Great Debate of Our Age

Life is full of choices.  Shall I wake up to go running or sleep in and rest my body?  Should I have Jack or Jameson?  Should we go somewhere new or go somewhere familiar?  You shouldn’t have to make choices in your alcohol tourism destinations.  Ideally, you should be able to visit every venue you desire.  But Alcohol Tourism Beer Winewe live in reality, where idealism is appreciated, but doesn’t always work out.  Sometimes you need to choose.  And one of the toughest choices is wine or beer.

Winery or Brewery?

Alcohol Tourism Winery View

Winery.

Go to Google maps somewhere.  Type in “winery”.  Then “brewery”.  In most parts of the country, you will have many more red balloons for the first search than the second.  This makes it easier to craft your trip anywhere in the US, via nearly any route.  At most wineries, you get close attention- usually there are few guests for each staff.  This allows you to have a conversation with the staff about their winery, wine, location, growing season, or whatever you can think of.  We commonly encountered winery owners on visits, who are excited to have guests and will talk your ear off about wine.  They are usually quiet, allowing you to focus on enjoyment of the drink.  At many wineries (though fewer and fewer), if you buy a bottle of wine, tasting is free.  Most wineries are surrounded by beautiful countryside, making for pleasant vistas as you taste.

Brewery.Alcohol Tourism Flight

Go to Google maps where there is a city.  Type in “brewery” or “brewpub”.  There are breweries in any major population center, and most small ones in the US.  Unless you travel vastly from the beaten path, you will pass through a town or city with a brewery, and those cities make excellent places to stay.  At breweries, the servers leave you alone and don’t stand and stare at you while you enjoy the product.  You can enjoy a range different beer styles at most breweries, exposing you to a variety of tasting experiences.  Beer tastings always cost money, but the volume of beer you get with them is plenty for you to enjoy several sips, allowing you to check and recheck your first impressions.  Patrons are often there to enjoy a pint or two, allowing them to relax and engage in conversation as they would at a pub.  Live music is a regular offering at breweries on Friday and Saturday, and they are open convenient night time hours.

Still Winery.

Alcohol Tourism Wine a Bit

There are vast stretches of land in the US between cities or even towns, which are agricultural, and do have wineries where you won’t find a brewery for leagues.  Wineries offer several varietals and may offer different vintages, allowing a vertical tasting.  The wine is always served at the appropriate temperature, whereas at breweries it is often served excessively cold.  You don’t have to deal with drunk, rude fellow guests.  Better wineries have live music and are open during the day when you will be travelling on vacation.  Wineries draw you out into the countryside, where you can enjoy beautiful drives through hill and dale.

Still Brewery.

Often a designated driver is not required, as urban locales Alcohol Tourism - Beer Droidprovide nearby lodging.  The range of tastes in beer is broader, with 3000+ types of beer (including adjuncts and flavoring) compared with 200 for wine, which rarely uses adjuncts.  Beer appeals to a larger audience, from frat boys to beer geeks.  Breweries have more personality, and are their reputations are easily sussed out online.

Not a decisive victory.  For more reading, check out The Wandering Gourmand’s series on wine vs beer.  What side do you weigh on?

This format inspired by Bobby White’s musings on swing music.

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Gross Guinness?

Our gateway beer wasn’t Coors Light, or Budweiser, or Natty Light, or even <shiver> Milwaukee’s Best.  Our gateway beer- beer that got both of us to accept that beer is a reasonable thing to drink- was Guinness.Alcohol Tourism - Belgium Pub

It took a long time for me to get around to Guinness.  My friends told me it was like drinking a whole meal, was dense, and was far too intense to have as a starter beer.  Instead, I was plied with light American lagers, which, even then, I realized were unacceptable.  It took my first trip to Ireland, where you drink Guinness or get looked at askance, to experience and enjoy it.  Susan’s first experience with Guinness was as a completely alcohol-naive 19 year old on a college trip to Ireland.  She found it enjoyable, but had no real basis for comparison.  After these first Irish experiences, Guinness in America tasted funny to us both.  Maybe it was the psychological component- it MUST taste better in its homeland, even though it’s the same beer.Alcohol Tourism - Gate

Guinness is not near to a full meal.  It is in fact low cal, at 125 calories- less than Budweiser or Coors.  A stout, by definition, includes roasted barley, which provides a pleasant ‘burnt’ or ‘roasted’ flavour.  Guinness has a characteristic tang on the finish, originally from mixing some of the previous batch with the next batch.  Guinness is brewed in 50 locations around the world, although Guinness Draught enjoyed in the US is brewed in Ireland.  Guinness in Australia is not.

