Ohboy has it been awhile since I’ve partaken in The Session (July, 2013 #73 to be specific), but I have a new blog and a new take on beer travel, both as a result of just having lived in Europe for a year as well as having a beer travel guidebook coming out in 3 weeks. Fittingly for this edition of the monthly beer blogging Session, Maria and Brian Devine over at the Roaming Pint ask:
Why is it important for us to visit the place where our beers are made? Why does drinking from source always seem like a better and more valuable experience? Is it simply a matter of getting the beer at it’s freshest or is it more akin to pilgrimage to pay respect and understand the circumstances of the beer better?
Why go out of your way to visit breweries when, if you’re me, there’s a growler filling station in the supermarket directly across the street next to a beer aisle that’s roughly 30 yards long? Because drinking beer is not a solo sport. It’s also not the type of sport I prefer to armchair quarterback. Like John Fogerty, I wanna exclaim, “Put me in, Coach.” I think, collectively, we like visiting breweries because we all want to be where the action is in center field.
As a beer lover, there’s nothing more sacred than supporting your local brewery, except, perhaps, going on a beer trip to explore and support someone else’s local brewing establishment. It connects you to that place in a way visiting some other “must see”s don’t. Meet me in St. Louis? That arch thing is pretty cool, that’s like lemmings jumping off a cliff; you only go because everyone else does. Touring the Budweiser factory is certainly a worthy expenditure of time but, allow me to make this crack, getting to sample Bud afterward is hardly a reward. No, instead go to the Schlafly Tap Room or, better yet, the Urban Chestnut taproom. You’ll get much more than a pint of Hopfen IPA, you’ll get a taste of what the locals are like (at least the ones who don’t work for AB-I). On the flip side, I recently (finally) made it to Brussels and to its most famous brewery among the geek set, Cantillon. You don’t really meet locals sipping Gueuze at the bar but knowing that you’re among the billions of critters adrift in the air you’re breathing that are responsible for making that world-class spontaneously fermented ale is momentous. (The fact that I met Jean-Pierre van Roy and his son Jean van Roy didn’t hurt.)
Ultimately, beer is more than beer. It’s people, it’s place, and it’s personality. And just like you can read a beer review and gather what it’s like to try it but it’s better to crack open a bottle or can and experience it for yourself, the exact same applies to drinking said beer where it was made. Why settle for reading the marketing spiel about the birthplace of your favorite brew printed somewhere on the label or six-pack carrier when you can submerge yourself in the entire experience. The smell of malt lilting in the air as you approach a production brewery never gets stale. Magpies aren’t the only ones who like bright, shiny objects; the way one’s eyes light up upon seeing the overhead lights bounce of the stainless top of a mash tun rings true for every devotee of flavorful suds. And, if you’re lucky, you might get to shake the hand of the man, woman, men, or mixed nuts responsible for making that liquid, fermented dream come true. Sure they appreciate it when you buy their beer from a bar or bottle shop wherever you live, but they really love it when you take your valuable time to make that pilgrimage to thank them in person.
I’ve been to hundreds of breweries and I never tire of it. And I always look for someone wearing rubber boots in the tasting room because a big part of enjoying beer is sharing, or listening, to stories whether they involve beer or not.