...and let the record show that the following is extremely Me-centric. I don't doubt that there are many, many excellent brewpubs that are not on this list purely because I haven't been to them. If you disagree with this list, let me know. I don't need much of an excuse to try new beer...
So, without further ado:
The Squirrely wrath Top 10 List of Brewpubs
(The order here is stream-of-consciousness and has no significance)
- Goose Island, Clyborn Ave, Chicago - This is the brewpub that started the Goose Island empire and taught many Chicago residents, myself included, what the craft beer revolution was all about. The brewpub has survived re-zoning, gentrification, and all manner of other urban ills....and it has Goose Island beer. Enough said.
- Squatters, Salt Lake City - For me, two significant events happened here: 1) The last dinner I had with my mom, and 2) Daughter #2's wedding rehearsal dinner. A sentimental favorite, perhaps, but Squatters does Utah-mandated low alcohol beer well. If I'm in Salt Lake, I go there as much for the excellent beer as the misty-eyed memories.
- Great Lakes Brewing, Cleveland - Yes, Cleveland. Despite its location in a moderately sketchy area, Great Lakes has two things going for it: The always excellent Great Lakes beer and a spectacular Victorian era bar, complete with bullet holes left over from a by-gone episode where none other than Elliot Ness himself apparently felt the need to educate the locals in the "Chicago Way" of doing things.
- Deschuttes Brewpub, Portland - Well, duh. Deschuttes beer and great food, including burgers made from happy cows who spent their (short) lives munching on spent grain from the brewery, but don't think about that too much during dinner.
- Mad Fox Brewing, Falls Church, VA - A rather recent and quite-by-chance discovery in a quiet DC suburb. Their very excellent Orange Whip IPA introduced me to the absolute awesomeness that is Citra hops.
- Moab Brewing, Moab, UT - Surprisingly, this remote Utah town boasts two brewpubs, the rather embarrassingly-named Eddie McStiff's and Moab Brewing. For reasons not germane to this narrative, I am a quasi-regular visitor to Moab and, while there, Moab Brewing is a nightly stop for me and mine. Low alcohol Utah beer, very nicely done with an "eclectic" touristy clientele.
- Great Basin Brewing, Sparks, NV - Good beer in a relentlessly casual - some might say, "ramshackle" - ambience. In spite of being a short walk from the Nugget mega-resort, its generally a locals-only crowd with a heavy sprinkling of the local homebrewers.
- Four Peaks Brewing, Tempe, AZ - Always a big selection of great beers in an interior that looks far more "brewery" than "restaurant." It's proximity to ASU makes a stop here in the evening a little problematic for quite, contemplative beer consumption, so stop in for lunch, instead.
- Elevator Brewing, Columbus, OH - Another Ohio brewpub featuring great beer and an absolutely spectacular Victorian-era bar. This is how your great-grandfather sat down for a beer.
- Great Dane Brewing, Madison, WI - A sprawling brewpub, just off Capitol Square in downtown Madison. Consistently tasty beer with a distinctly Madisonian crowd. Don't expect to find a lot of Rush Limbaugh fans quaffing suds here, but I'm apolitical when it comes to beer and, as long as you don't get in my face with your stupid opinions, I'll drink with anyone.
Posthumous Award: This list wouldn't be complete without mention of the now-closed Bardo Rodeo, Arlington, VA. The Bardo owners took over an abandoned car dealership, turned the service counter into a bar, put tables in the showroom and service bay, and turned the upstairs offices into a pool room. The beers were eclectic, but leaned a little towards Northwest styles; their Chinook Ale was an experience. My first contact with William Blake was in the Bardo's men's room where, over the urinals, someone had scrawled, "The road of Excess leads to the Palace of Wisdom." Well, yeah...
But wait! There's more...
It has occurred to me that the above list is incomplete without mentioning two very excellent brewpubs in Boulder, CO: Mountain Sun and Boulder Brewing. The Mountain Sun can only be described as relentlessly counter-culture and this might put many off, but they always have a big selection of interesting beers on tap and they are not afraid to experiment. Boulder Brewing's pub is actually located at their brewery and, with the addition of a kitchen, their tasting room has morphed into a brewpub.
...and at the other end of the spectrum:
Of course, there are brewpubs at the other end of the spectrum: the bad ones. Now it's not my way break bad on people when they don't have an opportunity to rebut and, consequently, I shy away from slamming a brewpub. Besides, I give every small brewer a little consideration. If I don't like their beer, I recognize they might have had a few "bad" batches or recipe malfunctions. Having said that, I have been into a few brewpubs that were so egregiously and heinously bad that I have no problem waving people off from them as their beer is so bad as to give microbreweries everywhere a bad name. So...this Hall of Shame includes:
Boulder Dam Brewing - I wanted to like this place. I really, really wanted to like this place. Located in historic downtown Boulder City, an easy drive from the Fortress of Solitude, with ideal outdoor seating, when I heard they were opening, I thought my prayers had been answered. However, upon heading over and settling down for a few beers, all hopes were dashed. The beer was Gawd-awful; no body, carbonation all wrong, and every beer I had was seriously flawed. Oxidized, gigantic amounts of diacetyl, and one was clearly infected. I gave them another shot six months later, thinking, "Okay, the last time was in the middle of their start-up pains; maybe they're better." No. Still crap...and then, I learned that their brewing system was from these bastards. Sweet Mother of Gawd! This is a travesty; a single tank brewing system, using supplied extract mixes and then this gruel is served off the dormant yeast. No wonder the beer sucked, big time.
Port Aransas Brewing Co. - Sometimes, even the idyllic life in the Mojave Desert requires a break and that's why the redhead and I have a Fortress of Solitude Lite on the Texas Gulf Coast...and when I heard the nearby Port Aransas had acquired the "Port Aransas Brewing Co." as its newest restaurant...well, you can imagine my excitement. But, no...karma is a cruel bitch and when the redhead and I rolled in, I saw the same Specialty International equipment that was turning out the total swill at Boulder Dam Brewing. Crap. To their credit, "brewpub" does have an impressive - for south Texas - selection of micros, but at the end of the day, like Boulder Dam Brewing, these guys just don't care...
One other entry here, Oggi's Pizza & Brewing, Orange, CA. Oggi's is a chain, but they came well-recommended and their beers are well-regarded in brewing circles...and it is entirely possible that their beers were spectacular, but who could tell? This place was just fucking loud, really loud; as in, family night loud; as in, small children running in and out of the bar, squealing; as in, sports bar, my-team-is-kicking-butt; as in, a table full of nurses, drinking their way through happy hour at the top of their lungs. It is possible one could go here on another night and be able to down a few beers in the relative quiet that a respect for good beers dictates, but I wonder if it is worth it.