It is a dedicated beer aficionado who is willing to rise at 6am to line up in the cold for a couple precious bottles of limited edition beer. It is an even more committed soul who is up for driving across a state line or two to partake in that same lineup.
Then there are the truly devoted, those who will book vacation time, board a plane, possibly disrupt family schedules, and cross oceans for beer. It is for this last class, or rather those who might aspire to join their ranks—my kindred souls, in a way—that this article is written.
OK, I’m in, when do we get started
The successful beer trip begins weeks, even months, before departure. Because with beer, as with most focused travel, the devil can often lie in the details.
Once you have decided upon your destination, it is imperative to get started with your planning as soon as possible, beginning with your hotel choice. Got a brewery you really want to visit? It might make sense then to book a room somewhere nearby or even, as is sometimes the case, adjacent to or above the brewery itself. Want to end your nights at a famous beer bar? Balance the cost of cab fare against the extra you may need to pay for a location convenient to said bar. And it goes without saying that being able to walk back and forth from your hotel to a beer festival is, if not quite priceless, then at least damn close to it.
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And about those beer bars, breweries, and festivals: you’ll want to research them, as well. Except that the research you should be doing might not be the research you think you need to be doing.
The beer rating sites, of course, cover far more than just beers; they take the measure of bars, pubs, breweries, events…basically anything connected to beer. And while they can be helpful in certain fashions—addresses and phone numbers, for instance, or scouting out places of genuine mass appeal—they can also afford top rankings to operations with high ‘wow’ factors rather than those of consistent quality, or bestow great praise upon a place that has been coasting on its laurels for perhaps a bit too long.
In my experience, when it comes to beer bars, I have found that raters frequently prize tap and bottle counts over general desirability and hospitality. In other words, do you want one hundred choices in a grungy sports bar or a few dozen well-selected options in a genuinely convivial locale? For me, it is always the latter.
Fortunately, wherever exists a beer destination these days, there are usually a couple or even several local experts, frequently people with books or blogs coving their patches. In my planning, I regularly look to such individuals, always keeping a sharp eye on the date of publication of their latest commentary, and will even cross-reference their thoughts with those of non-beer specialist travel writers, albeit usually with one eye also on the rating sites.
It’s travel time, let’s get ready
As much as I appreciate being nimble when I travel, I also like to bring along a few books and bottles to use as “thank-yous” for people who have helped me out in advance or may help me along the way, so a carry-on alone is usually a non-starter. My compromise is a lightweight, mid-sized suitcase packed as efficiently as possible. If you’re a carry-on-only type, remember that T-shirts and assorted brewery memorabilia can also make for most appreciated gifts.
One thing about brewery shirts, though: try not to make them your exclusive wardrobe. As craft beer becomes more appreciated around the world, it has increasingly found its way into more upscale restaurants and bars, including many that can provide highly memorable travel experiences. Thing is, you’ll need more than a T-shirt and shorts to gain access, so nicer clothes are certainly recommended, especially when traveling to European and Asian countries.
And don’t forget that, however unlikely, the airline upgrade is going to go to the better-dressed ticket holder 10 times out of 10.
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