Compare and Contrast: Minnesota and Oregon

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that my recent sojourn to Minnesota was somewhat fraught with failure in an attempt to find indigenous beer. In four days I managed just two: a bottle of Schell's Dark and draft Summit Extra Pale. I found this very strange. The Upper Midwest is beer country and Minnesota has been home to a host of famous brands: Hamm's, Schmidt, Grain Belt, and Schell (still independent after 149 years).

At the various restaurants I visited, the slate of draft beers was almost identical: Corona, a national brand and its "lite" variant, Summit Extra Pale, and one import (variously Guinness, Beck's, and Smithwick's). Yet it is consistent with a surprising finding I stumbled across when I was doing research on highly-concentrated brewing regions: Minnesota, with just 22, a per-capita rate similar to Kansas'. Why would a place with a rich brewing history and towns as funky and beer-ready as the Twin Cities have so little local craft-brewing ferment?

One component is definitely local liquor laws. I discovered this as I wandered out the first night on a post-sunset amble. As is my habit, I made for the first grocery store I could find, in this case a Whole Foods near MacAlester College. I spent a good ten minutes trawling the aisles for the beer cooler before it occurred to me to check the iPhone: sure enough, beer and wine can only be purchased in liquor stores. I have no idea how much this dampens sales or blunts local beer culture, but since that's the intention of such a law, and since both beer availability and local beer culture are so constrained, one has to conclude it's working.

Another measure: according to the BeerAdvocate listing, Minnesota has only 15 brewpubs; compare that to the 71 in Oregon.

Admittedly, I didn't go to real pubs or even restaurants where one would expect many beers. But all had several taps, yet only one devoted to local craft. In Oregon--or at least in Portland--it would be nearly impossible to find a restaurant with four taps that had only a single local craft beer.

I don't doubt that the beer geeks of Minnesota are just as geeky as Beervana's, nor even that there are a lot fewer of them. Yet the experience for the casual visitor is that local beer just isn't getting made or consumed there. I welcome insight and conversation. As always, I return to Portland with renewed appreciation.