You’ll Never Guess Where the Nation’s Best Craft Beer Is Brewed

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There are only nine craft breweries in tiny Delaware, according to a recent count. But the state hosts what’s been named the nation’s best craft beermaker in a new poll.

TheDailyMeal just released its list of the 25 Best Craft Breweries in America. The list is based on the input of craft beer experts consulted by the site, as well as votes cast by thousands of readers and beer fans. Like any list, this one is sure to generate plenty of second-guessing — but only more so than usual because of the particularly subjective nature of what constitutes great beer and great breweries.

While releasing its list, TheDailyMeal admitted “there’s plenty of subjectiveness in picking a craft beer.” But the editors did the best they could, gathering 72 best brewery nominees and putting it to a vote that has hopefully produced a list that lands at the “intersection of best and beloved” craft brewers around the country.

Cut to the chase: Landing atop the list is Dogfish Head, which is brewed in Milton and has a brewpub in Rehoboth Beach—both in Delaware, of course. According to an interactive craft beer map created by the New Yorker, Delaware was home to nine craft breweries per, and Dogfish Head was the 13th largest craft brewer in the nation.

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The top 25 also includes the nation’s three largest craft brewers, the Boston Beer Company (maker of Samuel Adams), California’s Sierra Nevada, and Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing, ranking on TheDailyMeal’s list at #20, #10, and #6, respectively. Surely, there will be plenty of discussion concerning whether Dogfish Head is truly the nation’s best craft brewer, and what terrific craft brewers didn’t made the cut. Of the nation’s top three craft brewing states per capita (Vermont, Oregon, Montana), there is just one representative on the list: Rogues Ales, based in Portland, Ore.

Ideally, there would be a fair amount of overlap on various “best beer” lists, but drinkers aren’t likely to find much in the way of consensus. At the recent U.S. Open Beer Championships held in Atlanta, the top three winners—based on number of beers landing in the top three in various tasting categories—were the Capital Brewery and Stevens Point Brewing, both based in Wisconsin, and Sweetwater Brewing, made (a little suspiciously) in the city hosting the event, Atlanta. What’s noteworthy is that none of these three are to be found on TheDailyMeal’s “25 Best” list. Another example: At Beer Advocate’s Top 250 Beers list, which is based on user ratings, you won’t find a Dogfish Head beer until the #148 spot.

Does this mean Dogfish Head doesn’t make terrific beer? Absolutely not! It’s just that these lists are always problematic, and easy fodder for debate—which is part of the point, of course.

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What’s not debatable is that beer drinkers today are the beneficiaries of an ongoing craft beer renaissance in the U.S. This week, the Brewers Association released new data showing that through the first six months of 2013, craft beer sales were up 15% in terms of dollars and 13% by volume, while beer sales overall decreased 2% compared to the same period a year ago.

Nearly 450 new breweries opened in the last 12 months, and while craft beer still represents only a small fraction of overall beer sales, craft brewers now constitute 98% of all U.S. brewers. As Brewers Association director Paul Gatza said while the organization released the latest craft beer statistics, “It’s a very good time to be an American beer lover.”