Thursday was Colorado Day (what, no card?), which commemorates that state’s Aug. 1, 1876, entry into the Union. That got me to thinking: What have been the most important states in the history of American craft beer? The No. 1 state is obvious, the others perhaps not so much.
A couple of caveats: Much of what placed a state on the below list has to do with accidents of geography; events happened to happen within the state’s borders and not necessarily because of any initiative on the part of a state government (with one very important exception in No. 1). Also, firsts are the name of the game. These states are the most important because of the pioneering moves in American craft beer that took place within them.
It was here, in the Boston area, that New Amsterdam founder Matthew Reich met with brewing consultant Joseph Owades, a meeting that birthed the notion of contract-brewing in American craft beer. It was also here that Jim Koch and Rhonda Kallman started the Boston Beer Co., the biggest craft-beer concern ever; and here, too, that the Mass. Bay Brewing Co. (a.k.a. Harpoon) also launched, on a gritty slice of the South Boston waterfront, presaging craft beer’s role in turning around blighted urban areas. Massachusetts was also where the Alstrom brothers started the precursor to BeerAdvocate way back in 1996.
4. New York
The Empire State was where William Newman started the Wm. S. Newman Brewing Co., the first craft brewery east of the Mississippi, incorporating it in 1979, and launching the first brands in 1982. This was where Matthew Reich started the first contract-brewing concern, in New York City, also in 1982. And it was in New York City where Jim Koch visited Reich for advice about the Boston Beer Co. (and Steve Hindy and Tom Potter, for that matter, did the same about the Brooklyn Brewery). It was also in New York where Richard Wrigley started the first East Coast brewpub, the Manhattan Brewing Co., in 1984; and where the F.X. Matt Brewing Co. of Utica contract-brewed several early brands, including New Amsterdam and Brooklyn.
The Centennial State makes the list because it hosted (and continues to host) the Great American Beer Festival, beginning in 1982. The precursor to the Brewers Association, as well as the American Homebrewers Association, also emanated from Colorado; and the oldest craft brewery to launch outside of the West Coast (though it’s changed names, ownership and iterations over the decades) started in the state: Boulder Brewing (now Boulder Beer) in 1979.
Birthplace of the Cascade hop, the first American-grown aromatic hop, Oregon is also the birthplace of a few pioneering breweries: the short-lived Cartwright Portland, launched in 1980, the first craft brewery in the Pacific Northwest outside of Northern California (and maybe the first real attempt by commercial winemakers to become commercial brewers); Widmer Brothers of Portland, the first craft-brewery to become best-known for wheat beers; and Bridgeport, also of Portland, which did prove that winemakers could become beer-makers. It’s also the state where Fred Eckhardt decided to settle after the Marines. Eckhardt would write the first regular coverage of American craft beer in a major newspaper (the Portland Oregonian, then one of the nation’s 25 largest by circulation), beginning on April 25, 1984, with a column that included a list of “Twenty Beers with Class.”
The Bear Republic will never be trumped for influence. Deep breath: first craft brewery (Anchor); first startup craft breweries (New Albion and DeBakker); second and third brewpubs (Buffalo Bill’s and Mendocino); oldest homebrewing club (the Maltose Falcons of L.A.); birthplace of Sierra Nevada, progenitor of the “West Coast style” of beer that swept the beer-drinking world; starting point for the push to legalize homebrewing at the federal level (through legislation introduced by California Sen. Alan Cranston); birthplace of Pete’s Brewing, for many years the second-biggest craft operation; all the style iterations and pioneering moves, including Sierra Nevada’s and (especially) Anchor’s, that emanated from these early breweries (not least of which Anchor’s Liberty Ale, the archetype for the modern IPA); the first IPA festivals and contests; and, finally (though probably not completely), the first university-level degree program at the University of California-Davis (that’s the very important exception I noted in the introduction).