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10 Best Beer States of 2011

WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- Some states will let insults about their air quality, road conditions, beaches, cities or even accents pass without blinking an eye. Insult their beer, however, and it's go time.

Even as the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau reports that overall U.S. beer sales decreased 1% by volume last year, the number of breweries in the U.S. jumped to 1,759, according to the Brewers Association. That's the highest count since the end of the 19th century. That number rose to 1,790 by July and doesn't include the 725 breweries in the planning stages.

According to Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, that puts the majority of Americans within 10 miles of a brewery. Excluding only Tennessee, Rhode Island, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Alaska, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington, D.C., the amount of beer being brewed in those nearby breweries only increased within the past decade, according to figures from Washington-based industry group The Beer Institute's 2010 almanac.

Just as some states are being left out of the beer bash, some companies are getting to the keg just as it kicks. Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) and MolsonCoors (TAP) each saw business drop 3% last year and continue a downward trend as such importers as Diageo-Guinness USA (DEO) (whose sales increased 3.9% last year) and craft brewers including Samuel Adams producer Boston Beer (SAM) (which increased sales nearly 12%) siphoned off their market share.

Sales of imported beers were up 5% on the whole last year, while craft beer led the charge with 11% growth by volume and 12% growth in revenue. Those gains only continued for hyperlocal craft beer, with a 14% jump in sales volume and 15% in their take through June, according to the Brewers Association.

That said, beer has become an increasingly local point of pride that states will defend to the bitter, hop-flavored end. But what states can most legitimately call themselves "beer states?" We took a close look at stats provided by the Brewers Association and Beer Institute and, based on four key criteria -- production, consumption, breweries and breweries per capita -- came up with the 10 top beer states in America. There were some tough omissions, and we're sure the inbox will be filled with a lot of hate from strong producers such as Pennsylvania (8.9 million barrels last year alone) and strong supporters such as North Dakota (whose three breweries rank dead last in the U.S., but whose nearly 30 gallons a year in per capita consumption rank third), but these 10 laid out strong arguments for their spot on the tap wall:

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