Seven Year Anniversary

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Traffic and views over 7 years!

Hello Alcohol Tourism fans!  This blog has been limping along for 7 years!  I hope you all enjoy the rare postings we put up.  This is truly a passion project, and our passion waxes and wanes depending on how much time we have and how much travel we do.  I thought it would be fun to summarize our blogging here over the past 7 years.

 

Total views: 12,315

Total posts: 77

Mapped & Reviewed Locales: 458

 

We have plans to continue posting periodically.  We have several dozen ideas for post ideas, such as: the Gold Standard beer (the specific beer by which we judge all others), more location reviews, and general advice on how to enjoy alcohol tourism.  We hope you continue to stick with us!

Thwarted!

Alcohol Tourism Bagpipes

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

How do you handle being thwarted?  Susan and I Do Not Like it when we have a set idea of how things will go and then are prevented from executing them.  While we do enjoy being lackadaisical with our planning, when we do have plans, we like to stick to them!

We were having a very nice visit to Prescott- one of our favorite destinations when we lived in Phoenix.  We had become accustomed to going to Granite Mountain Brewing. As we walked up the doors, we encountered: A) a crowd and B) loud bagpipe music.  We have no real aversion to bagpipe music, but we don’t like crowds and we don’t like anything loud. We peeked through the windows and decided we were definitely not going there.

Well what now?!?  We had our laptops, we were going to settle in for the afternoon for one of our work dates.  Thwarted, we hit the pavement and wandered somewhat aimlessly. We didn’t know the town well enough to have a backup place we liked.  We began wandering vaguely in the direction of another brewery we disliked but were willing to try again. And then we stumbled on Rickety Cricket Brewing!

Rickety Cricket was quiet, comfortable, had a good lineup, and had food!  A great place to settle in and do some work. We were so happy that, even having been thwarted, we were able to carry out our plans nonetheless.

When we travel, if we have a plan, we try to have a backup plan.  If we don’t have a backup plan, we can get thwarted and then get frustrated.  So we have learned to make backup plans and sometimes have backups to our backup plans.  This way, even if we’re thwarted, we still have a plan we can hang on to!

Dodge the Splitting Fee

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Travel can be expensive.  When you are regularly paying for drinks out- much more expensive than drinks in- that cost increases.  We have talked before about our strategies to reduce our travel costs, including splitting meals whenever possible.  Unfortunately, some restaurants have a mine set for clever people like us: the splitting fee.

I remember the first time we really encountered this.  We were at a brewpub in Winston-Salem (to be left unnamed as I don’t want to send them any business!).  We had a fine- but not particularly remarkable- meal with our tasting flight. When we got our bill, it was more than expected.  On further inspection, there was a $3.99 splitting fee tacked on!

To say I was upset would be an understatement.  We didn’t fill any of our growlers there, so I think they definitely shot themselves in the foot.  This wasn’t some fancy, expensive place. It was a brewpub! Why in the world did they think a splitting fee was reasonable?  I’m not sure. So here are some considerations for you with the splitting fee.

Servers will not verbally disclose it.  It’s usually in fine print at the bottom of the menu.  Keep an eye out for it. I feel, if a splitting fee may apply, servers should forewarn you.  I don’t think we have ever been notified about a splitting fee a priori.

Our solution?  Just order a side.  Often I’ll order the main course and Susan will get some fries, or visa versa.  This keeps our cost down (though not as much as just getting a single main course) and, importantly, makes us feel that we are getting something for the additional money paid.  Often a side of fries is less expensive than the splitting fee.

So far, no one has objected to this strategy, even when it is evident that we are sharing the main course.  Keep an eye out for those tucked away splitting fees and get one up on them by ordering an inexpensive side!

Entertain Yourself on the Road

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Find the IPA!

Traveling is fun.  You get to see new places, maybe meet new people, enjoy a different setting, go hiking in nature or walking  a new city, see amazing vistas, and otherwise have a variety of wonderful experiences. Nonetheless, sometimes there is idle time, or you get into a rut, or you’re in the car for 6 hours at a stretch trying to cross the United States.

Once you’ve been to a few hundred breweries or wineries, coming up with some way to keep things fun and new helps make sure you get the most out of your experience.  Here are some ideas of fun things we’ve done on the road which you may enjoy as well.

  1. Work Date.  Both of us enjoy Doing Things, including writing and researching and studying.  We will often arrange Work Dates, where we dedicate a time at a pub with our laptops to do some work.  This may or may not be work associated with our paying jobs. We’ll often do this once a week, particularly if we’re somewhere for a few weeks, such as when I am doing a locum in a cool town.
  2. Spot the IPA.  This one we made up and is kind of tongue-in-cheek.  We noticed that our brewery tasting flights routinely had 1-2 (more like 3-4 these days) tasters which still had beer in them at the end of our tasting.  Not surprisingly, these were often IPAs. It was fun to take a picture of the flight and say “spot the IPA”.
  3. Read.  One of our favorite trips in recent years was going to Donegal, the northwestern portion of Ireland.  We settled in to Kee’s Hotel in Stranorlar for a week or so. Each day, we went on a driving adventure around Donegal, then got back to Kee’s in the afternoon and settled in to the pub with a book.  It was an extremely pleasant way to spend our time.
  4. Audiobooks. This is best for those long driving days. We typically choose one or two audiobooks at the start of the trip, trying to match the length of the book[s] to the amount of time we think we’ll spend in the car. It’s a great way to keep your mind occupied as you watch the scenery go by.
  5. Watch a Show.  “You’re actually going to travel across the world and then watch TV?!?”  Look, I’m not suggesting you hole up in your hostel for days on end watching the tube, but eventually it will get dark outside and you have to figure out how to spend your time.  We don’t spend a lot of time doing this, but we’ll often take a DVD series with us on the road and watch an episode now and then. It creates another nice memory and connection with the trip for us.
  6. Actual Games.  Many people enjoy card games and board games and bring them on the road to enjoy during down times.  We personally enjoy Exploding Kittens, Dixit, and Betrayal at House on the Hill. Other good ones we like are Sushi Go, Love Letter, and Cards Against Humanity.  Throw out your deck of cards and Monopoly sets- there are so many better options in this day and age.
  7. Brewery Bingo.  We’ll have to do a separate post about this, but we have a bingo card for breweries which you can fill up as you explore a particularly brewery-dense town.  You can make up your own version!

These are some ways we’ve come up with to entertain ourselves during our travels.  What ways do you use to keep yourself entertained?

Alcohol Tourism with Friends

Susan and I love traveling together.  It is one of the foundations of our relationship and growth as a couple.  However, we also love our friends, and have been meeting a variety of them in Asheville for years.  We’ve often talked about doing a proper road trip with our friends, and hope to make it happen soon.

We’ve recently moved back to the southeast after a couple years in Phoenix, which brings us closer to most of our friends.  Our friend Rachelle was the first to visit us, and we performed the Alcohol Tourism hat trick: winery, distillery, brewery!

Whippoorwill Vineyards is west of town about 25 minutes, and is open early on Saturday, when we visited.  The grounds are nice and the tasting room is small but cozy. Tastings are free, which is how the world should work.  They have a good range from dry to sweet, and are fairly typical of Southern wines. It’s a great visit if you’re a fan of muscadine, which is a staple of Southern wines. This place explores the flavors a little more than what you typically get from a sweet muscadine wine.

John Emerald Distillery is in downtown Opelika, right next door to Red Clay Brewing.  They have a good lineup, though the tastings are a bit pricey at $12. We bought a bottle of the spiced rum and the barrel-aged rum and would definitely recommend a visit.

Red Clay Brewing is our preferred brewery in this area so far.  It’s quiet, cozy, welcoming, they have a wide range, and it’s all fairly to-style.  Around the corner, we visited Resting Pulse Brewing on their opening weekend. Fortunately, it wasn’t very crowded and they were very welcoming.  The space is large and open, so has the potential to be quite loud. They had a decent range, but none of it was quite to style or very good. Hopefully they will improve with time.

With all of our stops, we got to enjoy comparing the drinks, analyzing them, and talking conversationally.  It was a great way to show someone our new area. Otherwise, where would we take people? Maybe the Arboretum, but we’re not going to check out the football stadium or such with our people.  This was a fun way to do alcohol tourism ‘at home’ as it were. If you need to show visitors around your town, we can definitely recommend doing it with alcohol tourism! Like many types of tourism, it motivates you to see parts of your own town that you might otherwise neglect.

England is Amazing

Let’s talk about why England is freaking amazing.  Yes, I realize gas is expensive, and housing is expensive, there is rubbish and graffiti all over, traffic is mad, etc. etc.  No place is perfect, but I want to celebrate what we love about this place. Disclaimer: we’ve only spent time in the central business districts of London, Manchester, and Bristol.  So this may not be representative, but we have found some great trends that we love.

The beer.  Oh. My. God.  EVERY time I visit here, I forget, and am charmed all over again by how cheap the beer is!  I ordered my first half pint in Bristol and got charged one pound twenty! Including tax and tip!  It is literally unbelievable. Is it because there’s no sin tax? Because there’s a lot of competition?  Who knows, but we love the inexpensive beer. Also, it’s quite good beer. Relatively low ABV, which is deliberate. The idea is to spend hours in the pub (see below) without getting impossibly sloshed.

The fashion.  Goths and punks are still thriving subcultures in England, in sharp contrast to the U.S.  I saw a guy walking down the street with an honest-to-god Sherlock-Holmes-style pipe in his mouth.  I love it. I love that people look different and interesting and have their own style.

Pub life.  The fact that nearly every corner has a pub on it is amazing.  Some of them are local hole-in-the-wall spots where they look at you funny when you come in, some are uber-trendy, but most are just nice, cozy, quiet pubs.  What a great way to spend time with friends.Bristol Beer Factory Logo

Dense living. I’m sure the locals are less charmed by this, but within a short 30 minute walk, there are more things to do and places to go than you can shake a stick at.  While it is true of all cities to a certain extent, the cities we have visited in England take this to an even higher degree. Just so many things in a short walk in the CBD, more than in Amsterdam, Dublin, Sydney, San Francisco, and others.

The food.  I know everyone rags on British food, and we have no idea why.  Fish and chips? Savory pies? Roast tomatoes and mushrooms and eggs and brie cheese for breaky?  We love it all.

We just love visiting this country.  If you haven’t been, we can strongly recommend it.  What are things you like or don’t like about England?

Cary Grant Statue

Beer: To-Style vs. Deliciousness

Dogfish Head artwork

Dogfish Head’s weird but cool sculpture artwork.

In order for a brewery to get a score of 4 or 5 from us, the environment needs to be welcoming and the beer has to be good.  How do we quantify “good” beer? We looks for two characteristics: 1) Is it to style? 2) Is it delicious? Interestingly, we feel slightly different from each other on these two points.

