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Microbreweries in the Midwest

Even in the toughest of economic times, people buy beer. The craft beer phenomenon, in which small, local breweries produce top-quality beer and sell at a slightly higher price than their watered-down grocery store counterparts, made its mark years ago on the West Coast and in the Northeast. Stone Brewery of San Diego and Dogfish Head of Delaware are ideal examples of small breweries that enjoy national distribution -- and adulation -- by crafting better beer.

Not to be outdone, the Midwest has joined the "small beer" revolution in its own right, as the microbreweries of the Rust Belt are thriving in spite of the economic downturn. The Midwest was hit especially hard by the recession as the auto industry flatlined and manufacturing jobs moved overseas, yet craft breweries are finding success by maintaining a local flavor and creating more flavorful, interesting, robust beer than the behemoths of Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors.

Brewers like Great Lakes Brewing Company of Cleveland and Fulton Beer of Minneapolis are at the forefront of the Midwest beer renaissance, and have found initial success with their local fanbase through word-of-mouth promotion. The Twin Cities' Surly Brewing  holds over 100 taps at bars around the area. Its t-shirts and logoed merchandise are commonplace around town.

A large reason for Surly and similar microbreweries' rapid rise to recognition is the national and global accolades they have received. Great Lakes has been awarded 15 medals in various beer championships, including the World Champion Gold in 2001. Surly has won several national championships. The Midwest is now recognized on a global level for crafting world-class beers.

In spite of the harsh economic climate, Midwesterners rally behind local breweries, celebrating their "rags to riches" smalltown success stories. Consider Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for example. This unlikely installation was started in 1983 by a home brewer who operated the company from a plumbing supply warehouse. Now, it is known nationally by beer enthusiasts for deliciously hoppy concotions like Two-Hearted Ale and Consecrator Doppelbock.

Bell's and other small breweries enjoy a national presence, standing resilient while other businesses around them have crumbled. Built locally, these brewers are here to stay, unlike other industries that have historically abandoned the Midwest with crippling effects on regional economy.

While their roots may remain local, many microbreweries have an eye on much larger markets. Midwestern beer is becoming a national export. With repeat wins in prestigious beer championships, word is getting out: really, really good beer is being made in places traditionally known more for its cheese than its hops. For thirsty Midwesterners, there will likely always be a desert oasis nearby, thanks to the microbrewery revolution.

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