In our hometown of Denver, Colorado, according to some intense research by Jonathan Shikes at Westword, there are just around 100 breweries in Denver proper (not including the ‘burbs), but also over 400 breweries in the state, making it 4th in breweries per capita according to the Brewer’s Association. So, how in the hell do you find which craft brewery to visit?
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
And the even bigger question is how do you decide which brewery to visit when you travel, especially when there are over 7,000 breweries in the US? And travel encompasses a lot of options as well: RV, motorcycle, airplane, Lyft/Uber, bicycle, walking, driving your own car? (People still do that?)
OK, and yes, we want to drink beer, but long gone are the days where you walk into a bar and ask for just a beer. With around 150 different official styles of beer according to the Brewer’s Association (I was overwhelmed just from doing the research.), and thousands of crazy creative names and adjuncts and hops and malts, how the hell do you choose what beer, let alone how to find a brewery?
And don’t forget about the ambiance and style of a brewery. People judge breweries by their beer gardens, yoga sessions, trivia nights, running clubs, food, bookclubs, live music, and even by their bathrooms.
With all this option overload, I wouldn’t blame anyone if they simply went to the brewery closest to wherever they are at the time, and screw all the options. Dude, I just want a beer!
The Neighborhood Watering Hole
Today, that is one of the ways to find a craft brewery – the closest one to you. Breweries are working hard at becoming the neighborhood watering hole. Take Old 121 for example, in Lakewood, Colorado. Their goal is to celebrate their neighborhood, promote their community, and be a place where locals come to hang out.
This is becoming such a norm that beertenders know you by name, they know the beer you want, they know where you like to sit, they know your kids’ names, your job. They know you. You know, like the TV show, Cheers. Well, shit, you just might be able to walk into the brewery and say, “Hey I need a beer” and they know exactly what beer you mean.
Searching “Breweries Near Me”
This is all fine and dandy when you are stationary, but how do you find a craft brewery that’s not in your local neighborhood? What if your local neighborhood changes every week because you travel full time or you love to head out on beercations, or work takes you to different places every few months. Or you really do want to find that perfect brewery that fits you like a glove. What do you do then?
Well, basically, you need to do what you want. But in the end, having some guidelines will help you do just that, so here are those guidelines, and how we find the breweries that fit us.
Google and Apple Maps our are best friends when it comes to finding breweries while traveling. At least that’s our starting point. When we are in small towns, it’s pretty easy to choose a brewery considering there is often only one, two if you are lucky.
However, when visiting big cities, we still start with these tools, but then we delve a bit deeper by asking ourselves several questions, finding answers from brewery websites, social media pages and recommendations from others.
Now, when YOU are searching for a brewery, we recommend you start with us at Living a Stout Life, then move on to Google, maps, and other recommendations. While we may not have every brewery in the book listed (far from it), we may surprise you.
But first, before searching Living a Stout Life or Google, you must have an answer to THE QUESTION…
What is your craft beer goal?
The questions below will help you answer this question and guide you in your decision as to what exactly you want. But again, remember…Do what you want.
What kind of beer do you like?
Recently, we had a brewer friend visit us in Denver from Superior Bathhouse Brewery in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and we had all kinds of preconceived ideas of where to bring him. None of the places we had in mind specialized in sours, which was exactly what he was excited for. The moral of the story is to know what you and your friends like to drink. Are you looking for a simple lager or something with crazy adjuncts, or more dark beers, or sours, or IPA’s, or a variety? The list is almost endless.
But what if you are new to the game, and have no idea what you like? Well, then proceed on to the next few questions to help you decide, or just go for it. Find the closest brewery near you and start drinking. Don’t be too picky. Just ask your friendly beertender, and they will point you in the direction you need to go. Feel free to also check out this handy dandy cheat sheet to get you started.
What kind of brewery do you want to visit?
With brewpubs, taphouses, nano-breweries, and more, this is an all important question, so decide what fits you at that moment and go from there. A quick layman’s vocab lesson may offer some insight.
- Brewpub – a restaurant that also brews beer or a brewery that is also a restaurant
- Taphouse or Beer Bar – several taps usually dedicated to craft beer oftentimes focusing on regional beer, but also may have options for other beers. These could also include food service and a full bar.
- Taproom – usually does not serve food (may have food trucks) and focuses on the majority of their beer being sold there on tap
- Nano-brewery – similar to a taproom focused brewery but smaller
Do you want food with your beer?
Food goes well with craft beer. Actually, French fries, and pizza, and burgers, and see…food…all food! So, if you know you’re going to be eating while drinking, then you need to know if you want more of a brewery with a food truck, more of a restaurant that also brews its own beer, or something in between, like Counter Culture for example, where their focus is on the brewery and the taproom, but they also serve up a damn good burger (just ask for one at the counter).
If you’re all about the beer and could care less about the food, then your options on finding a solid craft brewery open up even more, as most do not serve food; they do beer, and they do it very well.
How are you getting to the brewery?
Very important question especially for us when we travel in our RV. We have to think ahead of time for this because sometimes turning around is not so simple in a big vehicle. We have it fairly easy, though, since our RV is 24 feet in length, and we do not tow a car.
Others, not so much, so knowing ahead of time to park in the street vs pulling into the parking lot can be a huge plus for everyone involved, especially other patrons that have already partaken in this delicious beverage that is, in case we have forgotten, quite intoxicating.