First, is the beer to style?  Now, we are not BJCP-certified judges, but we have tasted beer from a _lot_ of breweries.  Let’s say we’ve had a golden-style beer from 50 different breweries. We can extrapolate from the average of those to make a determination on what breweries in America believe a golden should taste like.  When we encounter our 51st golden, we can compare it to the average and decide, “Yes, this tastes like the majority of goldens we’ve had,” or “No, this tastes different than most goldens we have had.”

We also consider the BJCP guidelines, so that it’s not simply a popularity-of-taste contest.  Finally, we identify iconic examples of the style, as mentioned in the BJCP guidelines or from expert beer judges, and compare to those exemplars.  If the taste is not consistent with the style the brewery has applied, we ding it down. Some styles we dislike heartily- such as IPAs- can still accrue points for their brewery if it is well done for the style.

Second, is the beer delicious?  Some beer is not necessarily to style but is really quite tasty.  Sometimes, there IS no style. We had an incredible cranberry cinnamon which did not describe any base style.  What is this? How can we judge it to others of its style? Obviously, we can’t, so we just need to decide if we like it or not.

We try to minimize our personal preferences and make as-objective-as-possible assessments.  We might try a pale ale and decide, “You know, WE don’t like it, but this is a darn tasty pale ale and those who enjoy this style would like this beer.”  I can drink a sour and say, “*I* wouldn’t drink this, but this is a really nicely done sour.” Obviously, off flavors dramatically impact this. When I get fusel alcohol off a beer, I consider it undrinkable and score accordingly.

Susan is slightly more interested in the deliciousness and Erik is slightly more interested in the to-styledness.  For example, we tried Moa’s Breakfast Beer in New Zealand. It claims to be a Cherry Wheat. Erik felt it was very much not a wheat beer and the cherry flavor was not very cherry-like, but Susan found it to be delicious (overall we gave Moa a 4).  This persists with breweries like Dogfish Head, which makes very little to-style beer: Susan enjoys their experimental, no-real-rules approach much more than Erik does.

Either way you approach beer, you can enjoy it.  We like being analytical about it, because that is who we are.  We encourage you all to be analytical, too, because we think it will deepen your enjoyment of the experience.  What do you think is more important: to-style or deliciousness?

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!

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

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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

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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.

 

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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!

How to Plan your First Alcohol Tourism Trip

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Okay, so you think you may want to try this out.  You like wine, or beer, or spirits, and you are interested in going to the source.  It’s a terrific way to travel. It helps you see the sights, meet the locals, and can serve as a focal point for an otherwise meandering journey.  So, you’ve decided to make an adventure. We are here to help. Let’s break down the essential elements of a successful first alcohol tourism trip.

1) Where to go.  This is surprisingly easy, although the staggering amount of offerings can cause a decision paralysis.  For your first trip, I would strongly advise a relatively simple journey nearby.  Almost anywhere you live in the U. S., there is a nice winery, brewery, or distillery within no more than two hours.  If there is a known cluster of these nearby, head that way. Otherwise, even a single locale can start you on your path to adventure!

2) When to go.  Again, this is hopefully simple- choose a weekend or, if it’s a bit far to drive, a long weekend.  We routinely go to Asheville, a 3 hour drive from Athens, for a weekend. Just identify a free weekend and GO!

3) What do do.  Alcohol tourism isn’t about just drinking alcohol.  You can do that at home, for a lot less money. Alcohol tourism is about finding new experiences, going to the source, and finding out about those who craft your favorite drinks.  We enjoy talking to proprietors about their craft and trying out what they make. We enjoy being analytical and comparing what we try with what we expect. Go out and try a bunch of different drinks!

At the end of the day, we recommend making your first alcohol tourism adventure nearby, simple, and interesting.  You don’t need to go somewhere like Asheville- even somewhere with a single brewpub or winery can be a fun adventure.  The important thing is to first get out your door.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Downtown Albuquerque Review

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Comfy chairs and Christmas Spirit at Red Door Brewing.

Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico, with a population over 500,000.  It also has an incredible beer scene, with at least 24 breweries and brewpubs, for a per-capita number of 4.8 breweries per 100,000 people.  Although well below powerhouses like Asheville and Seattle, it is still impressive, and formed the basis of our adventure there over Christmas.  We stayed in walkable distance to downtown and, due to the holiday time, we didn’t get a chance to sample many. Fortunately, we did get to try all three breweries in the core downtown area.

First, downtown Albuquerque is eminently walkable, if a bit dodgy.  As we were strolling, there was quite a loud argument between a fellow without a shirt (it was just above freezing) and several other men.  Several of the homeless people we spotted carried baseball bats (probably as a deterrent). On Sunday night before Christmas, there were dozens of loud, flashy cars just cruising up and down Central Avenue.  There was not police presence. So, if you want to go downtown Albuquerque at night, consider travelling in groups. We weren’t harassed beyond panhandlers and so got to check out Sidetrack Brewing, Red Door Brewing, and Boese Brothers Brewing.

Sidetrack Brewing was in a little storefront a bit out of downtown, so both quieter and more isolated-feeling.  It was a pretty standard bar setup with a decent lineup of beers and, thankfully, quiet music. Although I was accosted by a customer with the usual question, “Woah, how tall are you?” it seemed most people were there for a quiet drink.  The beer was fine to good, with the cask cocoa nib stout the standout. They seemed slightly hop-oriented with their lineup, so we skipped a growler fill.

On to Red Door Brewing, closer to the main downtown area but one street over from Central Avenue, so a little bit out of the way of the craziness.  Occupying a large glass-fronted building, it had visible comfy chairs and a Christmas tree- instant pleasers for us. Their lineup was fairly extensive and included two excellent ciders.  Other standouts were the wit and vanilla cream ale. Their seasonal maple brown was wonderful- nice maple character without too much sweetness. On our second visit, we discovered The Vault- a cozy separate room with comfy chairs and no music.  We got growlers of their seasonal strawberry cider and the wit. This is one of the best venues to which we have been and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Boese Brothers Brewing is a short block down the street on a glass-fronted corner.  It seemed a bit Spartan but they had a couple of comfortable booths. The lineup was not very impressive, and I don’t remember their beer being very distinct.

The easy walkability of downtown Albuquerque was a nice attraction for us, with a pretty high concentration of breweries.  Had we been there away from the holiday, we could have easily walked to at least 5 more breweries between our AirBnB and I-40.  If you are looking for a good beer destination in the southwest, Albuquerque is probably the greatest concentration of breweries you can find in a small area.

Beer Serving Temperature: Is This So Hard?

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Pro Tip: Don’t do it like this.

Susan and I have been at all kinds and sizes of breweries and brewpubs.  We also frequent pubs which have an expansive draft selection. One thing that continuously mystifies us: if you’re serving craft beer, why are you serving at near-freezing temperature?

Craft beer is intended to be stored at cellar temperature, somewhere around 55°F. This is also the temperature at which quality beer should be served. Quite simply, this is the temperature range that allows you to taste the delicious beer you just ordered.

The problem with excessively cold beer is that the lower temperature tends to dampen the flavor.  This is probably why Coors Light and similar macro beers implore you to enjoy them ice cold, because the flavor is just not very good, and they want it muted.  I know one guy whose ideal serving temperature was the point at which a glass of beer would spontaneously freeze if struck.  If you want to taste your beer, you do not want it very cold.

The problem, as we have experienced it, is that craft beer bars and breweries- who really should know better- sometimes serve all their beer at ice cold temperatures.  Sometimes even in frosted glasses! Why is this happening? Has the world gone mad? Do people who know how to make good beer NOT know how to serve it? It seems difficult to believe that is true, but it’s possible.  It’s also possible the managers who set the temperature don’t know enough about beer to do it correctly.

It’s also possible we get ice-cold beer as craft breweries try to appeal to a more general audience which is not accustomed to nice flavor in their beer.  Most make a kolsch or a mild pale ale to accomplish this, though, so I’m not sure that is it. It may be that the brewers just have different tastes- maybe to them, cold beer tastes better.

In any event, the cold craft beer phenomenon has to stop.  We routinely order beer and then let it sit, trying to get it to warm up before drinking.  That affects carbonation and delays our time to drink beer, which is unacceptable. Come on craft brewers of the world, get it together.

The Environmental Impact of Alcohol Tourism

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The view at Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery could be ruined.

This post was inspired by the Eco-Guide to Responsible Drinking.  We always try to make environmental choices, which can be surprisingly difficult and frustrating when traveling and eating and drinking out.  There are a number of ways alcohol tourism adversely affects our planet, and ways you can mitigate them.

Flight

Flying is generally fairly bad for the environment.  A large amount of carbon dioxide is produced in all steps of the flying process.  However, it is more efficient, from a carbon-footprint-point-of-view, than driving long distances.  And it’s the only practical way for us to get to Oceania. In general, reduce the amount that you fly.  Some companies also allow you to buy offsets for your flight- I remember Delta doing this, but I haven’t seen it recently. If you do fly a lot, and you’re bothered by the environmental impact of that, you may consider donating to environmental organizations and/or investing in alternative energy research efforts.

Driving

Everyone knows driving creates carbon dioxide and other pollutants.  There are many sites dedicated to helping you be more efficient, called hypermiling.  Some of the easiest tips we use daily: take stuff out of your car (less weight), be easy on acceleration, leave plenty of space, and go by the maxim: if you have to brake, you made a mistake (coast as much as possible).  Driving a fuel efficient car like our Honda Civic Hybrid also helps.

Beer Production & Transport

Drink draft beer produced by a local brewery.  Simple, done!  Making bottles and cans takes more energy than kegs.  Shipping beer any distance also requires energy. Getting pints at the brewery itself is the best way to minimize your beer-carbon-footprint. Again, we keep growlers in our car so we can bring beer back from the brewery without needing bottles or cans. It doesn’t last as long as bottles or cans do, but it’s another small step that may add up.

Lodging

Hopefully you already know you don’t need turndown service daily.  We only get maid service when we are staying somewhere for several weeks, and then we do it once a week, mostly to clear out the garbage.  If you’re staying for just a few days, put the Do Not Disturb sign on your door. Save on cleaning, new towels, etc. etc. If you need more coffee, ask for it at the front desk. We try to mitigate this by filling our reusable coffee cup at the coffee station most hotels have in the lobby. This cuts down on the packaging waste of making it in your room.

Obviously travel requires energy from the planet and degrades the environment.  Ideally, no one would travel for leisure or work. We get a lot of satisfaction from traveling, though, but as we do so we understand we are slowly destroying the planet.  Hopefully in the future technology will be better so we don’t cause so much environmental degradation. In the meantime, we try to mitigate our impact and encourage you to do so, as well.

How to Identify Alcohol Tourism Locales

So you want to go on an adventure focused on breweries, wineries, and/or distilleries, but you’re not sure where to go.  How do you decide on your destinations, and how do you find them in the first place? Here are some recommendations to help you get startAlcoholTourismPostExampleed.

