Beer Tripping: How to Plan a Perfect Beer-Focused Vacation

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Spring break, but with good beer. [Photograph: Matthew 'Fuj' Scher]

Beer has long had a place as companion to travel—a beer on a beach or poolside to kick back, a sixpack around a campfire—but for many of us, beer is the reason to travel. Beer tourists are trekking hundreds of miles to tick off more brewery visits, attend festivals or beer releases, and even just to buy a case or two of a special locally brewed beer.

Beer and travel have become so entwined for me that it's hard to imagine one without the other. I can't go anywhere without running through a checklist of what nearby breweries or bars I could visit, what beer bloggers or writers I could reach out to there, and what beers I have to seek out. It's a way to dig in deep into a place, meet a bunch of passionate, like-minded people, and drink beer you can't find closer to home.

"If nothing else, that beer is never going to taste better than straight off the line or right there in the brewery, as fresh as it can possibly be," says Tony Drewry, aka the Beer Pedaler, who drove "The Beerliner" bus from Texas to the Great American Beer Fest in Denver.

With the spring thaw on the horizon and road trip season approaching, we have some advice on how to maximize your beer vacation, from airport beers to brewery maps.

Airport Sipping

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[Photo: Laurelwood Brewing Co.]

The journey of a thousand (or so) miles starts with a single airport beer, and luckily for thirsty travelers, airport beer options are better than ever. Terminal 2 at San Diego International Airport (SDIA) features Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, with 12 taps, a small bottle list and dishes from Stone's Bistro. Denver International Airport (DIA) has New Belgium Brewing Hub in the B gates for Fat Tire refreshment, and flyers in Airside C of the Tampa International Airport (TPA) can enjoy a Jai Alai IPA at the Cigar City Brewpub. The Skinny Pancake at Burlington International Airport (BTV) has a spread of Vermont brews, including Heady Topper, to pair with your crepes and also representing New England, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (MHT) has a small Smuttynose Public House Cafe. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) offers the iconic Anchor Brewing in Terminal 3 and Portland International Airport (PDX) has two locations of Laurelwood Brewing Co., at Concourses A and E, plus a Rogue Ales at Concourse D.

Beer En Route

The best en-route imbibing goes to Amtrak, which offers an impressive spread of craft beer without the dehydration that comes with drinking and flying. All long distance service includes at least Sierra Nevada, and regional craft beers are offered depending on the route: Dogfish Head and Sam Adams on the Northeast Regional/Acela Express; Long Trail Ale on the Ethan Allen and Vermonter; Widmer Hefeweizen, Pyramid IPA, and Deschutes Black Butte Porter on the Cascades; Stone Pale Ale and Stone Arrogant Bastard on the Pacific Surfliner; and Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat on Chicago-Hub trains.

Airlines have been stepping up their beverage game too. Alaska Airlines serves Alaskan White, Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis Stout. and Widmer Alchemy Ale on flights operated by Horizon Air and SkyWest. The Samuel Adams Boston Lager can is available on all American Airlines North American and international flights. Brooklyn Lager and Sam Adams Boston Lager are served on JetBlue and both Southwest and Frontier serve New Belgium Fat Tire Ale. En route to Hawaii, enjoy a Maui Brewing Bikini Blonde Lager on Hawaiian Airlines, or if you're lucky enough to fly in the luxury of Virgin Atlantic you can enjoy the likes of a complimentary Anchor Steam, Sam Adams, or 21st Amendment Back in Black.

Apps to Help

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BreweryMap ($0.99) makes discovering local breweries and planning road trips easier with a fairly comprehensive guide to breweries across North America. My favorite feature is the road trip option, which makes sure you don't miss any breweries, from your start point to your destination and along the way.

Craft Beer New York ($1.99) guides the beer tourist in NYC with a map, listings and descriptions of bars, breweries and bottle shops penned by Joshua M. Bernstein, author of The Complete Beer Course and Brewed Awakening. Craft Beer London ($1.99), from the same developer, also features reviews, recommendations and all the need-to-know about the city's beer scene.

