Recently on Twitter, I got into a discussion about whether or not Pittsburgh is a top tier beer city. This inspired me to create the first NFL power poll for craft beer Bill Simmons style. I planned to bring this up during the latest episode of the IFS Podcast, but our interview with one of the owners of Funk Brewing ran long. I have not been to every NFL city, but I have been to 27 of the 32 cities and have had beer from all but one. This is the definitive list and I am sure everyone will agree, feel free to hit me up with your thoughts on twitter @easypretzel. (Editor: Not everyone will agree.)
THE JAMARCUS RUSSELL DIVISION
Everyone knows you are bad but you.
Quick, off of the top of your head name a brewery based in Jacksonville. I’ll wait….that’s right, you can’t. I have never been to Jacksonville, and neither has the modern craft beer movement apparently. Blake Bortles is the perfect quarterback to represent this city’s craft beer.
In 2016 I visited Indy to watch my Penn State Nittany Lions come back from 28-7 down to win the Big Ten Championship game. The beer highlight of my trip was paying $100 for 12 open Miller Lites to go (the bars have to open each beer if you want to carry out) and three Jager bombs at 1AM. The only thing worse than Indianapolis’ craft beer scene is the Colt’s owner’s shirt selection. The most famous thing they have done in brewing is taking weak cheap shots at Tom Brady over Deflategate.
- New Orleans
If you have not been to New Orleans before, move that up to the top of your travel list immediately. It is a special place like no other in the world that is full of interesting food, dancing, and high octane cocktails. Unfortunately, partly due to antiquated beer laws, New Orleans has not embraced the craft beer movement. A town that is known for unique food flavors should have breweries that do the same.
I made a recent trip to the Bay area and I passed Oakland on my way from Napa Valley to San Francisco. The only reason that I wanted to stop in Oakland was to eat an In-N-Out double double animal style burger right off of I-80. If I were ranking toughest NFL cities, Oakland would be by far #1 (they even try to fight their own players), so I will just stop right here.
When I attended a Titans game a few years ago, the locals directed me to the best local brewery, it was a Rock Bottom. That pretty much sums up the craft beer scene in the Music City. For a town where Jeff Fisher went 8-8 FIVE times, I couldn’t even put them in the next division.
THE JEFF FISHER DIVISION
You know you are going 8-8… forever.
I almost don’t even want to share how good Saint Arnold’s is, their Bishop Barrel and Pumpkinator series are relatively unknown but are some of the best beers being produced in all of craft beer. Houston is up and coming, but still, has a lot of room to grow.
Carson Palmer’s career win-loss record is 92-90-1. He and the Arizona craft beer are perfect for this division. Arizona Wilderness has emerged as one of the best breweries in the country. Being so close to Mexico, it would be nice to see different collabs with Mexican breweries come out of this region.
- Jets (New Jersey)
The Jets have a chance to get one of two generational quarterbacks in the 2018 draft, but they keep winning and can’t even tank right. Super fan Larry David couldn’t even write something like this into a season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The Jets are the perfect analogy for the New Jersey craft beer scene. Sure, they have some great places like Carton and Kane, but they really don’t have a lot to work with.
I have been to Buffalo more times than I can count. I love Buffalo and everything about it. The Anchor Bar (don’t try to @ me that Duff’s is better), Spiedies, Ted’s Hot Dogs, and Mr. Bills in Cheektavegas, to name a few. But Buffalo itself has not caught up on the craft revolution. Buffalo Brewing is the best in the city. However, Bill’s mafia is spread throughout the state. So if you include Southern Tier and the world-class Ommegang, Buffalo craft beer is like George Costanza, if you take every brewery in the region, it looks decent.
Much like the football team, the craft beer scene looks good on paper, but in the end will probably disappoint you. Against the Grain in Kentucky is the region’s best brewery and they are putting out some unique beers. Rhinegeist is the star of the city and you should look to obtain their beer through your favorite trade/raffle group.
- Green Bay
If the Packers did not have Aaron Rodgers they would be a bottom five team and Mike McCarthy would be an offensive line coach for the Dolphins. Wisconsin craft beer has their Aaron Rodgers in New Glarus. They don’t even distribute out-of-state and they are the 16th biggest craft brewer in the country. Some of their sours like their Raspberry Tart are a must drink. New Glarus makes up for a lack of other quality craft breweries in the area.
The Cowboys presence expands way beyond the 214, they really are a regional team. Their beer scene is no different. What the city of Dallas lacks in terms of craft beer, the region more than makes up for it. Jester King puts out saisons and sours that can go head-to-head with most Belgian breweries. The Prairie Bomb! series is one of the best stout lineups in the country.
THE PHILIP RIVERS DIVISION
Can compete with anyone, but you will end up losing in the last minute every single time.
If Minnesotans were to play duck, duck, gray duck with craft beer, the first one they would tap would be Surly. They have a plethora of IPAs available in cans, and their Darkness RIS series stacks up against the best. Summit is an OG of craft beer and also puts out some quality brews.