1) This blog.  We have reviewed many destinations, found under the ‘locations’ category.  Check them out and decide if they fit what you are looking for. Our favorite destination is Asheville, NC- if you can get there, go.

AlcoholTourismUsingGoogleMaps2) Google Maps.  This is what we use predominantly.  We find a place which seems fun and interesting for various reasons- such as Tombstone, AZ- and then try to find fun alcohol-oriented destinations near it.  You can try searching “winery”, “brewery”, “brewpub”, and “distillery”. Realize that Google Maps is sometimes not very ‘smart’, and will display liquor stores or general bars when you do these sorts of searches.  Check out the individual entries to see if they actually make an alcohol product on premises.

3) Local business publications.  If you find yourself somewhere interesting, the local business marketing and publications may have some locales for you to check out.  Be aware, though, that these may be touristy and not particularly authentic.

4) Word of mouth.  Talk to your friends- maybe they have been somewhere interesting and they would like to share it with you!  We got a personal recommendation to go to Julian, CA- which we would have never thought to visit- and it was terrific.  You can always ask friends, “Is there anywhere fun to go nearby?” or, if you are going somewhere specific, “Do you have any recommendations for This Location?”

You can either look specifically to go on an alcohol tourism adventure or, if you are already going somewhere, identify places which may be fun to get and check out.  What strategies do you use when identifying great places to visit?

Responsible Enjoyment

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Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and inhibitor of higher-level decision-making processes.  It is functionally a toxin, which your body attempts to make into a non-toxic compound and then remove from the body.  As such, it has a variety of deleterious effects on the imbiber. This includes poor decision making, ataxia, impaired memory, and others.  As alcohol tourists, we want to remember and enjoy our experiences. We also need to make sure we are safe for ourselves and others. Therefore, we need to be responsible when we enjoy our drinks.

The first step to a successful alcohol tourist adventure is moderation.  I know some people think moderation is dull, but it is essential to successful alcohol tourism.  You want to make sure to avoid spending too much money, minimize potential harm to yourself, and remember the experience.  So, know how much you can drink and still enjoy the memory of the experience and be safe.

The second key is making sure your transportation is secure.  This may mean a designated driver (Susan is responsible for finishing most tasting flights when we are on the road) or, even better, not relying on vehicular transport at all.  We strongly prefer staying in motels and hostels within walking distance of the local breweries and distilleries. This is easy in Eugene, Portland (either Maine or Oregon), and Asheville; not so much so in Amarillo, TX.  If possible, adjust your accommodations to stay near your destinations.

Remember that the effects of alcohol depend on not only the amount, but the timeline and food consumption.  Some people claim a 1 drink/hour metabolism rate, but I have personally found that to be highly variable depending on the rapidity of ingestion and whether there was food involved.  Learn from your experience and, when in doubt, have fewer rather than more. We bring empty growlers with us so we can bring beer back to our accommodations to enjoy safely. Also considera tasting flight instead of several pints.  That way you get the experience without so much consumption!

What steps do you take to make sure you are enjoying your drinks responsibly?

Terminology

AlcoholTourismBeerSizesOK, drinking world, we have to get our act together.  You would not believe the number of times we have asked for something we think is perfectly clear and reasonable, only to have a server or bartender say, “Do you mean This Other Word That Describes the Exact Same Thing?”  Yes, that. Or we’ve asked for a certain size of a drink and they look at us like we’re crazy, but we’re not! THEY’RE the crazy ones! So let’s try to settle this once and for all.

 

Beer Sizes

Imperial Pint – US: 20 oz

Pint – US: 16 oz, UK: 20 oz.

Half-Pint – This is often 10 oz.

Schooner – UK 8 oz.  Not sure what happens if you order this in the US.  We’ve been somewhere which served a 32 oz stein and called it a schooner.

Taster – 3-5 oz.

Flights

Tasting Flight == Sampler Flight == Sample Platter of Beer/Wine/Liquor

This one shouldn’t be that hard, but we encounter it routinely.  We’ll ask for a tasting flight and they respond with, “Like a sampler?”  Yes, that’s what a tasting flight means. Get it together alcohol world.

Type of Locale

Winery/Brewery/Distillery/Cidery/Meadery  – Your primarily business is selling an alcohol product, probably the majority of which is for off-premises consumption.  You may have snacks, but it is unlikely you have a kitchen. You make your OWN products.

Brewpub – You are a restaurant which makes their OWN beer and/or cider.  The majority is consumed on-premises, but you may fill growlers.

Beer Bar – You are a bar which serves OTHER people’s beer, cider, wine, spirits, and/or mead.  Your primarily business is as a bar. The majority is consumed on-premises.

AlcoholTourismRelicRoad

NOT a brewery or brewpub- a craft beer pub!

Craft Beer Pub – You are a restaurant which serves OTHER people’s alcohol.  The majority is consumed on-premises.

If you do NOT make your own beer, DO NOT CALL YOURSELF A BREWERY OR BREWPUB!  This is so incredibly frustrating because it comes off as deliberately misleading.  Maybe they don’t know the difference. Maybe they assume most people don’t care if they make their own beer or not.  Or maybe they are trying to take advantage of the craft beer revolution and sucker people in.

I realize there are some legal definitions which interact with these, but we believe these are the most common, accepted parlance among alcohol tourists.  Businesses of the world, please recognize these and get in line.

How to Create a Quiet Venue

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We’ve talked before about how important volume is to our overall enjoyment and experience of an alcohol tourism destination.  Particularly if you are there with anyone other than yourself- you probably want to talk, right? Particularly for analytic tourists like us- we want to discuss the beer/wine/spirit, experience of the drink, and compare and contrast our perception of flavors  . Over the years, we have been in comfy quiet places, silent places, and obnoxiously loud places. Here is the key: background music.

In a silent venue, there is no background music.  The conversation of those around you fills the sound void, but occasionally that lulls.  It can sometimes feel awkward to talk in a silent venue. If the brewery/winery/distillery has a library theme, this is perfect.  Otherwise, it can be a bit stifling.

Obnoxiously loud venues have music so loud you have to scream to be heard.  Maybe not scream, but talk loudly, and you hear only about 50% of what the other people are saying.  This is always due to loud background music- they just don’t know how to use the volume knob on their sound system.  I have heard clubs will do this to _dis_courage discourse, thus causing you to buy more drinks. Fine. But in a setting where you want to _enjoy_ and savor your drink, this is unacceptable.

Comfy quiet places have well-moderated background music.  It is present, but you barely notice it. All voices have to speak loud enough to overcome the background music, so if it is genuinely BACKground, it doesn’t impede on the customer’s experience.

We believe good alcohol tourism destinations should have quiet, unobtrusive background music.  This keeps the conversation flowing more easily than in a silent venue, and is actually possible, in contrast to a loud venue.  It isn’t hard- just turn the dial down so that music is in the background. And maybe have someone who didn’t burn out their eardrums in their teens do this task.

Revving Back Up

AlcoholTourismSantaFeSpiritsHello alcohol tourists!  We’re sorry we haven’t been as active lately as we would like to be.  We have been going on so many adventures ourselves, we haven’t been able to write as much.  We have been on our Arizona Adventure- working and traveling based in Phoenix. We’ve been to LA, Big Bear, Julian, all the major southwest sights like Zion and Bryce Canyon, Prescott, Tucson, Tombstone, the Grand Canyon and, of course, the Valley of the Sun.

We’ve also rediscovered a list of blog post ideas which we had thought we’d already written.  We’ve talked about them so much with each other and friends, we thought we had shared them with you!  In addition to reviews of the above destinations, we have posts planned on driving off the interstate, identifying alcohol tourism locales, and planning your first alcohol tourism adventure.

We hope you’ll continue to read and enjoy the tales of adventure, and we’d love to hear about some of your own!  Please share in the comments your thoughts and your own experiences, so we can all learn and grow together.

Review of Eugene, OR

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We visited Eugene this weekend and managed to stay right in downtown for not much money- we can definitely recommend the Travelodge as a great value.  From there, we were able to walk to almost a dozen breweries and cideries.  Here are the standouts and the mediocre ones we encountered.

 

20181215_125609Top Pick: ColdFire Brewing Company.

We literally could not believe how good the beer was here.  The Oktoberfest was amazing- perfectly to style and delicious.  Their coffee imperial stout was also perfect- not too much of anything, and even Susan loved it and she can rarely stand imperial stouts.  Everything we had was flawless and delicious. It was also quiet and cozy.

 

Good Choices:

McMenamins.  We visited three of these and they were all very nice.  Each of them had a fireplace and a slightly different draft list.  We’ve always liked McMenamins and this experience reinforced that.

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Elk Horn Brewery.  Quite a wide selection and good food.  The beer was fairly well done, although the hefeweizen was more like an American wheat.  It was a little chaotic at dinner time, but at happy hour it was perfectly civilized.

 

WildCraft Cider Works.  Do you like dry cider? If so, this is a great match.  A wide range of delicious ciders. I wish the elderflower cider had more elderflower flavor.  In fact all of their flavors were fairly subtle, which may be good or may be bad, depending on your preference.

 

Steelhead Brewery.  A nice British-style brewpub.  A good selection and all of their beer was nicely to style.  Cozy and decent food.

 

Skip

Ninkasi Brewing.  I know a lot of people love them, and those people must be hop lovers.  Reminded me of Terrapin in the old days- just throw more hops in seems to be their motto.  This is the second time we’ve visited the brewery and we also went to a pub with a tap takeover and we have been consistently unimpressed.

 

Hop Valley Brewing Co.  This was just fine but not remarkable.

 

Sam Bond’s Brewing.  Man, screw these guys. They were closed Friday and Saturday nights for private parties with no notification on the website.

 

Falling Sky Brewing House.  The beer was just fine and it was very crowded and not comfy.

 

We were overall very impressed with Eugene as an alcohol tourism destination.  Unfortunately we didn’t make it to any of the distilleries or wineries- there were just too many places to go!  The small airport makes access to the city easy and it is highly walkable and relatively inexpensive. If you have the chance, we would recommend a visit!  Do you have experience with Eugene? Please share it in the comments!
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Puget Sound 2018

 

Trying to sum up any large American city in a single blog post is a fool’s errand. That goes double for Seattle, where you can barely go two miles in any direction without hitting a brewery, winery, or distillery.  Susan and I visited recently to attend the wedding of our friends Karl & Katie, and took the opportunity to check out what the Puget Sound area had to offer.

Downtown Seattle- the actual walkable core part by Pioneer Square- does not have the brewery density of Asheville or downtown Portland (ME or OR).  Of the selections we found, only McMenamin’s Six Arms (a local chain) suited us for vibe and beer quality. Our recommendation is to skip downtown and instead hit Fremont.

