Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bmore & Chucktown Represent! BeerCity USA 2012 Let down!

Raising a Glass at the 2011 Brewvival
Photo by Chris Rausch @ BeerSimple.net

I am up in arms about this year's Beer City USA Poll. Two of the most exciting and accessible craft beer lovers cities in the US have been excluded! Neither Baltimore, MD nor Charleston, SC are on the ballot?!

I completely missed the nomination period but the voting is open May 1-13th so you still have time to boycott or vote if you so wish.

Here is the list of cities on the 2012 ballot:
  • Albuquerque, NM
  • Asheville, NC
  • Austin, TX
  • Bend, OR
  • Boston, MA
  • Boulder, CO
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Chicago, IL
  • Cincinnati, OH
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX
  • Denver, CO
  • Durango, CO
  • Fort Collins, CO
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Madison, WI
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
  • Missoula, MT
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Phoenix-Tempe-Scottsdale, AZ
  • Portland, ME
  • Portland, OR
  • Raleigh, NC
  • San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco/Oakland - Bay Area, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Tampa, FL
  • Washington, DC

According to Charlie Papazian, president of the American Craft Brewer's Association, and author of the article about the poll Vote Now: BeerCity USA 2012 -- Where's Your Pick? , the vote "is about showcasing what is really driving the American craft beer phenomenon we are all enjoying.  It’s about the view on main street, grass roots, community support; it’s not about mainstream data, averages and statistics."

If that's the case the I cannot fathom why Washington, DC is on the list and Baltimore and Charleston escaped recognition.

In the mid-Atlantic, the cities most known for craft beer are unquestionably Baltimore and Philadelphia. Both cities have a population of locals devoted to their beer scene, great restaurants that focus on great beer and also offer great food, dozens of festivals dedicated to craft beer, which are attended by locals and tourists alike, great breweries, and identities that are tied in to the blue collar beer lover.

Washington, DC has not yet created a craft beer-centric community, the restaurants don't concentrate on offering great beer, the local breweries (DCBrau and Capital City Brewing) are not widely available in the city or it's surroundings, and the best restaurants still hardly offer great beer. 

DC does have some cool places like Birch and Barley / ChurchKey and Brasserie Beck, and Iron Horse Tap Room to name a few. However, the access to craft beer just isn't present, and the majority of the locals stick to wine. DC doesn't host many craft beer festivals and it doesn't draw in visitors solely for seeking craft beer. And don't even try bringing up Savor because as far as I'm concerned it's a joke. It's supposed to be about beer and food pairing with a chance to taste unique beers, learn about the beer industry and special types of beer, and community growth. The food choices were not paired well, nor were they flavorful, nor did they make sense for a passed hor d'oeuvres situation, and they pricey tickets and highly limited availability of tickets meant it was nearly impossible to join in the salons where you were able to learn more about beer. I have a lot more I could say about what I disliked and how I think Savor could be improved but I'm just going to leave it at that for now. 

On the other hand Baltimore's local brews are ever-increasing their following. There are new and exciting beer festivals and brew pubs opening every month. More and more fine dining restaurants are offering great craft beer selections. The retail scene is evolving. Everyday drinkers of Pabst and Bud are switching to the regional favorite National Bohemian in support of a local icon. And the community is enlarging and beginning to encompass nearby cities like Columbia, Ellicott City and Annapolis.

Chris @ the Pratt Street Ale House Festival in 2011, representing Heavy Seas

Baltimorons are avid devotees of Natty Boh. National Bohemian was originally brewed in Baltimore but has since moved to Milwakee, yet the Baltimorons won't give it up. Mr. Boh has been an iconic Baltimore logo for ever. His face is plastered all over the city. And the beer is in house and affordable at almost every bar in the state. Natty Boh even capitalizes on this.  Maybe it's not really a craft beer in the sense of production, but it represents what craft brewing is all about, building a community of followers who are loyal to your brand and who have pride in what it represents.

Baltimore is also the hometown of Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, one of the fastest growing and most present people in the new Gypsy Brewer movement. He chose Baltimore as the location for his new pub Of Love and Regret, opening later on this year in the Brewer's Hill neighborhood. The pub is being supported by local restauranteurs of Jack's Bistro

Me and My lady Buddies at another Pratt Street Ale Fest.
You can see Brian Strumke's Bald Head in the background.
It's cool to meet the brewers when you try their beer!

