Good Beer, Great Outdoors
You haven’t seen another person in five miles, and that suits you just fine. You’ve been burning up this trail since the morning sunlight crested over the mountainside. You’re approaching your campsite just as your feet start letting you know it time to call it a day. You unload your gear, sit down and take a well-deserved load off. And every step you’ve taken to reach this remote spot is rewarded when that first splash of cold beer hits the back of your throat. You look around at the natural splendor, savoring the clean air and the perfect beer. And you think to yourself: No, it really doesn’t get much better than this…
It’s no coincidence.
Many of the United States’ best microbreweries are concentrated near areas of extraordinary natural beauty—the Northeast, the Rockies, and the West Coast, for example.
The connection also can be seen on the labels and logos, which so often feature outdoors scenery. Even the names of many popular beers imply the relation—Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada, Red Seal.
Why does there seem to be such a deep draw for both the great outdoors and great beer?
The reasons vary depending on whom you ask, but there seems to be a common thread here.
“Quality of life is probably the underlying issue,” said Patrick Petersen, a guide with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, based near Yellowstone National Park. The company keeps a kegerator in the office kitchen stocked with Snake River Brewery’s beer.
“It’s the same reason you might select a certain type of automobile. It’s a lifestyle issue.”
In other words, why drive a Ford Pinto when you can drive a BMW?
True, some people simply can’t afford the premium price of craft beer. The “dirtbags,” as poor rock climbers have so kindly nicknamed themselves, might have to settle for cheap beer in order to pursue their true passion. Climbing equipment, after all isn’t cheap. Give them a choice between free craft beer and free yellow water, however, and their choice will likely shift.
Keep in mind that the outdoorsman, or outdoorswoman, isn’t merely content to witness nature from behind the windshield or while walking through a parking lot. These are the same men and women who risk mosquito bites, poison ivy and even death or dismemberment to fulfill their jones.
A Thirst for Quality
They do so for the thrill, of course, just as beer drinkers imbibe for pleasant effect. But the climber also loves solving the riddle of the rock. The hiker contemplates the forces of nature that created the mountains. The golfer admires the finesse and accuracy in play, and the combination of function and aesthetic in the course.
That same appreciative demeanor and curiosity carries over to the art and subtleties of craft beer. We examine the hue and aroma, then muse upon and debate the flavor. We marvel at the miracle (ahem, science) of fermentation. We give the brewer a grade and offer criticism or praise.
And doesn’t beer actually taste better after a long day of exertion?
It’s not just a nice reward to a job well done—there’s something different about that first sip of ale after a mountain bike ride, a day in the woods or a paddle down a river.
It’s almost magical, I think. Will Gilson, brewer at Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewing Co. in North Conway, NH, has a more scientific theory.
“You’re taste buds have had a lot of fresh air,” he said. “Part of it is probably mental, but part of it is physical.”
Gilson should know. He previously worked for breweries in two other great outdoors towns, Salt Lake City and Jackson, Wyoming. He skis before work in the winter, and mountain bikes after work in the summer.
Bikes, boats, skis and other outdoors accoutrements often festoon the roofs of vehicles in the parking lots at his brewery and many others in the nation.
Of course, environmental consciousness also goes hand in hand with a passion for the outdoors. That’s why Michigan’s Keweenaw Brewing Co. chose to can rather than bottle its Pick Axe blond ale, said brewer David Lawrence.
Cans don’t shatter into a hundred dangerous pieces of litter when they get dropped. They also require less energy to produce and fill with beer, Lawrence said. And, of course, they’re lighter.
“People don’t want to carry a whole case of bottles with them when they go out,” he said.
Especially not in a place like the Upper Peninsula, where Keweenaw makes beer. Sailing and sea kayaking rule up there, and you can’t have beer bottles clanking around the boat.
No doubt, taking beer into the mountains or out to sea requires extra preparation. When we participate in outdoors activities, we must often hike, bike or paddle the extra mile to enjoy life to its fullest. Finding brewpubs isn’t as easy as locating a chain restaurant, and the willingness to do so shows a commitment to quality and a desire to experience the unfamiliar. Places like Lawrence’s brewery, or the fine brewpubs of Maine or Northern California, for that matter, aren’t exactly easy to reach.
But when we get there, aren’t we glad we made the effort?
Here are some places with great beer and great opportunities for your next active, drinking vacation:
Just Around the Bend
The great beer megapolis of Cascadia—Seattle to Portland—would be the obvious choice. For something less well known, head to Bend, OR, on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. Visitors can drive from desert canyons to alpine peaks in one hour, and have five microbreweries to choose from.
Anglers can stalk the unique redsides rainbow trout or summer steelhead in the Deschutes River, which flows right through town. The river also has great flatwater and whitewater paddling.
If water isn’t your thing, Jason Randles, marketing coordinator for Deschutes Brewery, suggested peddling out of town on Phil’s Trail. The famous Central Oregon ridge leads to miles of fast, twisting singletrack. Rent a bike and buy a map at one of the nine bicycle shops in town.