Fremont is home to the famous troll under the bridge.  It also is fortunate to have an outlet for Schilling Cidery, currently one of our favourite cideries ever.  They had more than 30 ciders on tap and it was an exquisitely quiet, wonderful place. Just down the street is Fremont Brewing, which delivered decent pints in another large, comfortable space.  Not far away, where the 15th Ave bridge crosses over, are three more breweries we sadly did not get to try. But this part of the city definitely seems like the right place for good alcohol tourism.

Of the surrounding islands, Silver City is still one of the best brewpubs we have been to, hands down.  We encountered it years ago on our Northwest driving trip, and upon repeat visit this year, it continues to hold up.  Around the corner on Bainbridge Island, the Bainbridge Organic Distillery is a treasure. Free tastings and incredibly well crafted liquor make this a must-do.  Right next door is the Bainbridge Brewing Co, having a fine but not outstanding selection.

North of the city and on to Whidbey Island, Bastion Brewing is clearly a local favorite and hosted some surprisingly good brews.  Wicked Teuton Brewing, located within a beer brewing store, had a strategy we have not seen before but marvel at. The owner brews beers which have earned him awards, and then sells the kits to make the same beer at home.  The beer is also well crafted and to style, and the ability to make it yourself is a nice feature.

Seattle did not disappoint, and you would have to take months to explore all of its offerings sufficiently.  If you have a favourite Seattle alcohol destination, please let us know in the Comments!

Welcome!

We have noticed a significant increase in subscribers to the blog recently and wanted to welcome you all!  We’ve had about 20 new people in the past month.  If you could tell us how you heard about the blog in the comments, we would love to know.  Thanks and we look forward to sharing more tips and adventures with you in the coming months!  Cheers!

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Saskatoon, Canada

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You wouldn’t think of Saskatoon, lying in the middle of the plains in Saskatchewan province, Canada, as a destination city.  It’s a small city which becomes unimaginably (to us) frigid in the winter.  Fortunately, last year and this year the University of Saskatchewan needed to hire a locum anesthesiologist during the summer, so we got to do a working holiday during the best part of the year for the city.  Although I was on call, I could take Susan around to the breweries and distilleries in town.

AlcoholTourismLBDistillery

LB Distilleries is in a warehouse district north of town is produces a wide range, though it seems aimed at a more general audience than us.

On our last visit, a wedding had just let out, flooding the tasting room with people and making us beat a hasty retreat.  Black Fox Farm is down Valley Rd. southwest of town.  It’s a small family operation just as we like. They have a great lineup of liqueurs as well as some good but expensive gin and vodka.  They were preparing for a festival when we visited, and had a couple from Calgary who produce hand made shoes and brought some along.  Susan found several that she liked and picked out a pair which was both comfortable and extremely attractive.

AlcoholTourismBlackFoxDistillery

We picked up a bottle of their Saskatoon Berry Liqueur, which is not only delicious but, obviously, hyper local.  The last non-brewery we visited was Crossmont Cidery, which was incredibly beautiful but reminded us of a high-end winery- not our usual scene.  The cider was unremarkable, so we bounced pretty quickly.

AlcoholTourismCrossmontCider

The breweries range from extremely promising to just fine.  At the top end is Prairie Sun Brewing, which produces a great range including an rich chocolatey roasty porter called Toffee 5 and a very clean farmhouse ale- Crazy Farm Ale.

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Paddock Wood Brewing- Saskatoon’s oldest brewery- and 9 Mile Legacy Brewing- the newest- are fine middle-of-the-road breweries with some hits and some misses.

Saskatoon Brewery is housed in Ingredients,  a high-end food market, which you would never know from the outside.  Their lineup is not very imaginative but is executed well.  It’s not a comfortable place for a pint, though, so bring a growler if possible.  Fox & Hounds is evidently a brewpub, but comes across as a dive/frat bar which is overly expensive.  Great Western is a regional/macro brewery technically made in Saskatoon, but they don’t offer tours or have any particularly interesting beers, so we’re not going to count them.

We’re not sure we would suggest you go out of your way to visit Saskatoon during the summer, but if you’re headed even vaguely in that direction, you should spend a few days there.  They have the highest per-capita restaurants in Canada, an extremely walk-friendly city, and a very respectable alcohol tourism scene.

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Drinking as a Woman

In celebration of International Woman’s Day, Susan has some things to say.

Erik and I sat in the famous (but here unnamed) Southern beach tourist town.  We’d found the one brewpub on the island, and were settling in for our usual evening of alcohol tourism.

Erik ordered for us: one light (in color) beer and one dark beer.   As far as I can remember, we were pretty boxed in to these selections; the touristy brewpub had blown most of their kegs and these were just about our only option.  As the server placed them on our table, she smiled at me and said, “Maybe he’ll let you help him with these!”.  As I was trying to figure out how to articulate to her that we’d ordered two beers because there were two of us, she continued, “You might actually like that one!”, pointing to the lighter of the two.

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Oh, honey.

It was my first experience with the (hardly unusual, but neither universal) phenomenon that people might assume that Erik’s the stronger drinker of the two of us.  In fact, pound for pound, my tolerance is higher than Erik’s.

SusanErik

The “pound for pound” thing is pretty critical here.

Other experiences I’ve had with these assumptions:

I bought a couple four packs of wine (as part of an actual science experiment; too much to go into here).  The guy behind the counter stated, “Looks like you’re getting some great coolers here!”

At our local beer store, I picked up a bottle and turned it around to see where the brewery was located and what information about the style they had available.  An employee who happened to be passing by said, “Are you looking for nutrition facts?”

As possibly the most egregious: I attended a small brew fest in Athens without Erik.  It’s one of my favorites; the money goes to charity, and while the selection is much smaller than at Classic City Brew Fest, it’s also much less intense and is usually a pleasant experience.   This time, I approached the first booth and started asking about the styles they had available.  “How hoppy is this one?” I wanted to know.

The guy at the next booth over jumped in.  “Have you had Sam Adams?” he asked.

“Which one?” I said, confused about what on earth Sam Adams had to do with whether the beer in front of me was hoppy.

“Any of them,” he said, and proceeded to mansplain to me about craft beer and what made a beer hoppy or malty.

I picked up my sample and left.

The thing is, this guy had met me before.  We’d attended several Brewtopia events together.  The difference is, this time I was unaccompanied by my husband, who looks much like a stereotypical beer drinker than I do.  This guy saw a small woman ask about the beer in front of her and assumed she knew nothing.  This despite the Brewtopia community comprising several badass beer-drinking bitches (hi, Lupulin Ladies!).

This stereotype that I’d encountered actually led me, for a while, to order darker, stronger beers than I wanted simply to prove that I wasn’t a “girly” drinker.

But WTF is wrong with being a girly drinker?

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Asheville Wedding

If you’ve never worn your bridesmaid dress to go drinking downtown, you totally should.

This is Susan talking, by the way.  Not that it really matters. I’m pretty sure the effect would be similar either way.

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A couple things that might be relevant here: 1. This wedding was held in Asheville, where the downtown drinking is pretty damn good in the first place.  2. This was a magical bridesmaid dress.  It (a) looked fantastic on every one of the five bridesmaids in question, and (b) has, in fact, been worn again since the wedding.

Years ago, Erik and I invited our friends Carl and Rachelle to Asheville with us.  We’d recently discovered the town ourselves, and we were excited to share it with them.  We kind of created a couple monsters.  Carl and Rachelle visited the town countless times after that, as did Erik and I.  A few years later, when Carl and Rachelle got engaged, they chose Asheville as their wedding location.

“Susan, you HAVE to be a bridesmaid!” Rachelle exclaimed on the phone the day after the proposal.

In Asheville? Twist my arm.

The fabulous weekend actually started Wednesday afternoon, when we treated Carl and Rachelle to a Brews Cruise as our wedding present to them.  That Friday afternoon we had a bridesmaid lunch at Hana Sushi.  The question arose, “Who wants sake and who wants champagne?”  My friend and fellow bridesmaid Megan and I had a quick and silent conversation across the table before saying, almost in unison, “Can we not have both?”

Turns out we could.

The wedding rehearsal was that evening, at the beautiful St. Lawrence Basilica.

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The stern parish wedding coordinator said, “You will absolutely not bring any alcoholic beverages into this church for the wedding tomorrow.” Every member of the bridal party worked very hard to seem earnest and agreeable, and not catch my eye.  Every member of the bridal party also knew I had a flask full of Bailey’s in my purse for whenever Rachelle needed a tipple.

For medicinal purposes only, of course.  I am a healthcare professional.

That evening, there was a post-rehearsal dinner party at Asheville Brewing Company downtown.  We love ABC, especially since it’s basically right across the road from the hostel where we and most of the rest of the wedding party were staying.

Saturday morning the wedding party met up for hair and make-up.  This was the first time I’d ever been a bridesmaid, and I took full advantage.

Erik’s favorite joke that summer was, “Always a bride, never a bridesmaid.”  We’d been married four years at that point.

The wedding was gorgeous beyond words.  Erik and I didn’t cry at our own wedding, but we’ve cried at every wedding we’ve attended since; this one was absolutely no exception.

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The reception was equally fabulous; possibly the best moment was when all the bridesmaids agreed we were done wearing our crinoline petticoats and lined them all up against the wall.

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Actually, no, I’m being ridiculous.  This wedding was in Asheville; the best part of the reception was the beer.

Which brings me to that evening: after the happy couple fled their well-wishers and the bridal party did our duty of packing up the materiel, we arranged to meet up at some of our favorite Asheville haunts (the fact that Rachelle’s wedding gown might have garnered her free drinks didn’t NOT figure into that decision).  I sat drinking my beloved ESB at the beloved Green Man, enjoying the compliments on  my dress and hair.  Later, most of the party wound up at Lexington Avenue Brewery, sitting along the brick-lined window, five women wearing the same dress and enjoying the afterglow of our friends’ joy.

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To sum up: Asheville is great.  Asheville when you’ve helped your friends celebrate one of the happiest days of their lives is AMAZING.

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Colorado Surprises

We stood on the edge of a precipice. Looking down, a scar was cut into the countryside that ran for miles in either direction. In the distance, more gouges in the land could be seen. The next day, we encountered a posh brewpub in a dustbowl town of 20,000 residents. “This,” we thought, “is Kansas?”

When we imagined Kansas, we imagined the Kansas of the Wizard of Oz- flat, agrarian, boring. We were shocked when we discovered two delightful brewpubs along our route- in Manhattan and in Hays- as well as several wineries. Moreover, the countryside was nothing like what I imagined. Certainly not as rugged as Utah, but the western half of the state showed surprising character. Our journey from Georgia to Colorado- There and Back Again: A Travelogue of Brewpubs- was shaping up to reveal some surprising things about the country we have lived in all our lives.

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Although not nearly as dramatic as Central Park in NYC, Cherry Creek State Park is a short 20 minute drive from downtown Denver and sports an 880-acre boat-OK reservoir and 35 miles of trails.

It is, more importantly, an easy 10 minutes from CB Potts in Englewood, our first brewpub in Colorado. CB Potts featured a decent lineup, but their real distinction was the ram’s horn shape of their tasting flight. Witnessing a unique tasting flight holder continues to be an interesting aspect of our US brewpub experiences.

