16 States With the Best (and Worst) Craft Beer Scenes
Now is a great time to be a beer drinker. In the not-too-distant past, those looking for a brew had just a handful of choices, including major brewers Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. The craft beer boom has taken some of the power away from the big boys and put it in the hands of small, independent brewers.
The Brewers Association, which is dedicated to promoting and protecting the craft beer scene in the United States, estimates there were more than 5,300 independent breweries operating in the U.S. at the end of 2016, double the number from 2012.
Some of the United States’ most renowned independent breweries are crafting some of the world’s best beers. But not every state is on equal footing when it comes to the craft beer scene. Based on an average of the Brewers Association’s rankings for total number of breweries, the number of breweries per capita (100,000 people age 21 or older), and the number of gallons per person age 21 or older, here are the eight worst and eight best states (including Washington, D.C.) for those looking to sample a craft beer in the United States.
8. Worst: Kentucky
- Average ranking: 39.3
The home of the United States’ bourbon scene doesn’t fare as well when it comes to craft beer. Kentucky has its highest ranking as it checks in at No. 35 with 34 craft breweries in the state. But its 1.1 breweries per capita (No. 45) is one of the worst in the country.
8. Best: North Carolina
- Average ranking: 12
The cities of Asheville, Charlotte, and Raleigh are beacons in North Carolina’s craft beer scene and account for a large number of the state’s 200 breweries, which ranks ninth in the country. The state produces 5.4 gallons per adult, good for No. 10 in the nation. But the 2.8 breweries per capita, which is No. 17 overall, hurt the ranking.
7. Worst: Hawaii
- Average ranking: 40.3
Despite the presence of the well-known Kona Brewing Company, Hawaii isn’t a big destination for those searching out craft beers. Is the lure of the beach too hard to resist? Would islanders rather be drinking tropical cocktails as opposed to craft beers? Whatever the answer, Hawaii ranked 40 or higher in the number of breweries and breweries per capita. Only its 1.4 gallons per person 21 or older (No. 33 nationally) boosts its score.
7. Best: Michigan, Wisconsin (tie)
- Average rankings: 11.6
These two states appearing among the nation’s best should come as no surprise. Though industry giant Miller is headquartered in Milwaukee, home of baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers, Wisconsin is home to such well-known independent breweries, such as Lakefront and New Glarus, that help keep the independent spirit alive. The 138 craft breweries (No. 14) in the state are plenty busy. Wisconsin checks in at No. 9 with 7.3 gallons of beer per adult.
Michigan is home to 222 craft breweries, good for No. 6 on the Brewers Association rankings. That includes Bell’s, Dark Horse, and Founders, which help contribute to the thriving craft beer scene in the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo areas.
6. Worst: North Dakota
- Average ranking: 41.3
With just 10 breweries in the state, North Dakota is No. 50 on the Brewers Association rankings. Its gallons per person age 21 or older is No. 44 (0.7 gallons). The only thing saving the state is its small population. At 1.9 breweries per capita, North Dakota is ranked No. 30.
6. Best: Pennsylvania
- Average ranking: 11.3
The Keystone State cracks the top 10 in both the number of breweries (No. 7 with 205) and gallons per person (No. 2 with 12.9). Pennsylvania can thank Yuengling for its high rank. Yuengling, the oldest operating brewery in the country and one of the largest breweries in the country by volume, is still considered an independent craft brewery despite its production and reach.
5. Worst: Arkansas
- Average ranking: 42.3
With 28 craft breweries, Arkansas ranks No. 38 overall, outpacing some of its fellow bottom-dwellers. Its 1.3 breweries per capita is No. 41. But with just 0.5 gallons per person, Arkansas is one of the worst states in the country at No. 48.
5. Best: Maine, Montana (tie)
- Average rankings: 11
Both Maine (77, No. 21) and Montana (68, No. 23) fall just outside the top 20 when it comes to the number of breweries, but both make up for those numbers in the other categories.
Maine — thanks in part to well-known and widely distributed brands, such as Allagash and Maine Beer Company — checks in at No. 7 with 9.7 gallons per person annually. Its 7.6 breweries per capita ranks No. 5 overall.
Breweries, such as 2017 North American Beer Awards winners Bozeman Brewing and Great Northern Brewing Company, help boost Montana when it comes to the other factors. With 7.3 gallons per person 21 or older, Montana is No. 8 overall. And with 9 breweries per capita, it is No. 2 on the Brewers Association list.
4. Worst: Alabama
- Average ranking: 42.6
There isn’t much in Alabama’s favor on the Brewers Association rankings. With 32 breweries overall, it checks in with a respectable No. 36 rank. But it is near the bottom of the list in both breweries per capita (0.8, No. 47) and gallons per person (0.5, No. 45).
4. Best: Vermont
- Average ranking: 10.6
Vermont is near the middle of the pack in the total number of breweries with 50 (No. 30), but it makes up for that mark in a big way in the other categories. Home to craft beer benchmarks, such as Magic Hat and Alchemist, Vermont leads the way in both breweries per capita (10.8) and gallons per person (19.8).
3. Worst: Oklahoma
- Average ranking: 46.3
The Sooner State isn’t a spot for craft beer enthusiasts. It doesn’t crack the top 40 in either the number of breweries (20, No. 43) or gallons per person (0.5, No. 46). And its 0.7 breweries per capita is one of the worst at No. 50.
3. Best: Washington
- Average ranking: 8.6
Home to popular craft breweries, such as Redhook Ale and Fremont, Washington is one of the leaders of the country’s craft beer scene. With the Seattle area as a focal point, Washington checks in at No. 2 in the United States with 334 craft breweries. Its 6.3 breweries per capita put it in the top 10 (No. 6 overall). But the 2.7 gallons per person rank No. 18 and hurt Washington’s average score.
2. Worst: West Virginia
- Average ranking: 50
Craft beer fans looking to expand their horizons would do well to avoid West Virginia. With just 15 craft breweries total and 1.1 breweries per capita, it is among the worst in the nation. Yet those are bright spots compared to the measly 0.3 gallons per person produced each year, which is dead last among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
2. Best: Oregon
- Average ranking: 4.3
Oregon makes the top 5 in all three categories that factor into the average ranking, including No. 4 in both breweries per capita (8.4) and gallons per person 21 or older (11.8). The thriving craft beer scene in Oregon, which checks in at No. 5 overall with 243 breweries, saw 10 breweries medal at the 2017 North American Beer Awards.
1. Worst: Mississippi
- Average ranking: 50.6
Although the college football and the shores of the Gulf of Mexico are reasons to visit Mississippi, the craft beer scene is not. With a paltry nine breweries and just 0.4 breweries per capita, Mississippi is last in the land. The only place where it avoids the bottom of the barrel is gallons per person, where its 0.4 gallons is No. 50 in the country.
1. Best: Colorado
- Average ranking: 3.3
Colorado might not top the list in the total number of breweries, number of breweries per capita, or gallons produced per person. But it claims the top spot thanks to very strong showings across the board. Craft breweries, such as Left Hand, New Belgium, and Oskar Blues, are among the most well-known of the state’s 334 breweries, a total good for No. 2 overall.
Comrade, Tivoli, and Upslope were Colorado medal winners at the 2017 North American Beer Awards. They contribute to the state’s 8.3 breweries per capita (No. 3) and 11.1 gallons per person (No. 5), numbers that help Colorado lead the way when it comes to the United States’ craft beer scene.