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


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)


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!

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!

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.


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.


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!

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!

The Cost of Free

For those unfamiliar with behavioral economics, it is based on the premise that people don’t always make rational decisions when it comes to their finances.  This is critical to alcohol tourism, since the companies selling the alcohol make financial decisions which affect us, the consumer and traveller.  Unfortunately, we have found that some businesses haven’t thought things through ve well.

In a perfectly rational economic model, businesses should charge for a tasting.  They are offering a service for a fee.  Your decision to make a purchase should be, in a rational mind, independent of the fee for tasting.  If you like the wine, you buy the wine, independent of the fact that you paid for a tasting fee.  This would also discourage people from ‘mooching’- taking a free tasting and not making a purchase.  As mentioned, though, people aren’t perfectly rational.  There are two ways businesses can take advantage of this: using the sunk cost fallacy and reciprocity.  Mooching is also a fallacy when it comes to free offerings.

The sunk cost fallacy is often paraphrased as “in for a penny, in for a pound.”  Alcohol destinations can use this to their advantage, and everyone ends up happy.  Those establishments which charge for a tasting fee which is waived if you make a purchase use the sunk cost fallacy.  You do the tasting, which normally costs $5.  If you buy a bottle of wine, the fee is waived.  You’re already in for $5, but if you buy the bottle, it’s like you got $5 off the cost of the bottle.  You’re happy because you got a discount and the winery is happy because they got you to buy their wine.

Reciprocity is the idea that people return favors.  When Hare Krishna would give people a flower in airports, people would often give them a donation, even though they almost immediately discardeBold Rock Ciderd the flower.  The flower therefore had no value to them, so why did they make a contribution?  It’s because of reciprocity.  On this trip, Bold Rock Cider and the Vermont Spirits Distilling Company used this to happy effect- they give a free tasting, creating a condition of reciprocity.  We feel indebted to them, so make a purchase.  We win by getting a free tasting, and they win by selling their liquor.

Why doesn’t every alcohol business do this?  We have encountered more wineries in recent years that charge a fee for tastings whether you buy their wine or not.  This leads us to ask, are they in the wine tasting business or the wine selling business?  If they want to sell wine, using sunk cost and reciprocity would work to their advantage.  Maybe they are trying to fend off moochers.  These are alcohol tourists who just hit free tastings and don’t make a purchase.  While such people must exist, experiments show they are rare.  When students are allowed to take any amount of free candy they like, they always moderate their consumption.  It is perceived as a shared resource, so they don’t take all of the candy.

In short, wineries, breweries, and distilleries of the world: offer free tastings (best) or waive the tasting fee with a purchase (good).  You will have happier customers and you will sell more stuff.  And we will say nice things about you on our blog.

Alcohol Tourists

IPAs: Which Coast?

India Pale Ale is a style which supposedly originated from beers being shipped from England to IndiaHop Valley Flight Board requiring high amounts of hops, which served as a preservative.  This produces a beer which has a decent malt backbone but is dominated by distinct hop bitterness.  The hop aroma and flavour are usually not as forward as they are in an American Pale Ale.  As craft beer has become popular, drinkers have migrated from the Budweisers, Coors, and Bud Lights of American drinking, which are on the hop side of the spectrum, so most drinker’s palates are accustomed to hops.  When they begin drinking craft beer, IPAs are one of the styles which tastes the most like “beer” to their palate.

IPA Game

A game we play: find the IPA!

IPAs also benefit from a trendy quality within the craft beer community.  Many breweries live and die by their hop-balanced beers (Stone, New Belgium, Dogfish Head).  Some breweries are dedicated almost entirely to hop-balanced beers (Terrapin).  Craft beer drinkers love their IPAs.  Over the years, brewers have tried to stuff more and more hops into their beer to appeal to the hop-loving populace.  Practically, though, humans can only discern a certain level of bitterness (estimated in International Bitterness Units, or IBUs; most people can’t taste over 100 IBUs as distinct flavours).  That hasn’t stopped the breweries from adding more hops!

Brewers on the west coast of the US (California, Oregon, Washington) started throwing more and more hops into their IPAs to appeal to the bitterness-loving drinkers.  This ultimately resulted in a style which is slightly distinct from the historic IPA.  The craft beer community called this a West Coast IPA.  People have since used the term East Coast IPA to distinguish it from the West Coast.  West Coast IPAs, supposedly, have a more pine-like or grassy character, characteristic of the hops grown in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  To us, that’s outdated.

We spent three weeks on the west coast, going from brewpub to brewery, and encountered dozens of IPAs.  Contrary to our expectation, the beers were well balanced, with incredible malt complexity Colorful Beerwhich made them palatable even to our hop-aversive palates.  Maybe the IPAs on the West Coast were once super-hoppy.  But they have evolved, and grown up, and are now more interesting and complex, at least in the brewpubs and small breweries along our alcohol touring route.  So, while we don’t think we can cause the entire craft beer community to adopt different terminology for uber-hoppy IPAs, if you go to the West Coast expecting a West Coast IPA, just remember we warned you that you might be disappointed!