Colorado was, as expected, mountainous and filled with great beer. It is also the home to Celestial Seasonings, which is famous for its herbal infusions, most notably Sleepytime. Herbal teas are not technically teas, as they do not contain any actual tea leaves, and would be more properly termed “herbal infusions”. The practice of creating new infusions led the founders of the company to wander the hills around Boulder, CO, collecting the various herbs to use in their concoctions. We believe the addition of a dram of rum would add character to any great herbal infusion.

Our biggest surprise was learning that vikings had discovered America in the 11th century. Well, probably not, but there is a bloody great big rock with some Elder Futhark runes which make quite an impression. In spite of this lack of historical truth, Heavener Runestone State Park was lovely, with mossy stones and a fabulous view, and worth the side trip.

It is always surprising and exciting to be a tourist in your own country. We have made many delightful discoveries, and expanded our understanding of this place we call our land. Travel is an investment in yourself, and that is true even if you don’t leave your own country.

Colorado Trip Step 1

Colorado is often considered one of the great beer states. It ranks #3 in craft beer barrel production, and Boulder is often considered one of the cooler beer towns in the country. We made it the destination for our first ever dedicated Alcohol Tour, and it did not disappoint.

The first leg of our journey took us to Blackhorse Pub in Clarkesville, TN. Clarkesville has a terrific downtown, home of Austin Peay State University, surrounded by horrible sprawl. We visited immediately after the flood of May 2010, so most of the businesses surrounding downtown were flood damaged. Fortunately, the downtown region is on a small hill overlooking the junction of the Cumberland River and Little West Fork Red River. The Riverview Inn, while expensive, was the only show in town due to all the damage. The 0.2 mile walk to Blackhorse Pub was a nice bonus.

The Pub itself was cozy and relatively quiet, even on a weekend evening. The beer lineup was good without being outstanding. Clarksville itself, though, thoroughly charmed us with the cozy feel of the downtown area, neat local shops, and adjacency to the beautiful riverfront. We’ve gone back a couple of times since that trip, and would encourage anyone who likes cool small towns to check it out. Also try combining some of Blackhorse’s beer; we discovered the Scottish beer to be especially synergistic with their stout!

From Clarkesville, it was on to St. Louis and Kansas City!

The Volume Variable

Susan has always been aware of being an introvert as well as being highly sensitive, so she knew she was sensitive to particularly loud places. I didn’t realize it until we went to Hair of the Dog Brewing in Portland, OR. The room was large with minimal sound baffling, and there was an uproariously loud person at a table in the middle of the room. I remember it being quite disruptive to my experience, and then I realized I don’t care for loud or crowded places. This has strongly informed our alcohol tourism strategy and appreciation of different locales over the years.

Our favorite places to go are quiet, with good food and decent prices. If you have even a basic grasp of economics, you see the problem with this. If a place has good food, is not expensive, and does not have many customers, they won’t be in business for long. Numerous places we have enjoyed in Athens, GA over the years have gone out of business. So we acknowledge that customers are necessary for the places we like to continue to exist so that we can keep enjoying them. We don’t blame businesses for having people. We do blame them for having poor design or, most importantly, loud music.

A bunch of us were on the town in Decatur, GA one Friday night. We found a place and planned to settle in. We got one round and quickly discovered we couldn’t really talk to each other. When I asked the server if they could turn the music down, she said, “It’s Friday night, we have to keep the energy up.” We left- with our wallets. Maybe there are some people who are attracted to loud venues, but we haven’t met those people yet. As far as we can tell, all turning the music up does is drive away customers like us and force everyone else to shout to be heard.

Some venues don’t realize that sound baffling is a thing. Hanging flags, drapes, or other cloth-based material helps minimize echo and improve acoustics. Many Irish pubs employ little nooks, books on shelves, and flags hanging from the ceiling to help with sound. The Irish understand that people come to pubs for good craic, not to shout to be heard. I wish every venue we visited had a solid grasp of acoustics and considered how loud things can get. We would enjoy a lot more places in that event.

Ireland Housing

Last time we traveled the Emerald Isle, we stayed exclusively at hostels and B&Bs. B&Bs riddle the Irish countryside, even during the winter off season (though many were closed for the holidays). This time, we encountered reasonably-priced hotels, which suited us, much to our surprise.

 

 

 

Our first stay was in the Clontarf Castle Hotel. Modern construction emerges from the old structure of the castle to make a cozy, pleasant hotel. It’s high-priced, but not unreasonably so. The breakfast buffet is amazing, the rooms comfortable, and the pub generally quiet and pleasant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Clontarf, we headed to Donegal. Our first stop was the town of Stranorlar, largely on the basis of it having a pleasant riverside walk. After two B&Bs which were closed or didn’t take credit cards, we stumbled upon Kee’s Hotel. Initially, we dismissed hotels, since they appeared, from the outside, to be too fancy and hoity-toity. Kee’s, though, was awesome. It had a wonderfully cozy pub, affordable rooms, and a very fine breakfast. After that, we started looking more for hotels than B&Bs.

 

Our ultimate next destination was Galway for Christmas, so we made a stop in Sligo at the Riverside Suites. Immediately adjacent to the river but a little out of the way (easy to find and park), this was a wonderful hotel which suited us perfectly.

In Galway, we stayed at the Rock Lodge B&B, staffed by a pleasant hostess and offering very comfortable beds and a quite nice breakfast. Close enough to the Salthill commercial area, we had pleasant drinks and dinners there each night. A drive through Connemara was simply amazing- we had never seen country like it before. Filled with bogs, shining lakes, and little islands, this drive was one of our favourites.

From Galway, we traced the coast along the N67 to Ennis. There we stayed at the Auburn Lodge, an affordable and cozy single-story affair which reminded us a locally run event center in the States. Then, off to Dingle!

In Dingle we found the Dingle Marina Lodge and hunkered down for three days of blowing rain. We were given a large room on the top floor, and the pounding rain was both pleasant and startling. We managed to drive the Ring of Dingle, which was closed due to snow on our last visit. Dingle is also home to a surprising array of craft alcohol, which you can read about here.

For New Year’s, Susan rented us Nell’s Farmhouse, just south of Carrick-on-Suir. It was a wonderful, out-of-the-way but very cozy and well-appointed little abode. Flooding impeded our progress to and around it, requiring numerous detours on little local roads. The farmhouse boasted a hot tub, so we enjoyed an unexpectedly clear New Year’s Eve in the hot tub enjoying the stars.

After New Year’s, we went to the Wicklow Mountains and the park of Glendalough. This is a place we visited five years ago and loved. We tried to hike to Saint Kevin’s Cell, but managed to lose ourselves on the endless trails and never found it. The walk was still beautiful.

That night we found The Coach House Pub/B & B for dinner and a room. Unfortunately, the walls were quite thin and we were over the pub- loud revelers kept me up until well after 2am.

We hadn’t managed to visit the Jameson distillery when we were first in Dublin, so we swung by on our way back up north.

Returning to Donegal, we spent the rest of the time at Kee’s Hotel, making little day ventures out to the coast. It was a perfect, restful end to our adventure in Ireland.

Top 5 (or so)

Susan and I love being analytical.  Particularly after a few drinks, we start dissecting things and enjoy the heck out of it.  The question came up once about what our favourites are.  We have tried our best to pick the top 5 brewpubs, breweries, beers, and international pubs.  We don’t have enough of a sample size for wineries, cideries, meaderies, or distilleries yet, but we are always working on it!

Top 5 American Brewpubs

Criteria: Consistently like the majority of the beer, good vegetarian food, quieter setting, decent service (not necessarily great), not expensive

Vermont Brewpub, Barrington, VT
Copper Creek, Athens, GA
Jack of the Wood, Asheville, NC
Sea Dog, Topsham, ME
Silver City, Silver City, WA

Top 5 American Breweries

Criteria: All beer to style, cozy enough and not loud, couple beers interesting

Burial Brewing, Asheville, NC
Quest Brewing, Greenville, SC
Rock Art Brewing, Morrisvile, VT
North Coast Brewing, Fort Bragg, CA
Catawba Brewing, Asheville, NC

Top Beers

Criteria: To style, some aspect elevates above (e.g. smoothness)

Pisgah Tripel, Black Mountain, NC
Twain’s Mild, Decatur, GA
Green Man ESB, Asheville, NC
Deep Draft Tripel, Denver, CO

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Top 4 International Pubs

Criteria: Consistently like the majority of the beer, good vegetarian food, quieter setting, decent service (not necessarily great), not expensive

JW Sweetman (Dublin IE)
Ape & Apple (Manchester UK)
The Brewer’s Arms (Christchurch NZ)
Winston’s English Pub (Saskatoon CN)

The Road to Minneapolis is Paved in Beer

We usually travel in May, since the weather the world over is pleasant and there are few crowds. This year, we didn’t want to travel because Susan was preparing for her black belt test in Yoshukai Karate. So we had to take our trip in June/July, which is exactly when everyone else is traveling. Have we mentioned we hate crowds? Where in the world could we go during the summer which wouldn’t be crowded with vacationers? We had visited Minneapolis during the winter (it was miserable), and were curious to know if it would be nice in the summer. Not only is it nice, but the route to and fro has plenty of good beverages to make it a pleasant one!

Our first stop out of Athens going anywhere northerly has to be Clarkesville, TN. A small college town with a great downtown and terrible sprawl around it, it houses a nice hotel (Riverview Inn) very close to a great brewpub (Blackhorse Pub) and a decent beer bar (off Strawberry Alley and 1st St- possibly gone now).

Blackhorse Pub was the first place we encountered the idea of blending beers. We were enjoying our Scottish and red ales and somehow hit on the idea of combining them. We enjoyed the result (symbiotic rather than additive) so much that we asked the server if we could have a pitcher of half Scottish and half red. She replied, “Oh, we do that all the time!”. On that inspiration, we were at Copper Creek once and mixed the X and Y and told our friend James. He and the bartender spread the word and a bunch of people started ordering the blend.

From Clarkesville it was on to Urbana-Champaign, IL, the home of the University of Illinois where I have done a couple of locum shifts. Urbana is a great beer town. Our usual stop is DESTIHL, the first one we ever encountered in the town and with an amazing lineup of beer. The place is a bit large and popularist for our usual taste, but the beer… all of them are to style and they do an amazing job with the high gravity beers.

We have passed through the Chicago area a few times en route to various martial arts events in Wisconsin. There are too many breweries to list in the area, so we encourage anyone traveling the midwest to flit near the Windy City and find themselves a cozy brewpub to occupy and enjoy.

Columbia Walking Tour

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Compared with North Carolina, South Carolina isn’t exactly a hotbed of alcohol production. In spite of that, Columbia has quite a few breweries in walking distance of each other, and a nice brewpub downtown. Susan has been living in Columbia SC for the past year due to employment opportunities, and we got to do a couple of walking tours of those breweries.

