Guiding Thirsty Travelers
Traditional Books Still Leading the Way to Beer
The most optimistic estimate from authors of the shelf life of a beer guidebook is about five years. Breweries and brewpubs falter and close, and the confused tourist with an out-of-date book is left standing in front of an empty storefront where he expected to find lunch and a pint.
But more encouragingly, new breweries open. Taken together, this means a revision of a guidebook after a few years is more like a complete rewrite.
Morrison hopes that good stories and strong writing can extend the lifetime of her book. “I didn’t want my guide to be outdated by the time it hit the shelves, so that’s why the stories are there: Good stories are evergreen,” she says.
Writers monitor pending changes in alcohol legislation that stand to alter the beer business—and their books—dramatically. Ruschmann and Nasiatka note that laws in Michigan have made microbreweries with tasting rooms a more profitable business model than brewpubs, with a corresponding growth in micros.
Robin Shepard completed research on his third guide, on Minnesota, then put it on ice. “I had that book done a year before we released it, but we stopped it because Minnesota passed its pint law, and we knew there would be a whole bunch of small breweries opening,” he explains. “It exploded, from a couple of dozen brewpubs to over 35.”
As craft breweries continue their growth, the state may no longer be the most reasonable geographical unit for an in-depth guidebook. Noting the growth of beer destinations in specific areas of Pennsylvania since his latest edition, Lew Bryson muses, “The beer bars that have opened just in southeastern Pennsylvania and Philadelphia since then—you could almost do a book just on them.”
A number of regions and metropolitan areas now warrant separate publications for their breweries and their beer. Modest books exist on San Diego, Charlotte and Seattle; Portland, with 70 or so breweries within the city, has easily twice the number of breweries of many states that are considered to be beer-friendly.
It would be a shame if beer writing became so atomized that our guidebooks had to funnel down to the city level, which seems to divorce brewing culture from the larger landscape of historical, cultural, legal and even geological factors that shape our beer. But as long as thirsty travelers want to read about and find distinctive destinations, and new breweries keep appearing, writers will scramble to put their stories into a meaningful context.
Julie Johnson is co-owner and contributing editor at All About Beer Magazine.