Rules for Successful Brewery Touring
Plan ahead. If touring an area you are unfamiliar with, this is imperative as one brewery’s inaccurately posted hours or temporarily closed “renovations” can wreck your whole day. This is also important in a state (I’m talking to you Michigan) that has two seasons: Winter and Construction.
Drink water. No. Seriously. Every time you have someone ask, “What can I get you?” ask for water with your beer. This prevents two things: 1) Dehydration/Hangovers and 2) Dehydration/Hangovers. I’ve woke up plenty of mornings in much less pain than my brewery hopping partners for the simple fact that I was better hydrated.
Pace Yourself. If you have more than two locations on the tour for the day, don’t walk in and order a flight of 8 beers thinking you are going to kill them solo. You will get sauced too quickly and, more importantly, you will kill your palate. It is awesome to experience enough beer from a brewery to establish a well educated opinion of the place, but for the sake of the hop gods, you don’t need to try every last beer on the menu.
Pee Often. When ever and wherever a bathroom exists, use it! Just as you would ask a little kid if they need to use the potty before leaving, ask yourself the same question. It never fails that as soon as I forget, I run into traffic, a closed location or just plain need to take a leak as soon as I reach the car. If you are drinking that water, like I suggested earlier, in addition to the beer, your kidneys are going to get a workout. P.S. Pee right before going to bed as well. It will hopefully keep you from waking up at least one extra time over the course of the evening.
Eat Food. Food keeps the 10.2% Belgian Tripel from kicking your ass. I find myself continually tempted to order food at each place I visit as many establishments have incredible menus. There needs to be a balance between food and beer, however, or you will lose your mojo and just want a nap effectively killing your tour day. Small shared dishes scattered across the day is the best way to go.
Ask Questions. Most places have bartenders, brewers and owners who are very educated, are proud to brag about their beer and want to share the love they’ve put into their brewery. I guarantee you will not be disappointed in learning a bit more about the history and passion behind the malt, hops, water and yeast you have in front of you.
Travel Far. My favorite experiences were and are in the small town breweries off the beaten path. I’m writing this from Four Leaf Brewing in Clare, MI. The taproom itself is gorgeous and the Owner is behind the bar telling the patrons about each beer and the story being each one. She is knowledgable and engaging as she educates and pours. You will find gems in these small places—then wish like hell they were close enough to be your home brewery.
Mind ABV. My favorite current beer style is the sky high ABV Belgian Tripel (see above). An ill timed high ABV beer, especially without that food or water will also kill your day.
Avoid Beer-Snobbery. It takes more digits than I have to count the number of ass-hole beer snobs who have entertained my eavesdropping ear. More than 50% of the shit they spew is just plain wrong. No one wants to be with, or sit near someone who thinks they know a Flanders Red from a New England IPA and just fucks it all up. Instead, ask questions and learn. One’s education in beer is never done.
Order 5 oz-ers. As I’m finishing that lovely Belgian Tripel, I’ve realized there is a Maple Sap Ale and a Kentucky Common on tap. Dammit. My salvation on these solo brewery tours are the 5 oz pours. They will give you enough sense of a beer to provide and adequate sense of the beer, but not knock your socks off.
Over tip. I’m not encouraging over tipping a staff member who sucks, but we are part of maintaining a positive beer culture and keeping these small breweries in business. This includes the waitstaff. More and more breweries encourage their staff to pass the Cicerone Beer Servers exam. Your server is not only pouring your beer, but possesses a strong knowledge base covering beer styles, beer maintenance and pouring the perfect glass.
Drive Safely. In my former professional life I was a flight nurse/paramedic (yes, both). *Steps up on Soapbox* I’ve witnessed the aftermath of drinking and driving more times than I care to remember. That shitty decision devastates the lives of so many. Being pulled and convicted of driving under the influence is bad enough. Killing someone is horrific. By the way—the drunk one is statistically the least likely to die in a crash. *Steps off of soapbox* A DD is an amazing thing. Driving yourself? Consider investing in one of these.