Stay at McMenamin’s Old St. Francis School, a Catholic schoolhouse converted to a brewery and hotel. Guests can soothe themselves in the Turkish-style soaking pool after a long day of activity.
Breweries: Deschutes Brewery (www.deschutesbrewery.com, 541-383-8606); Bend Brewing Co. (www.bendbrewingco.com, 541-383-1599); McMenamin’s (www.mcmenamins.com, 541-382-5174); Silver Moon Brewing Co. (www.silvermoonbrewing.com, 541-388-8331); Cascades Lakes Brewery (www.cascadeslakes.com, 541-389-1853)
Lost in Humboldt
Humboldt County, in the northwestern corner of California, has redwood forests, rugged ocean beaches and four breweries. What more does a county need?
Backpackers will love the Lost Coast Trail, a 42-mile walk along the largest publicly-held expanse of coastal wilderness in the United States. The trail heads along the beach and below 5,000-foot mountains the entire distance.
Afterward, set up base camp in Redwood National Park beneath the tallest trees in the world, and then explore the breweries in the ultra-cool towns of Eureka and Arcata.
The town of Fortuna has less appeal, but Eel River Brewing Co. must be a dinner stop one night. One of the first certified organic breweries in the country, Eel River serves all-natural beef from cattle that receive no hormones or antibiotics, but whose diet includes leftover brewery malt.
Breweries: Eel River Brewing Co., Fortuna (www.climaxbeer.com, 707-725-2739); Lost Coast Brewery, Eureka (www.lostcoast.com, (707-445-4480); Humboldt Brews, Arcata (www.humboldtbrews.com, 707-826-2739); Mad River Brewing Co., Blue Lake (www.madriverbrewing.com, 707-668-4151).
Surf and Suds
San Diego not only guarantees good beer, but plenty of sunshine. This Southern California town has a beachfront, with mountains and desert in the backyard.
If sand and surf doesn’t sound appealing, head out to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California. On the Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail, hidden waterfalls accentuate palm groves and cacti, with some roadrunners and bighorn sheep thrown in for good measure.
Folks who keep up with the national and international beer awards will recognize several familiar names: Stone Brewing Co., Alesmith Brewing Co. and Ballast Point Brewing Co. regularly bring medals back to their town.
Unfortunately, neither Stone nor Alesmith have pubs on the premises, although Stone offers tours. The Pizza Port brewpubs, a small regional chain, offer restaurants with some of the best and most daring selections, from saisons to Belgians to standard American ales.
Selected breweries: Stone Brewing Co. (www.stonebrewing.com, 760-491-4999); Alesmith Brewing Co. (www.alesmith.com, 858-549-9888); Ballast Point Brewing Co. (www.ballastpoint.com, 619-298-2337; Green Flash Brewing Co. (www.greenflashbrew.com, 760-597-9012); LaJolla Brew House (www.lajollabrewhouse.com, 858-456-6279); Alpine Beer Co. (www.alpinebeerco.com, 619-445-2337); Coronado Brewing Co. (www.coronadobrewingcompany.com, 619-437-4452); Firehouse Brewing Co. (www.firehousebrew.com, 858-752-1878); Brewer’s Union; Callahan’s Pub and Brewery; Karl Strauss Brewing Co. (www.karlstrauss.com, 858-273-2739).
America’s first national park lies on a giant volcano, so be ready—she could blow at any minute! Seriously, Yellowstone’s geysers and geothermal oddities make for some truly strange landscape. The astounding abundance of wildlife complements the scenery nicely.
Start exploring Yellowstone with vehicle tour of all the main attractions, then pick a few hiking trails. The majority of visitors never stray far from their cars, so you don’t have to travel far down the Bunsen Peak Trail to lose the crowds. The 2-mile path leads to the top of Bunsen Peak, where you can survey the valleys and peaks of the park.
Big Sky Brewing Co.’s beers, including the often-hyped Moose Drool, are available throughout the park and nearby towns (the beer comes from Missoula, however, three hours away). Fans of the old Spanish Peaks beers will be happy to know that brewer Todd Scott now works at Bozeman Brewing Co.
Breweries: Snake River Brewing Co., Jackson (www.snakeriverbrewing.com, 307-739-2337); Wolf Pack Brewing Co., West Yellowstone (406-646-7225); Bozeman Brewing Co. (www.bozemanbrewing.com, 406-585-9142); Madison River Brewing Co., Bozeman (406-388-0322)
Bouldering in Boulder
Given the spectacular array of bouldering sites around Boulder, CO, one might think the sport was named for the town. Bouldering, in case you didn’t know, actually describes a school of rock climbing in which no rope is used and climbs rarely exceed dangerous heights.
And given the spectacular array of beers in Boulder, and the fact that the Brewers Association and American Homebrewers Association both call this town home, one might think good beer was invented here. It wasn’t, just in case you didn’t know.
So grab a pair of climbing shoes, get your buddies together, and choose from the Flatirons, Lyons/St. Vrain, Clear Creek, Boulder Canyon or the legendary Eldorado Canyon.