Susan is fortunate enough to live in spitting distance of two great pubs- The Kraken and The Cock ‘n Bull. Both have good draft lists, a great vibe, and proper pub food. From there it was walkable to Swamp Cabbage, Conquest, and River Rat Brewing.

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Swamp Cabbage had a good lineup and very nice outdoor space, with a family run atmosphere. They are still figuring out their firkin system, and hopefully some good recipes will be coming from that in the future.

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Conquest is definitely our favourite. Where else can you mix elderflower soda with a Berliner weisse? Their beer is good, the space is comfortable, and the bartender is knowledgeable and accommodating. River Rat seems like a more popular hangouts, with a large outdoor space and broad beer lineup. Growing up, my family went to the Colorado River lakes and I was the designed ‘river rat’ due to the fact that I was always jumping in the water. Although it seems aimed at mass appeal, their high gravity beers absolutely hit the mark, with the Winter Warmer ale and the Morning Stout as particular standouts. We spread some of grandmom Peggy’s ashes there as a tribute to their name and Susan’s time in Columbia.

No alcohol tour of Columbia can be complete without a description of Hunter Gatherer. We first discovered this brewpub on our trip back from New England. Susan has fallen in love with their ESB, and the place is consistently cozy and produces good food and beer. It is walkable to downtown Columbia and an absolute must if you visit.

Columbia impressively delivers on the walkable breweries, if you live in the right part of town. We definitely recommend them all, and encourage you to take a visit!

Denver, Again

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Our first within-country alcohol adventure was when we learned all about craft beer, driving to and fro Colorado. Naturally, a stop in Denver was called for. At the time, there weren’t very many small breweries in Denver (relatively speaking). We visited CB & Potts, a small brewpub chain and went to Pints Pub in downtown. From there we headed out to the rest of Colorado. For Memorial Day weekend this year, we visited our friend Megan, who has been doing an internship in small animal medicine and surgery in Denver. We practiced our nostalgia tourism and also got to experience some new, amazing places.

Susan wisely got us a room downtown, so we could walk almost everywhere we wanted to. Our first stop was back to Pint’s Pub. Although they brew their own beer, their main claim to fame is whiskey. We remembered being unimpressed with their beer, and that was repeated on this trip. The setting was nice- we do love us some British pubs- and it reminded us of our last Denver adventure.

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From there it was on to Lost Highway Brewing. Listed on Google Maps, it has apparently moved- one of our few failures navigating by Google Maps. Fortunately it was a quick jaunt to Alpine Dog Brewing, which had a truly impressive lineup. The stout and American barleywine were particular standouts.

In the evening we hit Deep Draft, which had a cozy fireplace and couch on a rainy evening. They too had a wonderful lineup, with the Belgian golden strong, coffee stout, and vanilla porter at the top of our list.

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We ended up at Vine Street Brewing for dinner. They don’t accept credit cards, so if you go be prepared. The food was great and the beer even better. The tripel was so good I went back the next night for it!

On Sunday Megan guided us to the Curtis Park area where there were a couple of cideries and numerous breweries all clustered together. Stem cidery was very much my favorite- quiet, good classic ciders, and they did swing dancing once a week! C-Squared cidery had a great lineup, particularly their ginger and lavender ciders (which Susan LOVED)- and they had them bottled for off-premises consumption.

I didn’t realize that Epic Brewing is based in Denver, and going to their draft house was quite an experience. It’s difficult to pick a standout out of their lineup- they were all so impressive! We also stopped by Our Mutual Friend which had a well done difficult-to-find English Mild, and Beryl Brewing. Beryl had trivia ongoing, which wasn’t too disruptive (an impressive skill, plus we had fun playing along amongst ourselves), and also had a great lineup, particularly their barrel-aged beers. They served their tasting flights on these silver filigree platters and had amazing wall art.

On our way out of town we went again to CB Potts, which had one of Susan’s favorite hefeweizens and a really amazing blonde. Denver’s beer and cider scene has grown tremendously since our last visit, but the places we once visited are still going strong. We would recommend all of the spots we visited, and there are still even more! Hopefully on a future repeat trip…

Ireland – Dingle

We visited the Dingle peninsula on our previous trip to Ireland.  It was snowed-capped and beautiful.  We started along the Ring of Dingle but turned back on account of snow.  Back then, it was pubs and B&Bs and little local shops.  This trip added breweries and a distillery to the mix.

West Kerry Brewery is a tiny affair adjacent to the Bricks Pub – Tig Bhric in Irish.  The Pub served aWest Kerry Brewery very nice pairing meal along with three of their drafts- a Golden, Red, and Winter Strong.  The Golden had a nice bready malt character and a light lemon hops character.  Susan felt it was slightly too hop-balanced to be a great representation of a Golden.  Their Red was wonderfully malty- distinct hazelnut and molasses flavors were more characteristic of a nut brown than a red for us.  The Winter Warmer was also delightful- fruit flavors dominated by plum and a good richness to the malt profile.  They had a special elderberry/flower dark ale which was fine, but the elder character was too muted for our tastes.  The pub music was quiet and, sadly, we were the only ones there.  Sadly, they do not take credit cards, so tourists be forewarned.

Dingle Brewery is located within town, close enough to walk from our lodging.  The day was beyond blustery, with the rain coming in horizontal from gale-force winds off the ocean, so we drove.  Somewhat amazingly, they only had one beer on tap- their cream Irish lager.  It was fine, but nothing remarkable.  We hope they expand their offerings in the future.

Dingle DistilleryFinally, the Dingle Distillery a little outside the west edge of town is only a few years old and contained in a drafty metal building.  The tour was lengthy and a bit wandering, but contained a few interesting tidbits.  Notably, that ‘pot still’ whiskey in Ireland refers to mixing malted grains with unmalted grains, using the enzymes from the malted grain to metabolize the starches in the unmalted grain.  As with all new whiskey distilleries, they do not yet sell whiskey- that requires barrel ageing, which takes time.  They do offer a gin- Susan liked it, I thought it tasted like soap- and a vodka, which was a bit harsh.  Hopefully their whiskey, once complete, will be delicious.

Overall, we’re pleased Ireland seems to be trying to evolve its beer and distillery production to be more local and unique.  We have to say, though, that the mega-companies just do SUCH a fine job in Ireland, it’s difficult to root as hard for the underdog as we do in the US.

Dingle Farms

Ireland – Dublin

Alcohol Tourism Belgian Beer Atlanta Aiport“Belgian Beer” said the auspicious sign immediately outside our gate in the International terminal of the Atlanta Airport.  A pint of Rare Vos later, we were set to begin the journey to Ireland.

We had both been to Ireland once alone and once with each other, for our 1 year anniversary.  This trip would mark our 6 year anniversary, 5 years since our last journey to Ireland.  On our last trip, we had a hard time finding breweries or brewpubs not associated with a major, large brewer like Guinness. Guinness was our first favorite beer, so we didn’t miss our beloved craft beer too much.  Wine seems to be unmade on this island, and the distilleries often did not have tours.  Let’s see if time has improved Ireland’s alcohol tourism prospects.

Our first pints, in the Clontarf Castle Hotel’s Knight’s Bar pub, had to be Guinness and a cider, though they didn’t have Bulmers on tap.  The next day saw us start at Grogans Castle Lounge.  We had heard about the pub from Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap, who hailed it as a great place for a chat.  That night, and the next time we tried it Saturday afternoon, it was crowded to the point just beyond standing-room-only.  Maybe if you arrived at 10am you could get a spot to have a chat.  After that was JW Sweetman’s in downtown Dublin.  We had been to Sweetman’s previous incarnation, Messr Maguire’s, on our last trip and were delighted to score the same quiet, tucked away spot to have our drinks and meal.  Their Irish Red Ale was a bit hoppy for that style- more like an American Red.  The Weiss was our favourite, with a nice banana aroma and a wonderful creamy mouthfeel.

Alcohol Tourism Against the Grain DublinThe next day saw us in what can simply be described as a Wonder of the World- a pub on a college campus.  Maybe they have these outside of the South, but I cannot imagine the outcry if any Southern university were to put a pub on campus.  The Clubhouse at UCD was surprisingly lively, as the quiet and comfy lounge was closed.  Still, the concept is sound- let’s get on this one, America.

Our last alcohol stop was Against the Grain, an outlet of the Galway Bay brewing company.  Their beer was delightful- the milk stout and the wee heavy were absolute stand outs.  We managed to find an off-license (liquor store) which featured several dozen Irish craft beers.  We selected Kinnegar’s porter, Bo Bristle’s stout, Jack Cody’s Samhain, and Dan Kelley’s cider.  Each was quite impressive, rivalling the best American craft beers for their adherence to style and pleasant mouthfeel.  This bodes well for Ireland’s alcohol touring prospects this trip.

Blue Ridge Adventures

Last week, we went up to the Blue Ridge mountains in north Georgia with our friends.  We go to the cabins regularly.  Most of our time is usually spent relaxing, hot tub-ing, and drinking with our friends in the cabin.  There are decent wine offerings in north Georgia, but we don’t like paying for tastings (although we’re happy to buy a bottle if they waive the tasting fee).  Until recently, there were no decent beer offerings in north Georgia.  Fortunately, the times have changed.

The first beer-related enterprise we became aware of was Blue Ridge Brewery.  We went in relatively soon after it opened and were disappointed that it was a nice restaurant without their own beers.  They intended to get a license to become a brewpub, but year after year passed with no apparent progress.  Now, however, it seems like they are finally up and running.  Sadly, we didn’t learn this until after the rest of our adventures.  But it will now be on our short list to investigate.

Our first stop of the day was Grumpy Old Men Brewing.  Their motto is great, “If we don’t like it, we don’t drink it.  If we don’t drink it, we don’t sell it.”  The ambiaBlueRidgeGrumpyOldMen1nce was quite pleasant- mellow and friendly, and they had coloring books and pencils set out!  Like all Georgia breweries, they had to sell us the glass and then we could have tasting gratis.  With three IPAs on draft, it wasn’t exactly our favourite lineup, but they did have a nice seasonal milk stout.  It was a very down-to-earth comfy place we would definitely recommend.

A short stroll across town took us to Fannin Brewing Company.  The 1205151731inside area was not very cozy- it seemed designed as an outdoor sitting area type tasting room.  Their beer lineup, though, was amazing.  Almost each beer they had on tap was excellent, and they had a couple which we could not get enough of- the Hivekicker Wheat Wine and the Chocolate Rye Porter.  Sadly, we arrived late, but will definitely plan a repeat visit next time.

All in all, we are fairly impressed with the recent explosion of beer offerings in Blue Ridge.  North Carolina gets all the glory these days, but if you’re around, you should check out the north Georgia mountains.  It’s a great vacation spot, and now they have good beer!

