I’ve been traveling recently and expect to go out on a few more trips this summer. Like many business travelers, I’ve developed a few tips for the road over the years, those little secrets that make life away from home more bearable. Geography topics on Twelve Mile Circle sometimes bleed across into other topics that interest me and this is no exception. So here’s my favorite tip: One of the best places to get a decent meal while journeying away from home in an unfamiliar land is to head towards the local brewpub. I did exactly that on my recent visit to southern California using techniques described in my Automatic Geolocation on a BlackBerry entry. The photos demonstrate some of the results of those efforts.
A brewpub, for those who may be unfamiliar with the concept, is a restaurant where beer is brewed onsite(*). It’s not shipped long distance from St. Louis or Milwaukee in tractor-trailers. It’s brewery fresh and crafted by hand, born from copper or steel tanks resting a few feet away. It’s produced locally and consumed locally. Although quality and style will vary based upon the skill and imagination of the resident brewer, generally speaking and as one would imagine, it’s likely considerably better than what’s sitting on the local supermarket shelf.
Now here’s the unexpected result: brewpubs usually have pretty decent food too, with cuisine ranging from pub fare all the way up to fine upscale dining. The same group of people who demand high-quality beverages also demand high-quality food. The two go hand-in-hand. It’s very difficult for a place with great beer and lousy food to remain in business for long. There aren’t enough pure beer snobs (said quite affectionately) to keep such a place afloat.
Brewpubs tend to be either single-location businesses or small chains. They are not cookie-cutter formulas designed to recreate identical experiences from sea to shining sea. As a class they provide a staggering amount of variation in cuisine, atmosphere, architecture, and of course, beer. As a frequent traveler, I’ve grown tired of the sameness of the big national chain restaurants, so brewpubs provide an excellent counterbalance. Something a little different. I’ve passed this tip along to many fellow travelers and it’s worked for them too. Even teetotalers I know who have no interest whatsoever in beer have concluded that a decent meal can be had. They take joy in reporting the results of their (dry) brewpub hunts.
Brewpubs are easy to find once one becomes familiar with some of the basic tools. Beer Me! has been my "go to" website for at least the last decade or so. Use the "Regional Brewery Guides" box on the left column to get a breakdown by country and for each of the United States. The person who maintains this site also has a blog that is worth perusing (and the entry current when I put this tip together related to Earth Day. This can be combined with other sites such as the Beer Mapping Project which provides options such as City Beer Maps and Location Lookup cross-referencing to the Google Maps API in rather creative ways. Another resource is PubCrawler which includes brewpubs within its broader scope. Those should get you started.
Ideally visits can be planned prior to departure. It’s also feasible to do this while sitting in a hotel room with a laptop and wireless Internet access, bored and with nothing better to do after a long day of work far from home. Use the resources described above to get a general layout for the geographic area, check out some of the online reviews from people who have comments about the local brewing scene, and start building some maps. Go to the individual brewpub websites to look at menus, driving directions, and hours of operation. I would recommend checking at least a couple of sources. Websites tend to lag reality. Nothing is more disappointing than arriving at a place only to find it’s closed for the day, or worse, closed forever. I’ve had that happen more times than I care to admit.
So now you’ve learned my best travel tip, and you know how to find good food and beverage while on the road. Give it a try and let me know how it goes. That’s how I’ve ended up visiting 225 different brewpubs over the years including the three I hit in southern California last week.
*OK, the purists will point out that technically a brewpub doesn’t have to have food service. I can think of only two examples from my many visits over the years. One of them provided a stack of menus from nearby restaurants that would deliver to the brewpub, which I thought was a pretty novel idea. However both of these establishments went out of business so I think this supports the general conclusion. Do your homework ahead of time to avoid surprises.