There’s a good chance you’re going to travel far and wide to get a beer this year. Beer tourism is a growing segment of the travel industry, fueled by the fact that more than 2,700 breweries currently operate in the United States, according to the Brewers Association, the trade group that keeps track of such things. Most of those beer-mongers are small craft breweries or brewpubs that don’t distribute beyond their home city. Sometimes, a brewery will only brew enough beer to supply the demand in their own tasting rooms. But scarcity is part of the appeal, right? And the fact that you have to travel to experience some of the country’s best beers, only makes those beers tastier. You know this already, which is why you’re probably already planning a beer trip. Follow the tips below to make sure your hops pilgrimage goes down as smooth as a milk stout.
Find out which breweries are in the area you plan to visit and start researching. The first stop should be each brewery’s website, where you can find out about operating hours, if tours are available, the beers available and so on. There are some apps and online tools to locate local breweries. Check out the Brewers Association directory and Beer Me to start, then map out your visits, leaving plenty of time between breweries.
Contact the Breweries
Sometimes a brewery might not have scheduled tours, so send a short, polite email asking if a private tour can be arranged during your visit. Even if you don’t get a reply, ask when you arrive at the brewery; many times someone will be glad to show you around if it’s not too busy. Of course, some breweries are so small that you can see the whole operation from your barstool. Another good reason for reaching out ahead of time is that hours may be changed, or the brewery might close, for special events and holidays.
Just because you’ve mapped out your tour, doesn’t mean you have to stick to a rigid plan. Feel free to deviate from your route and make adjustments on a whim. Ask for recommendations from brewers, bartenders and fellow beer lovers who might know about a new brewery that just opened up in the area or a special event or beer-release at a nearby pub. On the flip side, you might just find out that one of the breweries on your itinerary just isn’t worth your time. Remember though, if you’ve made arrangements for a visit and won’t be able to make it, be sure to give the brewery a call to let them know.
Check Events Calendar
If a brewery’s website includes an events calendar, check to see if anything is planned during the time of your visit. The event might not be at the brewery; sometimes the brewery will hold a special release at a nearby pub or a beer-pairing dinner at a local restaurant. Hint: If you’ve never been to a beer-pairing dinner, we highly recommend it. They can be a lot more fun than the wine version.
Look For Beer Festivals
Beer festivals present a great option for tasting a wide variety of beer from a region’s craft-beer community. Depending on local statutes, a festival usually offers either an unlimited sampling of beers or drink tickets or tokens to exchange for pours. Some are pay-as-you-go, but not many. Study the beer list on the fest’s website to plan which ones you want to sample, and if there’s a map, you can sketch out your plan of attack. A bonus is that some festivals hold educational sessions on craft beer or have live music performances.
Let Someone Else Do The Work
A lot of craft beer-centric regions have brew buses or other such beer tours so you don’t need to worry about finding your way around unfamiliar cities. Usually they include stops at several breweries and/or pubs, with beer samplings at each stop, which is often included in the price of the tour. It’s a great way to experience a beer community in one afternoon or evening, and the guides can be quite knowledgeable about an area’s other attractions.
Food is key. This can’t be overstated. Snacks and meals will help slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, and hydrating yourself with plenty of water during your beer tasting travels helps keep away headaches and sour stomachs, especially the next morning. A good rule of thumb, is to drink water at the same rate you drink beer (drink a pint of beer, drink a pint of water).
Don’t Drink and Drive
Do we need to say this? Hopefully, the dangers of driving while intoxicated are drilled into the collective head of our culture. Ideally, you’ll have a designated driver, but if not, use public transportation, taxis or other means of getting around so you’re not behind the wheel. Beer festivals often partner with hotels within walking distance of the venue to offer discounts on rooms. Local cab companies also sometimes offer reduced fares for festival goers. If none of those are an option, know your limits. Many brewery tasting rooms offer flights, where you can sample small pours of a variety of brews. Take a few sips of the ones you think you’ll enjoy, then if it’s offered, buy some of your favorites to enjoy later.
Bring Back Your Treasures
Finally, as mentioned above, you’ll be tasting beer that’s not available back home, and one of the best parts of craft-beer travel is bringing some of those favorites home to share with your friends and family. If you’re on a road trip, bring an empty cooler (or better yet, a cooler filled with some of your own local brews that you can share with friends old and new), and store the bottles or growlers that you buy along the way. If you’re traveling by air, most airlines allow you to bring back beer in checked luggage as long as it’s properly packed. If you go that route, bubble wrap and zipper-seal storage bags are your best friend.