Guest post: The do’s and don’ts of a road trip for beer
I’m a Colorado girl in her mid-twenties. Earlier this year I decided to take a whole new approach to life and pursue two of my favorite passions: writing and beer. The only thing that made this concept even more appealing was it turned one of my other favorite pasttimes, traveling, into something that I could incorporate into my work. After all, what better way to learn about beer than to go find new ones in far-off places. So when my boyfriend suggested we take a road trip up to his family’s property in Butte, Montana, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to learn about beers from up north. While this wasn’t my first beer-related trip, it was the first time I had taken an actual road trip for beer. What follows are some of the lessons I learned:
Do: Look to others for advice and leave room for the unknown.
Research is great; it’ll teach you tons. But I love being surprised and usually find that if you leave a decent amount in the yet-to-be-decided category, you tend to stumble across a few more adventures.
We spent the night in Douglas, Wyoming, where my cousin had kindly lent us her house while they went on holiday. I didn’t expect to find anything special in terms of beer there. Yet my cousin, who knows me well, left a note welcoming us to her house and giving directions to the best bar in town. There we found our first adventure of the trip.
The bar held on to the feel of an authentic Wyoming saloon, with plenty of taxidermied animals and kitschy western signs (my favorite said “We don’t serve women here, so bring your own.”). The bar also featured a beer list that made this Denverite’s jaw drop. One hundred and seven different beers were available that night. The owner made a point of maintaining his bar’s status as a craft beer haven. He spent much of his time traveling around, finding new breweries, and bringing home their beer to introduce to the small town of Douglas.
I never would have expected it, and I certainly wouldn’t have found it had it not been for my cousin’s suggestion.
Do: Bring a cooler… and a large one at that.
When my boyfriend insisted that we bring his parents’ cooler on the trip, I struggled to understand why, especially such a large one. His cooler is one of those standard kids-soccer-game sized ones; his parents own a gigantic rafting-trip sized cooler that took up nearly my entire trunk. There would be food at our final destination and plenty of places to stop along the road for a bite, so I could see no reason to bring along this mammoth case. But he’s the one who knew what we were doing and where we were going, so I didn’t ask questions. I just loaded it up, playing a lengthy game of car Tetris in the process.
By the time we got to Butte, I was glad we had it. It was half full by then, and the only thing in it were the beers we had brought from home and two six-packs we had picked up in Wyoming. Leaving Butte at the end of the week, we were again playing a game of Tetris, but this time the pieces were growlers, bombers and beer bottles. After all of exploring, there was still a lot of beer that we needed to stop and consider: beers that needed to be revisited and properly analyzed so that we could appreciate the craft we had discovered. And, anyway, what’s a better way of extending your trip than coming home and stocking your fridge with beers from out of state?
Bring the cooler.
Don’t: Bring beer from home.
This is a point that can be argued. I’m sure there are plenty of times when a few beers in your trunk can be used for bartering or introducing to your newfound friends, but our beers served no real purpose for us, except taking up space in our cooler. And I’d rather reserve that space for the out-of-state brews.
And anyway, isn’t the point of roadtripping for beer to find new beers, leaving behind the beers you already know?
We bought two six packs of less familiar Colorado beers for the road, thinking they might come in handy somewhere along the line. We drank two our night in Douglas, and left one of each in my cousins’ fridge as a “thank you” for their hospitality. (The only problem with this was our “exciting Colorado craft brews” were also available at the bar my cousin recommended to us. So much for introducing them to new beer!) Another beer or two may have been drunk while in Montana, but even now, nearly two weeks after we got back, there are still three of those beers in our fridge.
Don’t: forget to talk
While anyone who has met me in my adult life might not believe this, I am a shy person. I don’t like putting myself out there. I don’t like drawing attention to myself.
So when I go to bars or breweries I’ll hesitate before I start talking beer. If we’re sitting at a bar and the bartender looks willing to chat, I’ll talk beer until well after closing time, but if it’s busy, if the person seems uninterested, if I’m not in quite the right mood, I’ll limit the conversation to me and my companion. And this is the completely wrong approach to learning about beer.
After the trip, I wrote posts about each of the breweries we visited. Nearly every brewery responded to the post and invited me back to talk about beer, leaving me with nothing but imaginative ideas of the conversations we could have had. Traveling with purpose (such as beer) is one of the few times when it is completely acceptable to be a tourist. They are usually about as excited to have a Coloradan drinking their Montana beer as the Coloradan is to be drinking Montana beer.
The conversations I did have taught me a lot. At the first brewery we visited, the bartender handed us a map listing all the craft breweries in Montana. He gave us some idea of how popular craft beer is in Montana (their “mug club,” a club offering discounts and specials for a yearly membership, had a waiting list of 250 people) and helped us to develop a concept of what the beer scene is like in the Big Sky State.
Do: walk around
The thing about a beer road trip is it combines two activities that are not supposed to be mixed: drinking and driving. The best way to handle this is to enjoy not just the beer, but your surroundings. After a stop at a new brewery, take time to walk around, visit the town, view the views. The time spent processing the alcohol in your bloodstream can be just as enjoyable as the time spent putting the alcohol in your bloodstream.
For us, we had the opportunity to see the wonders of an old mining town; something which was familiar to home, but unique enough to be captivating. We wandered around and looked at the historic buildings and compared the residential architecture to our own with a background of beautiful mountains. And seeing it all after a pint or two at the local brewery made it all the more enjoyable.
Don’t: Limit yourself to breweries and bars
Oftentimes it won’t be the breweries or the bars that will really let you know what’s around, but the liquor stores. Plus, these often supply beers that might be native to the state or region but hard to find on tap. Some of our favorite beers from the trip weren’t from the breweries we visited, but from the bottles we picked up at a local store. And, as much as I love bringing home growlers of beer, bottles keep longer. So when you’re looking to remember your trip weeks later and want a refreshing beer to kick-start that olfactory memory, you’re going to want to reach for whatever remains of that six-pack you picked up at that side-of-the-road liquor store with the funny name.
And most importantly…
Road trips are meant to be a break from the stresses of life; it’s a holiday, a vacation, an escape from it all. And beer is something that is meant to be enjoyed, it’s meant to be associated with relaxing. After all, isn’t that why that time frame where bars discount beers is called “happy hour”? It’s a beer and a break, a relaxing moment in life. And a beer road trip should just be a string of relaxing moments in life.
If you don’t leave on time, don’t stress out. If you don’t make it to every brewery on your list, don’t worry. Because when all is said and done, the important thing is the memories you have, the beers you discovered, and the experiences you enjoyed while roadtripping for beer.
(Also, take pictures. They help jog the memory when the beer has repressed it.)