If you want to get your drink on and sample the best of the best while you travel, wineries are no longer your only option.
For a long time, it seemed as if winemakers had the tourism thing all to themselves. Clean air in the country. Rolling hills and mountain slopes covered with precise rows of lovingly tended grapevines. Stacks of massive wooden barrels in cool caves. Lessons in wine tasting, and samples of some truly delightful wines.
Work in a tasty lunch or a classy dinner, and you’ve got the makings of a great day.
Beer was consigned to bars, baseball games and backyard barbecues.
Winery tours are still a delightful travel option the world over. But it looks as if the world’s beer producers have caught on and are catching up, with increasingly more on offer than just a free sample of suds.
Touring breweries around the world is downright refreshing, especially during those hot, sticky summers. I’ve toured breweries in Mexico and Ireland, and there are lots more on my list.
The advent of regional beers and microbreweries around the United States means you can give yourself a much more intimate understanding of beer, its history, how it’s made and what makes one different from — and better than — another.
And you can do it not only without leaving the country, but probably without leaving town. North Dakota may be the only state in the Union without a homegrown brewery of any kind or size.
But before there were microbreweries, there were MACRO-breweries, and the mother of American brewers will gladly show you around.
The Anheuser-Busch company, by volume the largest brewer in the country and maybe on the planet, does tours at five of its 12 breweries around the United States, including Merrimack NH, Jacksonville FL, Ft. Collins CO and Fairfield CA.
But you really should save yourself for the flagship brewery in St. Louis, where A-B was born. This place looks like a city in miniature, so be prepared for a lengthy tour and a lot of walking.
A MULTITUDE OF BREWS
They offer a free basic tour, which does include a free beer sample at the end. But if you can, spring for the $25 for the much more in-depth “Beermaster Tour,” which includes sampling their beer from one of their giant finishing tanks.
(Trust me on this: Until you’ve sampled freshly-made beer drawn straight from the tank, you only think you know how beer’s supposed to taste.)
Two things will jump out at you on these tours. One is the long list of other beers that A-B doesn’t brew but now owns, most of which will be very familiar to beer drinkers:
- Bass Ale (United Kingdom)
- Boddington’s (UK)
- Beck’s (Germany)
- Czechvar (Czech Republic)
- Kirin ( Japan)
- Leffe (Belgium)
- Kirin beer ( Japan)
- Stella Artois (Belgium)
(NOTE: Stella Artois is brewed in Belgium and runs ads to make you think it’s from France, but may be best known in the UK, where its association with binge drinking and soccer hooligans has led to it being nicknamed “wifebeater.” Oh dear…)
The other thing that will amaze you is the dizzying number of beers that A-B makes, many of which you’ve not only never tasted, but probably never heard of.
Eighteen different versions of Bud. Thirty different Michelobs, including four you can only get seasonally. A few, with names like World Lager and Bare Knuckle Stout, have come and gone, without ever having seen the refrigerated shelf at your favorite liquor store.
Red Bridge? Red Hook? Rolling Rock? ZiegenBock? Yep, A-B owns them, too. And even when you add all of the above together, it’s still but a partial list. You literally could drink yourself under the table before you tried them all.
Of course, nowadays, A-B itself is owned by Belgium’s brewing giant InBev.
SIZE ISN’T EVERYTHING
Anheuser-Busch not to your taste? The Samuel Adams brewery in Boston also has a tour, as do other large US beer makers.
What? You say you’re not up to touring a brewery the size of a county seat? Well, you don’t have to. The explosion of microbreweries in the United States has also meant an explosion of brewpubs — and brewery tours.
These tend to be much more intimate experiences; let’s face it, they’re called “microbreweries” for a reason. Also, your guide is less likely to be some college student working part-time and more likely to be someone actually involved with brewing the beers. That never hurts.
As a bonus, many of these microbrewery tours are located in places that are travel destinations in their own right. Here’s a very small sample:
- Anchor Brewing Co. (San Francisco)
- Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown NY)
- Brooklyn Brewing (New York City)
- Wynkoop Brewing Co. (Denver)
Where travel is concerned, New York and San Francisco need no introduction. Cooperstown, meanwhile, is the home of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Beer and baseball have always gone together, so to have a brewery tour and a nice lunch after a visit to the hall is a no-brainer if ever there were one.
Thanks to the revival in American brewing led by the microbrewers (and home brewers, too), many cities around the country even hold their own annual Oktoberfests, modeled after the original German festival (which celebrates its bicentennial this year).
But there’s nothing like the real thing…
NEXT: Brewery tours around the world
Is it me, or there something just wrong about microbreweries holding a “Notsoberfest?” There are places doing this all over the country. Don’t we have enough problems with binge drinking?
October is a time to enjoy and celebrate beer, not an excuse to encourage folks to go for a “Ph.D” — Ploughed, Hammered and Drunk.