Afterwards, head down to Pearl Street, the main drag in Boulder, to recharge your engine. Alas, the Oasis Brewery closed its restaurant, but Redfish New Orleans Brewhouse serves up some mean Cajun.
Breweries: Avery Brewing Co. (www.averybrewing.com, 303-440-4324); Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery (303-546-0886); Redfish New Orleans Brewhouse (www.redfishbrewhouse.com, 303-440-4858); Boulder Beer Brewing Co. (www.boulderbeer.com, 303-444-8118); Southern Sun Pub and Brewery (303-543-0886).
Red Rocks and Red Ales
Red rock desert and forested peaks surround the college town of Flagstaff, AZ. The famous new-age nexus of Sedona lies not far away.
Start with a hike up Loy Canyon, in the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness. The 12-mile trip travels along classic desert scenery and rewards hikers with great vistas from the Mogollon Rim.
Wind down in the billiards room at the Beaver Street Brewery. The heavily German-influenced beers of Oak Creek Brewing Co. make the trip to Sedona worthwhile.
Breweries: Beaver Street Brewery (www.beaverstreetbrewery.com, 928-779-0079), Flagstaff Brewing Co. (www.flagbrew.com, 928-773-1442), Mogollan Brewing Co. (www.mogbrew.com, 928-773-8950), Oak Creek Brewing, Sedona (www.oakcreekbrew.com, 928-204-1300).
Way Up There
The beautiful, undeveloped shoreline of Lake Superior and its various coves and bays are worth the drive to the Upper Peninsula, known to locals as the “U.P.” The long tradition of brewing in the Great Lakes region has also taken hold here. Keweenaw Bay, for example, has some beautiful scenery and sits next to three breweries. How convenient.
Keweenaw Brewing Co. brewer David Lawrence suggested renting a kayak and paddling along the eastern shores, which tend to be sheltered from the wind.
Breweries: Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub, Tahquamenon (906-492-3300); Lake Superior Brewing Co., Grand Maris (www.lakesuperiorbrewing.com, 906-494-2337); Jasper Ridge Brewery, Ishpeming (906-485-6017); Library Bar and Restaurant, Houghton (906-487-5882); Keweenaw Brewing Co., Houghton (www.keweenawbrewing.com, 906-482-5996); Red Jacket Brewing Co., Calumet (www.michiganhousecafe.com, 906-337-1910).
Fit for Presidents
The most rugged scenery in the Eastern United States can be found in the Presidential Range, a part of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. All that cool alpine water creates perfect conditions for trout—brookies, browns and rainbows. Grab a fishing license at North Country Angler (603-356-6000) and then head to the Swift River.
North Conway’s Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewing Co. keeps eight beers on tap and has an inn right upstairs. While you’re in town, pick up a sixpack of Tuckerman Brewing Co.’s alt or pale ale. Their beers are bottle-conditioned using the German “krausening” method, in which a small amount of fermenting wort is added right before packaging.
Breweries: Moat Mountain Smoke House, North Conway (www.moatmountain.com, 603-356-6381); Tuckerman Brewing Co., Conway (www.tuckermanbrewing.com, 603-447-5400).
Bar Hopping and Whale Watching
Bar Harbor serves at the headquarters for whale watching in Maine, thanks to its proximity to the whale’s feeding grounds and another great treasure, Acadia National Park.
Whale cruises depart constantly from the small town, but land lubbers who don’t have their sea legs will find plenty of wildlife, from moose to seals, in the park. The ultimate Acadia hike can be found on the Acadia-St. Sauveur Mountains loop, which offers astounding views of the entire park and Somes Sound, the only fjord in the Lower 48.
Bar Harbor Brewing Co. offers tours and tastings at their facility, which sits walking distance from the Blackwoods Campground. If you’re around on a Saturday, The Atlantic Brewing Co. offers all-you-can-eat barbecue, ideally sampled from their patio.
Breweries: Atlantic Brewing Co. (www.atlanticbrewing.com, 207-288-2337); Bar Harbor Brewing Co. (www.barharborbrewing.com, 207-288-4592).
Beer, Southern Style
Tucked away in Southern Appalachia, Asheville boasts incredible architecture, a thriving arts scene and an eclectic variety of restaurants and breweries.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, which follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, runs right through town. Drive up the parkway to the Graveyard Fields and Shining Rock Wilderness to hike among Appalachian balds. These unique grassy areas feature wildflowers in the summer and views of colorful mountains in the fall.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, chow down on some Irish fare at Jack of the Wood, Green Man Brewing’s restaurant pub. Then take in a movie at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co.’s theater.
Breweries: Green Man Brewing (www.jackofthewood.com, 828-252-5445), Highland Brewing Co. (www.highlandbrewing.com, 828-255-8240), Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. (www.ashevillepizza.com, 828-254-1281), French Broad Brewing Co. (www.frenchbroadbrewery.com, 828-277-0222), Pisgah Brewing Co. (www.pisgahbrewing.com, 828-582-2175).
Mark Vanderhoff is a former newspaper journalist, craft beer lover and new transplant to Asheville, NC. He and his wife plan their travels around two amenities: great outdoors recreation opportunities as well as great beer.