As Omar said, money ain’t got no owners, only spenders. I continue to find myself spending more of my money in Charm City. Flying Dog represents the region well with both their Old Bay beer and their fight for Free Speech. Gypsy brewer & Baltimore native Stillwater Artisanal and the new NEIPA style Burley Oak also have Maryland moving up the rankings. Special shout-out to Max’s Taphouse, which is one of the five best Belgian bars in the United States.
Now that the Cavs have delivered a title to Cleveland, I hope the Browns never get a good quarterback and that jersey with all of the bad QB’s grows to 100. The craft beer scene, on the other hand, has a lot of solid pieces in place. Fat Head’s, which came about from a bar in Pittsburgh, puts out some of the best non-NE IPA’s in the country. Great Lakes is the region’s largest, and has a year-round portfolio that stacks up with anyone. Hoppin’ Frog’s RIS game is vastly underrated and should be already in your cellar.
- Kansas City
I don’t know if Christian Okoye drinks alcohol or not, but the fact that there is not a beer named “The Nigerian Nightmare” is a travesty. Side Project dominates the sour game like the Nigerian nightmare dominated in Tecmo Super Bowl. They are hard to come by and I think I am like 0 for 240 for trying to trade for a Fuzzy b1. Boulevard is a brewery that can do it all and we all should be drinking more of the easily accessible Tank 7 saison.
Even if you love the Dolphins, you have to love Jay Cutler because Smoking Jay Cutler memes are back! The Miami craft beer scene itself is on fire. The Funky Buddha BA lineup may be the best in the country, with Last Buffalo in the Park vying for best beer I had so far in 2017. Right behind them is J. Wakefield. I randomly ran into Jonathan and Maria from J. Wakefield at the Toronado Bar in San Diego last year. They graciously broke out a growler of their Guava Berliner Weiss that blew me away. They encouraged me to visit their Wynwood Miami brewery and I was amazed by the depth of their lineup. Plus one of the best craft beer follows on twitter is from south Florida, friend of the show: @Brewkkake.
Atlanta is making a comeback (not the 28-3 variety!) with new legislation that allows their brewers to get their beer directly in the mouths of consumers. Sweet Water continues massive growth on the east coast and Terrapin, which was acquired by MillerCoors, will also soon see larger distribution. Terrapin even opened a brewery inside of the Braves new Sun Trust Stadium. The Porter Beer Bar has one of the largest cellared bottle collections in the country.
IS JOE FLACCO ELITE?
Have some elite pieces, but do not have enough to crack the Top Ten.
Growing up in Pittsburgh you quickly learn that Yinzers gonna Yinz. Ten years ago Pittsburgh was all about their Iron City and other German-inspired beers. But over the past three to four years Pittsburgh has really embraced the craft beer movement and has put themselves in position to be a craft beer destination. Brew Gentleman is located in Braddock, which is an ethnically diverse steel town that is truly unique in craft beer. They are putting out world class IPAs that you can only get on-site or in growlers. You also have one of the country’s best Barley Wine producers in East End, and one of the hottest new breweries in Dancing Gnome that really give Pittsburgh a deep portfolio.
- Tampa Bay
Tampa is notorious for their, um, gentleman club scene. But Tampa is quickly also becoming known as a great beer destination. Cigar City is quickly expanding all across the United States. Just as Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA is a staple for the northeast, Jai Alai is becoming the go-to craft beer for the southeast and beyond. Cigar City’s exclusive barrel aged club is the best in the county. Not to be outdone, St. Pete’s Cycle Brewing has unbelievable barrel aged releases seemingly every month.
There has been a lot of talk about draining the swamp, and as little as five years ago Virginia was in desperate need of new, fresh breweries. Places like Veil and Aslin are now putting out NEIPAs that can give any of the New England breweries a run for their money. They even have hidden gems like a Vietnamese Brewpub called Answer which is putting out amazing flavors in both their beer and food.
- New York
Eli Manning is a perfect comparison for New York craft beer. Hall-of-Famer, 2 rings, but is not on anyone’s top ten list. They have nationally recognized breweries like Brooklyn, Sixpoint, and Evil Twin (I’m claiming him for NY). They also have places like Other Half that have IPAs that trade for almost any IPA out there. But what makes New York one of the best cities are its beer bars. Evil Twin owned Tørst bar, The Pony Bar, and The Blind Tiger are all must stops when you visit New York. As a bonus, nothing goes better with beer than pizza, so make sure you stop by John’s of Bleecker Street for the world’s best pizza (One bite, everyone knows the rules).
THE SCOTTIE PIPPEN DIVISION
Hall of Fame. Still Second Banana.
