Personally, I'm of the opinion that a worthwhile resolution ought to involve a certain amount of fun, or, at the very least, a series of small rewards. Surely we've all learned by now that a little encouragement can go a long way. So with that in mind, I'd like to offer a recommendation. Instead of (or, better yet, in addition to) getting in shape to run a race or remembering to be more courteous in the bathroom, why not make visiting a brewery part of your 2014 game plan?
According to the Brewers Association, a professional organization founded "to promote and protect small and independent American brewers," the U.S. currently contains more than 2,500 breweries. And while Vermont, Oregon, Montana, Alaska, and Colorado have the most per capita, no state is devoid of locally-brewed beer. In fact, there's a good chance you have one or two in your proverbial backyard—probably no more than a 20 or 30 minute drive. If you need suggestions and live somewhere between Washington, D.C. and Maine, just pick up a copy of my new book, The Great Northeast Brewery Tour. But if that's not enough to convince you to go, here are my five reasons to visit a brewery in 2014.
- The Space. I'll be the first to admit that not everyone finds stainless steel fermentation tanks as aesthetically pleasing as I do. And windowless warehouse spaces generally have a hard time impressing tourists. Well guess what? More and more breweries are paying attention to design and architecture, whether they're down an unpaved road in Vermont or, like Bluejacket, smack dab in the middle of the nation's capital.
- The Education. Beer geeks often go gaga for West Coast IPAs. Packed with bitterness, these ales rely on hop varieties grown in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho for their famous flavors and aromas. Did you know that until the late nineteenth century New York produced and processed more of this perennial plant than any other state in the country? For more hoppy history, talk to Randy Lacey at Hopshire Farm & Brewery.
- The People. Maybe there's a brewer somewhere who isn't friendly and doesn't wasn't to talk about his or her latest batch. If so, I haven't met them, and I've introduced myself to hundreds of brewers around the world. Don't let the beards intimidate you, start with a question and let the conversation flow.
- The Food. Yes, I liked the slight smokiness I got from my first taste of Pump House's Scotch Ale. Their Pail Ale was a nice example of that style, too. Equally appealing though was the brick oven pizza that accompanied them to my table at their brewpub in Moncton, New Brunswick. And even if a brewery doesn't serve food, many invite food trucks to park outside several times a week. Two Roads in Connecticut helpfully posts a schedule online.
- The Beer. This might seem a tad obvious, but if you're looking to try a truly fresh draft beer, the best place to do it is at the brewery where that beer is made. Wisconsinite, Lakefront's light-bodied summer weiss made with all local ingredients is probably delicious from the bottle, although I'd be hard pressed to think of a beer I enjoyed more in the last 12 months than the sample I drank in the beer hall at their Milwaukee brewery.