In this November Session, Brian from The Roaming Pint asks us to put in words why we travel for beer. Indeed, beer tourism is an emerging sector of tourism these days. It's one that Ireland's own tourism organisation (Fáilte Ireland) hasn't quite managed to promote yet and I strongly believe they are missing out. It somewhat defies logic when you consider that according to Fáilte Ireland, the number one paid visitor attraction in Ireland is the Guinness storehouse. It had over 1 million visitors in 2013 for what is essentially a museum. It's a very interesting museum though, it spans over 250 years of brewing history and marketing.
Here's the thing, visitors to Ireland want something that's uniquely Irish! That can't be said about Guinness any more. On the other hand, Ireland has an increasing number of independent Irish breweries who are brewing beer that in some cases are uniquely Irish in style and even ingredients on a rare occasion.
This leaves a gap in Ireland for those that wish to engage in Beer Tourism. Many stumble across Beoir, Ireland's beer consumer group. They gather info on what breweries are on their route, perhaps they download the BeoirFinder app to help them find locations serving Irish Craft Beer or Cider. Those that wish for a more structured vacation might book a tour with Brewery hops.
Long time readers might recall that one of my very first articles was a travel article, indeed it was my second article in January 2009. Technically it was the first article I started writing but I threw one in about homebrew before I was finished. Christmas in Alabama was followed with New Year in New Orleans.
If I move away from my blog though and concentrate on just me, what I have found in the last few years is that I usually pick my holiday destination based on what beer will be available when I get there. Even down to the hotel I stay in, it must be walking distance to a recommended bar that serves local craft beer. Ideally, there should be a local brewery or brewpub to visit. The only non beer related vacation I have taken in the last 5 years was when I went to Croatia this year and that's only because I went there to go scuba diving.
The question is why though? Let's just concentrate on the question of why visit the brewery when I can just enjoy the beer at a local bar?
That's an interesting one to think about. On the one hand, if you have been on one brewery tour, you have been on them all. That's a common statement I get from those that simply don't get it. In some ways, that's correct but do I care? Not in the least. Actually, I don't always go on a brewery tour. Sometimes I simply go to a tasting room and drink the beer from the source.
Does it taste any better? Usually not.
Is it cheaper? The opposite is often true.
So why? I suppose it's a way to pay homage to the beer I am enjoying. Sometimes I simply want to buy a T-Shirt or some other paraphernalia. In the end, the main reason is that I simply want to support the brewery and giving them my money directly is the best way I can think of doing that.
Perhaps this beer tourism thing is news to you but it gives you a great idea. When you think about it, most people spend a lot of their time drinking while on vacation. So why not just cut out all the other stuff and go on a holiday where drinking is the sole purpose? Does that sound attractive? I should point out that I in now way suggest drinking from the moment you wake up until you go to bed. That would be boring and unhealthy in my view.
My wife and I love going to a new city and experiencing their culture in the best way possible. We usually avoid normal tourist attractions and instead enjoy walking around and hopping from bar to bar. You almost get to feel what it's like to be a local, until you open your mouth that is. I often have set destinations in mind, bars I have found on Ratebeer or Beermapping. Sometimes we stumble in to a random and inviting looking place because something catches my eye and all of sudden we are in some sort of beer heaven. It might not have as big a range as the places on my list but it makes up for it in atmosphere. This happens at least once every time we are away.
When we are in the US, we often have a rental car. We drive to different breweries and do tours or just visit the tap room. My wife does the driving and I do the sampling and navigation. It's a good and simple system.
Not everyone wants to do a DIY visit though. Some people enjoy structure and prefer to go on guided tours. If you are visiting Ireland for instance, we have a group offering day trips or 5 day brewery tours of Ireland. They are called Brewery Hops and I can certainly recommend them. In the winter months, they will happily organise bespoke day trips or office trips/Christmas parties.
Of all the countries known for good beer, Belgium is probably the number one place that springs to mind. There are many reasons for this. I could mention all of the different and unique styles of beer or even the high strength of many of them but I don't think that's the real draw. I believe the real draw in Belgium as a beer tourism hotspot is geographical. The country is tiny, about a third the size of the island of Ireland, yet it has nearly twice our population. Public transport is so prevalent that you really have no need to rent a car unless you plan on going to one of the Trappist abbeys such as St Sixtus. Travel between cities is cheap and fast with regular trains. Once you are in a city, they are compact and walkable but have great public transport if you want to rest your weary feet. People often say that Belgium is boring, especially Brussels. For people like us, it's a beer lovers playground.
I imagine that there are all manner of tours available around Belgium. I have never seen them myself but I am sure there are plenty.
One company I am aware of is Taste Vacations. They are part of Zephyr Adventures who in turn run the Beer Bloggers Conferences in Europe and USA. Their 7 day tour of Belgium will bring you from Brussels to Brugge (Bruges). It's not cheap but it includes accommodation, breakfast, dinner and transfers in Belgium. I should mention that the hotel they have picked for Brussels is actually the same one I stayed in when I first went there in 2009. It's a pretty unique hotel and we loved it. Anyone can tour Belgium on their own and cheaper than with a tour but if you prefer structure and experienced guides then a tour is the best way to go and you are more likely to see things you might not stumble across on your own.
If there's one lesson that this months session has taught me, it's that beer tourism is on the rise and will continue to do so. We are catching up with wine tourism but the great thing about beer tourism is that many breweries are in cities and can be easily reached. Wineries on the other hand tend to be in the countryside and only reachable by car so beer tourism is just easier and in my opinion, a lot more fun and I say that from experience as I have done plenty of both.