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Belt’s Beer Garden Special Edition: Ranking the MAC by Independent Breweries

Breaking down the best, and worst, MAC schools by their local independent breweries

Nearly five years ago I ranked the MAC schools terms of independent breweries. But with so much changing and independent beer/breweries surging, I felt it was time to look into the state of craft beer around the MAC and re-rank the schools.

Like the first time, there are two main criteria for the rankings:
1. The number of independent breweries within a 20 mile radius
2. The quality of the beers produced

I used what Google Maps tagged as the school when mapping out the 20 mile radius for the breweries.

For the quality aspect, while Untappd is a helpful app, many of the rankings can be skewed so I’ll be using an average of Untappd and BeerAdvocate’s rating for “best beer” and “best brewery” in the area. The score will be out of a possible 5.0 rating.

So, let’s dive right in:

12: Bowling Green State University

Breweries within 20 miles: 4

Closest brewery: Juniper Brewing (1.1 miles)
Best brewery: Bowling Green Beer Works (3.77 average rating)
Best beer: Mosaic Barrel Hopped IPA (4.17 average rating), IPA from Bowling Green Beer Works

Full List of breweries: Aistear Brewing, Arlyn’s Good Beer, Bowling Green Beer Works, Juniper Brewing

When researching BG’s beer scene there was a lot of missing information. Some of the breweries weren’t listed on BeerAdvocate and Juniper Brewing (which has an up-to-date website) wasn’t on either BA or Untappd. So, while they’re at #12 right now, once I can find more information on their breweries, they might climb the ranks.

BGSU was the biggest loser over the past five years, as it dropped five spots. It ranked 7th in 2016

11: Central Michigan University

Breweries within 20 miles: 4

Closest brewery: Hunter’s Ale House (1.34 miles)
Best brewery: Four Leaf Brewing (3.74 average rating)
Best beer: Nite Train (3.96 average rating), Coffee Stout from Mountain Town

Full List of breweries: Alma Brewing, Four Leaf Brewing, Hunter’s Ale House, Mountain Town (two locations)

CMU doesn’t have a well-established brewery as of yet. And with both Alma Brewing and Four Leaf being more than 15 miles away, the students at Central Michigan might be the unluckiest in the Mitten when it comes to quality beer near campus.

CMU stayed the same. It ranked 11th in 2016

10: Ball State University

Breweries within 20 miles: 3

Closest brewery: Elm Street Brewing (1.3 miles)
Best brewery: The Guardian (3.82 average rating)
Best beer: Riley Jack (4.26 average rating), Imperial IPA from The Guardian

Full List of breweries: Books & Brews, Elm Street Brewing, and The Guardian.

Despite having an awesome beer bar (The Heorot), Ball State comes in third to last with just three nearby breweries. And, while a few other schools also have just three breweries, the other universities are a bit closer to higher quality brews.

Ball State dropped 2 spots. It ranked 8th in 2016

9: Ohio University

Breweries within 20 miles: 3

Closest brewery: Jackie O’s (.25 miles)
Best brewery: Jackie O’s (4.1 average rating)
Best beer: Polycephaly V (4.76 average rating), Imperial Stout from Jackie O’s

Full List of breweries: Devil’s Kettle, Jackie O’s (two locations), Little Fish

Jackie O’s propelled the Bobcats out of the bottom three with their stellar beers and multiple locations. Athens might not have a ton of breweries but they do have some other options nearby, as there are two wineries and a cider house within 20 miles as well.

Ohio dropped four spots. It ranked 5th in 2016

8: Northern Illinois University

Breweries within 20 miles: 3

Closest brewery: Byers Brewing (1.16 miles)
Best brewery: Obscurity Brewing & Craft Mead (3.68 average rating)
Best beer: Sock Puppet Party (4.01 average rating), New England IPA from Obscurity

Full List of breweries: Byers Brewing, Forge Brewhouse, Obscurity

So with just three breweries why is NIU sitting at #8? Two reasons. First, the proximity to Chicago means a ton of good beer is available in DeKalb. And second, if you extend the radius just five miles (to 25 miles away), the number of breweries jumps from 3 to 12 as the Tri-City Area of Batavia, Geneva, and St. Charles, which sits 23 miles away, has nine breweries that are easily accessible to NIU students.

NIU jumped one spot. It ranked 9th in 2016

7: Miami University

Breweries within 20 miles: 6

Closest brewery: Fretboard Brewing & Public House (11.56 miles)
Best brewery: Municipal Brew Works (3.8 average rating)
Best beer: Laoch (4.06 average rating), Irish Stout from Municipal Brew Works

Full List of breweries: Fretboard Brewing & Public House, Municipal Brew Works, NEW Ales, Rivertown, Rolling Mill, Swine City

All six breweries within the 20 miles radius are located in Cincinnati’s northwestern suburbs and not Oxford, where the school is. But, being that close to Cincy, means there’s still a lot of good beer finding its way into the hands of RedHawk students. FigLeaf Brewing is another good brewery but, sadly, it falls just outside the 20 mile limit.