Chattanooga: Room for Improvement

We had the opportunity to spend Christmas in Chattanooga, TN AlcoholTourismBigRiverthis year.  As usual, we stayed at a budget hotel slightly outside of downtown, but still walkable.  We’ve been through Chattanooga and eaten at The Terminal Brewhouse before, but had not done a detailed exploration of the area’s breweries.  Here is our review.  Tl;dr – good food, beer needs work.

The Terminal

Three levels of seating surrounding a well of brewing right near the old Chattanooga Choo Choo makes for a stellar setting.  Dinner is often crowded without being mobbed.  We have always found the food here terrific, and this visit was no exception.  We felt they MUST have gotten their taps switched somehow, though, because they poured what they called a Scottish but what we could swear was a Maibock.  The rest of their lineup is fine, but not remarkable.

Big River Brewing

Closer to the downtown river area, this spot seems largely a destination for tourists.  This doesn’t make it necessarily bad.  A broad lineup of 9 beers, they were fairly true to style.  There was nothing which really grabbed our attention, no standouts which we would really want a pint of.   The food was quite impressive.

AlcoholTourismChattanoogaBrewingChattanooga Brewing Co

This was probably our favourite spot in Chattanooga.  Very close to the hotel, right across from the baseball stadium, and near an up-and-coming part of the town.  Housed in a brewery which was closed down during prohibition, they have a nice lineup and a stand out Dunkelweis and Ginger Wit.

McHale’s Brewhouse

Supposedly a local little Irish pub which brews its own, our plan was for us to have a couple of pints, me drop off Susan at Mass, and then go back to the pub for some more pints.  All of the beer tasted slightly infected.  Incredibly, they allowed smoking in the bar area, which further messed up our palates.  We had one pint each and made a quick exit.  Do not go.

Moccasin Bend Brewing Co

Located in a cool basement space with exposed stone and brick, this quiet tucked out of the way brewery seemed very promising.  Unfortunately, most of the beers we tried had remarkable flaws in terms of off flavors.  Their Belgian Trippel had a ton of fusel alcohols and others were infected or oxidized.  They have since closed their doors.

Although there are a lot of breweries in and around Chattanooga, it seems like they have a little ways to go before I would suggest people make it a destination for good beer.  Head over to nearby Asheville or, our favourite place in Tennessee, Blackhorse Pub in Clarkesville!

 

Travel Back In Time

Twenty years ago, the American beer scene was in chaos.  A handful of people who had been homebrewing with suboptimal ingredients were going commercial, and growing the idea of craft beer in the United States.  Nowadays, we benefit from their legacy with incredible craft beer, and more breweries and brewpubs than anywhere else in the world.  If you want to relive that spirit of innovation, go to Tasmania.

As we have already noted, the Tasmanians don’t go in for the traditional Beer Judge Certification Program styles.  “Dark ales” are close to porters, “wheat beers” could mean Belgian wit styles, hefeweizen, or American blonde ales.  A few “honey” ales attempting to be braggots, and an “apple ale” attempting to be an apple-flavoured brown ale round out the spectrum.

Tasmanian brewers are trying, and they are brave and adventurous, but they do not seem to be leaning on or using the massive brewing knowledge available in the United States.  As a small island state sometimes referred to as “Under Down Under,” it is possible Tasmanians feel disconnected from the greater beer community.  In comparison, a handful of mainland (or “big island”, as some Tasmanians call the rest of Oz) stouts compare quite favourably to American craft stouts.  Bellarine Brewing, 4 Pines, and Prickly Moses all produce excellent stouts, which makes one wonder: are the Tasmanians consciously rebelling against beer trends, and trying to start something even more extraordinary, or are they merely misled and disconnected from the craft brew community?

Cascade, HobartAlcoholTourismCascadeFlight

We have so much love in our hearts for Cascade, it’s impossible to separate our nostalgia from reality.  It’s what got us in to beer, the visitor center is so amazing we wanted to fly everyone there for our wedding, and we go back again and again.  The beer is good, they have a nice lineup, and they know their craft.  Even after our palates evolved, we still enjoy Cascade Draught.

Moorilla, BarriedaleAlcoholTourismMoorillaFlight

Winery and brewery and art house all in one!  The tasting room is amazing, with gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside.  We preferred their dark, and even bought a few to bring home.  Not a large lineup, but well crafted.  The wine we found to be fine, but overpriced for the taste.

James Squires Pub, Hobart

This was a new addition since our last visit, and quite nice.  Quiet when we got there, but with the potential to be rambunctious.  The lineup was aimed to please a more popularist consumer than we are.  Fine beer, just nothing too flavorful.

Iron House Brewery, Four Mile CreekAlcoholTourismIronHouseView

One of the first upscale breweries we have seen anywhere.  I believe there was a golf course.  Beautiful views, surprisingly comfortable space.  Their beer lineup was fine, but not remarkable.

Boag Brewing, Launceston

A tiny tasting area is set aside for dedicated tasters.  We got to build our own flight, and their beer leans decidedly towards the light lager range.  In comparison with Cascade, we found Boags to be just a bit more bitter and breadier.

Seven Sheds Brewery, Railton

Tucked away in a tiny little town, this brewery has the potential to have lots of character.  The lineup was just four beers, and their flagship Kentish Ale was odd.  Nothing struck us enough to buy for the road.
Tasmania’s beer scene has a ways to go before they’ve come up to the same level we experience in the US.  Their wine, however, is absolutely amazing.  When we visit Tassie, wineries definitely top the list.  Breweries are more a curiosity than a destination for us on Under Down Under.

6 Ways to Do Budget Alcohol Tourism

Travel in general is expensive.  Once you add the cost of alcohol and eating at brewpubs and similar establishments, it can be daunting.  We’re here to tell you it may not be as expensive as you fear.
1) Motel 6 and Super 8

We arrived at a Comfort Inn, price tag of $105/night.  After 10 AlcoholTourismMotel6minutes of driving, we found a very nice Motel 6, price tag of $60/night.  Since we were planning to stay two nights, we saved nearly $100 with just a few minutes of research.  We cannot stress enough- find affordable lodging.  If you are overseas, hostels are usually a good option.  Always always check the room before you commit, though.  We have encountered some budget accommodation which was definitely gross, but most of them are perfectly fine.  Our advice: avoid the fancy pants hotels.  Stay cheap.

2) Bring a friendAlcoholTourismAshevilleFriends

If you don’t have a significant other who loves alcohol touring, bring a friend!  Gas, lodging, and similar expenses can be split.  Also, very importantly, you have someone to finish off beer and wine tastings while you drive safely.  If you have a number of people you can be in a small space with for hours on end, pile your friends together for a tour!

3) Share meals

You plan to fill up on beer, right?  So why buy an entire meal for yourself?  Beer is filling- split a meal with your compatriots and fill up on delicious, tasty beer (or wine, or spirits).  We have done this for a couple of years and it dramatically reduces our costs.

4) Drink in

It is tempting to have a night out on the town with delicious beer, wine, spirits, etc.  As much as possible, though, get your booze to go.  Get a growler, buy some bottles of wine, and enjoy them back in your motel room.  You can still experience the pleasure of the drink you have purchased, for a substantially reduced cost.

5) Eat Out Less

We eat no more than two meals out a day, sometimes only one. AlcoholTourismEatIn If you stay at a motel that offers breakfast, take advantage of that and skip lunch.  If you plan to have lunch and dinner, don’t eat out for breakfast.  If you are staying in a hostel, shop at the grocery and cook your own food.  When you do eat out, takeways and fish and chip shops (overseas) and pizza and pubs (at home) provide good food for low cost.

6) Build Delicious Flights

Many places have set beer or wine tastings, which may include drinks you don’t enjoy.  Instead, try and build your own.  That won’t waste any beer or wine (our IPA taste glasses often remain mostly full) and will give you the best experience possible.

Alcohol touring, like any travel, has associated expenses.  Being smart with your money, travelling with friends, and keeping it simple will help to keep those expenses handle-able, so you can enjoy more alcohol locales!

Indianapolis

Downtown Indianapolis is dominated by sports facilities – a Indiana State That Worksstadium, fieldhouse, and baseball field exist within a half mile of eachother.  Indiana also seems to embrace the midwestern spirit of Working Hard.  Also, who knows anything about Indianapolis?  On the basis of these variables, I expected to find little other than Coors or Bud Light for beer.  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by the pubs of downtown.

As I walked through downtown, every fancy-ish restaurant was packed with people.  Businesspeople, people dressed up on dates, etc.  The restaurants were clearly swanky and not to my liking, so I assumed the brewpubs would be packed to the gills.  The brewpubs were the quietest places in all of downtown.  While this was good for me, it’s also a little sad- why are you people patronizing the swanky places and not the good beer places?!?

Loughmiller's Pub & EateryLoughmiller’s Pub and Eatery was a decently quiet Irish pub, although the sports had obviously invaded, as they have in many American Irish pubs.  The beer and food were both good, though, and rain poured outside while I refreshed myself en route to more beer greatness.

Taps and Dolls was virtually abandoned, and had a decent- if not stellar- beer lineup.  Tow Yard Brewing had two fellows at the bar and myself on a Saturday night.  It was weird.  The beer was too hop-centered for my taste, but the bartender was talkative and clearly interested in beer.

It’s difficult to say if I would recommend Indianapolis or not.  On the one hand, it was safe, Tow Yard Flighteasily walked, and had a decent selection of beer-focused establishments which were quiet.  On the other hand, it was eerily empty in those establishments and the beer was only passable- not exceptional.  Like Indiana itself, I support.

Two Steps to a Great Brewery

Beer comes in an incredibly wide variety.  While there are many types of wine and mead, the flavour spectrum of wine and mead is narrower than that of beer.  This is one reason we Alcohol Tourism Beer Varietyenjoy beer as much as we do- Susan can enjoy her sours and I can enjoy my wood-aged beers, sometimes at the same brewery.  This means we’ve been to hundreds of breweries, and we have identified a handful of variables which we feel makes for a ‘good’ one.  It’s difficult to know any of these ahead of time, so you can’t exactly plan your trip around them.  However, you can make notes for future trips and other travellers!

1) Variety

I cannot emphasize this enough.  Whenever we hit a brewery which is _all_ hop oriented, or _all_ sour, or even _all_ Belgian, it’s just not as pleasant.  Note above where we talk about the flavour range of beer?  Why limit that when you decide what beer to make?  The most successful breweries have something for everyone, regardless of season.  During the summer, for god’s sake, please at least have an amber or brown, if not a porter or stout, for those of us who like the malt side of things.

