Serious Eats: Drinks
Serious Reads: The Great American Ale Trail by Christian DeBenedetti
Midway through The Great American Ale Trail, I had a question. Did author Christian DeBenedetti really visit all fifty states in an effort to create "the craft lover's guide to the best watering holes in the nation?"
There was only one way to find out, and I began mentally singing a musical standard of third grade, "Fifty Nifty United States," while cross-referencing the index. According to this highly scientific method, only five states are missing. But based on the content of this book, I'm willing to bet that it's not because DeBenedetti didn't look for craft breweries in those states. It's because there weren't any that were up to snuff.
I'm also willing to bet that in the future there will be another edition of this thick paperback, one that features all fifty states. There are two reasons for this. One, the craft beer industry in America is booming. Two, The Great American Ale Trail is truly a great book.
The premise is simple: there's a craft brewery revolution happening in America and DeBenedetti spent a year traveling to document it. But the simplicity of the book's goal belies the complexity of what happens when you crack the cover.
On the one hand, this is a travel book. Nothing in recent memory has inspired the same urge to pack up the car and head off in an unknown direction—preferably a direction that includes lots of sunshine and dusty roads and ends with a very big cold one. But instead of being overly factual and list orientated, The Great American Ale Trail is like a craft brew travel guide that just happens to have been written by one of your coolest, smartest, and most discriminating friends.
For each brewery that is featured, DeBenedetti offers an entertaining scene and story. For Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, California, this includes info about the solar-powered brewery and its 18-hole frisbee-golf course. But there's also a folksy primer on antique Northern California vocabulary. Trust me here when I tell you that you want to "jape over to Booneville for some bahl hornin."
DeBenedetti also gives insight into the philosophy of the places he profiles. This is an important section to consider if you like your beers traditional, are in search of a family-friendly spot, or covet a joint where you'll be served exceptional beer and food in a beautiful setting.
Finally, for each watering hole, DeBenedetti recommends a beer you shouldn't miss. This seems obvious, but there are far too many beverage books fearful of making formal declarations about what to drink. Because DeBenedetti is a friendly, knowledgeable guide, we want his suggestions. Our visits will be richer for them.
If all this weren't enough, The Great American Ale Trail offers more to encourage armchair travel: interior graphics that keep you turning the pages, ambling narrative which detours into the personalities of the Alaskan craft beer community, and the history behind iconic taverns like The Woody Creek in Colorado, a useful glossary and set of top ten lists for best beer cities, best dives and date spots are just a few examples of the treasures within this book.
And the recommendations for destinations that serve the best food to nosh on when you've had a few pints? Unfortunately those (Big Dipper Ice Cream in Missoula, the Hopsicle Experience in New York, and Heaven's Drive Through in Santa Fe to name but a few) will just make you hungry.
In every way, The Great American Ale Trail is a roadmap for the ultimate beer adventure. Grab a copy and get started.