A North American Brewery Tour: The Beer Traveler
An Introduction to Beer Travel
When my girlfriend and I first hit the road three years ago in a 29 foot RV we had no intention of going on a national brewery tour. I mean sure, we liked craft beer and had even made a couple batches of home brew with friends, but beer wasn't something to base our travels around, was it?
Well, as it turns out beer is the perfect travel muse! During that three year period we have visited over 300 breweries in 33 states and 2 Canadian provinces. We have met interesting people and gained a greater understanding of regional cultures all the while drinking great beer and finding unique towns and cities that we would had never driven through if not for beer.
We have found that breweries are the best visitor centers for us, planted all over the world. They are inhabited with friendly locals who have a great knowledge of the area's hidden gems and points of interest. They can give you the real low-down on the city without pushing the standard touristy stuff.
Then there is the beer! You will find that beer styles can differ from place to place and most breweries are small and only distribute locally. This means if you want to drink some specific beers you are probably going to have to travel. By seeking out beer destinations when you travel you will drink some very unique brews to go with the people and places that produce them. It's also great to know you will be supporting small business by buying local, a real win-win!
At it's core beer travel is pretty simple: find beer, drink beer, chat it up, and share your stories and beers with friends and family. Here's a quick overview for each and some tips to help you on your beer travels.
1. Find Beer
The first and most important principle is to seek out local beer when you travel. You don't have to plan a whole trip around it, but making the effort to ask a local where a good place to grab a beer will lead you to some interesting places and people.
There are a couple common beer destinations that you will find on your travels:
- Brewery: Will usually have a tasting room where you can order and sample beers.
- Brewpub: This is a brewery that also serves food.
- Beer bar: A bar that specializes in having many craft beer taps or bottle selection.
- Beer fest: An event where you can sample a lot of different beers from many different breweries.
- With almost 3,000 breweries in the US alone you have a good chance of finding a locally made beer even if you aren't visiting a big city. We rely a lot on tips from friends and locals but will often use the BreweryMap website and app which has an extensive database of breweries with the ability to plan a road trip or “find breweries near me".
- If you find your way to a brewery keep an eye out for the regional Brewing News paper. This is a great reference for all the brewery news, events and locations in the area and they have them for all regions!
- Be sure to check the hours of the brewery, some smaller tasting rooms might only be open limited hours or on the weekends.
2. Drink Beer
Drinking beer from the source is an unparalleled imbibing experience. Not only does the beer taste better and fresher than it's packaged counter part but the combination of small business and adapted spaces means that each brewery will have a unique atmosphere. You might find a funky beer lounge in a strip mall with a couple of taps, a sleek modern looking craft beer bar with 100 taps, or a small tasting room with limited hours and experimental brews.
- It can sometimes be intimidating to walk into a tasting room and choose from a bunch of beers you have never heard of so if you already know a that you enjoy ask if they have one. If not, ask if they can recommend something similar and remember to ask to just try a little before you buy a pint. Most breweries won't charge you for a sample and it will save you from ordering a full pint of something that you end up not liking.
- If you are new to craft beer or aren't sure what you will enjoy ask for a sampler tray. While breweries do typically charge for these it is the best way to try many different styles and flavors without buying pint after pint.
-Craft beer brewers love to experiment with different styles and ingredients which creates a wide spectrum of flavors that can appeal to anyone even “non beer drinkers". For example, if you are a coffee drinker a nice roasty stout or porter might be up your alley or if you prefer champaign then perhaps you would like a saison, which tends to be a little more dry and highly carbonated.
3. Chat it up
Sure, beer by itself is great, but if that were the only reason to visit a brewery we wouldn't have visited so many. Chatting it up with the bartender or fellow bar fly can lead to hour long conversations and a better understanding of the area and it's history. We have made some life long friends from these casual encounters.
- You'll get the best conversations by sitting at the bar instead of grabbing a table. Get the conversation started by asking how long the brewery has been open and how it got started or ask what the town is known for and what people do for fun in the area. You'll quickly get a good feel for the new city and the best places to explore.
4. Share your story...and beer
As Christopher McCandless said “Happiness (is) only real when shared". If you find a great local bar, brewery, or festival go ahead and tell people about it. Word of mouth is the best advertising a small local brewery will have as they don't have the same big budgets as their mass-produced counterparts. Tell you friends and family what beers you had, what you learned about the place, and why they should check it out for themselves.
- Tag the brewery in your posts or pics and if you are the humble bragging type throw the #beertravel hashtag in there as well to let other beer travelers know about this place.
- Don't forget to grab a case, bottle, or growler of that awesome beer you found so you can share with others. Being able to share the treasures from your adventure is a great way to recreate part of the experience with others.
Beer Travel is not for those looking to get wasted at lot of different places. Craft beer drinkers are responsible drinkers who enjoy the subtleties of a hand crafted beverage and are not just trying to finish it before it gets warm. Many craft beers are higher in alcohol so be conscious of the ABV (alcohol by volume) on the drinks you ordered and plan your transportation accordingly.
- Many cities also have brewery tour bus options or planned routes, like the Bend Ale Trail or Brewvana Portland Brewery Tour for example, so not only do you get to experience multiple breweries in one day, but you can have a designated driver and subsequent tour guide to safely get you around town.
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If you are interested in learning more about beer travel check out the Society of Beer Travelers (societyofbeertravelers.com). We hope to see you down the road.