THE SESSION — BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY
The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.
A Good Beer Phenomenon
In December 2015 The Brewers Association tallied 4,144 U.S. breweries—beating the previous high water mark from 1873. That growth is good for many things: local economies, beer drinkers and the many related businesses that provide supplies and tangential services to the industry.
Beer today means more than just industrial beer. It means much more than just well-crafted drinks: it also brings a new culture, with new awareness of ingredients and process. Individual breweries and beer regions have become destinations for aficionados (beer geeks). This has led to the recent trend for development, or at least expansion, of beer tourism. The growing number of high-quality craft breweries has driven a growing number of craft beer drinkers. A concentration of craft breweries within a given area creates a phenomenon where beer has become a destination.
Ready to go for a ride?
Beer Travel Bucket List
When you think of tourism, you may think of traveling to a location solely for pleasure or a sense of curiosity. Road trips, day-trips to the countryside, or maybe travel abroad. Now, if you add beer to that equation, now what images does beer tourism invoke?
The beer destination on most beer drinkers’ bucket list is Munich, Germany, for Oktoberfest. Bavaria holds that image of where beer culture began, and Oktoberfest is the pilgrimage many beer drinkers dream of. Closer to home, highly popular beer cultures and destinations have developed around beer in Bend, Oregon; Burlington, Vermont; Asheville, North Carolina; Portland, Maine; and a few Colorado towns.
Designing Your Beer Tour
So, you've decided its time for a road trip and beer is theme. There are tools available to assist you in designing your personal beer tour. A good place to begin is the BreweryMap.com. On this web-based service, provided by PintLabs, you enter a location and it displays a map of breweries in that area. Use Road Trip tab on the left to enter a beginning and ending location and a radius in which you'd like to search. It will display the breweries along your planned route. Click on a particular brewery to get website links and BreweryDB page, and Google Maps directions.
YouTube is an excellent source to research beer destinations. When looking for information about Vermont beer tourism, I discovered a wealth of information including interviews with brewers offering their background stories of the brewery and brews. Vermont Craft Beer Night is an excellent series on Vermont PBS.
Podcasts have become an excellent information outlet for good beer locations. One of the best is Good Beer Hunting, hosted by Michael Kiser, winner of the 2013 Saveur Best Wine or Beer Blog. GBH brings passion and knowledge to the craft beer culture, with many of the weekly podcasts featuring brewers from around the country and the world. A particularly fascinating entry was Episode 47 with Matt Canning, Hotel Vermont's beer concierge (yes, it’s a real job title), where they travel to Hill Farmstead and other great Vermont breweries.
Road Trip Planner is an app, by Modesitt Software (Mac/iOS), useful for planning trips. As you research beery places you want to visit, this is an excellent tool to “hold” potential destinations. The top of the desktop screen is used to map out a trip, while the bottom keeps Points of Interest (POI) places on hold while you juggle your itinerary. Drag a location from top to bottom (or vice versa) to adjust your touring stops. RTP will give you an estimated travel time and distances between locations, and you can save each trip to a different file. The feature that sets this app apart from other route planning apps is the Road Trip Planner (iOS) version; this can be used to import trips created on your desktop or create itineraries directly on your iPhone. From the app, trips pins can be sent to Apple Maps where you can choose and navigate to your next tour destination. There is an active Google Group to discuss features with Bill Modesitt, program creator, and other RTP users.
In certain beer-forward towns, you can simply “hop on” (pardon the pun) a brewery bus tour. This is a line of business that has developed a somewhat symbiotic relationship with local breweries—not only will they do the driving for you but, they’ve developed close ties to the breweries and let you reap benefits not available to the casual visitor.
Portland, ME is home to some of the country’s finest beer producers and The Maine Brew Bus. I asked Zack Poole, MBB’s owner/founder, about the benefits they offer guests. Zack said, "We provide a behind-the-scenes look into the breweries. We are talking to the brewers/owners who aren't always available to the general public. We visit before breweries are open, and get to try pilot beers that are yet to be released. We are an educational drinking tour and are educating guests along the way about the history and background of Maine and each location we visit. We dive deep into the history of pre- and post-Prohibition Maine."
According to a recent survey by Zephyr Adventures, a touring company and host of the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference, the average beer tour operator has grown 116% in revenue and 108% in number of customers, respectively, over the past two years.
Many state and local government offices for business development and tourism, along with state craft brewer associations, have caught onto good-beer fever and are leveraging the beer tourism phenomenon to attract businesses that might offer services to breweries or beer connoisseurs.
A recent posting to Wilmington, NC’s website discussed their interest in attracting beer tourism. “It was just in the last two years that we were really able to claim we were a craft beer destination,” stated Connie Nelson of the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Ted Coughlin of the Greater Wilmington Brewers Guild and Ironclad Brewery stated in a recent interview, “We feel the more breweries that come to the area, the more beer tourists will come. Our top mission is to promote the craft beer industry within Wilmington.” What is the “tipping point” that makes for a true beer destination? Coughlin believes the magic number is ten breweries. Anthony Derby, of The Brew Bus in Florida, thinks eight will do.
Included below are some resources to help make the most of your research so you have the best possible time once on the road. Try these for a start:
The Bend Ale Trail is a great example of local government support for the brewing industry. The Bend City Council created and funded Visit Bend to develop and build Bend's tourism industry.
Brewery Associations & Guilds
The Brewers Association collects the contact information for brewers’ associations and guilds from around the country. This information is readily available online including contact names and website information. These associations and guilds will often maintain information about local beer trails, festivals, brewery maps, and other beery fun.
Beer Tourism Workshop & Conference
In November 2015, Zephyr Adventures conducted a Beer Tourism Workshop in Leesburg, VA with a panel of five industry participants, including guest speakers Dogfish Head’s Mariah Calagione and Margo Knight Metzger of the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild.
The workshop included three hours of advice and discussion about promoting a local region for beer tourism, promoting individual breweries, and working with beer tour operators. Attendees came from around the world including government agencies, breweries and tour owners.
Beer tourism is a movement—growing because and with the craft beer industry. To provide an industry gathering place and educational forum to learn about beer tourism, Zephyr Adventures is planning to create a new Beer Tourism & Marketing Conference to complement their existing Wine Tourism Conference.
A true beer aficionado on the road will most likely be looking for more than just breweries to visit, an itinerary could include iconic beer bars, think Max’s Taphouse in Baltimore or Monk’s in Philly, and even premium bottle shops that could hold bottled treasures to bring back to share and cellar.
There are many tools available to ensure your beer travels are fruitful with many great beers, stories, and adventures awaiting your arrival. You have no excuses—go, seek, enjoy!