50 Thoughts After 500 Breweries

Reflections after visiting 500 breweries.

500 breweries. 221 cities. 38 states. It has been quite the journey. To say I’ve been blessed would be an understatement. To celebrate hitting this milestone, I’ve composed this list of 50 thoughts I have on craft beer that I’ve garnered over the course of the past couple years traveling to breweries. They can range from pretty well-known ideas, to things that are definitely personal opinions. My beer journey is just that, mine. We are all shaped by individual experiences, and I’d love to hear the thoughts of others! Conversation is one cog in the machine that drives craft beer!

A map of every brewery I have visited at this point
  1. It is an amazing time to be a craft beer lover. The brewery boom over the last several years has been a joy to experience.
  2. Some may disagree, but I love the innovations and crazy beers that are concocted. Today’s technology and access to ingredients have led to brews that people in the past would have never dreamed of.
  3. Not all the beer from #2 is good, and there are certainly some out there that SHOULD NOT have been made.
  4. With all the fluff and new styles popping up, the quickest way for a brewery to earn my respect is to brew an exceptional Pilsner or similar light beer. It’s easier to hide mistakes in a huge Pastry Stout or heavily fruited Milkshake IPA.
  5. No matter how many beers you drink, and even if you can appreciate every style, all of us will have biases that affect how we rate and judge individual beers and breweries.
  6. Also, remember that your opinion of a brewery/beer is just that. An opinion. Many others may agree with you, but not everyone will.
  7. While beer meccas like San Diego, Grand Rapids, and Portland are AMAZING, there are phenomenal breweries in basically every corner of the country. Some of the best experiences can happen when you find a top-notch place in an area you’d least expect!
  8. As you can tell from my previous articles, I am pro-flight (at least for my first visit). If I go back, I’ll get a pint of a favorite, but I always want to try a variety initially.
  9. Speaking of variety, it’s always nice to try different styles while also focusing on your own personal preferences. BUT take into account what the brewery is known for. If they are known for their Amber Ale, you may be remiss to only order stouts or IPAs.
  10. If you’re unsure what to order, ask what their flagships are, as well as what the staff enjoys.
  11. Drinking seasonally is fine, and even I do it somewhat, but never be afraid to drink a stout in the middle of summer, or a lager during a snow storm in January.
  12. Just because a brewery or beer is popular or widely distributed, doesn’t mean you have to like them. Likewise, if other people don’t care for a brewery or beer, you absolutely can love them!
  13. Life is too short to drink bad beer. (But remember #12, just because you think it’s bad beer, doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way)
  14. Sometimes hype can lead to disappointments (for breweries and beers).
  15. Sometimes, a brewery that doesn’t have hype deserves it.
  16. Some beer may look delicious and be bad. Some beer may look below average but be amazing.
  17. While it’s almost impossible to do, try to follow #12-16 and attempt to keep an open mind when visiting a new place or trying a new beer.
  18. I don’t care for Untapped and similar beer rating apps, but certainly understand why many people enjoy them. Just don’t let a rating influence what you think of a beer, and if you don’t like a certain style of beer, be conscious of that before rating it.
  19. We all have different palates. One of the joys of craft beer is that we all enjoy different things. If we didn’t, it would be very boring!
  20. In my opinion, waiting in line for hours and hours to buy beer is overrated. Although I do get why some enjoy the hunt and wait for great beer.
  21. And if you wait in line, remember #14. Just because you waited in line for a long time doesn’t mean you’ll love the beer. And be honest with yourself (and social media) if you’re not a fan.
  22. Not all brewery tours are created equal.
  23. While the more established tours are usually entertaining and informative, some of my favorite experiences have been impromptu opportunities to be shown around smaller facilities by the head brewer or owner. 
  24. Speaking of the brewers and owners, some of the best people I’ve met on my journey have been those behind the beer.
