While on the road, you should always find time to also be on a bar stool.
The explosion in popularity of the craft beer market has been a boon in a number of ways. More types of beer are readily available to the market than ever before, with new styles being developed or rediscovered, and once-bypassed variations becoming commonplace. It was a few years ago that the breadth of the King Of Beers — Budweiser — was diminished in significant fashion, when the craft beer segment had greater sales than the once-dominant label.
This explosion of popularity for microbrews and specialized styles saw an interruption as a result of the pandemic, but this is still a vibrant and growing sector of the beer business. Small breweries are now the norm across the country, and brewpubs and beer gardens are found in many areas. This expansion in tastes and options has seen the mushrooming of producers, created jobs, and helped rejuvenate some withering areas of cities. It also makes for an enjoyable option for travelers.
Now when you embark on any type of trip in this country, be it for leisure or business, there is a great chance you can find some local specialties which can augment your experience.
Seek And You Shall Sip
Be it a large metropolis or a smaller township, the chance of having a local brewery is extremely large. Even if you are in a burg that is small and does not have a producer nearby you should be able to find some regional labels on tap in restaurants or offered on the shelves of the grocer. One of the primary goals of this column is to encourage exploration and experimentation, and the traveling drinker is one of the better ways to do so.
In past generations, the popularity of national brands was due to serving up a consistent product that could be relied upon while on the road. Families or businessmen going to new cities could depend they would at least find familiarity with McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken. In the same fashion, Budweiser or Miller Lite were go-to options, because you could be certain what you are being served. But this has been changed, as tastes and styles have evolved and now experimentation is more likely, and better still — options are now available.
One of the first things people do when getting into a new town is to find out where to get some food. Obviously, for those like myself, I explore the drinking options, but the great thing is today these components are frequently intermixed. Many local brewhouses offer up food as well, or at the least, you can get to a restaurant with multiple taps with a portion of those allocated to local options.
While at the CPAC convention in the Washington D.C., area it was a boon to have just down the street from the convention both a World Of Beers chain location, as well as the Granite City brewpub. I would make a point of treating the bar as my satellite office, sampling while writing and during one lunch, sharing bar space with National Review’s Jim Geraghty, as we typed and sipped as we worked.
The great thing is that this expands the travel experience and develops memories that linger far longer than the aftertaste. Case in point, not long ago we took a trip to meet some extended family in a smaller city where they had a vacation home. I managed to find a small American bar that most of the crowd was wary about. Once inside, we discovered some casual dining that was delicious, and they had regional options on tap which were surprisingly high in quality. The whole experience became one we all recollect to this day, and they have told us of subsequent visits they have made to the location.
This is an essence to traveling after all — encountering the different options and experiences which are specific to a region, and the local beers are one sure way of tapping into these avenues of discovery. The good thing is there are a few ways you can make these discoveries.
As mentioned, local eateries are a great conduit to finding new pints. What I have found is that while on the road if you ask your bartender about any local labels, you are likely to get some enthusiastic responses. They frequently take pride in their neighborhood brews and will often give you a rundown of choices.
If you have an extended stay, you could also make discoveries on the retail side of things. Grocers in particular, but some convenience stores as well, have in stock the beers distributed in their region. Take some time and let your gaze meander in the cooler sections, and you will find new and unfamiliar purchase options to bring back to the hotel.
In the old days, there were major labels in sections of the country, and these can still deliver a sense of adventure. Genessee is the major beer made in Rochester, New York, with the common choices being its flagship label, a Light, and a cream ale being sold for years. But on a trip to the brewhouse itself, there is a full-scale restaurant, and they also offer up a selection of other options on tap only available on location. It was a full-scale Rochester experience to have a beef on weck sandwich with their pilot batch, salted caramel chocolate porter while looking over the falls in the downtown location.
This is a common result, as most breweries have selections that are only offered on-site as a limited run or a sample of a new tasting room experiment. It is a great way to immerse yourself as a visitor and cement some memories. Even if you are in a city for business — relegated to professional meetings while ensconced in a national chain hotel, and not on tour — you can elevate your stay with this simple practice of delving into the brews of the gentry.
We recently made a trip to Jacksonville for a football game, in town for only a few days, yet the full brew experience was managed and the dismal game result was mitigated. Next to the hotel was a local brewpub making decent options with a Spanish menu. We also found a casual eatery chain that had a number of local breweries featured on tap. I even came across one mass-produced light beer tied in with the Jaguars — Duval Light.
With a modicum of research, and a desire to explore, your visit to most cities will be elevated or expanded by sampling some of the offerings the locals engage in, as long as you have an adventurous liver. Even if the beer itself is not particularly memorable, the quest itself could lead to other experiences, and after all — isn’t that an important part of the trip?