Miami is tied for the biggest winner, jumping up three spots. It ranked 10th in 2016

6: University of Toledo

Breweries within 20 miles: 11

Closest brewery: Patron Saints (2.05 miles)
Best brewery: Maumee Bay (3.81 average rating)
Best beer: Bourbon Barrel Total Eclipse (4.13 average rating), barrel-aged Imperial Breakfast Stout from Maumee Bay

Full List of breweries: 60cc, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, Black Frog, Earnest Brew Works, Funky Turtle, GBS Brewing, Inside the Five (two locations), Maumee Bay, Patron Saints, Pavlov’s (in Michigan), Quenched & Tempered

Toledo has plenty of choices when it comes to craft breweries. Patron Saints and Maumee Bay are two of the top spots but don’t miss Earnest Brew Works or GBS (Great Black Swamp) as well.

Toledo stayed the same. It ranked 6th in 2016

4(Tied): University of Akron/Kent State University

Breweries within 20 miles: 23

Closest brewery (Akron): Thirsty Dog (.6 miles)
Closest brewery (Kent State): North Water (1.3 miles)
Best brewery: Hoppin’ Frog (3.8 average rating)
Best beer: BBA Q.O.R.I.S the Quasher (4.48 average rating), barrel-aged Quadruple Oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout from Hoppin’ Frog

Full List of breweries: Akronym, Codex, Eighty-Three, Headtrip, HiHO, Hop Tree, Hoppin’ Frog, Ignite, Lock 15, Madcap, Magic City, Maize Valley, McArthur’s, Missing Falls, Missing Mountain, Mucky Duck, North Water, Ohio Brewing, R. Shea, Royal Docks, Thirsty Dog, Two Monks, Wadsworth*

With the two schools being so close to each other, they share every nearby brewery and are sitting in the fifth spot. My favorite from the area is Missing Mountain, who does hazy IPAs insanely well but Hoppin’ Frog is a must-visit for any beer lover.

*= Wadsworth is technically 21.2 miles from Kent State but for the sake of consistency, I’m counting it.
Akron/Kent State dropped one spot. They ranked 3rd in 2016

3: University at Buffalo

Breweries within 20 miles: 18*

Closest brewery: Prosper Brewing (4.7 miles)
Best brewery: Froth Brewing (4.13 average rating)
Best beer: Trial By Wombat (4.12 average rating), New England IPA from Thin Man Brewing

Full List of breweries: 12 Gates, Belt Line, Big Ditch, Buffalo Brewing, Community Beer Works, Flying Bison, Froth, Labatt Brew House*, Lafayette Brewing Co., New York Beer Project, Niagara Brewing (Canada), Pearl Street, Prosper, Pressure Drop, Resurgence, Rusty Nickel (two locations), Thin Man (two locations), West Shore, Woodcock Brothers

*= Labatt Brew House is owned by a Macro brewery (AB InBev) so it was not included in the count but it is an option to go to.

Buffalo is chalk full of breweries to hit up on any given day. Thin Man and Big Ditch are two of my favorites from the city but Froth Brewing has recently had a huge rise in popularity. Buffalo is one of the up and coming beer cities in the US and I can’t wait to go back.

Buffalo dropped one spot. It ranked 2nd in 2016

2: Western Michigan University

Breweries within 20 miles: 18

Closest brewery: Rupert’s Brew House (1.17 miles)
Best brewery: Wax Wings (4.18 average rating)
Best beer: Black Note Stout (4.51 average rating), Imperial Stout from Bell’s Brewery

Full List of breweries: Bell’s (two locations), Barn Brewers, Brewery Outré, Brite Eyes, Distant Whistle, Final Gravity, Latitude 42 (two locations), Liquid Note, Old Peninsula, One Well, Paw Paw Brewing, Presidential, Rupert’s Brew House, Saugatuck, Tantrick, Territorial, Texas Corners, Wax Wings

Kalamazoo has long been a haven for beer lovers and it still is. It’s hard to go more than a few blocks without seeing an awesome place to have a beer. From amazing bars like the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange (which now has a second location in Detroit), to the massive number of breweries, students at WMU are in beer heaven!! With all that beer, it should come as no surprise that the school offers a Sustainable Brewing major.

WMU dropped one spot. It ranked 1st in 2016

1: Eastern Michigan University

Breweries within 20 miles: 27

Closest brewery: Arbor Brewing (.6 miles)
Best brewery: HOMES (4.21 average rating)
Best beer: Blue Passion Sherbet (4.36 average rating), Fruited sour from HOMES

Full List of breweries: 734, Arbor (two locations), Artisan Reserve, Ascension, Biercamp, Draught Horse, Edelbrau, Farmington, Frog Island, Gordon Biersch, Grizzly Peak, HOMES, Jolly Pumpkin (two locations), Liberty Street, Macon Creek Malt House, Mothfire, North Center, Original Gravity, Salt Springs, Stony Lake, Supernatural, Third Monk, Townies, Unity Vibration, Witch’s Hat, Wolverine State, Ypsi Alehouse

Being nestled between Detroit and Ann Arbor has been a huge blessing for EMU’s craft beer scene. EMU students have a huge variety of breweries to hit up and could nearly go to a different brewery every day for a month! And while it was pointed out that I missed a few breweries in my last report, I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

EMU was tied as the biggest winner, jumping up three spots. It ranked 4th in 2016

With covid affecting a lot of breweries and so many places opening constantly, if I missed any breweries, or added some to the list that have since closed, please let me know! I would love to keep updating this list.

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