There are plenty of pre-packaged brewery (and winery) tours, all of them just fine—even more fine when you have zero desire to create a Google map and chart the course of your beer destiny yourself. But they can also be a tad less fun, or at least not as conducive to total spontaneity, which is just what a month like May (or June, or July) needs.
Interestingly enough, the basics of putting together a kick-ass brewery road trip aren’t entirely far from guidelines to living a happy life (coincidence? Or is beer quite possibly the answer to everything?) The fun of this kind of brewery tour is you don’t have to coordinate with friends to buy tickets or find the perfect date for everyone (spoiler alert: there isn’t one). Just pick a weekend, see who can go, and scale your trip accordingly (see Designated Driver item below).
And yes, if you have time, get commemorative T-shirts made for everyone on the trip. Something like “Brewtopians,” “The Brews Brothers,” “The Electric Brew-Laid Acid Test” (you’re either on the bus or off the bus), and, of course, “Brew You Know the Way to San Jose.”
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Select a Region
As of late 2015, America was home to 4,131 craft breweries and counting. It seems like you could pass a micro brewery start-up on your way to the local Wawa. In truth, some regions are richer in breweries than other—states like California, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado, Maine (ahem), Michigan, Washington, New York. When planning a brewery road trip, you’re going to want to find a small section within any of those states where breweries are clustered and driving is feasible. Speaking of…
Create a Designated Driver System
This doesn’t mean you subject one sad sack to the task of driving you and your beer-guzzling clan from brewery to brewery, listening as you slurrily recount the lighter grapefruit notes of that last IPA (or, more likely, belt along to Journey like you won’t need vocal chords tomorrow). Especially if you’re doing a multi-day trip—and if you’re doing it, do it!—assign one DD a day. (Incentivize it by purchasing a delicious/special/rarified beer to go for said designated driver at each brewery.)
Learn State Laws
This one is more important if you’re traveling between states, say from Oregon to Washington. Driving beer across state borders can be considered criminal. We say “can” because laws vary from state to state. One place that absolutely prohibits residents from bringing back alcohol into the state is Pennsylvania. Maybe that’s because their football stadium once used to house a jail for unruly drunk fans….?
Many breweries—and bless their Jalapeño Popper hearts—will have a brewpub attached to the facility. Easier to keep patrons there, and on their feet, when you’ve got some soft pretzels and a duck fat fries to offer. But finding intermittent provisions—ideally, all of them fried in duck fat—is as important as having that designated driver. Unless you want your ultra classy, Ralph Lauren-esque outdoorsy outing to turn into some kind of classless Ed Hardy drunk fest.
Shelter, the third basic necessity after food and beer. This could be anything from a camping tent—set up by the least inebriated person, on designated and (dear god) bear-free campgrounds—or a charming inn somewhere in Vermont’s Mad River Valley. (Although don’t go to that inn. It’s definitely haunted, albeit with a dirty hippie ghost.)
Keep A Diary
Alright, so nobody keeps a diary anymore. Though, please, if you feel the need, journal the sh*t out of it in the back of the car. But absolutely keep a log of your brewery trips. Instragram it, Facebook it, Vine it. Hell, even MySpace it. It’ll be a fun trip, and while we’re not encouraging you to drink so much you don’t remember it, it’s almost always hard to remember some of the weirder specifics of a good trip. So take photos, tag them, and revel in the coolness of your homemade brewery trip.