I've set foot in more breweries than churches, synagogues, and mosques combined. So, one could say that, as a devout beer-ite (care to join my religion?), I've learned a thing or two about how to get the most out of a brewery visit. I'm confident that if you can obey my following ten Brewery Touring Commandments, you'll be guaranteed an incredible experience time and time again without ever once losing your pants or landing in a Mexican jail (hey, mistakes are made for learning, right?).
1. Do your research.
Determine the best brewery in town and make a beeline for it. Don't waste your time at Schlubby's Brewpub just because your hotel bellhop recommended it -- use resources such as BeerAdvocate, Ratebeer, or Untappd to find out what real people are saying about the local joints. That's exactly how, in Duluth, Minnesota, I found Bent Paddle Brewing -- and boy am I glad I did. It was there that I tasted the smoothest black ale I've had in awhile!
2. But also be prepared to make some stops on the fly.
While visiting Seattle, WA, I was sure to make Elysian Brewing my first stop so that I could taste Space Dust IPA fresh from the taproom's teat. While sipping on the precious stuff, a bartender there told me about Cloudburst Brewing, founded by the former Elysian brewer responsible for creating one of my favorite hoppy ales. Cloudburst is, indeed, cranking out some top-notch brew – and it turned out to be a favorite stop of the trip.
3. Get friends and family involved whenever possible.
When my wife and I visited her grandmother all the way up north in Petoskey, Michigan, I made sure to work a brewery visit into the very long journey -- and bringing Grandma along for the ride actually provided one of the most satisfying drinking experiences of my life. Six lovely beer samples later at Beards Brewery, I would accept her challenge to "dance on the table." Invite your local friends or relatives to take part in your tasting and you just might unexpectedly awaken an inner beer beast.
4. Maximize your experience by ordering a flight.
If you've no idea where to start, you can ask the bartender for the flagship beer (i.e. a year-round tap selection representative of house style). However, if you're anything like me, committing to a full pint "sight unseen" is about as terrifying as agreeing to an arranged marriage set up by a great aunt you haven't talked to since your Bar Mitzvah. In which case, you should order a flight to taste as much as possible, like I did at Drekker Brewing in Fargo, ND, where I sampled an Irish red, a chocolate milk stout, and a sour saison before settling on a tasty Berliner Weisse.
5. …But also, pace yourself.
On the other hand, as great as flights are, they can also be deceptively dangerous. As when I headed over to The Bruery in Placentia, CA, to sample some of their delectable barrel-aged offerings, and had to crawl my way out. No matter how tasty the beer may be, alcohol is alcohol -- especially when that beer is 7.8% ABV (like Sour in the Rye), 10% ABV (like Autumn Maple), or (dear God) 19.9% ABV (like Black Tuesday). Be careful out there, folks.
6. Plan ahead for transportation.
On that note: ditch your car. Who the hell wants to worry about driving when touring locations that specialize in inciting inebriation? Of course, calling a car service (or taxi, if you live in 2006) is not only the responsible thing to do – it also provides much more flexibility. I stopped into Anaheim's Noble Ale Works thinking I'd try a brew or two and be on my way – but when I met Head Brewer Evan Price in the taproom and struck up a conversation, I ended up staying much longer than expected. Thank you, Lyft driver Tony, for safely getting me back to my hotel.
7. Don't forget to eat.
While we're on the topic of safe alcohol consumption, even "sessionable" 4% ABV blonde ales will crush you if you haven’t eaten anything in a reasonable amount of time. Pair this scenario with higher elevation – as I did at Utah's Park City Brewery -- and your head will be spinning in no time. Thankfully, I was saved by one of the thoughtful owners of the brewery who noticed I was looking a little pale and graciously bought me a grilled cheese sandwich -- but don't rely on gracious vendors to bail you out!
8. Distract your teetotaling guest(s).
Traveling with a spouse, partner, friend, or family member who isn't the beer-drinking type? Be sure to plan plenty of distractions to keep your cohort occupied. There's nothing worse than being guilted out of time at your favorite brewery by a bored companion. When stopping by Bear Republic Brewing Company to share a few pints with Master Brewer Peter Kruger, I made sure to have a map on hand of all jewelry, art, and craft dealers in Healdsberg, CA, for my wife to hit up. No arguments; no stress!
If you're heading to one of the best breweries in the country, you're going to want to bring a whole bunch of shit back with you to impress your friends and enjoy at home. After visiting The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont, I bought so much Heady Topper double IPA from a local market that one onlooker thought I was robbing the joint, prompting him to attempt a citizen's arrest. Fortunately, he quickly realized his mistake -- though I can't deny that the heart-stopping experience did make the beer taste just a tiny bit sweeter.
10. Sometimes, the longest journey is worth it.
Finally, don't ever be deterred by long driving distances when it comes to great beer. I learned this when visiting what I now consider to be one of the greatest breweries on earth, Jester King, in rural Austin, Texas. I was reluctant, at first, to carve out a full two and a half hours from my already busy day just to check out one brewery. But that first delicious taste of spontaneously-fermented sour saison after driving 40 minutes from downtown wasn't only worth it – it made my entire trip to the Lone Star State.