2) True to Style

We’re kinda beer geeks.  As such, we know about the BJCP beer styles– not enough to be certified judges ourselves (at least, probably not…) – but enough to know when an Irish Red is a little too malty or a little too flavourful, or when a porter hasAlcohol Tourism Beer Types a bit too much burnt character, or when they’ve gone off the res with citrusy hops in an English bitter.  If you label something an APA, make it to style.  If you want to put a unique spin on it, that is great- just make sure to note that in the description.  If you want to go completely unique, fine, but at least give a base style or flavour profile we can work from.  But, ideally, make the beer to style.
It’s a short list, because it’s not that hard.  We understand there’s all sorts of elements like financing and marketing and the actual brewing process- that’s all important and great.  As a consumer, though, we just want these two things.  And it is absolutely incredible how few breweries get these two right.  Copper Creek in Athens is one of the best along these two points, as is Green Man in Asheville.  Copper Creek has only four beers, but they’re always made perfectly to style, and there’s something for everyone: a light-bodied beer for those who want something simple, a hop-focused beer, a dark beer (porter or stout on nitrogen!), and a miscellaneous, like a Scottish or a Belgian of some kind.  Every brewer can take a note from these guys.  Check them out if you have a chance!

The Beer That Started It All

Susan and I had relatively little experience with alcohol when we met eachother.  She turned me on to making cocktails, since it was a way to show affection and that I was interested in her.  We both enjoyed wine of all kinds and Guinness, but didn’t enjoy many beers or spirits.  We certainly had no experience with cider or mead.

On our first trip to Oz, we did our Waterfalls and Wineries tour,Alcohol Tourism Cascade Building the start of Alcohol Tourism.  On that same trip, we tried all the local beer offerings and found one quite to our liking- Cascade.  Cascade was made locally in Hobart, from water coming from Mount Wellington.  It was a clear, light-ish lager, but with much more flavour and depth than one experiences in American light lager (Bud, Coors, etc.).  We drank a lot of Cascade on that trip.  When we visited the Cascade visitors center, they offered beer brewing kits.  They didn’t even sell Cascade off the island, much less overseas.  I thought, “Aha!  A way to enjoy awesome Cascade back home?!  Sold!”  I bought the beer making kit and brought it home.

The local brewing store, Blockader Homebrew, had all the equipment I needed ready to go.  The proprietor suggested I try another kit before the Cascade kit, just to get the process down a bit.  I took his suggestion and brewed my first batch, splattering bleach all over the kitchen in my process of sanitation.  The beer turned out pretty well, all told, so I fired up the Cascade.

This turned out less well.  I suspect that the can was quite old, and I’m sure shipping it hadn’t helped its temperament.  I dumped most of the batch as undrinkable, but by now I was hooked.  The process was fun.  I got to clean stuff.  I like cleaning.  For the next few years I did a lot of homebrewing and Susan and I did a lot of beer tasting.  Our evolving knowledge encouraged us to do our first real Alcohol Tour- a trip to Colorado where we hit dozens of brewpubs and tried more than 130 different beers!  Since then we’ve continued to expand our palate and explore more types of alcohol and visit more locales than ever before.

Alcohol Definitions

Let’s talk in detail about drinks that can get us ethanol.  Ultimately, they rely on conversion of sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide by yeast.  The differences are in the source of sugar, type of yeast, the process, and what’s added.

 

NE Trip Wine

Images of our collections from our NE trip.

Wine

Grapes serve as the source of sugar in wines, although you may see strawberry wine, peach wine, and similar fruits which can also provide the sugars.  The yeast is usually killed and then the wine filtered so that the product is stable over time.  The different types of wines (merlot, chardonnay, etc.), called varietals, are determined by the variety of grape used in their production.  Table wine is used to refer to wine that is blended and not necessarily from a single varietal.  Vermouth is a wine fortified with a spirit (like brandy) with various spices and botanicals added.  A wine maker is a vintner and a place that makes wine is a winery.

NE Trip BeerBeer

Grains such as barley (typically), wheat, and rye serve as the source of sugars.  The carbohydrates in these grains are too complex for the yeast to break down directly, so the grain must first be malted and mashed to produce fermentable sugars.  Not all of the sugar is metabolized, leaving the beer sweet.  Hops are added as a bittering agent to balance the beer.  Beer is either an ale or a lager, depending on the species of yeast used to metabolize the sugar and the temperature at which fermentation occurs.  The different types of beer (india pale ale, stout, Oktoberfest, etc.) are produced primarily by altering the type and amount of grain and type and amount of hops.  A beer maker is a brewer and a place that makes beer is a brewery.  A brewpub is a restaurant which makes their own beer.  A beer bar is a bar which focuses on having a large selection of craft beer on draft.

Cider

Apples provide the sugar for ciders.  It is handled similarly to wine.  Most ciders are blended from different types of apples.  Cider apples are often ones that cannot be sold directly to the public due to bruising, size, or other defect.  A cider maker is a cider maker and a place that makes cider is a cidery.

NE Trip MeadMead

Honey provides the sugar for mead.  Honey wine is sometimes used to describe mead.  Many meads have fruit or spices added to them, as the taste of simply fermented honey (called a show mead) is not to the liking of most Americans.  Meads that have fruit added are called melomels, meads with spice are called methegline, mead with a grain (like beer) are braggots, mead with cider are cysers, and mead with wine are pyments.  A mead maker is a maizer and a place that makes mead is a meadery.

NE Trip SpiritsSpirits

Alcohol drinks containing over ~18% ABV are difficult to attain by simple fermentation.  There’s only so many sugars the yeast can metabolize and only so much alcohol they can live in before they shut down.  For commercial spirits, the path to a higher ABV is distillation.  In distillation, the base alcohol source is heated, vaporizing the alcohol, which is then condensed and collected.  This minimizes the contribution of flavour from the base alcohol source.  Corn, grains, potatoes, rice, and many other sources of sugars have been used.  Ultimately, how the spirit is handled after distillation contributes the majority of flavor.  Covering all spirits is beyond the scope of this article, but generally vodka, gin, whiskey, brandy, and rum are the most commonly encountered craft spirits.  A spirit maker is a distiller and a place that makes spirits is a distillery.

All of these locations provide opportunities to explore your palate and create new experiences.  Different laws throughout the US and the world affect which of these you will encounter on an alcohol tour.  Knowing your options will expand your opportunities and improve your enjoyment!

Vertical Beer Tasting

Most people don’t realize you can cellar beer similar to how you cellar wine.  It undergoes similar chemical processes- notablyUinta Vintages oxidation.  The spice and hops in beer fades with time, and the flavours usually become more blended and complex.  Beers come out in vintages, just like wine, although they’re rarely labelled as such.  Although most mega beer companies (Bud, Miller, etc.) strive for consistency year after year, smaller operations may adjust their recipe based on their own evolution, availability of ingredients, etc.  These small changes can contribute to changes in batches and certainly changes in vintages.

We have been hoarding beer in the basement for five years.  High gravity beers age better than regular gravity beers, so they’re all over 8% ABV.  We tried to collect beers which come out consistently- Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch and Weyerbacher’s Fifteen were the most successful on this score.  A few we had only two years’ worth.  After collecting for five years, we decided to open them up with some beer-loving friends.

Vertical Beer ListWe had a total of fifteen different beers of at least two vintages, and a few with four vintages.  It turned out to be more alcohol than anticipated.  We didn’t meet our goal of finishing it all- only about a third was done in by us and our nine friends.  The conclusion for most was that the older beers were nice if you appreciate smooth flavour, and the newer beers were better if you wanted distinct flavour.
Hoarding beer is a great hobby, but ultimately too much for us to keep track of.  If you haven’t tried it, we’d strongly encourage you to collect for a vertical tasting of your own.  It was a singularly remarkable experience.

Faux Pas?

Imagine a wine bar, populated by the usual patrons.  Stan reviews the long list of pinot noir, cabernet franc, traminette, and tempranillo local wines.  He ultimately orders a glass of Almaden jug white Zinfandel. He enjoys it, but is it appropriate?

Rogue Alcohol TourismWe have been to many breweries and brewpubs which, somewhat inexplicably, offered mass-produced commercial beer.  The Rogue bar in San Francisco listed, “Bud Light, no joke.”  At Madison Brewing in Bennington, VT, we saw someone drinking a Sam Adams beer.  In contrast, Copper Creek in Athens offers only their beers, and, when asked for some mass-produced beer, explain that they offer only their own craft-brewed beer.

On one hand, this is similar to going to an Irish pub and ordering a taco.  The whole reason one goes to an Irish pub is for bangers and mash, fish and chips, or similar.  Why would you order a taco?  Go to a Mexican restaurant if that’s what you want.

On the other hand, I remember a quote from a brewpub owner at the Great American Beer Fest who said something like, I am in the brewpub business- which is to say, the restaurant business.  This suggests that brewpub owners are really selling food, with their beer as a draw as opposed to the focus.

So, craft brewers face a dilemma.  If they only offer Beer Sober Kids Alcohol Tourismtheir own beers, they risk turning off a large portion of customers who insist on mass produced beer.  If they offer mass-produced beer, they risk diluting the effect of their own efforts to spread delicious beer.  From the brewer’s perspective, we have no answers.  From the consumer’s perspective, we believe that customers should be there to consume the product that the brewer is producing.  So, drink the beer they make there!

Friendly Alcohol Establishment Owners

“So, where are you guys from?” asked by the brewer at Sunken City, a usual opening line.  “What brings you here?” often follows.  After we briefly explain alcohol tourism, the proprietor perks up.  “Do you guys have a blog?”

Sunken City Alcohol Tourism

Sunken City’s Beer Lineup

One of the best things about alcohol tourism is the opportunity to meet other people who are interested in what we’re interested in.  This is particularly true of the owner/brewer/vintner/etc. of the establishment.  We can talk beer or wine or mead all day long with another interested party.  One of the most interesting chats we had was with Roanoke Railhouse Brewing’s owner.

Most craft brewery owners and brewers come into the profession by way of brewing.  They did homebrewing, or did it professionally elsewhere before opening their own brewery, etc.  Railhouse Brewing’s owner was a marketing guy.  He told us the story of how he decided to open a brewery.  He was getting his tires changed and walked into the large back space of the tire company.  It had high ceilings, drains in the floor, commercial gas and electric, and he said this space needed a brewery.

His take on making beer is also unique.  He approaches it from the marketing end- what do people want to drink?  He shared an anecdote of when they did focus groups.  They gave everyone 8 beers, asked them to rate them 1-5, and also asked what their favourite domestic and imported beers are.  The focus group participants consistently claimed their favourite beers were ones like Dos Equis and Budweiser, but then rated those beers (when blinded to what beer they were drinking) consistently low.

Roanoke Railhouse Alcohol TourismAs a consequence, Railhouse makes some excellent beer.  Their IPA was one of the best we had on the trip- great malt backbone, a little fruitiness, and a mild bitterness which didn’t linger.  The owner shared that they aim to have a clean finish on all their beers.  Their stout, dunkel, and Belgian pale were all remarkably well crafted to the style as well as being extremely approachable and flavourful.  It is a combination that’s difficult to get, and Railway hit it on the head.

Next time you go to a winery or brewery, chat with the people there.  You never know what you’ll learn, or who you’ll meet.