Cruising the Hoppy Highway
RV Travelers Driven to Craft Beer
Ben and Karen Willmore experienced their first earthquake while in the parking lot of Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, CA. Though not a major temblor, it shook enough to make cautious patrons move away from the alarming vibration of the massive glass doors in the brewery.
But the Willmores had no reason to go home and check for any damage. They were already home, relaxing in the recreational vehicle that has been their primary residence for several years. And they were at Stone because craft breweries sit high on their list of destinations for a life lived on the road.
They represent a subset of crossed cultures—a figurative marriage of craft beer fandom and nomadism. They are not alone. These craft beer nomads live and travel while visiting some of the nation’s more than 2,500 breweries, not to mention forays into Canada. In RV vernacular, they’re called “full-timers.” In craft-beer speak, they’re known as the common “beer geek.”
Maria Scarpello and Brian Devine started their quest in August 2010, from Lawrence, KS, traveling in their 19-foot 1999 Jayco RV, dubbed “Stanley.” They didn’t plan to make brewery visits a focus when they started, but after a visit to the first, Bristol Brewing Co. in Colorado Springs—and about 20 more before leaving Colorado—it became a primary focus. As of this writing, they’ve visited nearly 300 breweries, sticking mainly to the coast and the southern edge of the States.
“We quickly learned it was great way to meet excellent people and learn about the new places we were visiting,” Scarpello says.
Gary and Leeanne Boone retired from Ford Motor Co., and after five years of part-time RV travel, purchased a 40-foot 2003 Country Coach motor home, called “No. 1,” and pursued their dream life. Since starting full time in mid-2011, they’ve traveled the eastern half of the United States and Canada from Florida to Nova Scotia, and New York to Texas. So far, they have visited about 50 breweries as part-timers and more than 125 breweries since full-timing.
“Our primary motivation is seeing North America in a manner and depth that you can only do from the road,” Gary Boone says. “One thing we always did in our travels was to seek out breweries along the way.”
His list of breweries visited contains many familiar to those steeped in the craft beer world: Cigar City, Highland, Brooklyn, Ommegang and more. But in a reflection of the sheer numbers of small brewers in the nation, there are more names that might be unfamiliar to those outside the borders of their home turf. The Scale House in Ithaca, NY. Geaghan Bros Brewing in Bangor, ME. Roth Brewing Co. in Raleigh, NC (which has since been sold and reimagined as Gizmo Brew Works).
The Willmores did not start their journey together. Ben Willmore set forth from Colorado seven years ago in his 40-foot 1997 Prevost bus conversion, named “Location.” (As photographers, when people ask, they can say they’re on “Location.”) After an extended online relationship, Karen joined him in January 2010, and three years later they tied the knot in a Hawaii wedding. He’s been to all 50 states, and she says she “only has a few left.”
Ben Willmore has visited so many breweries that he “really can’t count that high.” “I’ve been to literally hundreds of breweries or brewpubs since living on the bus,” he says.
Though he doesn’t keep a list of specific breweries, for a time he kept track of each beer he tried in his favorite style—India pale ale. Karen Willmore surprised him one year by compiling the data into a 78-page book, with a photo of the beer, a one-line comment, and its rating on each page. Leafing through the book, Ben Willmore found a few that he rated 9.5: Coronado Islander, Firestone Walker Union Jack and Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, among them.
He’s still searching for his first 10. His wife calls it an “unending quest.”
Gerard Walen writes about beer travel as editor of the online magazine Road Trips for Beer. He is founder and editor of BeerInFlorida.com, and his beer writings have been published in other online and print media.