Alcohol Tourism on the Road

Susan & Erik at Elevation Beer Co.

One of our best finds on the drive from AZ to AL!

Although we often make decisions on where to go based on the presence of neat wineries/breweries/distilleries/etc., that is not the only way to enjoy alcohol tourism.  In fact, you can add alcohol tourism to any trip you are taking! And you can potentially alter your route to make it easier to hit some promising locales without much difficulty.  We do this all the time, but most recently have done it while traveling to Pensacola Beach and across the country both ways.

There aren’t a lot of locales between Athens and Pensacola Beach (excluding Atlanta), but we have routinely made it a habit to extend our trip just an hour or so in order to hit some of them.  Cannon Brewpub in Columbus, GA is easy to get to from the interstate and a nice detour on the road. On arriving in Pensacola Beach, our new favorite is Gulf Coast Brewing- great beer and nice space.

Taking I-40 west from Athens/Atlanta, Memphis, Little Rock, Oklahoma City (OKC), Amarillo, Albuquerque, and Flagstaff all offer options for brewery and brewpub stops.  We routinely adjusted our schedule so we hit one of these for lunch, dinner, or both. Depending on how far you drive in a single day, from OKC you can hit Amarillo for lunch and Albuquerque for dinner, or take a more leisurely route driving off the interstate and still arrive in Amarillo with plenty of time to enjoy a couple of locales.

In OKC, we can recommend Twisted Spike and COOP Aleworks.  In Amarillo, you may be tempted to check out The Big Texan.  While technically a brewpub, we can’t possibly recommend it- touristy and not good beer.  We instead suggest Long Wooden Spoon which, while the best brewery in Amarillo, still has some significant flaws in the beer.

Once you reach Albuquerque, the world is your oyster.  Almost a dozen breweries are easily reached from the interstate- take your pic and tell us how it works out!  From Albuquerque, we recommend cutting off I-40 at 117 to head towards El Malpais National Monument, then cut back up to I-40 to get to the Petrified Forest.  The “brewery” in Winslow isn’t one- skip it unless you want to check out the historic significance of Standin’ on the Corner.  Once in Flagstaff, you have to detour from the interstate into downtown to get to the breweries.  There we can recommend Historic Brewing, Flagstaff Brewing, and Mother Road Brewing.

Going from Phoenix to Alabama, we are planning to travel mostly off the interstate and go east from Pueblo, CO.  Each day has a brewpub lunch stop and brewery dinner stop built in. It’s easy to find nice locations when you are traveling for some other reason.  Try out some new adventures on YOUR next trip!

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Surprisingly Good Cities for Alcohol Tourism

Granite Dells overview

Granite Dells at Prescott is a sight not to be missed.

Everyone knows that Asheville, Portland (both of them), Sedona, and Seattle are amazing destinations for alcohol tourism.  However, we have found some cities which we quite enjoyed and we surprised that we did. We are going to share those with you all!

 

Roseville CA & Surrounding Cities

Roseville is a rather unassuming town northeast of the capital, Sacramento, which has an amazing beer scene.  This part of the state is rural but developing, and brewers and vintners have discovered and embraced the developing-rural idea.  Several farm-based breweries and wineries make a drive with a designated driver a pleasant necessity. The standout in this part of the state for us is unquestionably Mraz Brewing.  Amazing beer, terrific theme and decor, surprising location in a strip mall.

 

Urbana-Champaign IL

College towns often sport a lively alcohol tourism scene, but we found the one in Urbana-Champaign to be guided not much by the students, surprisingly sophisticated, and quite good.  One can walk to a couple breweries downtown, and a short drive to wineries and distilleries made this a surprisingly positive experience for us.

 

Columbia, SC

Some people may think you can’t walk the brewery route in Columbia, as there are no sidewalks.  Fortunately, the traffic in the area of the breweries is low, and there is verge on the side of the road which allows for safe walking.  A cluster of breweries in the industrial area and a good brewery downtown are all walkable to the dedicated responsible alcohol tourist.

 

Prescott, AZ

Undoubtedly the coolest, most scenic city on this list.  If you ever visit, the Granite Dells are almost unbelievably amazing to see.  Several breweries downtown, a meadery (Superstition- good but incredibly expensive), and several breweries in the outlying area make this a routine go-to destination for us.  Lonesome Valley Brewing is not to be missed- possibly the best in Arizona.

