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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Brewery Distributions, Fine-Grained Edition

In the post below, where I reprinted the data from the Brewers Association about breweries per capita, I promised to show you some more interesting regional data. Here we go.

Breweries by Region
While it's interesting to see state-level data, I find regional data more compelling. The culture that feeds a healthy beer industry doesn't confine itself to state boundaries. The Northwest, and to a slightly lesser extent the West Coast, forms a continuum of beer culture that's reflected in all the breweries dotting cities from San Diego to Seattle. But the vast stretches of the heavily-populated South--bupkis in terms of breweries. Have a look:

For the purposes of this breakdown, "other" refers to states on borders between regions--Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, the Dakotas, as well as Hawaii and DC. You could through Hawaii (9 breweries) in with the West Coast and it barely changes things. But we shouldn't be forced to break the country down into regions so slavishly. If you go through and select out the states within regions that are especially dense, you can pinpoint heavily-breweried regions even more precisely (see lists in footnotes below and blame Lew Bryson if you don't like the looks of Central Atlantic).

Breweries by Region, Per Capita

Now here's where things get pretty interesting. By parsing the regions, you can really get a sense of how there are beer regions and non-beer regions in the country. First, the whole country:

Now the rejiggered regions. Look particularly at the regions in comparison to the national average.

What illustrates to me is that there are four regions well below the national average. Except in the case of New England, which remains intact, all the sub-regions demonstrate far greater concentrations of breweries. (If you went for a sub-group of New England that included only Vermont, Maine, and NH, you could lower the figure to 1 in 50k. This is a specious calculation, however, for the culture of New England--as defined by the Red Sox catchment area--is one of the most coherent in the country. I'd allow for lopping off the Southern, Yankees catchment area, of Connecticut, but that would improve matters only marginally. Angelo, if you're reading this, back me up.)

Why Regions Matter
I didn't do these calculations only because doing calculations like this please me immensely--that was just a fringe benefit. The whole point of this is to see if my pet theory about the US having discrete brewing regions holds water. My theory holds that within these five sub-regions people drink local beer, but different types of local beers and in different ways. The markers of these regions is not the breweries per capita (see Minnesota in notes below); rather, the breweries per capita is just one rough guide to where the regions are.

Anyway, I thought you might appreciate some data showing a more fine-grained look at the per-capita numbers than the Brewers Association provide.

The beer regions look like this. Northwest: Alaska, Oregon, Washington. Mountain: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico. New England: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont. Beer Midwest: Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa. Central Atlantic: DC, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania.

The whole-country samples follow established regional definitions, except for "other," which is comprised of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, the Dakotas, Hawaii, and DC. Including Hawaii in the Northwest section barely changes the figures.

What about Minnesota? This was a head-scratcher. For some reason, Minnesota doesn't have the brewing density of Upper Midwestern kin Wisconsin and Michigan. Their ratio of 1 in 236k is slightly lower than Missouri, and way below others in the "Beer Midwest" region. Truth is, I think Minnesota is culturally part of that continuum, but I'd like to visit and confirm this suspicion. It is one of the biggest riddles of the data.


  1. I'm intrigued. I like that word intrigued, seems to go well for any response.

    I'm wondering what the regional concentrations would look like on a map. it would look like if you mapped out where the breweries were on a map.

  2. Darn me not using a blogger account or proofreading :( I can't edit that response.

    Should read

    I'm wondering what the regional concentrations would look like if you mapped out where the breweries were on a map.

  3. Jared, I'm totally with you. If I could find mapping (free/cheap) software, I'd be all over that.

    Kari, unless I'm missing something, it looks right to me.

  4. I am a bit confused by the 'Beer Midwest' region, specifically why it includes only Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa? I think a more appropriate grouping for the midwest would be Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. Iowa *could* be included, but it really is on the fringe of that core midwest group. Doing a quick spreadsheet shows the 5 states I grouped would have a brewery per capita of 187,604. Including Iowa slightly alters that number to 186,136.

    While these numbers aren't as impressive as your Beer Midwest region (123,586), it is a much more honest representation of the beer culture out here.

    The interesting thing is the states you excluded from the Midwest are brought down by the rural areas, as I assume is true country-wide. For example, I live in Indianapolis which has a brewery per capita of 161,333. Yet the state as a whole is 227,743.

    Very interesting figures though regardless of how they are broken down. Just thought I would share some insight from the heartland. :-D

  5. Was looking at google earth and apparently it's possible with it. I need to see if I can figure it out when I get some time.

  6. Generik, it's based purely on brewery density. Have a look at the numbers. First, "Beer Midwest":

    64 breweries, 87,526 per capita

    70 breweries, 143,883 per capita

    17 breweries, 175,767 per capita

    Now the rest of the Midwest:

    25 breweries, 235,137 per capita

    22 breweries, 236,256 per capita

    26 breweries, 244,050 per capita

    37 breweries, 309,917 per capita

    40 breweries, 321,314 per capita

    However, a blogger from the Midwest alerts me to a potential explanation for Minnesota--apparently laws make it very hard to operate breweries there. I'm looking for confirmation.

  7. What you did somewhat works but paints an inaccurate picture solely due to relying on state boundaries. I mentioned the per capita rating for Indianapolis vs the entire state earlier. The Indianapolis metro area comprises almost 1/3 of the population of the state and is located almost dead center in the middle, and is close to the density you used for the Beer Midwest states. Of interest to me is the fact that of the 28 breweries in Indiana, 20 of them are in the northern half. I also happen to know that there are 2 new breweries set to open within the next few months in the northern half.

    I don't have true figures for this, but I feel fairly comfortable saying that most of the Illinois brewing capacity is occuring around the Chicagoland area which again is the northern area of Illinois. So I think for a true Beer Midwest, you would have to somehow draw a Mason-Dixon like line somewhere to get a real picture. More trouble then it's worth but I think you are definitely on the right track. The norther area of the midwest is more into beer then the southern. Just those pesky state lines muddling the issue. :-)