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Posted on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 11:30 a.m.

Is Ann Arbor Beer City USA?

By David Bardallis


Ann Arbor needs another 60 votes today to make it on the ballot for Charlie Papazian's 2013 Beer City USA poll, to be held in May.

Photo courtesy Bill's Beer Garden

Is Ann Arbor Beer City USA? We'll never know unless you vote now to put Tree Town on Charlie Papazian's 2013 Beer City USA poll, to be conducted May 6-10. The nominating poll closes today.

Four hundred votes are needed to make the full Beer City USA poll and two Michigan cities — Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo — are far ahead of the other choices. Kalamazoo in fact has already qualified with over 500 votes. Ann Arbor is still about 60 votes shy.

Some Kalamazoo boosters are getting downright nasty, leaving comments such as these:

"Ann Arbor? Who are they kidding? Kalamazoo is far superior in every way...including BEER."

"Ann Arbor? Anyone with even a little research would know that Ann Arbor is not a place of craft beers."

"Beer in Ann Arbor has an imported and somewhat pretentious aroma to it. Ann Arbor has sub-par microbreweries who have not yet perfected their batches."

"Ann Arbor is Michigan's version of Gary, Indiana."

And that's not even counting the numerous insecure people posting that Ann Arbor's votes are all the result of a conspiracy to take votes from Kalamazoo.

I don't know about you, but to me them's fightin' words.

The Kalamazoo area's claim to fame is to being the home of Bell's Brewery, Michigan's largest and oldest and undisputed maker of many excellent brews including Two Hearted and Oarsman ales. But let's go over just a few things the Ann Arbor area brings to the table:

  • Larry Bell purchased his original brewing equipment from Ted Badgerow, who was first to open a microbrewery, Chelsea's Real Ale Company, in 1982. Ted later ran a homebrew supply shop on Ann St. and still lives in Ypsilanti, where he says his eventual return to commercial brewing is "probably inevitable."
  • Founded in 1983, Ashley's annually makes national lists of best beer bars and has 72 taps, the most in Michigan. Ashley's was also an early adopter of Bell's beers, back when Larry himself distributed them from his van.
  • Ann Arbor has four breweries — Arbor Brewing, Grizzly Peak, Blue Tractor, and Wolverine State — and will add a fifth when Biercamp gets their brewing operation up and running. Six other breweries, including the Chelsea Alehouse, Jolly Pumpkin, and the Corner Brewery, are a short drive away.
  • Arbor and Grizzly in 1995 were among the first brewpubs to open in Michigan following changes in state law that made it easier to do so. Grizzly has for years been Michigan's top-selling brewpub. Arbor just opened a brewpub in India.
  • The Ann Arbor Brewers Guild, officially founded in 1986, is the state's oldest homebrewing club. And also one of the most active: As but one example, they annually put on the huge Brews Crews homebrew competition, which last year judged some 400 entries.

You get the idea.

We're happy giving our friends in Kalmazoo their due, but let's keep the competition friendly and get both of these worthy Michigan cities added to the 2013 Beer City USA poll, where they can join last year's winner Grand Rapids in representing the Great Beer State.


David Bardallis is a freelance writer and editor, blogger, bon vivant, and man about town. Visit “All the Brews Fit to Pint” at, follow @allthebrews on Twitter, or join the "All the Brews Fit to Pint" Facebook page. He is also working on a book about Ann Arbor’s illustrious beer past and present. Email your beer-related thoughts to


David Bardallis

Sat, Apr 27, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

Thanks to everyone who voted and got Ann Arbor into the poll (we topped over 700 votes). My argument in favor of Ann Arbor over Kalamazoo (for example) is that Ann Arbor has a long-standing, mature beer culture. Ann Arbor bars like Ashley's and the Del Rio were selling Bell's beers probably before half of Kalamazoo even heard of them. The explosion of interest in good beer in places like Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids in recent years is a welcome development, but people in the Ann Arbor area have been and continue to be influential in the development of the native craft beer market as a whole. Sorry, but that's the truth. Everyone knows Bell's is a great brewery. I drink a lot of Bell's beer. But does one great brewery fit the definition of "Beer City USA"? Honestly, who knows, since there is no definition. I like to think, though, that an established, sophisticated, and influential beer culture along with a number of great breweries and beer bars is a more satisfying contender for this designation. This is my argument, in part. Yelling "OBERON! USA! USA!" is good and all, but I'm still not convinced Ann Arbor is not a better choice. Now, how do we stack against, say, Portland? I dunno, probably not quite as well. :)


Sat, Apr 27, 2013 : 8:25 a.m.