 

Little Rock, AR

This has to top the list because… Arkansas?  That can’t be right. But holy cow Little Rock delivers.  Relatively inexpensive in-town hotels provide access to almost a dozen good breweries, cideries, and distilleries.  Whenever we cross the country, we make it a point to visit Little Rock and suggest you do, too.

We thought about including other cities on this list that we like, such as Saskatoon, but decided these are really the best of the best.  Try them out and let us know what you think! Let us know if there are any we forgot or need to try on our next jaunt.

Risk Tolerance When Traveling

Picture of Tasmanian forest

Is there a trail here?

We were on our third visit to Tasmania, a land we knew and loved well.  One of the regions we hadn’t visited on prior trips was the northeast, which is even more sparsely populated than the rest of the island.  We found a potentially nice hike, drove to the parking lot, found we were the only ones there, and headed on down the trail. The trail was fairly poorly marked- stakes with little colored tags were the only indicators.  We followed those for a half mile before some clouds started to blow in.

Not too long after, it started to lightly snow.  The snow became progressively heavier and the wind picked up, and we started to envision our future.  Stranded on a mountain in the middle of the Tassie wilderness, unable to find our way back or shelter on this rocky, exposed mountain, and appearing in the headlines the next week, “Clueless American couple found frozen to death one mile from their car.”  We stopped, looked at each other, and turned back while we could still see the trail.

Risk tolerance is an interesting trait which we don’t discuss and think about much in our culture outside of the stock market.  But travel raises the question and challenges your risk tolerance constantly. Will you venture alone down an unknown dark road?  Will you eat at a restaurant where you can barely understand the locals? Will you get into this van full of strangers and go to who-knows-where?

We believe discussing risk tolerance is a key component to relationships which is often not done until it becomes a problem.  Traveling as a couple highlights this: when faced with an opportunity, will you both agree to take it, agreeing to take on a similar degree of risk?

Fortunately, Susan and I agree on risk tolerance almost perfectly.  This makes decision-making while traveling much easier. On another hike in Tassie, we were somewhere our guidebook _definitely_ told us there was a trail, but it was evident the authorities hadn’t kept it up in recent years.  We trekked on, following what we thought was a trail, until we both paused simultaneously, looked at each other, shook our heads in tandem, and started hiking back. We’ve heard amazing stories from friends who took chances we never would, and we’re so happy for them. For us, the chance of those experiences isn’t worth the anxiety we feel imagining more unfortunate outcomes. We love our quiet, less adventurous adventures, and have found they suit us the best.

Drive off the Interstate

AlcoholTourismRoute66

Route 66 running alongside I-40.

In pursuing your alcohol-inspired adventures, you will be traveling, and this is commonly done by plane or car.  In the U. S., traveling any significant distance often involves driving on the interstate. Sometimes that is unavoidable or at least vastly more convenient than the alternative- getting between Atlanta and Spartanburg without going up I-85 almost doubles your drive time from 2.5 hours to 4.5 hours.  Sometimes, though, driving off the interstate does not add much to your time, and opens you up to some amazing experiences. We recommend, when possible, avoiding the interstate for the following reasons:

1) Safer.  That whole “speed kills” mantra is true.  Flying along the interstate at 70 mph versus cruising on a side road at 55 mph makes a difference.  Although statistically the interstate is safer than some other roads, the side roads which parallel the interstate are also sparsely driven, reducing the opportunity for collisions.

2) Slower.  This not only factors into the safety argument, but it also allows for a more leisurely mode of travel.  You’re not just focused on getting from Point A to Point B. You can enjoy the distance in between.

3) Serendipity.  Flying along the interstate, just focused on the next stop, you may miss some neat things around the country.  We have encountered so many nice little stops as we cruise the side roads of the U. S.. If you’re deliberate about it, you could do this on the interstate, but it is so much easier and more organic when you are off the interstate.  Just last week, we were driving home to Phoenix from Albuquerque. We’ve driven I-40 and I-17 before, so decided to head directly towards Pinetop Brewing, and along the way discovered El Malpais National Monument and had a nice little visit.

