Guiding Thirsty Travelers
Traditional Books Still Leading the Way to Beer
A Matter of Scale
In their attempts to woo and educate the growing cohort of specialty beer seekers, some writers have become selective, steering enthusiasts to the best breweries, brewpubs and beer bars across the country. Readers love the lists, and establishments love the accolades, so a well-chosen collection will always be a good read for the armchair beer geek or the twitcher on the move. But a compilation of America’s 50 top beer destinations is of little use to the enthusiast hoping to locate welcoming beer stops en route during a family vacation.
For an audience in search of a thorough guide to a particular area, the state was the most sensible unit. Obviously, the geographical scale is pretty manageable. And since our alcohol laws are largely in the hands of state legislatures, the breweries in a given state have a context in common that goes beyond local history: All share a legal framework when it comes to things like opening hours, distribution networks, permitted alcohol strength and retail restrictions (blue laws).
Brewing guilds organize mostly at the state level. Forty-five states have guilds, and these organizations have a powerful incentive to promote their member breweries. The guilds are finding allies in state tourism bodies who at long last have come to appreciate that breweries can be magnets for visitors, as surely as a state’s monuments, battlefields or museums.
Today, 26 states are the subjects of in-depth beer guides. Most get a whole guide to themselves; others are grouped with close neighbors (New England, The Pacific Northwest), and one—California—has had to be covered in two halves (and the only guide to Southern California breweries is out of print). Remote Hawaii and Alaska have books devoted to their states’ breweries. Indiana, for some reason, has four guides dedicated to its breweries, all published within only two years. .
By contrast, 20 states have never been the subjects of a guide. As you would guess, these are the states that have come late to craft brewing or have a strong anti-alcohol tradition (these are not-unrelated). But a few of those also have growing beer industries, as well as thriving tourism economies that could get a further boost from beer.
Julie Johnson is co-owner and contributing editor at All About Beer Magazine.