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!


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!

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.

More Breweries, Less Wineries

Alcohol Tourism Waterfall

Our first ever alcohol tour focused on waterfalls and wineries in Tasmania, Australia.  We love wineries- they’re usually set in beautiful countryside, they’re locally owned, and they often produced great booze.  Our three trips within the US, however, have all focused on breweries.  We hit wineries, distilleries, meaderies, and cideries when possible, but there are three basic reasons why breweries are our preferred method of alcohol touring.

1) Breweries are everywhere

Sure, put “winery” or “brewery” into Google Maps and the former will light the US up like a Christmas tree.  Unfortunately, most of those wineries are not open Mon-Thurs, or not open to the public at all.

Alcohol Tourism Menu2) Breweries serve food

Many breweries are also brewpubs, serving food and beer.  This makes them excellent lunch and dinner destinations- good waypoints for the mid day and end of the day.  Some wineries do serve food, but in our experience they are overpriced, fancy affairs more suited to high-maintenance guests than people who just want a decent plate of food.  Also, considering one person has to drive, the driver can sit down at the brewpub and have a taste without having to immediately hit the road.  Winery visits without food tend to prohibit the driver from experiencing enough of the wine to get a full appreciation for the flavour.

3) Reasonably priced tastings

We’ve observed before the problem of charging for tastings.  At a brewery, a $5 charge usually gets you more beer than in a pint.  At a winery, a $4 – $8 charge usually gets you barely enough wine to experience the flavours.  Some family-run wineries still do free tastings, but they are harder to find and widely dispersed.  Entering a brewery, you know there will be a charge, but you’ll get a decent amount of beer with it.

Breweries are much more ‘our speed’.  Local, chill, independent, anti-establishment, and focused on the product.  Wineries tend to be more fancy and targeting a higher socioeconomic status.  We aim for breweries and, if a good winery presents itself, we’ll check it out.  But we focus on the breweries.

Alcohol Tourism Relaxed

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://i0.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

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


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.

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