If there is no bar, a bottle or two in the room comes close, minus the conversation. Those plastic cups aren’t great for beer, though. They have an odor all their own that impacts on the beer. The Styrofoam cups are worse. Their rough interior surface creates nucleation points for bubbles resulting excessive foam. You end up with a cup of mostly froth. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I always carry a glass. Almost, but not really.
Beer is increasingly a local thing. All across the country ever-smaller breweries are serving ever-smaller areas. Journeying to a place is the only way to sample many beers. I like this part of traveling. Seeking out the local brew is a mini-adventure all its own. In the bottle shop I look first for something from the region. If there is a brewpub in the town where I am staying, I will eat there. If there is a brewery nearby and I have the time, I will arrange a visit. Beermapping.com is a traveler’s best friend.
I like the idea of local beer. There are those who bemoan the lack of access to this or that brewery’s wares, but I’m thrilled by the notion that there are things I can’t get at home. Journeying to a new place is all about experiencing something different—food, sights, sounds, and even beer. Beers available only in other places are like special treats that make the toil of travel worthwhile. Like my Grammy’s fried chicken, they are hedonistic pleasures that I only get when I visit that place.
For some though, local is not enough. They feel the need to bring the foreign home. I know people who stock up stacks of cases to ship or carry back with them. Others bring an extra suitcase just to pack out special bottles. If you want to try this, hard-sided is the way to go. With some clothing as a cushion, you can check your bag of beer with little fear of breakage. Soft-sided works if you’ve plenty of bubble wrap on hand. (I know. I’ve done it.) The kind with the big bubbles works best. Be careful about weight. Big bottle beers wrack up poundage quickly. Airlines stick you hard for overweight bags. And bags of bottles will likely be inspected by the TSA. I’ve found the telltale tag in my bag more than once.
I’ve backed off from the beer transporting thing. As I wrote above, more and more I like that things belong to particular locales. Once I get beers home, that aura is diminished. The luster of the place is dimmed. A piece of whatever drove my wanderlust is lost.
Beer travel is a thing now. Like tourist attractions and national parks, people plan whole vacations around taproom stops and brewery visits. A brewery guidebook—such as my own A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland (shameless plug)—is available for every state. Breweries now exist in every kind of place—urban, suburban, and rural. Whether you prefer the city’s hustle and bustle or the expansive relaxation of the great outdoors, it’s not hard to string together a brewery connect-the-dots.
I recommend seeking out breweries in out of the way places. It’s good to get off the main roads. The nation’s landscapes are tedious to access from the interstate. Get out in them though, and a world of beauty and interest opens up. Small town breweries have a different feel to me than those in the city. Many are like local diners. They are community-gathering spots that just happen to also make beer. You get a feel for the place by hanging out there for a little while. The ambience and the people who come and go reveal a lot. Production breweries in rural places make me think of how things were 150 years ago when many small towns hosted a brewery of their own. History repeats itself.
Brewers are responding to the beer-centric travel phenomenon by building slick facilities designed as destinations. They are stunning structures with multiple dining options, manicured beer gardens, event spaces, and swag stores. Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in San Diego was perhaps the first. Sierra Nevada’s California brewery certainly fits the mold. And New Belgium is building such a place in Asheville, North Carolina. Here at home, Surly Brewing Co. opened their much anticipated, $30-million dollar, Minneapolis home in December.
Brian Devine and Maria Scarpello of The Roaming Pint have made an entire lifestyle out of beer travel. They have been traveling around in their 29′ RV named Stanley since August 2010. They hit their first 100 breweries in just one year. In 2012 alone they traveled 11,184 miles and visited 109 breweries. They blog and post videos to tell the stories of the expanding, national beer scene. What they actually do for a living and when they do it, I don’t know.
Meanwhile, back in the airport bar I can see from my seat that the loading door at my gate has opened. They should put arrival/departure monitors in airport bars. Twenty dollars and two beers later it’s finally time to head home.
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