TapHunter (free) compiles draft, cask and bottle/can lists from local bars and allows you to search by beer or location. Beer lists are updated by the bar and some cities have more thorough listings than others. It's particularly helpful if you're in San Diego, for instance, where the developer is based and the beer listings are plentiful.

Want to keep track of where you've been and what you've tried? Untappd (free) allows you to upload photos, tag locations, and rate beers for future reference.

Research Resources

BeerAdvocate has a thorough directory of beer bars, breweries and homebrew shops in cities and regions across the globe. The beer geek-written reviews tend to be of a higher caliber than Yelp or TripAdvisor. Draft Magazine's guide to America's 100 Best Beer Bars 2014 is a good one to bookmark, and a shameless plug, of course, for our Where to Drink Beer guides here on Serious Eats.

Brian Devine and Maria Scarpello (and their RV, named Stanley) have been traveling to breweries across the country since 2010 and chronicling their journey on The Roaming Pint. Their most recent beer traveler contribution is The Society of Beer Travelers, a community of beer lovers who enjoy drinking new beer in places. Membership ($40) to the Society includes the starter kit (BreweryMap app, a Beer travel Passport, an Official SOBT shirt) and a custom SOBT profile page to track your beer travels and share your experiences.

But many will tell you that the best resource is the local beer blogger, writer, or avid beer Tweeter who's ready with a list of recommendations. Try this Beer Bloggers Directory from the Beer Bloggers Conference or the Serious Drinks list of readers' favorite beer blogs.

There also seem to be more beer tours available now than ever, whether on the bus (Maine Brew Bus offers three tours of Portland and beyond), via bike (In Portland, OR, where Portland Bike Tours offers a $40 beer excursion), or by foot (Local Montreal Tours will take you on an excellent brewpub walkabout).

Beer Travel Protips

We reached out to some beer travel pros for their advice on how to make the most of any beer trip.

Matthew 'Fuj' Scher, Fuj On Tap:
All I can say is research, research, research. Is the brewery located in a hard to find nook in an industrial park, or maybe off some dirt road in a rural area that isn't GPS friendly? Make sure you know that ahead of time. Is there a beer release at the brewery you're visiting or even for another brewery nearby? Know what kind of waiting times you might have ahead of you (I'm looking at you, Hill Farmstead lines on Lawson's farmer's market weekends). And finally, never show up empty handed. If you're traveling from a good distance to reach a brewery, bring them something you're proud to share that they might not be able to get in their area, be it beer, chocolate, candies, something from your hometown. They'll appreciate it and might even hook you up with some beer in return!

Tony Drewry, The Beer Pedaler:
People love to share beer knowledge. They love to share their favorite local beers and their local watering holes. I've never had a hard time finding somewhere to drink just by simply searching out a local group. I'm going to Thailand for vacation in August and I found a Thailand craft beer community group. I had no idea that there's a Mikkeller bar that opened up with 30 taps and there are two or three other craft beer bars that opened up in Bangkok.

Brian Devine, The Roaming Pint:
I often seek out homebrew clubs when we visit a new city and I knew Brooklyn had to have at least one. I contacted the Brooklyn Brewsers Homebrew Club to see if we could attend a meeting only to be told the meeting had been canceled for a special event at Brooklyn Brewery. So I asked if we could join them and my contact said yes.

It wasn't until we arrived at the brewery that I realized we were going to get a behind the scenes tour from Garrett Oliver himself which concluded with a rare beer tasting from his ghost bottle reserve. Just hearing the man himself describe the thought process behind each beer was amazing.

Michael Kiser, Good Beer Hunting:
I always keep my plans loose. Before heading to a new city, I usually do enough research to identify an anchor of the local scene—a brewer, fellow writer, artist, or bar owner, and I spend my first day soaking in all their local knowledge. They always point me in a better direction, and make warm introductions for me to places I'd have no way of connecting with in a short amount of time. This is a hand-shake business, and that's as true for industry folks like myself as it is for fans.

Got More Advice?

What's your best beer travel tip or favorite beer destination? Please share in the comments below!

About the Author: Heather Vandenengel is a nomadic beer writer and the News Editor for All About Beer. You can follow her on Twitter @heathervandy.

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