Driving off the interstate doesn’t have to add a large amount of time to your drive.  Going from Atlanta to Little Rock on the interstate takes 7.5 hours; off the interstate, it’s 10 hours.  Going from Atlanta to Richmond on the interstate takes 8 hours; off the interstate, it’s 11.5 hours. And of course you can mix-and-match.  For example, you can take I-85 to Spartanburg, as there are poor off-interstate alternatives on this stretch, and then get off the interstate the rest of the way to Richmond.  Maybe you just get off the interstate for small legs of your journey. But we find the more we can get off the interstate, the more leisurely our trip, the nicer the trip.

Beer & Food Pairings

AlcoholTourismBeerFoodPairing

Coconut Rundown with Rosemary IPA

We don’t usually spend much time thinking about perfect food and beer pairings when on the road.  We have done a few benefit dinners pairing beer and food, though, and the experience definitely informs how we consume both beer and food during our travels.  You can find endless articles online these days about beer-food pairings, so we’re going to share the real highlights with you.

Hoppy Beers

Although we don’t usually go in much for hop-forward beers, they serve a terrific role in beer-food pairings.  The hop flavor tends to cut particularly rich foods- anything with a lot of oil. Cheese, fried food, Chinese food.  It can also serve to counterbalance spicy hot foods, but don’t expect it to quench the heat like milk!

Mild Beers

This includes kolsch, light lagers, English Mild, Irish Red, marzen, blondes, and other styles which don’t have a very strong flavor.  Obviously, a lighter flavor food is best paired with them, otherwise the beer flavor vanishes entirely. Light sweets with subtle flavors (e.g. fruit ice cream), salads, pasta, or generally plain fare are best with these beers.

Malty Beers

These can be surprisingly challenging to pair with, as the flavors can be all over the place.  We have had unexpectedly good luck pairing cheese and Scottish styles. Breakfast type foods are a good go-to, as are desserts.

Strong Beers

I love high gravity beers, but you do need to be mindful with your food pairings, as the alcohol flavor, sweetness, and other flavors can drown the food.  I prefer these with rich foods like cream-based pasta, creamy or rich gravy potatoes, and desserts.

Belgian Beers

These are literally the one-size-fits-all of the beer-food pairing world.  If you have a food and you are unsure with what to pair it, go for a Belgian.  I have almost never gone wrong doing a Belgian with any food.

 

AlcoholTourismBeerFoodPairingEvent

Our deck all ready for the guests.

Put On a Beer-Food Pairing Event

You certainly can think about food and beer pairings when you are eating out as usual, but an even better option is to throw an event!  This can be as small as a simple dinner party with friends or an expansive 40-person charity event like we used to host. You can start with either the food or the beer- we would usually start with the food.

Usually you want at least three courses, and more is preferable, to give people more opportunities to compare and contrast the pairings.  We would do a dry run at least once, to make sure the pairings we thought would work actually worked and to make sure the serving pace worked out.  If you are hosting a dinner party, you could cook each course just for yourself and try out a few different beers to see which align best.

Sometimes pairings are designed to complement the food, sometimes they are designed to contrast the food.  A contrast we did was a Jamaican coconut rundown soup and a rosemary IPA, which made for some incredible flavors.

Enjoying beer with your food is a significant part of the experience, and we recommend you be deliberate and thoughtful when possible.  As analytical as we are, though, even we don’t make every dinner a beer-food pairing event. The key, as always, is to have fun with it!  What pairings have you encountered and loved?

Asheville Review

Asheville Scenery

How in the world have we not written a review of Asheville, NC yet?!?  We have been going to Asheville for well over a decade for its breweries, cideries, wineries, and meaderies.  We had mead from Asheville during our wedding almost ten years ago. We go to Asheville at least once a year. We will argue that it is the best alcohol tourism destination in the world, hands down.

First, Asheville is in a beautiful part of the country.  Up in the mountains of western North Carolina, the region is sparsely populated with remarkably fair weather.  The city itself is small- less than 100,000 people- and geographically not particularly sprawling. This means you can stay downtown and walk nearly everywhere you want to go.

Second, the Asheville Hostel is an absolute perfect place to stay.  Reasonably affordable, welcoming host, and the location can NOT be beat.  You could stay in the Hotel Indigo or a fancy hotel like that and be similarly close or closer to downtown, but the Asheville Hostel is by far and away our strong recommendation.

