Despite the quip about American beer being like making love in a canoe, the US produces a multitude and a variety of brews that belie the homogenised tastes of the most popular brands. At its annual Great American Beer Festival, the Brewers Association awards gold, silver and bronze medals to the best beers produced by the hundreds of breweriers in the US, from the largest to the micro-est.

Compiled by veteran drinks journalist (1) Rick Lyke and his son-in-law Mike Wirth (2), this map charts all the gold, silver and bronze presented by the Brewers Association since 1987. “Looking at the pages of medal winners from the past does not give quite as clear a picture as the state map showing where the winners come from,” says Mr Lyke (on this page of his blog, lyke2drink). “Clearly, beer fans in California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Oregon and Pennsylvania enjoy some of the best beers in the land.”

Top 10 medal-winning states are:

1. California – 474
2. Colorado – 322
3. Wisconsin – 232
4. Oregon – 170
5. Pennsylvania – 162
6. Texas – 133
7. Washington – 114
8. New York – 98
9. Missouri -90
10. Massachusetts – 76

Of course, this does not take into account the population size of the states listed here. The top 10, reshuffled to reflect the number of medals per million of inhabitants, looks quite different, reflecting a dominance by states with a strong micro-brewing tradition:

1. Colorado – 64.4
2. Oregon – 42.5
3. Wisconsin – 38.6
4. Washington – 16.2
5. Missouri – 15
6. Pennsylvania – 13.5
7. Massachusetts – 12.6
8. California – 12.8
9. Texas – 5.6
10. New York – 5.1

Reversing the map slogan, the “worst beer in America” is brewed in the states with the least medals, i.e. West Virginia (0), North Dakota, Oklahoma (both just 1), Alabama, Rhode Island, DC (2 each), South Dakota, Nebraska, Louisiana (4 each) and Connecticut (5).

Most highly decorated beer in America is the Alaskan Smoked Porter (15 medals; 6 gold, 4 silver, 5 bronze), followed by the New Belgium Abbey Belgian Style Ale (10 medals; 6 gold, 4 bronze) and the Genesee Cream Ale (10 medals; 2 gold, 5 silver, 3 bronze).

Even though these and most other decorated beers are produced by small “craft” breweries, it’s still the large brewing conglomerates that rake in the highest number of medals among them: Anheuser-Busch (65), Miller (55) and Pabst (50).

Many thanks to Mike Wirth for sending in this map (first version sent in late March ’09, updated version sent in early June ’09). Mike is a designer, educator and artist. Visit his website here.

(1) presumably a veteran of drinks journalism, and not a journalist of veteran drinks
(2) In its orginial German, Wirt (these days without -h) rather fortuitously means “innkeeper”.