Beer Geek 101: Preparing for a road trip

Later this week Elaine and I will be travelling to Portland, Maine and Boston for a “Beer Bloggers’ Conference”. Of course we could fly to Portland the day the conference starts — fast, efficient… and soooo borrrrrrring. Or we could drive there. Slow, inefficient, but way more fun.

So we’re driving. We could get to Portland in one (very long) day. But that wouldn’t leave any time for The. Most. Fun. Thing. Ever: visiting breweries and brewpubs along the way. (Elaine may not agree that this is the most fun thing ever.) So we are taking two days to drive to Portland, which should leave us lots of time for a little applied sight-seeing.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, Alan, how are you going to find all of those craft breweries and brewpubs?”

Good question. I suppose we could just amble down the highway and hope we see signs for craft breweries. You know:



The problem is that most craft breweries don’t do the sign thing all that well. You could pass within a half mile of most craft breweries and never know it. Assuming there had been craft breweries dotting the landscape thirty years ago — and there weren’t — road trips would have been pretty darned dull. I probably would have said, “Heck, let’s just fly there.”

(The decision to fly would have been made much easier by the simple fact that in those days, kids, flying was actually pleasant. Seats were larger and had more legroom, everyone got a three-course meal served on china, and of course, you could carry a six-pack of beer onto the plane in your carry-on.)

Luckily we live in an age of modern wonders, and in lieu of missing brewery signs, there is the mighty internet.

One of the most useful tools for the beer geek is The Beer Mapping Project — quite simply, a user-driven Google Map that attempts to identify the location of every brewer within a given country. The principle is quite simple: if you know of a brewer who is not on the map, you send a note to the editor with the name and address, and voila! it appears on the map. Once it has been pinpointed, users are free to add a rating and comments about their visits to the brewer.

As is typical for a lot of internet projects, maps of the United States are front and centre — as they should be, since it’s a country with over 2,000 breweries and countless brewpubs. However, there are also maps for Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as Europe (an overall map of Europe, and then individual maps for Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the U.K.) Canada’s map is pretty actually pretty thorough — in addition to breweries and brewpubs, it also shows the locations of good beer bars, beer stores and homebrew supply stores.

Of course, a map such as this is only as good as the information supplied to it, so there are lots of places that are not yet on the maps. In addition, there seems to be a lot of outdated information — in just one search along my route to Portland, I came across several breweries and brewpubs that are clearly no longer in operation. I have sent a note to the editors, and it will be interesting to see how long those places stay on the map.

Getting back to the matter of planning your road trip, of course  the BMP is a good way to start — choose the route you want to take, then see what breweries lie within a reasonable distance. Or better yet, see what breweries you want to visit, then plan a route to visit them. (Elaine would call this “the tail wagging the dog.”)

But the BMP is only a start. You’ll also want to check out brewery websites to see if they seem to be the sort of places you’d want to visit, or even if they are still operating. Take a look at the storefront on Google Streetview. (Hint: Yellow strips of police tape across the front door are a bad sign.) Get a feel for their products by searching RateBeer or BeerAdvocate. For brewpubs, restaurant reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor can give you a sense of whether you should be stopping just for beer, or whether it’s safe to eat too.

Which brings me back to my first question: what DID we do before the internet?


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2 Comments on “Beer Geek 101: Preparing for a road trip”

  1. You’ll naturally be stopping in Burlington to pick up some Heady Topper.

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