What Makes a Good Brewpub?

The Street, riffing on RateBeer, has collected together a list of the country's best brewpubs.  It is, as lists inevitably are, fatally flawed.  The biggest problem with RateBeer's rankings is that the raters are all different.  According to RateBeer, the number one brewery in the United States is Peg's Cantina in Gulfport, FL.  There are currently 53 breweries in Florida, roughly the amount we have in Portland.  So whether Peg's is the best or not--and looking at the website, it's possible--the people who rated it have a very different pool of comparisons than those who rated, say, Hopworks (37th).  It's a lot harder to impress someone who lives in a city with dozens of brewpubs than someone who has one to choose from.  Indeed, something just doesn't quite track when you look at the list and see that the first ten brewpubs--including two I hope to visit in Italy--are foreign and the forty that follow are American.

Photo credit: Scottwwwwwww
But how would you construct criteria for "best?"*   It has to have good beer, obviously, but that's not enough.  The "pub" part has at least equal billing, so ambiance and food have to play a role.  I'd add another category I find critical: local character.  Unlike breweries, which can send their beer around the world, brewpubs are fixed in place.  The experience is local, and there should be some sense of place reflected in a brewpub.  I am never interested in going to a generic place that has a Appleby's feel--I want to know where I am when I walk in the doors.  One of my favorite brewpubs in the world is Portsmouth in Portsmouth, NH.  When we're traveling from Boston to Maine to visit Sally's family, I always try to finagle a stop.  It's New England, but not kitschy faux-New England like Gritty's in Portland, ME, which feels totally staged to me.

In our Portland, I have a list of brewpubs for first-timers that relies heavily on this "local" element (crossed with the factors of good beer, food, and ambiance).  Deschutes' in the Pearl, with its crazy chainsaw art, reminds you of pioneer Oregon.  Bikey Hopworks is tres Rose City.  And for that necessary crunch you must have in any full Portland meal, the Lucky Lab.  (If you visit and don't smell ganja, patchouli oil, and dog, you have done something wrong.)  Indeed, even though the food is average and the beer even worse, I often recommend Kennedy School, just because I know the only place people will ever see something like it is Oregon.

To their credit, The Street did place Walking Man in their top ten.  If had to visit a single brewpub from out of state (or country), they would learn a lot about the Pacific Northwest by stopping off in Stevenson.  So there's that.

Your thoughts?

* The list-making, statistically-magnetized side of me suggests you could use these four dimensions: beer (6 pts), food (5), ambiance (4), and local color (5), scale them, and score brewpubs.  So Lucky Lab would get a 14 (4, 1, 4, and 5) while Deschutes would get a 16.5 (6, 3.5, 3, 4).  But the part of me that knows lists are futile says, "this warrants only a footnote mention."