|Chicago with beer friends Scott, Al and Heather|
at Haymarket Pub
For comparison, here are my trip planning resources:
I generally cross-reference three sources to find a hit list of breweries. First source is Beerfly on BeerAdvocate. Now called Places, there's two basic ways to use it. By clicking on a city list, a shortened grouping of breweries and bars come up according to their BA quality rankings; just start at the top and work down to find interesting stops. Another way to use the list is to click on the state or country, and then within that list, click on the city to pull up a locally comprehensive list of breweries and bars listed on BA. From either location, I start reading reviews (making adjustments according to my estimation of the reviewer).
|Half of the 100 taps at Meadhall in Boston|
And third, I read or listen to a lot of beer material, including Beer Advocate, All About Beer, Basic Brewing Radio and blogs. At festivals, while I try to plan a hit list of new breweries compared to my taste database, I also recognize breweries on instinct. At an early Great Taste, a friend once said near the end of the day "Wow, just following you gets me a lot of good beer." Another example, my wife and I found ourselves in Vermont without a brewpub because the one I had picked out was closed when we arrived. Searching BA on my phone, I recognized Three Penny Taproom on our route and we stopped on the strength of my gut feeling that it was good, which turned out to be a favorite of the entire trip. Later I realized that Three Penney is a regular advertiser in the BA magazine. However, because I don't keep or categorize my print sources and much of it isn't available online, I tend to rely on memory to recognize good beer destinations while using the previous sources.
|One Voice Denver beer tour |
starting at Amato's.
Once a broad range of beer places are found, I start searching through the websites of the bars and breweries. Making a stop at Stone World Bistro in Southern California, Wynkoop in Denver or the tour at Cantillon in Brussels are easy calls, finding a quality place like Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa in Rome or Cerveceria de MateVeza in the Castro district can be a bit harder. Over the years, "reading between the lines" has become an important skill to see if the place is what I am looking for. For example, I have a clear bias against any bar or brewpub that doesn't have a separate tab or location for the beer menu. If beer isn't important enough to place a tab, then it's probably not important enough to visit. After that obvious trick, the rest is using the website to determine the values of the brewery and whether or not I think they fit what my wife and I look for in a beer stop. When reading reviews on BA or other locations, this same sort of reading between the lines is needed as well. For any one place, BA members will be in different parts of their beer journey, present different levels of knowledge and have location and personal biases; in order to "read" for accurate information, these opinions clearly need to be weighed accordingly.
|Lunch with Westveletern 12 at In De Vrede|
On the road, there's two different times of beer stops we make on vacation. Originally, the first type of beer hunting I did was simply knowing where the best available beer is when we needed lunch or dinner. While being touristy, it became almost a joke with my wife and I that she'd turn to me and ask "So, where's the nearest brewpub?" If I knew the answer and could give clear, fast directions, the brewpub was chosen instead of something else. Recently, we started to go off the tourist path to incorporate high value drinking destinations (Westvleteren in Belgium, Brewery Ommegang in New York, Russian River in California) within the larger framework of our travel, though the non-beer itinerary generally takes precedence.
|Chimay flight of 1992, 2002 and 2012|
at Kulminator in Antwerp
Overall, my process for these two types of beer trips has been as described above, except beer for the sake of beer destinations take a bit more planning and have a few unique logistical considerations. A main factor is that bars and breweries tend to not be open in the morning, so sleeping in (which I don't do well) or finding additional touristy options will be needed. Also, another limiting problem is when breweries offer tours. In Belgium, it was a struggle to find a tour to day each day for a week. And, finally, palate fatigue and pacing for a beer only trip needs to be considered to keep the trip fun and safe. Since the vast majority of my beer hunting in the past has been within the framework of other travel or festivals, my philosophy of beer dedicated trips is still forming. I will update in future posts as my thinking coalesces.
|Very dusty beer bottle collection at|
Tuborg in Copenhagen
Which leads to my main reason for this post. On the Chicago trip, I started to suspect the my beer hunting, especially the dedicated beer trips, was rehashing what other drinkers had found. I recently came across Urban Beer Hikes and like the philosophy of earned drinking (and safety) through hiking. I am somewhat concerned with my over reliance on BA and that I am missing an opportunity to add unique, new experiences to my beer knowledge. However, since BA is often local crowd sourcing at its best, it has repeatedly gotten me some of the best beer experiences of my life. As a result of this cognitive dissonance and a fear that I might be missing out on ever better beer, I am looking to revise and improve my beer hunting system. I would love to hear from others about your favorite beery resources and beer hunting tips and tricks.
Links to trips represented in photos: