Scoring an Awesome Brewery Tour

Psst! What to know how to score a totally unique and awesome brewery tour?

Blog about beer.

Taking a break from Live Beer Blogging at J. J. Taylor Distributing

Taking a break from Live Beer Blogging at J. J. Taylor Distributing

Of course, it helps if you have, say, 10K+ Twitter followers. Or you post professional quality beer-related photos on Instagram and Snapchat. Working in social media at a brewery is also a plus. And it goes without saying that you have to write well, which means that even if you snagged 100s on grammar tests in elementary school, that doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to hold your readers’ attention.

But you probably aren’t reading this because you plan to start a beer blog. Nope, you just want to find out how to score great brewery tours. I mean, these days, it seems like everybody and his dog—oops, Fido’s brewery welcome extends only to the patio and other outside public areas—have toured Sierra Nevada or Stone or Lagunitas, right? In fact, according to the Brewers Association, 10,000,000 people toured U.S. craft breweries in 2014. Yes, you read that right. Ten million people. And those were actual tours, not simply visits. So, how do you get to the next level?

At Coppertail Brewing Co. with Andy Sparhawk, Program Coordinator at CraftBeer.com

At Coppertail Brewing Co. with Andy Sparhawk, Program Coordinator at CraftBeer.com

Well, it helps to go with a group of individuals who know even more than that nerdy craft beer geek at your workplace. (Folks who work at breweries or in related industries also get special treatment, and professional brewers typically get the absolute best tours of all.) Of course, that implies you should know a thing or two yourself. Sometimes, you can cheat and sneak in as the significant other or good buddy of a beer geek or other Special Beer Person. Beyond that, your best bet for landing a tour for the non-masses is to request a private one. Those typically come with pricier tickets and requirements like assuring a minimum number of participants.

Beer writer extraordinaire Stan Hieronymous gave the 2016 BBC keynote speech

Beer writer extraordinaire Stan Hieronymous of Appellation Beer gave the 2016 BBC keynote speech

So what makes beer bloggers so special? First, we tend to know a lot about beer and brewing, and second, we offer something breweries and brewers really desire: publicity. Gobs and gobs of good publicity, if the brewery plays it’s cards right. Ponder for a moment the gold mine (or nightmare if things were to go wrong) when 127 beer bloggers—some with thousands of social media followers–start blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and Instagramming about you and your brewery.

Goofing with Ashley from Green Flash at pre-dinner reception sponsored by Green Flash

Goofing with Ashley from Green Flash at pre-dinner reception sponsored by Green Flash

When those busses loaded with beer bloggers pull in, the free beer flows and the food buffets overflow. Brewers and their assistants, even brewer spouses, sip and chat with bloggers, tirelessly smiling and throwing arms around bloggers for photo ops. Professional networking is in high gear on all sides.

At World of Beer Pairing dinner with blogger Carol Dekkers and one big pretzel

At World of Beer Pairing dinner with blogger Carol Dekkers and one big pretzel

During the 2015 Beer Bloggers Conference in North Carolina, Brian Grossman led one of the tour groups at Sierra Nevada. (In case you’re not a beer geek, Brian is head of the NC facility and son of Sierra Nevada founder and owner Ken Grossman.) They fed us a spectacular dinner and gave us the first public tasting of the upcoming Oktoberfest beer, along with commemorative steins. When a brief program kicked off at the end of dinner, Ken Grossman himself—who lives in California—held the mic.

Bloggers descend on Beer 30

Bloggers invade Beer 30

Part of success for BBC excursions is the variety they offer, including optional before and after excursions. This year’s pre-conference excursion on July 7 featured Jacksonville breweries, starting with Wicked Barley Brewing Company which was a few weeks away from opening. Clearly proud of their accomplishments to date, co-owner Tobin Turney rocked the tour guide role for 15-20 bloggers. On our way to lunch at Aardwolf Brewing Co., we dropped by Beer 30-A Craft Beer Emporium where bloggers from all over the U.S. eagerly stocked up on what for them were ordinarily hard-to-find beers.

Aardwolf tasters flights ready for the bloggers

Freshly poured Aardwolf Brewing Co. taster flights await thirsty bloggers

At Aardwolf, we were greeted by smiling employees and a long row of colorful taster flights, one for each blogger. In the next room, hot pizzas and cold salads waited. From there it was on to Engine 15 and Bold City Brewery with more brewer-led tours and generous samples. The beer and dinner in the private Belgian Basement at Kickbacks Gastropub were pretty much to-die-for. The owner circulated among bloggers and, as we finished dinner, led small groups through the catacombs, a rambling underground area with hundreds of bottles of fine aged craft beers.

Engine 15's Route 90 Rye at the source

Engine 15’s Route 90 Rye at the source

The next morning, we were bussed 180 miles to Tampa Bay for the official start of BBC16. Mornings were seminar time. On Saturday, our one full day, a bus caravan ferried us to World of Beer for a hearty beer pairing lunch co-sponsored with MillerCoors. Later in the day, we descended on J.J. Taylor Distributing Florida, Inc. for live beer blogging. The inside of a large distributorship is worth a tour in itself. (See last week’s post for more on live blogging.) The evening was filled with a progressive dinner starting at Ulele and moving to the famous Cigar City Brewpub an on to Coppertail Brewing Co., always with generous supplies of beer, food, brewer-led tours and lots of goodwill.

Successful beer blogging does take hard work, consistency and good writing and social media skills, but the tours and perks can be totally worth the work.

Brewer Craig and co-owner Tobin talk at a pre-opening tour of Wicked Barley Brewing Company

Brewer Craig and co-owner Tobin talk at a pre-opening tour of Wicked Barley Brewing Company

Brewer Prebus leads post-lunch tour at Aardwolf

Brewer Preben leads post-lunch tour at Aardwolf

Engine 15 brewer and co-owner Tobin during a one-on-one chat

Engine 15 brewer and co-owner Tobin during a one-on-one chat

Bold City brewer whose name I missed

Bold City brewer, whose name I missed, leading brewery tour

Kickbacks Gastropub owner, whose name I missed, in the catacombs

Kickbacks Gastropub owner, whose name I missed, in the catacombs

Some of Ulele's brewing vessels

Some of Ulele’s brewing vessels

At Cigar City

At Cigar City

Inside Coppertail's brewery

Inside Coppertail’s brewery

 

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