Perched comfortably at the bar of the Grosvenor Hotel in Perth in 2004, I eyed my first pint of Guinness in Oz.  It was black and had a perfect head on it.  The bartender jauntily added an impression of a clover into the head.  The Guinness website claims that experts have blind tasted Guinness from around the world and found it to be indistinguishable.  Maybe that’s true.  I expected Guinness in Oz to taste like Guinness back home.  I was destined to be disappointed.Alcohol Tourism - Guinness and Bulmers

Guinness in Australia is brewed in Australia, purportedly using the same process and ingredients as that brewed in Ireland.  We are here to tell you, it is not.  The light acidity is absent, and there’s a flat, oxidized quality to it.  The body is not as light in mouthfeel and the finish is more burnt.  It all adds up to a disappointing pint of a beer for a beer which we both fondly recall as our gateway beer, and still have a keg of in our house for ‘regular’ beer enjoyment.  Try it for yourself, and share your experiences with us!

Touristy Alcohol Tours

“What,” you might be asking yourself, “is an entry about something touristy doing on this idealistic, go-your-own-way-man, individualistic travel/alcohol review blog?”  Not a bad question, because it certainly belies our travel philosophy to join a traditional alcohol tour.  But they do have their merits!

I consider a ‘traditional’ alcohol tour one where you pay an outfitter a fee and they arrange transport to and fro Alcohol Tourism - Asheville Brews Cruisealcohol locales, along with tastings at those locales.  There are dozens of these in most mega-wine areas (such as South Australia and Napa Valley), and there is an increasing trend for them to cover urban locales and breweries/brewpubs.  My first outfitter alcohol tour was around Adelaide, and it was delightful (if not as fun because this was in my pre-Susan days).  Our first brew tour, offered by Asheville Brews Cruise, was mad- they gave us pint after pint of incredibly delicious beer- and we have been back twice.

Alcohol tours are enormously helpful if you are travelling solo and want to imbibe more than a small tasting sip of each beer/wine/spirit.  They provide transportation, so you have no worries about driving afterwards.  If you lack a car (as I did in Adelaide), they are essential to reach wineries and some out-of-town breweries.  Some tours use bicycles for the mode of transportation, though we haven’t tried bicycles ourselves.

Alcohol Tourism - Highland Mascot

Scotty, overseeing Highland Brewing’s workroom

Tour outfitters often give you a backstage pass at each destination.  Brews Cruise will show you into the brewing operation and give you a chance to talk with a staff member, check out equipment, and learn more about beer.  Tours offer a broader range of samples than might be offered to most customers, and a guide will walk you through what you are tasting- how it was made, what flavors they were aiming for, and any special ingredients included.  This is a boon to those with any social anxiety, as you can learn about the drink without having to poke your nose into things.  For those without social anxiety, or for those with alcohol-mitigated social anxiety, it’s great to enjoy the camaraderie of being around other people with similar levels of enthusiasm!

One major drawback of an outfitter tour is that they require money (typically more than if you paid tasting fees at each winery/brewery).  In our experience, tours provide a lot of wine/beer, so you get a great bang for your buck.  The other drawback is you can’t plan your itinerary exactly how you want, and the tour may not be available when you are.  In Asheville, NC, we love going to Pisgah, Highland, and Asheville Brewing Company, but Brews Cruise no longer offers this particular combination.  No worries- we go on our own!Alcohol Tourism - LAB Flight

Even if this isn’t entirely your thing, it might be worth trying once or twice, especially if you’re new to an area and want to try a lot of breweries/wineries and don’t want to have to drive yourself.  After that first time or two, you can always go it on your own.

-Erik & Susan

6 Steps to Become an Alcohol Tourist!

So you want to be an alcohol tourist?  Who wouldn’t!  Built-in travel destinations en route, convenient distances between ‘attractions’, a cultural and flavor experience unparalleled except in expensive guided tours!  Becoming an alcohol tourist is fairly simple, but here are helpful guidelines to success:

1) Be Flexible

In our opinion, this is a good rule for travel in general.  Some of our best finds have been when we couldn’t get into the winery we intended to see, so ended up at a wonderful Alcohol Tourism - Swalow Works Ciderlittle local winery.  Maybe you arrived after the brewery tour started (or couldn’t find it in the first place- thanks Highland Brewery).  Maybe you got up too late to hit your original destination.  Don’t worry.  Try to ask yourself, “Okay, so what’s next?”  As much as possible, we follow the homebrewer’s mantra: Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Home Brew (RDWHAHB).

2) Identify a Destination

This is the key to successful alcohol tourism, and Google Maps is there to make it possible!  Pull up a map of where you are now and type in ‘brewpub’, ‘brewery’, ‘winery’, or ‘distillery’.  Pan out or around- you may need to refresh your search if you pan a long distance from where you started.  We usually start with ‘brewpub’ and then repeat with other terms.  Click on a balloon and see if it’s a destination which piques your interest.  NB: This works great in the US, NZ, Oz, Erie, and UK- other countries we haven’t tried.

