It’s that time of year again – lazy days at the cottage, warm, late nights in the park, picnics on the Island… Who am I kidding? I’m talking about the only kind of summer vacation us beer geeks know how to take: a Beercation. Really, for many of us there is no such thing as a regular vacation anymore; even the family trip to Marineland involves subversively plotting as many breweries and specialty beer stores on route, and sneaking away to try the newly released IPA on tap at the bar while Junior swims with the Dolphins. The much awaited, heavily researched, and expertly planned trip to a bucket-list beer destination is the ambition of every beer geek (and the bane of many a beer geeks family; #sorrynotsorry).
I recently had the opportunity to visit one of my beer mecca’s of the beer universe, San Diego. Since my brother lives in LA, there was no way I was going to get away with going to Cali without making the obligatory family visit (love you bro!), and since I only get 15 days of vacay and need to use them sparingly for future beercations (If you are reading this Boss I’ll bring you back more beer for more vacation days! Note: Do not read tip #5). I had less than 48 hours to do justice to this great beer city. Let’s just say, everything did not go exactly as planned. Or rather, my plans needed a tiny dose of realism. So, with the hopes that no one else might suffer a less than optimal beercation in the future, I offer some advice to optimize your time for drinking more great beer. Bon voyage!
- Do not plan to visit more breweries than there are hours in a day. Even if your sober self thinks it is do-able, it is not. I know, I know – beer is more important than sleep (who needs it when that barrel aged sour is waiting?) and Google doesn’t know how fast you can drive/walk/run. And yes, you have an inhuman tolerance you beer god you. However, if you want to save yourself stress (and save your liver!), underestimate the amount of time you will have because…
- Do not assume that everything will go as planned. It will not. We thought we had a solid 48 hours in San Diego to attempt to do at least a bit of justice to this mecca of malt and hops. A delayed flight, a 3 hour wait for our reserved car rental (word of advice: never rent from Avis at LAX), and followed by gridlock on Highway 101, we lost an entire day. Which meant I had to squeeze 11 breweries and one cidery into the span of 24 hours (Had to. But don’t do as I did. See tip #1). Do yourself a favour and give yourself tons of extra time for the inevitable.
- Do not ask your significant other to be your DD on your beercation. Unless you are looking to be single real quick. Use public transit, Uber, or even make more room for beer by walking it off in between stops. On that note…
- Do not just book the cheapest hotel you can find. Consider the amount of time and future money you will save if you do your research and find a spot walking distance to a couple of your favorite breweries. If you are not taking my advice on #3, your significant other will thank you.
- Do not hoard your purchases to bring home. Consume your rare finds. Do not attempt to bring them back as souvenirs. I know, I know, one of the best parts of a beercation is bringing home your white elephants to gloat (I mean share!). I was like you once. I am now quite certain that I have quenched the thirst of more airport staff than anyone I know – more often than not my hard to find treasures do not find their way back to me. I have visions of TSA cracking open my box of carefully packed bourbon barrel aged sours from The Bruery and Russian River and spitting it out in disgust and then pouring the rest of my liquid gold down the drain. I get teary just thinking about it.
- Do not try and school the tour guide/brewer/bartender etc. on their own beer. Don’t be that person. I know you are extremely beer knowledgeable and want to generously share all of your knowledge with the uninformed. Just don’t be a beer dick. Relax, listen, and maybe you’ll learn something new! On that note…
- Do chat with bartenders. Bartenders always know the newest and hippest joints to check out that might not have received any press yet (I should know, I was one), and you never know, if you are nice (see tip #8 below) you might just get a taste of something rare or in the tank. After talking wild ales and oak barrels, the most awesome David at The Lost Abbey cracked open the last bottle of Veritas to share with us and the staff, and then gave me a bottle from his own personal stash for me to take home (It sadly did not make it. See tip #5.)
- Do not just visit Big Guys – but also don’t ignore them either! Some of the newer, smaller independently owned craft breweries do not have the money to purchase ads in the tourist mags or put up huge billboards, but they are often creating some of the most innovative and interesting beer. However, one of the most eye-opening tours I have ever done was of the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis – the first 30 minutes of the tour just wandered through the Clydesdale stables. Not sure what the horses in their ads have to do with the flavour/aroma of the beer but interesting nonetheless. On that note, you do not need to book a tour at every brewery you visit – a brewery is a brewery for the most part, and they take a good chunk of time out of your day which, if you are like me (don’t be like me, see tip #1) has many other destinations on the agenda.
- Don’t just drink beer. Check out local cideries, wineries, distilleries… oh ya, also water is a good thing. Drink lots and lots of water.
- Don’t assume you will remember that very memorable beer you tried at brewery number 7 – you won’t, and then you will kick yourself later. Write it down, keep a beer journal, or note it in Untapped or Ratebeer – your sober self will thank you later.