Philadelphia is no longer a city that is just known for cheesesteaks and people who cannot pronounce water. Philly finally has a winner with Tired Hands. Despite all of the drama surrounding soccer mom folding chairs, Tired Hands consistently puts out quality IPAs and saisons. Their milkshake series is one of the best things going in craft beer. If you include the surrounding Eagles territory, they can claim a trio of powerhouse breweries in Dogfish Head, Troegs, and Victory. When visiting the city, Monk’s Cafe has a world class beer list and amazing Belgian inspired food.
Outside of NoDa and VGBG (craft beer and beach volleyball, what’s not to like?), Charlotte does not have a lot to offer craft beer. But when you expand to include all of the Carolina’s, you now have a craft beer powerhouse. Asheville lives up to their reputation of being the best beer destination. Asheville has so many breweries that on a ten-minute walk from the loved/hated Wicked Weed to Burial, you could hit 10 brewpubs or breweries. I am also including South Carolina and Westbrook who owns the kettle sour game and have the legit BA Mexican Cake series.
I was in Chicago just a few weeks ago and I was pleasantly surprised at how far the craft beer scene has evolved. I was assuming downtown would be nothing but Midwest accents, Old Style, and Pequod’s Pizza. Almost anywhere in the city you could throw a rock and hit a bar that carried Zombie Dust, Gumballhead, or Daisy Cutter. For some reason almost every great U.S. craft beer bar is named Toronado or Monks, and Chicago is no exception with their own Monks. Everybody hates on Goose Island because they are ABInbev owned, but all you haters reading this have some variant of BCBS aging in your cellar. You can also pick up some other local elite BA stouts with Dark Lord Series or dropping four figures on a KBBS.
- Los Angeles
Much like Randy Newman, I love L.A.! They may not have the pedigree or quantity of breweries as some other cities, but not surprisingly L.A. is full of dimes. Bottle Logic stouts are so in demand that people are opening up their cellar to get a taste of the amazing FO. Newcomer Monkish is giving the west coast a lesson on how to make a proper NEIPA. L.A. also boasts two OGs in elite craft beer in The Bruery and Firestone Walker.
No matter how good you are, you are still all fighting for second place.
The last time I was in Detroit I watched the Penguins hoist the Stanley Cup, did shots with Alan Faneca, and almost got shot in Greek Town at 4AM. While those are all great memories (minus the near homicide), when I think of Detroit now I think of all of the great breweries in the region. The national players Bell’s and Founders continue to put out a portfolio that very few can match. Smaller breweries like Dark Horse and Jolly Pumpkin continue to produce highly sought-after beers, and newcomer Old Nation is making waves in the NEIPA trading game with beers like Boss Tweed.
Denver is the Mike Holmgren coaching tree of breweries, you can find their influence and brewers all over the country. Whether you are in Denver or Boulder, you won’t go wrong just walking into a random local brewery. They also have Oskar Blues who we are forever indebted to for inventing the Crowler. Crooked Stave has such a portfolio of American Wild Ales that even locals have trouble keeping up.
- Seattle (Pacific Northwest)
Not having Seattle and the pacific northwest this high on the list would be as dumb as not running Marshawn Lynch from the two-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX. This is the only area of the top tiers that I have not had the privilege to visit. Luckily I had a friend who ships me care packages (Holla Fedex) so I could indulge in their fine brews. My favorite IPA from the PNW is Boneyard Notorious Triple IPA that I was able to have at the Hunahpu Day beer fest. When I look at Untappd, I am amazed at how many of my friends have not had de Garde, their sour and kriek game is world class. Much like other cities near the top of the list, great local breweries are a dime a dozen. It should be no surprise since they grow 96% of the U.S. hop acreage.
- San Francisco
Downtown San Fran is exactly like the 49ers, there are bums all over the place and there is not much going on. Sure they have the OG Toronado Bar and the great Mikkeller bar, but the lack of quality breweries is astounding. However, when you travel to the surrounding areas you get the elite of the elite breweries. They have the Micro-Macros in Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada who continue to crank out great beers on a national level. If you are making your way out to Napa Valley to have dinner at the French Laundry, you can spend the day at the world-class Russian River. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales is the best brewery you have never heard of, boasting some of United States best American Wild Ales and saisons.
- San Diego
I refuse to ever say that the Chargers are from L.A., they will always be the San Diego Super Chargers. There are 143 brewhouses and counting in San Diego, so no matter where you are in the city you will also be close to a great local brewery. They have one of the best beer bars on the planet in the aforementioned Toronado Bar. Oh, and they have a few little breweries you might know in Stone, Green Flash, and Alesmith. Plus every restaurant has great tacos (west coast beef tacos with hot sauce are the best tacos). Editor: Fish Tacos are superior.
THE THOMAS EDWARD PATRICK BRADY JR. DIVISION
1. New England
Belichick, Brady, Kraft. Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s, Maine, Treehouse, Trillium. There really is nothing else more that needs to be said.
Editor: Hate this list? Want to fight Easy Pretzel over his contrived list meant to reaffirm his Patriots fandom? Yell at him on Twitter @EasyPretzel