Asheville, Portland tie for Beer City USA crown

Asheville and Portland, Ore., will share honors as Beer City USA, according to beer guru Charlie Papazian.

Thousands of votes were cast in the online poll, and the two cities each scored about 6,000 votes, according to Papazian, who posted the online poll at Examiner.com.

In the first such online poll, more than 16,000 people from 46 countries cast ballots between March 18 and May 7, wrote Papazian, a seminal figure in the craft-beer renaissance who founded the Association of Brewers and the American Homebrewers Association. The seesawing vote was close right up to the end. And while conceding that the poll wasn’t scientific, Papazian said it was “indicative of the efforts put forth by various communities.”

“One thing that a poll like this indicates is the degree of beer culture and networks that exist in various areas of the country,” he wrote. “It helps to bring to the forefront that beer culture, beer community and beer enthusiasm are relevant forces in the quest for access to better beer. … I saw an effective mobilization of beer communities in several areas of America.”

As the voting deadline neared, Asheville bloggers and Twitterers rallied their friends and social networks. Bruisin’ Ales co-owner Julie Atallah played a key role in Asheville’s fight for the beer crown, helping get the word about the poll out early. Exulting in the win, Atallah told Xpress:
“This says a lot about beer culture in this city, how it’s changed exponentially. We’ve heard a lot about Asheville being the beer capital of the South; this seals the deal. When cities like Philadelphia aren’t coming anywhere close, it shows you how much things have changed.”

On May 7, The Orange Peel pledged to host a celebration if Asheville won. “We are very supportive of Asheville getting this recognition, because we have a lot of great microbreweries in town,” noted Pat Whalen, owner of the club.

Xpress Publisher Jeff Fobes, meanwhile, cited the two winning ingredients for Asheville: “Great beer, great grass-roots effort. It took having great beer in Asheville and a savvy, socially networked town to get that many votes.”

Portland’s population is nearly 10 times that of Asheville. And the comment thread attached to Papazian’s poll grew tense, and even vicious, as partisans of the two cities weighed in. Some pro-Portland comments derided Asheville as backward or “assville,” asking, “Who allowed Asheville Internet access in the first place?”

Whalen and Fobes are contacting local brewers and working on details of the victory celebration. No date has been set, but the event is envisioned as a benefit for a local nonprofit organization.

Asheville’s craft-beer scene dates back to 1994, when Highland Brewing Co. set up shop in downtown Asheville. Since then, Asheville Pizza & Brewing, French Broad Brewing, Green Man Ales, Pisgah Brewing and Wedge Brewing have followed suit. The Lobster Trap restaurant is now home to OysterHouse Brewing, and two new breweries are in the works for Asheville—Craggie Brewing and Lexington Avenue Brewing.

Papazian, meanwhile, acknowledging that he might take some heat for not declaring a single winner, defended his decision. “What, no definitive Number 1 and Number 2? Correct,” he wrote. “Is that a cop-out? I don’t think so, but of course beer drinkers are an opinionated group of individuals and may beg to differ.”

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