Repeat After Me: There Is No Such Thing as a “Best Beer City”


Just two days — TWO DAYS! — after I responded to a Facebook post about yet another list of supposed “Best Beer Cities,” and sagely decide not to follow further the fruitless path of argument, I come across still another such list. It’s orchestrated in a different, although by no means unique, fashion, but is as flawed as the other and all the rest for one simple reason.

There is no such thing as a frigging “Best Beer City!” Or Cities! Period. End of story.

Look, I enjoy a good list as much as the next guy, and I’m not exactly the kind of person who back down happily from a robust debate, but there are simply too many factors at play to ever resolve the issue of best beer city. In the mind of the drinks guy over at the Seattle P-I, whom I will neither name nor link to for reasons related to past conversations, brewery count would seem to be the defining factor. For Magnolia’s Dave McLean, it’s history, longevity and food and drink culture. For Jeff Alworth, the deciding factor is craft beer in dive bars. And for me, well, I like a great beer bar over a great brewery and think that the ability to get a diversity of local, regional, national and international beers is key, as is the opportunity to enjoy a really good meal with a glass of really good beer.

But that doesn’t mean I know what city is best any more than it means Jeff or Dave or P-I guy does, mainly because, like the beer I drink, where I like to drink it changes with the circumstance! Put me on the west coast and I might be happy as Larry in Seattle or Portland or San Francisco, and in awe of the beer scenes in each city. Pick me up and plant me in Denver or New York City or Philadelphia and I’ll be equally delighted there. Teleport me to Montreal and you’ll soon find me at Dieu du Ciel or Cheval Blanc or Au Pied du Cochon, most likely with a wide grin on my face.

Let me put it another way. The northern German city of Köln, or Cologne, is known for a single style of beer, one which most people find rather unremarkable. It has not — to my experience, at least — fine dining restaurants where you can sample excellent beer with your meal, and neither has it a plethora of good beer bars. Yet thanks to its general pedestrian friendliness, fabulous old city district, exceptional culture and, dammit, the superb quality of some of those kölsches that others sweep aside as ordinary “lawnmower beers,” it is one of my favourite places in Germany, Europe and the world in which to drink beer.

And please note, that was “favourite,” not “best.”

8 Replies to “Repeat After Me: There Is No Such Thing as a “Best Beer City””

  1. Agreed. I suspect most of these lists are simply a cheap and easy way of composing a blog post or article. A beer experience, at least for me, is about more than just which beer or beers are on offer. One of the most memorable beer experiences I’ve had was at a Zoiglstube in a small village in Bavaria. They had one beer on offer, but, oh, what a lovely beer. I spent the afternoon there and drank two liters of it and was still able to walk away. I hope to go back there this summer.

  2. My international experience, such as it is, suggests that epiphanies in highly recommended cities or districts rarely exist. First, beer can come in bad or questionable condition anywhere – I’ve had sour weizen and dunkel in Munich, stale bottled beer and wonky cask in England (many times), and plasticy-tasting beer in some of NYC’s hallowed halls. Second, the local taste often won’t please even when on form just because you are not used to it or don’t like it. A raft of similar tasting IPAs in the Bay Area can pall after a while. A biere de garde tourney in Lille can turn dull, as I found some years back.

    So yes, find what is good where you happen to be – asking for tastes helps – and unless in the far boondocks most reasonable size cities today can offer something for your taste. And ti is very true that, correlatively, a place with restricted choice can appeal either because the beer is so good or some other factor makes it appealing (the pubs, part of town).

    Best of’s oversimplify all this but I guess it is part of the stock in trade of journalism, like the way some magazines organize annual awards, it’s just something you see year in year out but indeed should be taken with a grain of salt.

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