Chiot's Run / Flickr - Decorah, IA
Denver, Portland, and Seattle: What do they all have in common? Well, yeah, they’re all places you can legally buy the stuff that makes up 99% of Snoop Dogg’s body composition. But perhaps more importantly, they’re cities with huge, established beer scenes. When another brewery opens in those towns, no one bats an eye. But what about cities that don’t have world class beer scenes? What about small towns with an exceptional brewery to which out-of-towners make pilgrimages?
Breweries don’t exist in a vacuum -- they’re all based somewhere. We explored those somewheres by speaking to locals about the towns they live in, and the special breweries within them. Here are five breweries in unexpected places:
“Around here, everybody’s Bears, Cubs, and Sox fans,” says Jeffrey Shimko, an employee at Munster Donut. And it makes sense, Chicago’s about a 20 minute drive from the small town that counts Jim Gaffigan as one of its native sons. Shimko’s aunt owns the sour cream donut-filled spot. She started working there the day it opened in 1969, and eventually bought it herself about 15 years ago. If that isn’t a small town success story, we don’t know what is. Shimko’s lived in Munster his whole life, but says the town’s growing in a way it hasn’t previously. It can’t hurt for entrepreneurs to see that a world-class brewery can thrive in a town of about 23,000. And the brewery isn’t just attracting people for the beer bacchanal that is Dark Lord Day -- but also just to drop by the taproom to have a pint of the Gumballhead wheat ale or a Zombie Dust pale ale. 3 Floyds currently only distributes its metal-as-f**k brews to Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin, but thanks to bottle sharing, its reach extends worldwide.
align:center width:800 credits:"Dena van der Wal/Flickr - 3 Floyds"
If you’ve ever spent time looking at a live cam of eagles on the internet instead of doing work, you can thank Decorah, Iowa. The town got worldwide attention for its Raptor Resource Project, which attracted people from all over the map just watchin’ eagles be eagles. Toppling has also attracted its fair share of attention to Decorah, as the Citra-hopped Pseudo Sue pale ale has plenty of fans. Sean, a local bartender who grew up in the town, tells us that spending time outdoors is a way of life. “There’s a lot to do here,” he says. “Trout fishing, an 11-mile trail that runs around the whole area, cross country skiing, mountain biking, you name it.” And what better way to take breaks from all those strenuous activities than with a can of Toppling? It sure does help that its flagship Dorothy’s New World Lager, a California Common, is drinkable-as-hell at 5.5%, and is available in cans for easy portability.
If you grow up in Delaware like I did, there are a few things that most Delawareans agree are fantastic: launching pumpkins, the beach, and Dogfish Head. For many years, Dogfish was synonymous with the beach, as the original brewpub is located in Rehoboth Beach. But due to its popularity -- thanks to unique brews such as the fantastic 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPAs -- the brand outgrew its first facility. Now, its Milton campus houses a tasting room, a much larger production brewery, and a distillery that produces gin and vodka. Milton isn’t exactly a bustling beach town like Rehoboth, but it’s charming all the same. “It’s a tiny, historic family-friendly town,” says Brittany Cannon, who works at the Miltonian Pizzeria & Wing House. “There’s a downtown museum, parks, and an old library.” Considering Dogfish is known for such unconventional, modern brews (see: Beer for Breakfast, made with cold press coffee, maple syrup, and scrapple [pork!]), it is a little surprising that it’s located in such a quaint, charming slice of Americana.
align:right width:500 credits:"American Solera"
Tulsa -- unlike Milton or Decorah -- is not a small town. In fact, it’s Oklahoma’s second largest city. But Tulsa is also nothing like the rest of Oklahoma, and that’s what makes it unique. “We’re kind of like how Austin is to Texas,” says Taylor Aston, the head barista at Topeca Coffee. “A few years ago, we were named a hipster hub.” While the city has deep ties to the oil industry, Tulsa is fast becoming a destination for craft beer drinkers, and a lot of the credit goes to Chase Healey. He not only co-founded Prairie Artisan Ales (makers of Bomb! stout, which describes the beer perfectly) -- he left last year to produce small-batch, oak-aged wonders that usually take at least six months to mature. Despite complex offerings like a sour cherry, Brettanomyces-enhanced Foeder Cerise, savvy Tulsa beer drinkers (and beer nerds elsewhere) are snapping them up.
Whether it’s Jester King in Austin, TX, or Lickinghole Creek in Goochland, VA, breweries located on farms seem to be first-rate. Tree House is no exception to the rule. And now it’s the thing Monson is known for, at least according to town resident and wedding videographer Michael Murray. “I’ve been in Monson for 20 years,” he says. “When I’m out of town and I mention I live in Monson… if they’re an IPA lover, they’ll say Tree House!” That’s in large part due to Julius, a hazy, New England-style IPA that’s like a mouthful of OJ, mango, and peach. And then, of course, there’s the equally juicy DIPA Haze, and an underappreciated chocolatey stout called That’s What She Said. But if you walk out of this brewery without a sixer of Julius, the only thing you’ll be asking later is, “Why am I constantly making bad decisions?” So the next time you find yourself in a town like Monson or Decorah, Tulsa, Milton, or Munster, maybe you should check out one of the local breweries. You might just discover the next Tree House.
credits:"Tree House Brewing Co."