Third, you have it all (except distilleries).  Like wine? Got it. Like beer? Woah buddy do you got it.  Like cider or mead? Yep, those too.

Fourth, the beer is amazing.  Asheville has one of the highest per-capita number of breweries in the world.  They are not all good, as we will discuss below, but there are lots of options.

Fifth, Asheville is just an incredibly cool town.  It’s not pretentious, it’s not crowded, it’s not expensive.  It’s filled with hippies and easy-going outdoor-loving people.  There are some fancy people, but they usually stay around the Biltmore and don’t bother us.  There are interesting, cool stores, amazing restaurants, and great places to walk and hike around town.

Now let’s get into the weeds: the best and worst alcohol destination in Asheville.

 

The best:

Burial Beer Co – A relative newcomer (less than 5 years old), this has rapidly become one of our favorites.  Only visit during the afternoon- it gets mobbed at night on the weekends. If the weather is nice, it’s great to sit outside.

Green Man – You can’t love Asheville and not love Green Man.  They make excellent British Isles beers, with their ESB being the absolute best ESB we have ever had. They have their old, small, cozy location and a newer, shiny, gigantic location. If you want food, Jack of the Wood is an excellent English-style pub that serves Green Man beers, among others. Check them out on Sunday afternoon/evening for live Irish music.

Pisgah Brewing – Although it is outside of town a bit, they only take cash, and it can be randomly extremely busy even during the afternoon, all of this is worth is because it is SO GOOD. If you knew how much we hate not being able to pay by credit card, you would understand what amazingly high praise this is. Their tripel is the best tripel we have ever had.

Urban Orchard Cidery – They consistently make really great cider, not just well-crafted, but with interesting flavors along with the standards.  A welcoming atmosphere and munchies make it a consistent go-to spot for us.

Wedge Brewing – A great Arts District destination.  Consistently good beer, very cool metalwork, and they have peanuts!

 

The worst:

Wicked Weed – I may get death threats over this one, but this place is terrible.  We visited shortly after it was open and nothing was even drinkable. We revisited it later and confirmed this suspicion.  They tried to confiscate a friend’s ID (she was late 20s- definitely legal), it’s always mobbed, and the service is terrible.  But the beer. Undrinkable swill to us, obviously worth the drawbacks to others. We’d be interested to know if there’s something we’re missing (or just don’t enjoy, flavor-wise) or if it’s a case of others following the new, cool, trendy place.

Twin Leaf Brewing – Mediocre and average, which in any other town would get you just a ‘meh’ rating but, in Asheville, this puts it near the bottom.

Bhramari Brewing – We want to like this place- they do yoga on the weekends.  Unfortunately, we’ve been a few times and it’s just not good.

One World Brewing – Located in a basement near the center of downtown, we have had to wait in a line to get in before.  More importantly, the beer is highly forgettable. Only worth visiting if it is super late at night and you need somewhere to kill time right in the middle of town.

There are about a dozen other breweries and cideries we have visited which fall somewhere in the middle.  They are all fine, and we will often hit them, but The Best list are our absolute go-tos in Asheville.

 

Serendipity

AlcoholTourismSerendipityOne of the best parts of driving off the interstate is having all sorts of surprising, positive travel finds.  This week we drove from Albuquerque back to Phoenix. We could have easily taken I-40 to I-17, but we decided to make Pinetop Brewing a destination.  Fortunately, this took us off the interstate and allowed us to discover a cool spot- El Malpais National Monument.

El Malpais is a volcanic field filled with interesting terrain, sandstone formations, and caves.  It was snowing lightly when we arrived, painting everything with a dappled white brush. A short walk took us to La Ventana Natural Arch with sandstone bluffs all around.

AlcoholTourismPinetopBrewingThe drive on from there took us through a blinding snowstorm and finally over the mountains and towards Pinetop.  Pinetop reminded us strongly of Big Bear, CA, one of our favorite places to visit. Pinetop Brewing is a large, standalone building on the side of Highway 260.  A cozy brewpub, their beer is focused on Belgian styles, and they definitely delivered. Almost every beer they had was incredibly delicious, although not necessarily to-style.

We can definitely continue to recommend you enjoy the journey, not just the destination.  Take the slow road- you never know what you’ll find!