Sometimes on weekends, I indulged in international beer traveling, in the form of a 30-mile run to Windsor, Ontario, where both beer and gas were cheaper and the American dollar traded at a premium. Before it died of rust poisoning, my Chevy knew the way to the Brewers Retail store near the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. It was there that I bought then-exotic brews like Molson Stock Ale (in stubby bottles like Red Stripe), Brador, and John Labatt’s Extra Stock. I never figured out the legalities of bringing Canadian beer across the border. I know it wasn’t contraband, like Cuban cigars, because the Customs officers waved me and my beer through. Maybe the import duty was so small it wasn’t worth bothering to collect.
Trips to Canada weren’t my only exposure to heartier styles of beer. During my student days, I spent summer vacations with my family in New Jersey. We lived 15 miles from Manhattan, close enough that I could see the World Trade Center towers outside my bedroom window. The surrounding area was rich in Irish bars. My favorite was Morley & McGovern’s, where I caught up with high school buddies, listened to Celtic music, and discovered the magic of Guinness.
In 1979, I did most of my beer traveling by car; most destinations were off the beaten track, and airfares were steep. Thinking back, I wondered if it was more fun to hit the road back then. The answer is yes and no. Highways were in better shape, there was less road rage, and the country wasn’t as homogenized by strip malls, big-box retailers, and chain restaurants. On the other hand, cars weren’t as reliable or comfortable, and drivers had to contend with the 55-miles-per-hour speed limit, which the police enforced zealously—especially on out-of-staters. And liquor laws tested the traveler’s patience. Some states made it impossible to buy a drink on Sunday; in others, even finding a cold six-pack was a challenge.
I didn’t realize it then, but big changes were on the horizon. Congress had just deregulated airfares, a move that would make it cheaper for Americans to fly to Europe and discover a world of different beer styles. Industry consolidation was killing off the nation’s smaller breweries. One by one, they would shut their doors, leaving a niche to be filled. Last but not least, President Carter had just signed a bill legalizing homebrewing. A new generation was about to revive craft brewing, creating hundreds of new destinations for beer travelers.