The definition of a craft beer city needs to be "you have to go out of your way to NOT find craft beer available." Ann Arbor does real well on that score. Better than most, if not all, others in the state.


Sat, Apr 27, 2013 : 12:40 a.m.

OH! We are spanked by Kazoo, but still lots of hop-heads here! I'm guessing A2 is about evenly split between booze, wine, and beer, depending on the demographic, whereas Kazoo is more beery. Just my guess.


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 7:06 p.m.

Sorry taking quality and consistency over a long period of time Kalamazoo wins hands down! They don't call it Wastern Michigan for nuthin ;)


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 6:47 p.m.

Jolly Pumpkin sours are unique and creative and my first choice when wanting something refreshing. Arbor Brewing is cranking out excellent brews of all types - Buzzsaw is a new favorite of mine. Kalamazoo has Bells and ....? I love Bells - don't get me wrong, though they've gone big and focusing rather than getting creative - but there's a lot going on here in Treetown. Hard to choose, lately!


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 6:31 p.m.

I'm sorry but the beer is Ann Arbor will never compare to Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Go to any of the Michigan Beer Fest and the long lines are for Bells, Founders, Dark Horse, Greenbush, and Shorts. Never long lines for any Ann Arbor breweries.


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 8:05 p.m.

Um, Shorts is in Bellaire, Greenbush is in Sawyer, and Darkhorse is in Marshall, not GR or Kalamazoo. And if we judged great beers by lines, then the big three light beers (coors, miller, and bud) are the kings. And we all know that's not true.

Top Cat

Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 6:40 p.m.

That is because people don't need samples from Ann Arbor breweries as they already know the beer is wonderful.

Top Cat

Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 5:27 p.m.

The presence of Dave Bardallis in Ann Arbor should be the thing that puts us over the top for this coveted award.

Jessica Webster

Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 5:42 p.m.

Agreed. Bardallis is a treasure.


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 5:23 p.m.

Jolly Pumpkin sour ales are some of the best ever in my opinion.


Tue, Apr 30, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

and served in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Ivor Ivorsen

Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 8:37 p.m.

...and are made in Dexter, Michigan.


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 4:52 p.m.

Grand Rapids puts both to shame...


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 6:33 p.m.

Totally agree! People do not travel to Ann Arbor just to check out the local breweries like they do in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Go to any of those and see all the out of state license plates at those places.

David Bardallis

Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 5:22 p.m.

Grand Rapids is a good beer place. It may even be a better beer place than Ann Arbor. But it does not "put us to shame."


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 4:24 p.m.

I'm voting for Two Hearted!


Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

Start voting people...we are getting spanked by Kalamazoo! Ann Arbor, MI 24% 355 votes Atlanta, GA 1% 11 votes Austin, TX 1% 14 votes Baltimore, MD<1%2 votes Boise, ID1%13 votes Burlington, VT<1%6 votes Charlotte, NC2%37 votes Chico, CA <1% 1 vote Cincinnati, OH <1 % 7 votes Cleveland, OH 1% 12 votes Colorado Springs, CO <1% 6 votes Columbus, OH< 1% 5 votes Dallas-Forth Worth metro, TX 6% 95 votes Des Moines, IA<1% 2 votes Hartford, CT0% 0 votes Indianapolis, IN 2%2 6 votes Kalamazoo, MI 46% 685 votes Kansas City, MO-KS 0% 0 votes Little Rock, AR 0% 0 votes Los Angeles, CA <1% 3 votes Memphis, TN <1% 1 vote Minneapolis-St. Paul metro, MN 1% 16 votes Nashville, TN <1% 3 votes New Orleans, LA <1% 1 vote New York, NY <1% 2 votes Oklahoma City, OK 0% 0 votes Richmond, VA 10% 153 votes Sacramento, CA <1% 2 votes Salt Lake City area, UT 0% 0 votes San Antonio, TX <1% 1 vote Santa Rosa/Sonoma County <1% 5 votes Washington, DC <1% 7 votes Other0% 0 votes


Sat, Apr 27, 2013 : 1:32 p.m.

Alas, the poll has closed.