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Monday, February 23, 2009

East Coasters: Lend Me Your Insight

I am sidling up, very coyly, to the idea of putting together a beer book proposal. I don't want to make any sudden moves lest I spook the idea and scare it away. At the moment, I'm trying to put together the conceptual framework, and one element involves thinking about the "pyschographic" map of the US's central brewing regions.

Breweries are scattered across the country and every state has at least one craft brewery. But the differences in regions are pretty remarkable. The Mountain West, West Coast, and New England all have about one brewery per 110,000 people, plus or minus a few thousand. Parts of the Midwest are 1 in 125k. The South, by contrast has one craft brewery for every half-million. All of that's pretty straightforward. It's the Mid-Atlantic, however, that's thwarting me.

My suspicion is that look at state stats aren't much use. There's a rich vein of breweries between Baltimore (maybe DC) to NY--a span of a couple hundred miles. If you ignore state boundaries, this region is heavily-breweried. Moreover, I think it's a distinct brewing region. It was one of the only parts of the US where regional breweries hung on through consolidation, and it has more than a few of the most notable craft breweries. They seem to produce an older style of beers consistent with those old regional breweries--lagers and lighter ales. Yet per-capita stats don't help much because there are so many people. You get something like 1 in 275k, depending on which states you include-abysmalby comparison.

What I'm looking for is a coherent area in which the history, brewing styles, beer culture, and consumption patters knit the region together. In the Northwest, for example, we have a long history of local brewing, and this fed interest in the early micro explosion. We like intense flavors, and so prefer bigger, hoppier beers. Our parochialism sustains a rich culture of events and support for local breweries, including very small ones. And perhaps most notably, we consume beer disproportionately in pubs when compared with other regions--a feature of the weather, perhaps.

I prevailed upon the beer bard of Philly, LewBryson, to help me out, and he identified the region depicted in the map below. (Roughly speaking, Northern Virginia to Western PA to upstate NY and down through NYC and Philly.)

My questions are these:
  1. Is there a coherent, Mid-Atlantic region?
  2. If so, do you think Lew is about right on its boundaries?
  3. What distinguishes this region?
Help me out if you have an opinion. Thanks--


  1. 1. Yes.

    2. Close - I'd pull the second southern point to the west a little and include Leesburg and consider bringing the Tidewater/VA Beach/Norfolk area into play. But it's fine for ballpark purposes.

    3. Your beer research will be primarily confined to PA. They like beer in VA/MD, but by no means does it compare to Joe Average's knowledge or depth of sampling that you have in OR or CA or CO. There's the occasional establishment, but it's local to the area and nothing approaching Regionally Famous. Foggy Bottom was about the only one that came close, but they closed shop back in like 2005 or 2006 I want to say.

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  3. I grew up in Newburgh, NY and I never considered myself as part of the Mid-Atlantic region. The map displayed encloses cities like Newburgh and Poughkeepsie about a quarter way up the Hudson. That area is definitely considered the Northeast -- At least the people who live there consider it the Northeast.

    The area where New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania collide is the tri-state area of the region.

  4. Having lived in New Jersey for the majority of my life, I have always associated the term Mid-Atlantic with outsiders attempting to label a region. This label often lacked any consistency, as some would call the Mid-Atlantic what is known as the Tri-State area, and others, as LewBryson did, include parts of VA and central/western PA. In my mind, I would accept the former, since there is such a population chasm between the NJ border PA and the rest of the state (and also the fact that the mid section of the state is geographically far enough from the Atlantic Ocean to disclude itself from being brought into the M-A group), and that VA is below the Mason-Dixie line, thus part of 'the South.'

    That being said, this is one perception, and you will get various answers depending on which demographics and regions respond.

    Having lived there so long, I can say that the boudries are tricky territory. Some folks living in Hudson County NJ consider themselves a part of NYC, some say that there isn't really a Central Jersey, etc. I guess, my point, specifically, is that it depends.

  5. After reading my comment, it occured to me that I should seek out something empirical. According to Wikipedia, the US Census Bureau recognizes all of PA, NJ and NY as the Mid-Atlantic region.

  6. Matthew, I was a little surprised that Lew suggested running the region that far north and west, too.

    I'm not actually that interested in the semantics of what the region should be called--rather that it makes sense as a coherent brewing region. Baltimore seems to fit, but DC? I'm ignorant. And when you look at this map (.pdf), Lew's reckoning does capture almost all the NY breweries--so maybe that was his thinking.

  7. I can guarantee DC and NOVA consider themselves Mid-Atlantic, regardless of what a map tells them.

  8. I grew up in Delaware. I always considered the whole state part of the Mid-Atlantic, not just the north. My understanding of 'Mid-Atlantic' is the bit of the east coast that's not the South and that's not New England.

    Delaware is actually north and east of the Mason Dixon line ( the line that traditionally defines north and south). Dogfish head is in the south part of the state, btw.

    However there are cultural difference between the two parts of the state, the northerners derisively refer to the other as 'slower lower' Delaware.

  9. I am from Poughkeepsie originally and agree with Matthew D. The mid atlantic probably ends at the top of New Jersey. Upstate NY residents feel no regional ties with the lower mid Atlantic states on that map.

  10. I grew up in CT, lived in DC, NYC and spent time all over the region. I just recently lived in PDX for a year, and I just moved to Napa Valley, CA a month ago, so I know where you're coming from in trying to pin down this region.

    The map Lew Bryson gave you is very PA-centric, and that's because he's a PA guy. In my opinion, DC to Boston is a region all by itself, and it can be seen in all sorts of human endeavors, not just beer.

    I bet you could find a map of population density of this region and find that it exactly coincides with breweries. So, once you reach the Appalachian Mountains, you reach a cultural and physical divide, which I believe to be quite significant.

    I know you're not looking for terms, but The Northeast Corridor is one of my favorites.

    is another term, but it doesn't roll off the tongue like The Northeast Corridor does.

    So that's my Northeasterner opinion.