PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Some folks saw this year's Super Bowl matchup and saw Denver's Peyton Manning vs. Seattle's Richard Sherman. Others saw two states where you can smoke weed recreationally without being hassled by the man.
Someone who spends a whole lot of time in bottle shops picking out IPAs and stout or in the basement or garage sterilizing carboys and fermenting batches may not even see Seahawks or Broncos: Just two states filled with great beer.
Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) paid $1 billion a few years ago to become the NFL's official beer sponsor and pays even more each year for exclusive beer commercial rights during the Super Bowl. That's not going to pay off in the home state of either of this year's Super Bowl teams.
When Seattle and Denver square off on Sunday night, it'll be a matchup of two of the greatest beer states in the union. According to the Brewers Association craft beer industry group, the 161 breweries in Washington state and 154 in Colorado at the end of 2012 were the second- and third-most in the country behind only California's 325. When it comes to breweries per capita, however, Colorado ranks No. 5 in the nation with one for every 32,657 people of drinking age. Washington comes in at No. 8 with one brewery for every 41,767. California doesn't show up until No. 19, with nearly 115,000 people scrambling for beers from each brewery there.
While the red Rainier R still glows over the Seattle skyline and Coors (TAP) still brews in Golden, Colo., and doles out Blue Moon at Coors Field in Denver, it's the small brewers behind the craft beer movement that breathed new life into each state's brewing culture. Bert Grant not only opened the nation's first brewpub since Prohibition when founded Grant's Brewery Pub/Yakima Brewing in Yakima, Wash., in 1982, but he also gave the world its first taste of fresh-hop ale using hops grown in the valley surrounding his pub. Though no longer considered craft by the Brewers Association, both Redhook and Pyramid were among craft beer's pioneers when their Seattle breweries opened in 1981 and 1984, respectively. Grant, Redhook founder Paul Shipman and Pyramid founder Beth Hartwell laid the groundwork that made great Washington breweries like Yakima's Bale Breaker and Seattle's Elysian Brewing and Two Beers Brewing possible.
All of must seem cute by Colorado standards. There's a reason the Brewers Association is based in Boulder, Colo., and his name is Charlie Papazian. After brewing as a student at the University of Virginia in the 1970s, Papazian moved out to Boulder and began teaching home brewing classes there. It wasn't quite legal nationally at the time, but neither were some of Boulder's other favorite recreational activities of note. When President Jimmy Carter made home brewing legal on the federal level, Papazian's gospel spread quickly.
His book The Complete Joy of Homebrewing is still required reading for anyone considering brewing up a couple batches of their own. Among the first to take its lessons to heart were a couple of Papazian's neighbors in Boulder who applied his lessons at their goat farm and opened Boulder Beer Company in 1979. Colorado's first brewpub wouldn't follow until 1988, but Wynkoop Brewery helped teach countless other breweries how to get their beer into buyers' hands by serving them a burger every so often. It also produced Colorado's sitting governor, John Hickenlooper. That's right: Colorado's governor owned a brewery and sold beer. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's lucky if he can brew his own coffee.
Colorado's brewing community has since expanded from a local phenomenon to a national force. Lyons, Colo.-based Oskar Blues was the first craft brewery to can all of its beer when it began doing so in 2002 and has since expanded to not only multiple Colorado brewing facilities and eateries, but to a Brevard, N.C.-based East Coast brewing facility. New Belgium Brewing of Fort Collins, Colo., meanwhile, has plans to open its own East Coast brewery in Asheville, N.C., in 2015.
Washington remembers how East Coast brewery expansion works. Redhook was the first craft brewery to go bicoastal when it opened up its Portsmouth, N.H., brewery in 1996.
As competitors, however, the states' breweries aren't really close. At the Great American Beer Festival in Denver last year, Colorado brewers took home 46 medals for their beer -- not including "best brewery" honors for Blue Moon's Sandlot brewery at Coors Field and Broomfield, Colo.-based brewpub chain Rock Bottom. Washington? It won a respectable four medals, including two for Elysian beers.
As Elysian founder Dick Cantwell already knows, sometimes its better to collaborate with your rivals instead of lining up against them down after down. His brewery has teamed up with New Belgium on its Lips of Faith and Trip series of beers for several years now and has provided a great example of just how well the states' breweries work together.
Perhaps that's why this year's Super Bowl matchup seems to have inspired such great interaction between the states' brewing communities. Cantwell's Elysian, for example, made a side bet with Boulder-based brewpub West Flanders with far higher stakes than the usual "our taproom will pour your beer" provision that usually accompanies such interbrewery Super Bowl wagers. In this case, the losing brewer must pay for the head brewer from the winning city's team to travel to the losing team's city. The winning brewer will take over the losing brewery's equipment and staff and brew a beer of their choice. On the day that beer is tapped, the host brewery will fly flag of the winning team and keep it up for two weeks or until the beer is gone, whichever comes first.
Denver Beer Co and No-Li Brewhouse in Spokane, Wash., went slightly more ridiculous with their own wager: The losing brewers have to paint themselves in the winning team's colors, chug beer and jump into an ice-cold river. Remember, these are two states that excel in beermaking, not self-preservation.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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