Our second method to identify a destination is to find local tourism guides or maps relating to beer, wine, and/or spirits.  For example, there’s Tennesse’s Whiskey Trail, NZ Beer Destinations: South Island, and Tasmania’s Breweries and Distilleries.Alcohol Tourism - NZ Whiskey3) Be Responsible

If you are driving yourself to breweries or wineries and imbibing, there is no question you are endangering yourself and others.  We solve this by travelling together- Susan does more sampling and I drive.  When we stop for lunch at a brewpub, we always make sure to get food Alcohol Tourism - Horse Carriagewith a sampling flight (or tasting flight, or sampler platter- so many designations!).  We only get a tasting flight and don’t order pints for consumption- lunch is all about tasting.  At wineries, don’t be afraid to dump it!  Susan and I will often split a single taster at wineries instead of each having our own- it cuts down on consumption and cost and they usually provide plenty of wine for you to appreciate flavors.  If you are driving yourself, take snacks if you are visiting wineries, have small sips, and have a little break- maybe with a nice book and a pleasant winery view- before hitting the road again.

4) Have Interest in the Experience

This usually goes without saying for travel blogs, but it bears repeating here.  Be interested in the experience and savor it- don’t only try to hit as many wineries or breweries as possible in a day.  Try to learn a bit about the product- sample different varietals and compare them with ones back home (Tassie cellar door Pinot Noirs have become distinctly more tannic in recent years).  Try to Alcohol Tourism - North Coast Brewinglearn about more than 300 styles of beer.  Become educated in four regions of Scotland which generate Scotch, and try to taste differences.  Compare how American, Canadian, and Irish whiskey differ from each other at distilleries.  Alcohol tourism gives you a destination, but having an interest in the subject will keep you engaged and learning about local culture.

5) Find a Nearby Place to Stay

Again using Google Maps, once you have identified your brewpub of choice (or winery, if you can afford pricey dinners there), find a nearby place to stay.  We try to stay within walking distance of our final daily brewpub so we can have a few more drinks beyond our typical tasting Alcohol Tourism - Hostel Doorflight.  Center Google Maps on your final alcohol destination and type in “motel”, “hotel”, “hostel”, etc. in the search bar at the top.  You can use the ‘Get Directions’ button and then click the little walking man icon to find out how far you will end up walking.  If you can’t find anything close but want to go to a brewpub, check on getting a growler from the brewpub- we did this regularly in Colorado and simply enjoyed part of a growler back in our hotel room!

6) Wander Around

Susan and I are big fans of walking, and most breweries, brewpubs, and distilleries we have found within the US are located in cool downtown areas worth exploring.  Hit the street and wander in to shops.  This can give you a great sense of place- from cool and hip to rural and laid back.  Most wineries are located away from business areas, but there still can be pleasant walks from the cellar door.

Above all, have fun with your travel experience.  Realize that how you travel differs from anyone else, and it’s OK to do your own thing.  But alcohol tourism really is awesome.

Alcohol Tourism - Susan Walkaround

Loot Woes

We had grown complacent.  Possibly arrogant.  We’d done this before.  What could go wrong?  In the end, we found out, and what a mess we had.

Alcohol Tourism - Oz 13 Loot

All wineries we visited in Tasmania had a reasonable policy: tastings are free if you buy a bottle.  Most wines we enjoyed in country, but there were many we wanted to bring home.  We had beers and ciders to truck back.  This all made for heavy baggage- we incurred a steep weight charge flying from Hobart to Melbourne before beginning our Great Ocean Road journey.  Now we know: pay for excess weight before you get to the terminal.  All was well flying in to Melbourne.  Our real test would be the return flight home.

No small winery in Tasmania will ship to the US, Cascade doesn’t sell off the island, and shipping is far too expensive, so the only way any of our spoils were getting to the US was in our checked bags.  We finagled a way to avoid paying any checked bag fees so we acquired a box, padded it with clothes, carefully wrapped each bottle in clothes, and checked it.  These 12 bottles were in addition to 10 bottles in each of our checked bags.  This was per our standard procedure on trips, and we have lost only one bottle in the past.

Alcohol Tourism - Broken Bottle

Shonburger lost!

Our bags became more lost than they ever have before (lesson learned: check your bag tag and make sure the agent puts the correct tag on your bag!).  They were magically found, the damage was done.  Two bottles lost in the box and two in my bag, never to be enjoyed at home!  Tiny glass shards all through my duffel bag meant it had to be tossed.  Wine soaked most of our clothes (which washed out easily, except a shirt of Susan’s which acquired a cool tie-dye effect).

Alcohol Tourism - Shipping Box

After, we found several excellent discussions on checking bags, and have resolved to use a dedicated shipping container, ideally contained within one of our bags for flying out and then checked for flying home.  In the end, our loot is still exciting, but now we have learned our lesson- use a purpose-built wine bottle check bag.