The main point here is to be aware of your original goal of why you are visiting a brewery in the first place. If you know you will be on a walking tour of several breweries throughout the night partaking in a bit of craziness while you’re at it, then have a designated driver or be prepared to call a Lyft or Uber. There are way too many brilliant breweries in this world to only visit a few because of one dumb decision.
Do you want to visit more than one brewery?
If your answer is yes, then it makes more sense to choose a brewery that is within a mile or two of other breweries, like in Austin, for example. In the US market of over 7,000 breweries, this usually isn’t much of a problem unless you’re visiting a town of less than 200 people, like Omaha, Georgia with Omaha Brewing.
Are friends joining you? Is it a special event?
When we travel, we usually end up sitting at the bar if we want to meet people and talk about beer and life. If we have plans to work while sipping on a beer, we find a cozy corner in a brewery and get to work without talking much. Yeah, right!
Work rarely gets done in a brewery for us; we love talking to fellow beer lovers, so work usually gets done at a coffee shop and conversations and laughter prevail at a brewery. When we are planning on meeting friends, we seek out breweries with cool beer gardens or large community tables where there’s enough space to mingle with everyone.
Any adventures planned before or after your brewery visit?
This matters more than you think. For us, it’s usually a hike or a mountain bike ride, or an apres ski after spending hours on the snowboard. We look forward to the beer, the food, and the conversations after an adventurous time.
We earn our beer! So, especially when traveling, figure out what you want to accomplish, where you want to travel to, and then do your best to match it all up with the brewery that pairs perfectly with your adventures.
In our travels, once we have decided a region of the country, we then pair up mountain biking trails using MTB Project, with breweries near us, often using CraftBeer.com, and then Campendium (an app that shows you a variety of places to camp) or Harvest Hosts (a membership site that allows you to stay overnight at breweries, vineyards, farms, and more) to make sure we have a close place to stay when done with our craft beer adventures.
Does ambiance matter?
Me? I’m a big ambiance freak. I love walking into a brewery and feeling the culture of the neighborhood I’m in. I even find myself judging a brewery by its bathroom, and then I remember I am there to judge it by its beer, and all is well again.
At any rate, if you are like me, judge away; there are plenty of breweries to pick and choose from. But remember, your judgment of the wall decor might have you missing out on the best beer ever, so tread lightly in the ambiance department when finding a brewery.
Does the story or history matter?
We love visiting off-the-beaten-path breweries with unique stories, so we search those out quite often. It’s just what we like, that small nano-brewery feel, the cozy atmosphere of something that tells a story the second you walk in the door. We love the taste of craft beer, of course, but it is almost always the stories told from within the four walls of a brewery that make or break a place for us.
We love the stories so much that we created the Craft Beer Travel & Adventure Podcast, where we sit down with these breweries and other interesting people and just talk! That podcast stemmed from a video series called Stout Conversations, where we had those same conversations.
First things first (and I wrote an entire article on this), be in the moment and realize that missing out on one brewery allows you to enjoy the one you’re at. Make a choice and be all in. If you try to have everything, you’ll actually end up with nothing. That’s also great advice for the beer you choose, too. Please don’t try to have all the beer…at least not in one sitting. Beer will quickly become your enemy if you try to have it all. Nobody wants more enemies!
When asking for recommendations, be specific. You just spent precious time figuring out how to find a craft brewery, now be smart and use those answers when asking for recommendations. If you know you are going to Asheville, don’t just ask for the best breweries in Asheville, ask for the ones with the beer and the ambiance you love.
Great events turn on small hinges.
On the other hand, listen to people’s random suggestions and don’t plan everything all the time. Some of the best breweries we visited were never planned, or rarely researched.
Father John’s Brewing Company comes into mind immediately. We happened to be staying at a winery just outside of a small town in Bryan, Ohio and came across Father John’s. Dude it was in a church, of course we had to check it out. And as Stephen King wrote in his book, The Institute, “Great events turn on small hinges,” we found that happening with our visit to Father John’s.
Meeting several people there we now call friends, life has changed the better for us because of this unplanned visit to a small town brewery. “If you don’t shower with your wife, you’re a dud! You’re wasting water!” A quote from a friend that will live with us forever.
What do we look for in a brewery?
We look for small breweries with interesting histories, cozy beer gardens and taprooms, and a variety of taps, most times resulting in great conversations and great beer. Through craft beer, we have made new friends, created awesome adventures, and bought unique brews to share with people all along our travels.
Craft beer is a community. We have found a community.
What will you find?
“Fill with mingled cream and amber,Edgar Allan Poe
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain –
Quaintest thoughts – queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.”
(As far as we know, but we are drinking ale today.)
Craft Beer Adventure Journal
So, now what do you do to keep track of all these breweries and adventures you have visited and created? If your memory is like mine (it sucks), you need a way to remember all of this cool shit.
We’ve got you covered with your very own Craft Beer Adventure Journal, by yours truly, Living a Stout Life. This journal is a space to record the beer you drink, the breweries you visit, the food you eat, the people you meet, and the adventures you have.
Organized within six regions of the U.S. and some extra pages at the end if you need more space or for those once-in-a-lifetime jaunts across the seas, this journal is made for beercationers and locals alike. It is the perfect match to your adventurous craft beer lifestyle. Click the image below to order now.
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Just need a map that shows you the closest beer?
Head over to our Craft Brewery and Mountain Bike Trail Finder Map and find the breweries you are seeking!
Getting excited about too many breweries?
Make sure you don’t skip a single stop when finding the best brewery for you with our guide on brewery hopping without getting drunk!