Guiding Thirsty Travelers
Traditional Books Still Leading the Way to Beer
In 1987, a D.C.-based freelance journalist and speechwriter named Jack Erickson published the first comprehensive guidebook for people who not only wanted to drink American craft beer, but visit the breweries, too. Star Spangled Beer: A Guide to America’s New Microbreweries and Brewpubs devoted one-third of its 155 pages to directories of American microbreweries and brewpubs, and another 14 pages to the new breweries of Canada.
With hindsight, it’s easy to find the book quaint: Only 11 beer styles! Imagine California with just seven micros! Or Colorado with only two! But Erickson understood that the American beer renaissance had momentum: that it was a national movement with distinctive regional expressions, and that fans might see local beer as a focus of travel and breweries as destinations. He speculated on the eventual reach of craft beer:
A major city such as Boston, Atlanta, Washington or Chicago may support only one or two microbreweries, but could be the home for several brewpubs. Popular tourist states such as Massachusetts, North Carolina, Arizona, Washington and Oregon could support many brewpubs. But the largest potential for brewpubs is in populous states like California, Florida and New York.
Erickson was prescient when it came to future craft beer hot spots, but he underestimated the expansion to come. Within a few years, he had given up the effort to update Star Spangled Beer and had assigned the country’s craft breweries to two separate volumes: Brewery Adventures in the Wild West (1991, covering 143 U.S. and Canadian breweries) and Brewery Adventures in the Big East (1994, covering 110
Other writers continued the nationwide approach in bigger books with shorter entries. Steve Johnson, author of the On Tap newsletter, compiled a national guidebook of the same name regularly from 1991 to 1994. Marty Nachel released Beer Across America in 1995, the same year that Stan Hieronymus and Daria Labinsky published the Beer Travelers Guide, focused on the country’s bars, taverns, brewpubs and “other oases serving fine beers.”
In time, two things broke the single-book format: Growing brewery numbers made any sort of national guide to American craft breweries unwieldy—or at least, not the sort of thing you could tuck in your backpack or glove compartment. And the Internet happened. The print world had to offer something different.
Julie Johnson is co-owner and contributing editor at All About Beer Magazine.