The Small Town Advantage

Someone at the Brewers Association is doing a great job placing articles in high-profile news organizations (and always in the gee-whiz ain't-it-cool mode, too*).  The latest is from NPR, which recently gave craft brewing a fat, juicy kiss.  Almost every sentence could have come from a Brewers Association press release.  But it was a passage in the piece detailing breweries per capita to which I would like to draw your attention:
The Brewers Association finds that states in the Midwest and Northwest support particularly strong beer cultures. And five states that have the most craft breweries per citizen might be called the craftiest of the crafty: Vermont: 27,206, Montana: 30,919, Oregon: 31,662, Alaska: 35,512, Colorado: 39,600.
In comments, lots of people complained that this is a misleading metric.   I totally agree.  The NPR reporter, Bill Chappell, uses per capita brewery density as a proxy for strong beer cultures--a perfect example of a common conflation.  A lot of different factors go into beer culture, and brewery density is only one weak correlate.  Take for example Belgium, a country I think most people would agree has a better beer culture than Montana or Alaska.  Breweries per capita?  One in 87,000. 

Consumption is the relevant metric.  How much craft beer does a state consume?  Breweries produce radically different amounts of beer, and cities and states consume different amounts of beers.  New York City has very few breweries and would get crushed in the per capita metric.  But that has a lot more to do with the cost of a square foot of land than what people are drinking in the bars.  I won't fault Portlanders for straining their arms patting themselves on the back--our brewery number is staggering--but we should have a touch of humility.  We have breweries because we can afford them.  The real reason we're so advanced is because we drink such a huge proportion of craft beer.

If a state has a few dozen tiny brewpubs but the population still drinks 97% macro, it's not a great beer state.  Unfortunately, stats on consumption and other pithier metrics just aren't available.  I wonder why the Brewers Association doesn't put those out?
*NPR even fell for this line, from BA spokeswoman (and genuinely nice person) Julia Herz: "Herz calls it an inclusive category.  'The bottom line is, we don't define what craft beer is. Craft beer is different things to different beer lovers,' she says. 'To me, it's small-batch beers made on a local or regional level.'"  Of course, the Brewers Association's entire raison d'être is defining what craft beer is, and who gets to be in the club.  NPR is surprisingly bad about using paid advocates to speak as if they were just disinterested bystanders--whether in politics or industry.