This post is in response to a prompt provided to me by a fellow San Diego Beer Blogger, Bill Vanderburgh, who writes for craftbeerinsandiego.com.
I have been traveling for fun and for visiting breweries for over four years. This raises the question of what value there is to doing so, besides making it easier for others to decide where to go when visiting the same city. I find tremendous value in it, which is why I still continue to travel despite not making any money from my blog.
The value of exploring breweries can be seen in a few ways. The most obvious is that by visiting the brewery directly you get to try beers you wouldn’t find elsewhere. This has little meaning if you can’t differentiate between beers or if you are happy with just any beer. So this leads to an explanation of the hardcore beer enthusiasts, whom I have befriended over the years.
All beer drinkers start their journey with a flavor they enjoyed in a beer that they want to re-live. But for some, their enjoyment is not dependent on quality, or the variations of quality are not so apparent. By becoming hyper-focused on flavors of beer, many enthusiasts take a leap further. Through this leap comes a differentiation between good, great, fantastic, and world class. Others are happy to find beer that is at least good or sometimes great and stop there. Looking back I sometimes wish I had done so to. Constantly searching for fantastic can lead to disappointment if a beer is not perfectly fresh or as flavorful as the previous batch.
However, having reached the level where I differentiate between fantastic and world class gives me an experience that I can share with enthusiasts around the world. And through this comes a passion that leads me and others to travel longer distances to visit breweries famed for being world class. As some might point out, I am not certified either as a beer judge or a cicerone. I have no formal training on what makes a beer a fantastic example of its beer style. But I speak not from education but from personal experience, an experience many drinkers can relate to.
At nearly every excellent brewery I visit, I meet people who share my passion for searching out the fantastic and the world class. These meetings often turn into in-depth conversations and occasionally friendships. Friendships often develop over a shared passion, whether for types of music, quality beer, or appreciation of nature. These shared passions help us to quickly judge the person we just met. From there, a friendship may develop further into something more personal over the course of many years.
There is a certain welcoming character to beer enthusiasts that I find quite similar to metal heads. Once that shared quality is discovered, conversation takes on a deeper meaning. But I live in San Diego where there are already many world class breweries to visit, surely I could meet beer enthusiasts in my hometown. I absolutely have. There is something different about meeting someone at De Garde, Sante Adarius, American Solera, Cantillon, Jester King, Hill Farmstead, and others that immediately triggers another level of connection. I met 5 wonderful people on my visit to Cantillon a few years ago. Of them, I have kept in touch with the three American women. All 3 of them fell in love with Cantillon’s famed apricot lambic.
You might notice a similarity in the list of breweries. They all focus on barrel-aged beers either farmhouse or inspired by the Belgian lambic tradition. This style has an inherent draw for beer enthusiasts. The beers can be aged, developing complexities over time. And in certain instances I have found specific beers of the style that my husband and mother enjoy, even though most sour beers are beyond their appreciation. I have had numerous people I had never met offer to share a bottle with me that they purchased to drink at the brewery. I have also shared many similar bottles with others, whether at the brewery or when friends come over to share some beers.
There is a tendency among the hardcore beer enthusiasts to welcome the person you just met as if you were friends with them for years. This connection to others is at the heart of what it means to be human. Some might even describe it as sharing an experience of unconditional love. I look forward to the development of these friendships over the coming years. My journey has just begun.