Some people choose vacation destinations based on how many acres of white sandy beaches they can see from their cabana. My husband, Dan, and I have somewhat different priorities—we structure our travels around finding beer we can't drink at home. (As well as sandwiches, baseball, and national parks, but that's for another story.)
Over the years, we've honed our methods for finding the best beer on our travels. And on our recent road trip through the Southeastern U.S., we basically rode a wave of suds through the Appalachian Mountains, drinking our fill and savoring great beer at each stop. Here are my top tips for planning a beercation and discovering new favorites wherever you go:
5 Tips for Finding Great Beer on Vacation
1. Do your research.
It sounds fairly obvious, but my first point of trip planning is to pore through restaurant and bar menus to see what's on tap and whether the spot has a focus on the local stuff. Tastings at craft breweries are always fun and educational, but many of the smaller ones only offer public tastings on Saturdays, and that doesn't help me if I'm only in town on a Wednesday night!
Sites like RateBeer and BeerAdvocate are excellent resources for initial listings of places that offer a variety of local beer, and the app Untappd has a search option to locate nearby bars, beers, and breweries. You might also discover great beer at some of the other stops on your trip—like Cedric's Pale Ale and Brown Ale brewed specifically for the famous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, that we sampled while on the grounds.
2. Look for pubs that serve smaller pours.
If you're in town to try everything local you can get your hands on, it's hard work to guzzle down a pint of each beer you want to taste. Good brewpubs and breweries serve smaller pours and tasting flights to showcase their wares without sending you into a dizzy tailspin. The Wicked Weed in Asheville, NC, for example, offers all of its beers in 10-ounce pours as well as the usual 16 ounces.
3. Sit at the bar.
But don't just sit there, talk to people—the bartender, your server, your fellow stool-pigeons—and get the scoop on their favorite haunts in the city. Maybe it's easier for Dan and me to strike up random conversations since we're both reporters and story-seekers at heart, but I guarantee you'll tease some gems out of those you chat with. And talking at the bar is way less weird than leaning over to the 2-top next to you and peppering them with questions.
4. Bunk within walking distance.
Again, this is common sense, but I always book a hotel within the neighborhood with the highest concentration of bars, breweries, and restaurants where I want to get my drink on. In larger cities like Chicago or New York, it's less of an issue to grab a cab, but in smaller towns, transportation can be problematic and pricey.
Sometimes this means you're restricted to a choice of chain hotels, but often you'll find smaller venues like the historic 200 South Street Inn in Charlottesville, VA, next door to the South Street Brewery and a two-minute walk to Miller's, a champion of regional breweries (and where Dave Matthews tended bar way, way back in the day).
5. Take it home!
If you're road-tripping it, there's no reason not to leave room in the car for drinkable souvenirs. Of course brewpubs sell six-packs and large-format bottles of their own stuff, but bottle shops let you pick and choose from a wider variety of local offerings. And the best ones—like The Growler Station in Greenville, SC—let you build your own mix-and-match sixer so you can go home with a sampler of things you might not have had the chance to try from the tap.
What are your tried-and-true tricks for finding great local beer on vacation?
(Image credits: Casey Barber)