Add to that the growing popularity of Hugh Sisson's pirate themed Heavy Seas Brewery, and their newest gourmet beer venture the Heavy Seas Ale House, Alewife and its infamous Smokeburger, The Brewer's Art, Pratt Street Ale House and Oliver's Ales, Max's Taphouse, Mahaffey's, Wharf Rat, Judge's BenchThe Perfect Pour, Frisco TaphousePunk's Grill, Tsunami... the list of local breweries and beer bars goes on. 

Has anybody checked out all of the fantastic festivals held at Heavy Seas brewery? How about Pratt Street Ale House's Real Ale Festival? Max's Belgian Beer Festival? 

Baltimore also has some great beer bloggers who are always updating about local events and great beers: BeerinBaltimore.com BeerSimple.net

I love Asheville, but Brewgrass doesn't hold a candle to the quality of beer you get at the Pratt St. Festival.  Most breweries just offered their flagship brews which are widely distributed. It's a great way to introduce people to the craft beer scene, but for devotees it's just a nice venu to get drunk for $40. Pratt Street on the other hand has a great selection of casks at all of their events so even if you have tried a beer before, it's not likely you've had the cask with special ingredients! 

Pratt Street, by the way, brews under the name Oliver's. They regularly invite local beer shop owners and restauranteurs to join in the fun making guest brews to release to the public. Last year they partnered with the guys at Dawson's Liquors, a retail shop about 45min away in Severna Park, and the owners of Punk's Backyard grill, a little restaurant and beer bar in the Annapolis Mall.

The last two years Baltimore's beer scene has begun to bloom. Baltimore is hopping in on the craft beer bandwagon, using breweries as their city mascots, promoting beer bars with awesome food, and leaving the city full of beer-lusting zombies. 

Please explain to my what is exciting and new in Washington, DC? Who is getting involved in the beer scene? What's making it grow? I hate to say it, but I must be missing something. 

Then there is the South and Charleston, SC, a beer drinker's paradise. I know Asheville has a lot to offer. Wait a second, is Asheville really in the South? I mean it seems more mid-Atlantic. Anyway, I'm not the authority on Southern beer towns. My experience is really just of Asheville and Charleston, but I think Asheville is firmly established as a BeerCity, and it's about time to pass the buck to a place thats growing and innovation and deserves some recognition!

Maybe, Charleston would be a good option? To begin with, in South Carolina alcohol is allowed to be sold in grocery stores. So almost every single store that has food also offers a nice selection of craft beers. Even the Piggly Wiggly has a growler station! Nearly every restaurant has both draft and bottled craft beer options. Westbrook, Holy City, and Palmetto recently joined the list of breweries in town and their beers are all exciting, not just another pilsner style beers. The tight knit community has populated each and every bar with at least one of each of these breweries' beers on draft, so you're never far from fresh beer. 

And they have Charleston Beer Exchange, in their 4th year at the retail business, recognized as one of the best retail stores in the world and the best beer retailer in the US (along with their Greenville location). They host, along with COAST brewery, the annual Brewvival, a festival which showcases hundreds of unique offerings from breweries around the country and beers that aren't even distributed in Charleston. CbX also hosts rare beer Tuesdays which give you the opportunity to try cool casks and kegs each week. They brew their own at the local breweries for special events and CbX hosts beer dinners at local restaurants around town.

Brandon Pyler, one of the CbX crew even teaches beer education classes at the local culinary institute

And they are just one small group of the beer loving denizens of this great southern city.

Sadly SC is having a hard time competing with NC's draw on the bigger breweries. Please read The Red-Headed Step Carolina via CHSBeer for some details about that dilemma. But heck, SC can just keep opening more local breweries and pumping out delicious brews from within. 

I can't even begin to list the restaurants and bars and events related to Charleston's burgeoning beer scene. I have a million more reasons why each of these cities deserves to be recognized at the BeerCity USA 2102. But, it's too late to get them on the ballot so I will petition for their placement next year.

I'm gonna keep on the case, and I will be ready to rally the troops to nominate both of these great cities for the BeerCity USA poll 2013! 

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