylvania.
I’ve tried and loved: Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Red Chair NWPA.
My favorite: The Abyss, a 12.2% partially bourbon- and pinot noir–aged stout with blackstrap molasses, brewer’s licorice, vanilla beans and cherry bark.
Need to get my hands on: Big Rig Pub Ale, Down N Dirty IPA.
Tallgrass; Manhattan, Kansas
Current distribution: 17 states, including Texas, Alabama, Mississippi,and pretty much the entire Midwest.
I’ve tried and loved: 8-Bit Pale Ale, Buffalo Sweat Oatmeal Cream Stout, Pub Ale, Songbird Saison, Flyin’ Hawaiian Pineapple Double IPA, The Grizz Double IPA (retired), and Wooden Rooster (retired).
My favorite: Ethos IPA (retired).
Need to get my hands on: One-Eyed Jacques Belgian Stout.
Surly; Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Current distribution: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.
I’ve tried and loved: Furious IPA, Todd the Axe Man IPA, Coffee Bender Brown Ale, CynicAle Saison.
My favorite: Abrasive Ale, a rotating 9% oatmeal double IPA that is rumored to be currently available in Chicago!
Need to get my hands on: Bitter Brewer, a 4% English-style bitter.
Bell’s; Kalamazoo, Michigan
Current distribution: Most of the Midwest and East Coast other than New England; Arizona and parts of California.
I’ve tried and loved: 30th Anniversary Imperial Stout, Lager of the Lakes, Hopslam Ale Double IPA.
My favorite: Two Hearted, a 7% IPA that has somehow supplanted SingleCut, Threes, Other Half, Sixpoint and all the other great New York breweries to become the beer I drink most often whenever I’m in the city that represents the closest Bell’s makes it to my house.
Need to get my hands on: Expedition Stout.
Cigar City; Tampa, Florida
Current distribution: Seven states scattered around the Southeast and East Coast.
I’ve tried and loved: Jai Alai IPA, Moduro Oatmeal Brown Ale.
My favorite: Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout.
Need to get my hands on: Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, sure, because even if I roll my eyes at buy-a-ticket, wait-in-line, maybe-riot? special releases, most of them are at least awesome beers. But I’m most intrigued by White Oak Aged Jai Alai IPA.
Ninaski; Eugene, Oregon
Current distribution: A dozen scattered states, including California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania.
I’ve tried and loved: Helles Belles Lager, Oatis Oatmeal Stout, Wünderbier Kolsch (retired).
My favorite: Total Domination IPA.
Need to get my hands on: Tricerahops Double IPA, Beer Run IPA (the former for its reputation, the latter for its name alone).
Crooked Stave; Denver
Current distribution: 17 scattered states, including California, Florida, New York and Kentucky.
I’ve tried and loved: Nightmare on Brett Bourbon Barrel-Aged Baltic Porter.
My favorite: Nightmare on Brett’s the only Crooked Stave I’ve been lucky enough to drink, but it’s fantastic, and its sour-wild-fruit-barreled style is a bit underrepresented in New England. Allagash does a great job but it could use some competition, and I nominate Crooked Stave.
I need to get my hands on: All the rest of it, starting with the brandy barrel, raspberry and cherry renditions of Nighmare on Brett.
OK, that’s the official list for today, along with some honorable mentions that could make the top tier if you asked me again next week: MadTree (Cincinnati), Perennial (St. Louis), Schell’s (New Ulm, Minnesota), Port City (Alexandria, Virginia), Toppling Goliath (Decorah, Iowa), and Three Floyds (Munster, Indiana).
Your turn: Which breweries do you want to see on your local tap lists?