By Jen Sotolongo
It seems that it has now become acceptable to begin the holiday push in October. While I’d personally like to get through Thanksgiving before thinking about Christmas, I am looking forward to putting up my tree.
You see, my tree is pretty awesome. Nearly every ornament is a beer coaster from a brewery we’ve frequented, all blessed by the Beer Fairy topper made by my mother in law. As I hang each coaster, I am reminded of the places we’ve visited throughout the world, the friends we’ve made over pints of beer, and the insight we’ve gained into communities through sampling their local creations.
My beer adventures have taken me to Kunstmann in Valdivia, Chile, Dale’s Brewing Company in Nelson, New Zealand, where they filled 2-liter bottles from the taps cascading up the wall, and Foggy Noggin in Bothell, WA, a brewery operating out of the brewer’s garage. When my husband and I travel, we make a point to seek out the local breweries on our vacations or road trips, even if they’re out of the way.
Brewery visits have served as a great excuse for me to explore the places that I live. In New York, I met the towns of Kingston, New Paltz, Troy, and Cooperstown in pursuit of beer. Lisa “the Beer Goddess” Morrison’s Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest has become my Beer Bible over the past year, guiding me to breweries within hours of my home.
Breweries give me a reason to go on an adventure and discover a new place. I’d probably never plan to venture to Ashville, NC, but the burgeoning brewery scene piques my interest. And I can guarantee you that someday, I will stay here. Whether the beer is memorable or not, the visit always is. The brewery gives me the opportunity to support a local community and get a sense of what life is like a particular town. Because breweries often use local ingredients and partner with local businesses like coffee shops, I am then curious to further explore the area to patronize other shops.
Highlighting cultural distinctiveness and local sourcing, breweries are increasingly becoming part of sustainable tourism plans. Last spring, I mentioned how beer saved Bend, OR from a deep recession when Visit Bend launched the Bend Ale Trail in 2010. Tourism Insights, a UK-based professional tourism forum, mentions several Ale Trails in England and Scotland, most of which are located in small, rural towns throughout the country.
As we all know, drinking and driving (or biking) don’t mix, so many tours emphasize a mix of walking, biking, and taking public transport. The Rail Ale Trail, for example, offers beer lovers the opportunity to explore the countryside and local heritage of Devon and Cornwall, England. Zephyr Adventures takes adventure lovers on a hiking and biking tour through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks with stops at six breweries in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. What better way to get to know a region than by experiencing it from the seat of a bike or by foot rather than through the window of the car?
Part of why I enjoy drinking beer is because I love beer folk. In my time as a beer connoisseur, I’ve found that my fellow beer enthusiasts are curious, sociable, and passionate. Morrison distinguishes the terroir of craft beer as “influenced by the personalities of the brewers, the surrounding communities, and the particular culture that envelops each brewery” (Craft Beers). I find this to be true with each new brewery I visit. I taste the creativity of the brewer and get a sense of the individuals that make up a town. I validate an hour detour for a brewery by the people I meet, the conversations I have, and the coaster I can add to my Christmas tree.