How to Really Rank a Brewery

I’ve been thinking a little bit more about how to properly review breweries. As you know, I have taken several stabs at it and longtime readers will have noticed that I frequently change up my ranking schemes. This is yet another attempt to find an objective way to categorize and rank breweries, and while it is quite bold of me given my track record of rapidly cycling through them, I think this one will stick!

Last week I went on an impressive rant about why I don’t rank beer and you shouldn’t either. So what are we even doing here if we can’t rank beer? Well, I don’t really want to rank breweries either. I always get so frustrated when I see a list of “Top Breweries in Madeupiappolis” and the top hits are the Red Hooks and Elysians and other breweries of that ilk. Sure those are the “top” places, but that’s because they are huge, been around awhile, and have ABinBev money. It’s like when my buddy, Danly, says that Olive Garden is great because “why else would it be everywhere?” I have to acknowledge that some people like Olive Garden style breweries (I mean, without BJs what would every suburb dweller snicker at while driving to work?) so I guess technically they aren’t worse… just different.      

Basically, there is not a great way to objectively rank breweries. I have made several attempts that include a series of semi-objective categories like Intimacy, capital ‘C’ Cornhole, and “The Smell”, but usually they lack the resolution to really make an accurate picture of a brewery. Ideally, each piece, regardless of how subjective it is, when combined together to make a whole, will reveal the objective image of the brewery. People have different tastes and when reviewing a brewery, and you want to make sure that each brewery finds its audience. I don’t like crowds, so when I review Fremont Brewery I complain about DMV level beer lines. Of course, there are plenty of people who look specifically for crowded spots because waiting is how they get hyped up, so each of the ratings shouldn't be negative or positive, more a spectrum of differing opinions. 

What am I getting at? Does he even know what he is doing? Am I stalling? Ok, let’s take a stab at it, I’ll probably change it again in a month anyway. 

You’ll Like this brewery if you like…

Here are the five reasons you might like a brewery, the five different goals you might have when going to a brewery in no particular order. Each is a spectrum, none of them are good or bad, but instead, try to categorize and quantify what it is you and I like about different breweries.  

The Smell:

It’s when a brewery feels like a brewery. There’s equipment out, the air smells like beer. You can tell you aren’t at just another bar or restaurant. You can tell it is a working space. You’re getting beer straight from the source and you know it. Every place sits on a range of The Smell. At the top are the garage and warehouse breweries. A narrow line of caution tape keeps you from accidentally stumbling into the brewery; you could lean on the fermenters while you drink, barrels of aging beer count as decor. Near Seattle, Populuxe in Ballard, Tripplehorn in Woodinville, and Scrappy Punk in Snohomish are some of the Smelliest breweries. The bottom of the range are places like McMennamins and BJs brewhouse. Sure, they claim to be breweries, but there ain't no way this place employs a brewer; that equipment is for show for sure if they even bother to put up the facade. Brewpubs tend to lack the Smell since food is the main attraction. Somewhere in the middle are most breweries, ranging from completely hidden brew facility that you’d have to seek out even if you can still detect them with a good sniff, to well-separated facilities far behind the bar or revealed via a window. I love the Smell and seek out places with high Smell factors, but that isn’t for everyone. You might not even think twice about it.

Cornhole (with a capital ‘C’) is the term for the collective activities of a brewery. Most breweries these days have a stack of old board games you can whip out while drinking. That might be a law. Some breweries rely solely on good beer and good company to captivate their guests, but that doesn't always fly. I like a solid showing of cornhole, shuffleboard, video games, and bimini rings if I am in the South (or wherever those are). If you don’t bother with it, then you don’t. I love me a good game of cornhole.

You know the place. They barely bother with the classic IPAs instead stick with a menu that exclusively features barrel aged yadda yaddas and Belgian shenanigans. Brettanomyces yeast populations flourish here. Hay, barnyard, and horse blanket. These are the places for people seeking weird stuff. Less weird stuff like sours and cask ales have a home here. Drinkers seek these out when they have grown bored with their standard hair color beers. If you want something familiar, you want to avoid these places. If you want something you’ve not had before, then seek them out. 

I think you can define intimacy. It’s a little tricky though since it relies on a place not being busy, but if you can sit at the bar and chat with the bartender (or the brewer if you are lucky!) and with your fellow drinkers, then you are in an intimate place. Brewpubs lose this completely since you usually don’t have the chance to meet others. Rooftop Brewery is a prime example of an intimate place - its small taproom and limited tables mean you’re mingling with the locals and the bartender no matter how hard you try. Fremont Brewery tries with its longhouse style picnic tables that you have to share with those around you on crowded days, but with no bar and a dozen bartenders, it’s hard to get to know anyone. You might hate it, you might love it, or you might just need to be in the mood for it. 

It comes in 4 categories. 
1. Bring your own ‘cus all we have some license appeasing snacks. You know, pretzels and chips. Maybe a broken panini machine. 
2. Food trucks outside - a rotating calendar of food trucks during the good parts of the day. 
3. Casual food inside, basically a food truck inside. You don’t have specific seating or a waiter, but order food at the bar and pick it up there or have it delivered to your table if you are lucky.  
4. Last is the full-blown brewpubs. Beer is a second-class citizen at these places yielding to the food, hosts, and waiters. 

The Google Maps Stats:
These are the things that you need to know about a brewery before you go. They might be deal breakers, but they have little to do with the beer and location. Tangential. Pet-friendly, child-friendly, and sports on the TVs. You might really need to know, but you probably don't care. 

I think we are getting closer. With those five metrics and the Google maps stats, I think it is quite possible to have a very firm image of the brewery before you even set foot inside, and rightly so it makes no mention of the actual quality of the beer. Tell me if you agree below! Thanks for reading!