We use the Sufjan Stevens image above because we can’t resist—this is still Paste, after all. But not to be overlooked is this interesting new piece of data in the craft beer world: According to the latest data from the Brewers Association, Chicago has claimed the title of the U.S. city with the most overall breweries. For the first time ever, the Windy City has leapfrogged ahead of longtime craft beer bastions such as Denver and San Diego, with a whopping total of 167 breweries.
Granted, in this context, “Chicago breweries” constitutes a very wide geographic area. The Chicago Metro Area goes as far as Northwest Indiana, all the way up north to the Wisconsin border. Those who have lived in the area (myself included) know that this is accurate—as the city spreads out, it turns into a never-ending suburban sprawl that goes for an hour or more of interstate driving in every direction. And that wide area certainly helped pad Chicago’s total, although other cities also had their entire metro areas counted.
The next five metro areas on the list are all cities you would expect to find well-represented in the brewery department: Denver (158), Seattle (153), San Diego (150), Los Angeles (146) and New York (141). The last two are of particular interest as the nation’s two largest cities. Neither L.A. nor NYC were exactly known for robust craft beer scenes until the last few years, when they’ve gone through rapid expansion. In a few more years, could they be leading the entire field?
Compare the data to the same information when it was last collected five years ago, in 2013, and the growth is much more obvious. At that time, Chicago was the #5 city in the country in terms of total breweries, at only 62. The leaders were Seattle (87), Portland (77), San Diego (76) and Denver (63). Each has obviously experienced explosive growth and a huge number of openings (and some closings) since.
Of course, this is only a measurement of “total number of breweries,” not breweries per capita. By that metric, cities like Portland, OR are still far ahead, with 139 breweries to a total population of 1.8 million, which works out to a brewery per every 12,949 people. Others such as Asheville, NC go even lower—its 46 breweries in the Asheville metro area, vs. a population of 424,000, works out to a brewery per 9,236 people. Chicago, meanwhile, has closer to 8.2 million residents, which is more like a brewery per every 49,101 residents.
Still, in terms of visiting a single city and being able to hit a wide variety of breweries, Chicago can now claim as much variety as you’re able to find anywhere—including the country’s only brewpub with a Michelin star. It might not be a stretch to let Chicago bear the title of “craft beer capital of the U.S.A.” in 2019.