Why You Should Care About South Dakota’s Beer

South Dakota beer state

Editor’s note: here’s a primer about why we’re exploring this topic.

With a combined “weighted rank” of 3.529 (out of 5) for it’s top-10 beers according to Beer Advocate users, South Dakota placed 50th out of 51 states and D.C. in my recent analysis of ratings from the website. To help prove that isn’t indicative of all that’s offered within the Mount Rushmore State, I’ve enlisted the help of Landon Swanson, head brewer at Custer’s Bitter Esters Brewhouse and president of the state’s craft brewers guild.

Before we get into a brief Q&A with Landon, let’s recap some of the vitals of South Dakota as found through my Beer Advocate series:

Top 10 Beers (as of Nov 2014)

Beer Name Brewery Style ABV WR
Pile O Dirt Crow Peak Porter 6 3.7
Smoke Jumper Firehouse Dry Stout 4 3.62
11th Hour Crow Peak IPA 6.5 3.52
Red Firehouse Red Ale 4.1 3.44
Canyon Crow Peak Cream Ale 5 3.04
Chukkar Firehouse Pale Ale 5.3 3.73
Wilderness Wheat Firehouse Hefeweizen 3.8 3.23
Spearbeer Crow Peak Pale Ale 5.1 3.56
Naughty Redhear Sick N Twisted Red Ale 8 3.73
Buffalo Bitter Firehouse ESB 4.3 3.72
AVERAGES:  5.21 3.529

According to results of the Beer Advocate research, the average ABV of all “best beers” was 8 percent, with states having an average of 5.5 beers at or below that threshold. All 10 of South Dakota’s beers fell below that threshold, including one of the few cream ales to get highlighted among 506 beers. The state’s average ABV for it’s top-10 beers of 5.21 percent was the lowest in the country.

In terms of Beer Advocate user preferences, all this means not many people seem to care about South Dakota beer. Why should you? Let’s find out with Landon.

Landon Swanson, at 2014 Craft Brewers Conference. Photo courtesy of Brewers Association.
Landon Swanson, at 2014 Craft Brewers Conference. Photo courtesy of Brewers Association.

How would you describe the beer and beer community of South Dakota?

The beer of South Dakota is a mix of small breweries trying to come into their own. For example, we have Crow Peak Brewing Company that is the only packaging brewery in our state. They are making some great examples of classic American styles, although they make English Old Ale that is one of the best I’ve had. My brewery in the Southern Black Hills specializes in British session ales and Belgian-style saisons. We have a unique brewery in Eastern South Dakota named Gandy Dancer and they have no set brewer – they allow homebrewers to brew on their system and have done some collaborative work with Doug Odell, Grand Teton Brewing and even Tallgrass Brewing. Their one-barrel system has been a unique addition to our state. We have only nine breweries at the moment so we have no real special style as of yet, but our state has come into its own and will be a force to be reckoned with.

What are general misconceptions about beer or breweries from South Dakota?

There is no real misconception about Sputh Dakota except we are overlooked because we have so few breweries and only one that folks outside of our state can enjoy. We have such a local following, and not having a major craft brewing publication, blog or any other type of national beer media, we are simply forgotten.

What are the unique aspects about South Dakota’s beer you wish people would “get”?

The thing that consumers need to “get” about South Dakota beer is that we are a highly conservative and wholesale protected state which makes it hard for small brewers to grow with macro lagers dominating the market. It’s hard for investors to justify installing large packaging breweries with the difficult laws and a slowly growing beer community.

What beers or breweries are often overlooked? Are there any taken for granted who produce great beer?

I believe that all of the breweries in South Dakota are making really great things. I think the size of South Dakota is an issue – since we’re small and trying to come into our own. If you don’t enjoy a specific thing from a brewery, try the next and I assure you that it will pique your taste bud’s interest.

Why do you think beer raters have given lower scores to beer from South Dakota?

The ratings being low is pretty loosely done and subjective. Beer reviewers are craving extreme and unique beers and forgetting the beers that are still incredibly solid, like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Come into any one of our state’s breweries and ask a patron how the beer is and they almost immediately say, “It’s my favorite brown ale” or “My favorite IPA.” Reviews done by professionals show extreme differences between beer choices by other reviewers. Preference for a style still wins high ratings – IPA is the champ, next sours and then anything barrel aged.

What are beers you’d want them to try?

By brewery, these are my personal favorites:

  • Firehouse Brewing Semper Fi
  • Hay Camp Smokey Stout
  • Wooden Legs Session Stout
  • Crow Peak Olde Crow Old Ale
  • Bitter Esters Saison
  • Miner Brewing Citra Pale Ale

Why should people come to South Dakota to explore your beer community?

We love our craft here in South Dakota and if you want to talk to passionate people about food and beer, come to a local brewery. Come here for a unique adventure and try our state’s craft and your minds will change quickly.

Feeling inspired? Learn more about South Dakota’s beer community at the state’s Craft Brewers Guild website.

Tomorrow, we learn more about what Arkansas offers.

Learn more about under-appreciated beer from:

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

5 thoughts on “Why You Should Care About South Dakota’s Beer

  1. Reblogged this on alcohol by volume and commented:
    Excellent points about our neighbors to the west who are gradually carving out a beer niche on the plains. Very good read, and let’s cheer them on!

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