Brewery Tour Snob

Even laid-back Lagunitas has to set a few rules

Even laid-back Lagunitas has to set a few rules

I’m a brewery tour snob. There, I said it, well, wrote and published it. I’m not proud of the fact, but it’s the truth. Now, let me try to explain.

These days, everybody and his grandmother have toured a craft brewery. There were probably a baby and a bored pre-teen in their tour group, too. At the larger craft breweries—think Stone or Oskar Blues— tours are hugely popular and great PR, generating gobs of good will and dollars. I remind myself that there was a time when I couldn’t have identified a mash tun or raised my hand when the guide asked, “What are the four essential ingredients in beer?” So, yeah, there are reasons and needs for those entry-level tours.

Maybe you’re with me, though. As in, you drink enough beer to easily talk about your most and least favorite styles and why. Maybe you’ve done some homebrewing and know that strike water and knock out involve no violence. Stepping up your tour game can cost a little, but smaller tours like Sierra Nevada’s three-hour, $45 Beer Geek Tour are generally worth the money for more serious craft beer enthusiasts. Knowing the right people may net you a special tour. One local homebrewing friend has gotten to know our Lagunitas distributor rep, who recently arranged a private tour for the man when he was traveling through Petaluma.

Beer tours, like Beltline in Raleigh, N.C., have sprung up all over the U.S. and tour guides tend to be very knowledgeable. Generally, though not always, folks who sign on to visit three or four breweries in an evening are fairly sophisticated craft fans and make good tourmates. Taking a bus also eliminates drinking and driving concerns. Many companies, like Brewvana in Portland, Oregon, offer public and private tours. If you’re looking to work off some of those calories you consume along the way, try walking between locations with Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Urban Oyster Tours or biking with Denver’s Mile High Bike Tours. Some companies, like Amazing Pubcycle of Asheville, N.C., offer a giant bicycle for twelve or so, that requires a certain level of team work (and sobriety).

The best tours I’ve been on, though, stand out most for the knowledge of my tourmates. Beer enthusiasts who enjoy writing about the beverage, like those who attend the annual Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference, take brewery touring multiple levels up from the 101 version. If you’re looking for a serious beercation, companies, like Bonbeer of Belgium, are happy to help you.

My most favorite tours of all, and the hardest to get into, are those in the company of professional brewers. Yes, I realize the hypocrisy of looking down on casual beer tourists and then wanting to hang with pro brewers when I’m not one. Believe me, I go with a humble awareness of my ignorance.

Brewers enjoy getting inside other breweries so much that before last week’s annual Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, D.C., the Brewers Association offered eleven tours, each with four breweries and lunch. Unlike average tourists, brewers typically run all over an unfamiliar brewery. But then they aren’t going to accidently trip over hoses they didn’t notice or fiddle with funny looking levers to see what will happen. They tend to snap a lot of photos and ask questions like, “Your fermenters, you’re double-batching, right?” (Real question on last week’s tour.)

Port City's patented invention, the Hopzooka, for dry hopping caught the attention of visiting brewers

Port City’s patented dry-hopping invention, the Hopzooka, caught the attention of visiting brewers

The beer on brewers’ tours is, of course, excellent and copious. Inside the brewery at Port City Brewing Company in Alexandria, Virginia, while one brewer talked to our group, another filled pitchers—straight from the fermenter. (When beer is finished fermenting, it’s usually sent to brite tanks to wait for packing and free up fermenter space. This particular batch was finished but hadn’t even been transferred. In other words, you can’t get beer any fresher. It was as spectacular as you’d expect.)

Lake Anne Brew House co-owner Melissa Romano and employees

Lake Anne Brew House co-owner Melissa Romano with employees

At smaller breweries (and sometimes larger ones, too), the owners often chat with visiting brewers. Imagine a beautiful morning in Reston, Virginia where nanobrewery Lake Anne Brew House is officially closed, but expecting us, husband-wife co-owners Jason and Melissa Romano throw open the doors when we arrive. Beer flows, rows of fresh-baked spent grain pretzels are lined up buffet-style for the taking. On the patio, Melissa slides into a newly vacated chair at our table and begins to answer questions and offers to refill empty glasses.

Seibel online instructor Hugo Patiño with Caboose brewer Justin Weems

Siebel online instructor Hugo Patiño with Caboose brewer Justin Weems

On the Caboose Brewing Co. tour in Vienna, Virginia, we had the unexpected pleasure of meeting brewer Justin Weems, who had taken a Siebel online brewing class taught by my husband, Hugo.

This whole eight-hour tour with essentially unlimited beer at four breweries and a fantastic lunch at Mad Fox Brewing Company in Falls Church, in the company of brewers from four continents, cost us $70.00 per person. See why I’ve become a brewery tour snob?

Brewers inside the Mad Fox brewery on April 10

Brewers inside Mad Fox brewery on April 10

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