26-Hour Brew Tour: A Challenge for the Next Step

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Just ask my wife, when it comes to travel I have no hesitation for jumping in the car and heading out. Earlier this year when we went out to Boulder for cover interviews, we hopped in the car and I made the 18-hour trek from Central Kentucky in one straight shot.

I don’t mind driving at all. I’ve got my Jeep Wrangler and love blasting down the interstate as much as I love going through mud on the farm.

However, with that being said, I think I reached my driving peak this past week.

What would end up being a 26-plus hour journey, started by heading southeast heading toward the East Coast. Just a short little eight-hour jaunt to Charleston, South Carolina. I could smell the ocean air when I woke up for the drive.

I went without a plan for breweries to see, but knowing I had a close friend in the city, he’d lead me in the right direction.

The first brewery on the stop was Holy City Brewing. It sits in a unique location that was a little hard to find for myself. But in terms of brewery to taproom design, it’s perfect. The only separation between the taproom and brewery is a chain. Customers can sit, eat, drink and watch the brewing process occur all day — what could be better?

Additionally, this is where my story really took shape for our publication. Holy City had about 25 or more beers on tap — not supported by other breweries, but all their own. We spent hours talking to employees about the different beers, what they liked, what we liked and mixing beers out of kicks. The knowledge of the staff was unlike any I’d experienced. They understood the brewing process, what a customer might like and had stories behind the beers they served.

Of course a lot of breweries do a great job in this regard, but I felt that Holy City was exceptional. The only thing I would have liked to have known is the knowledge of their sales reps — which I think is the most important educational spot outside of brewing.

Where this moved me was in a hope that all beer would stop being sold equally. While we all know the difference in beers, I continually enter bars and talk to bartenders that could tell you about their wines and liquors, but the beers on tap are simply good or bad. This is a lack of education, and selling around hype as opposed to teaching. Wineries have been educating for years, and really is time for breweries to do so, and it would simply take a little extra effort. In my opinion, you’re never too big or small to start educating now brewing employees.

We literally had everything on tap at Holy City. We then pulled out the old iPhones and started deciding what would be next. The closest for us was Freehouse Brewery, so we picked it simply because.

At Freehouse we were lucky to be served at the bar by the Assistant Brewer Amy DiObilda. Granted DiObilda had only been at the brewery for around three months, her knowledge of brewing is truly unmatched and has been cultivated over years and years of experience.

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Freehouse Brewery specializes in saisons, which they take very seriously. They develop different styles of saisons and don’t shy away from experimentation. Much like Holy City, sitting at the bar you’re very much immersed in the brewing operations. While DiObilda won’t be behind the bar forever — she was just filling in for the moment — her knowledge was one that everyone at brewery should possess.

In the early portions of this trip is where I really enjoyed how educated everyone is about the beers they brew and serve. I never would have marked Charleston as a beer town, but it’s very much growing in that direction, and I only was able to reach the two on this trip.

Moving forward we headed back up towards home, another “short” eight-hour drive. I’m starting to fatigue on this drive a little, but realize I’ve still got a whole other 10 hours to go.

With a quick stop at home, I changed my bags and hit the road again for the five-hour trip to St. Louis. Heading back to Schlafly for its Hop in the City event, I couldn’t tell you how excited I was. It was sure to bring together the things I enjoy the most about brewing — beer and music.

After driving through heavy storms we arrived on Friday night and immediately hit a bar for dinner. It was here that my frustration with a lack of beer knowledge began. No one really seemed to know what they had on tap other than the styles. You’d get the typical “We have an IPA, a Pilsner, etc.” comments.

This is where I started to think about our industry and the amount of outside education that needs to occur. Beer shouldn’t be sold because it’s a “solid IPA”. It should have a backstory and local, regional and national breweries should strive to educate their consumers in the cities about beers — make it just natural to talk about.

What I want to see from bartenders outside of breweries is a conversation that goes like, “The rep from the brewery told me it was brewed with ‘x’ hops and ‘y’ hops with an addition of “z” post fermentation to develop ‘n’ flavor.”

Beer in America has lost a lot of its intrigue due to the many years of not having craft breweries. However, now that craft has found its way back into the mainstream, delighting palates across the U.S., it’s time to take brewing to the next level and create an educational system.

Regardless of those feelings, Hop in the City was amazing. We had some good beers, checked out Black Pistol Fire and talked a lot of beer. The weather, setting and music were perfect and you really couldn’t ask for much better for a Saturday afternoon.

Basically post Hop in the City the story ends very rapidly … more beers, some bourbon, appetizer, dinner, walk, sit, sleep.

Another five hours in the books and my 26-plus hour brewery excursion was in the books. Next stop, Portland — I’ll be flying for the rest of the year, thank God!

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