Drafting a Bucket List

Unfiltered by | Sep 2016 | Issue #116
Illustration by Chi-Yun Lau

Local is not everything.

Despite its hype as the ultimate goal of all things craft, local offers only a small window into the world of great beer. Fresh beer is amazing, as is having terrific breweries close to home that you can frequently visit. But there is a much wider world of beer and beer experiences out there to enjoy.

Blessed as Americans are with booming local beer markets, with some towns and cities seeing dozens of new breweries opening every year, we should always be willing to look beyond our own well-tread corners.

Whether you’re new to craft brewing’s rapidly expanding universe or a seasoned veteran, I highly recommend curating a bucket list for beer experiences. Feel free to be both practical and aspirational in generating ideas for future travel. A mixture of easily achievable day trips and more involved foreign adventures makes for a solid and fulfilling list.

I’ve been fortunate to enjoy many incredible beer moments during my life. In Germany, I’ve stood in the cellars at Schlenkerla, smelling the smoke that permeates every inch of the hallowed space. I’ve walked the ethereal gardens of Orval in Belgium, covered in lightly falling snow at dusk, with a majestic glass in my hand. Two hours by car to the north, I watched steam rise from recently spent grain in the devilishly ancient mash tun at Cantillon on a rare public brew day.

Travel is also the best way to get to know a local beer culture and its inhabitants. I’ve traveled widely through many corners of the globe, meeting brewers, writers, and beer fans in dozens of countries. I’ve talked with brewers in Cambodia, Japan, Vietnam, Europe, and the states. They know the local landscape, the great bars, and the people you just have to meet, and they can tell you the stories behind the beers and brands that encapsulate their locales. Sharing a passion for a common hobby, the love of flavorful beer, is also the easiest way I know to bridge cultural divides and make new friends.

Traveling for beer bucket list adventures also can bring you to new places you couldn’t anticipate. Since I began writing about beer, I’ve always wanted to attend the Oregon Brewers Festival. Held annually at a park stretching out along the banks of the Willamette River in downtown Portland, the fest is a straightforward, no-frills experience. The organizers from the state’s brewer’s guild select a hundred or so breweries, mainly from around Oregon but from as far away as Japan, and ask them to send a single beer for the fest. As a great pay-as-you-go event, attendees can sample small tastes or go all in on a full pour. Simple, fun, and easy.

But attending the fest offered me the opportunity to meet local brewers, both of great repute and little known, to hear what they believe comprises the best of the almost overwhelmingly diverse Portland scene. They know their city better than I ever could hope to learn with a mere parachute visit and pointed me to places and beers I won’t soon forget. And now that we’ve met, I can do the same for them on any trips back to my home in Boston.

Better yet, after checking off another adventure, I feel energized to replenish my beer bucket list with new explorations for the future. In the interim, I’ll enjoy my local breweries while dreaming of the next trip.