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.

Advertisements

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

l

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.

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!

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 vehttps://i2.wp.com/www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/maximum-wine-enjoyment.gifry 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