  25. Only so many breweries can be in top 5-10% in beer quality. Having a strong theme or atmosphere can help set a brewery apart. This is especially true in areas that are brewery-dense.
  26. Some of my favorite themes that I’ve personally seen: baseball, science/robotic, hockey, log cabin, music, and even religious!
  27. Having stuff to do can definitely help (i.e. shuffleboard, arcade games, axe throwing, etc.).
  29. I always enjoy learning more about the brewery, taproom space, and beer from people that work there.
  30. Also, having a bomb food menu is a sure-fire way to bring in folks. My wife doesn’t drink beer, but will join me for good food. And when a brewery has a kitchen, we’ve always enjoyed what we ordered!
  31. However, we have gone to places where food is clearly the focus, and the beer is lackluster. That is fine, but just be aware of that if you’re a brewery, and maybe have some guest taps as well.
  32. Having an outdoor space is always a plus, but it’s definitely more important in certain parts of the country (I’m from Milwaukee, our patio season is shorter than San Diego’s…..)
  33. There are so many awesome beer-centric podcasts. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to be a guest on a few and have always had a blast!
    Having open dialogue is incredibly important in the craft beer world.
  34. Some people (like myself) avoid breweries that have been bought out by big beer. Others of course continue to drink those beers. It is important to understand and respect both opinions of that debate.
  35. Breweries: be careful with expansion. A couple decades ago, it was a different experience to weave yourself into other markets. Established breweries like Stone and Boston Beer Company have developed a base over many years. Now, if people are not drinking national brands, they often are drinking local. I’ve witnessed a few breweries try to scale up too quickly in recent years, only to experience dramatic failure. Obviously it’s not impossible, but it’s vital to take a smart, measured approach.
  36. Beer drinkers: be aware of #35. It’s always frustrating when a brewery you enjoy doesn’t distribute to where you live, but understand that every state has different regulations and laws, and it takes effort and money to expand.
  37. Social media is a double-edged sword in some ways, but overall I am extremely thankful for it. Not only has it allowed me to share my experiences, but it has provided the opportunity to meet and interact with many amazing people!
  38. For breweries, having a strong social media and online presence can be a big factor. While it may not be completely necessary, in today’s day and age it certainly plays a role in the clientele you are able to attract.
  39. People enjoy interacting with breweries, and social media is the easiest way to do that. There have been a handful of times where I was narrowing down what breweries I would visit on a trip, and a brewery that was responsive to my tweets would be more likely to receive my business because it shows they care about communicating with customers.
  40. Twenty of my favorite breweries that I’ve visited (not necessarily in order):
    • New Glarus (New Glarus, WI)
    • Stone (Escondido, CA)
    • The Alchemist (Stowe, VT)
    • Castle Danger (Two Harbors, MN)
    • Mike Hess (San Diego, CA)
    • Great Notion (Portland, OR)
    • Trillium (Canton, MA)
    • Central Waters (Amherst, WI)
    • Cascade (Portland, OR)
    • Burial Beer Company (Asheville, NC)
    • Mikerphone (Elk Grove Village, IL)
    • Speciation Artisan Ales (Comstock Park, MI)
    • Toppling Goliath (Decorah, IA)
    • Evil Genius (Philadelphia, PA)
    • Mantra Artisan Ales (Franklin, TN)
    • Woods Boss (Denver, CO)
    • Forager (Rochester, MN)
    • Hermit Thrush (Brattleboro, VT)
    • Bear Roots (Vista, CA)
    • Eagle Park (Milwaukee, WI)
  41. Twenty of my favorite beers that I’ve tried while visiting a brewery (not in order, grouped by style):
    • Maple Island Bock (Bock w/maple syrup), Maple Island Brewing
    • Castle Cream Ale, Castle Danger Brewing
    • Capps (Belgian Dubbel w/Candy Cap Mushrooms), Tannery Bend Beerworks
    • The Crusher (DIPA), The Alchemist
    • Easy Tiger (Brettanomyces IPA), Lamplighter Brewing
    • Into the Sunset (Blood Orange IPA), Mike Hess Brewing
    • Juice Almighty (Hazy Fruited IPA), Great Notion Brewing
    • #Adulting (IPA w/Guava), Evil Genius Brewing
    • Bear Cookie (Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout), Bear Roots Brewing
    • Island Fudge (Imperial Stout), Barrel Theory Brewing
    • Moral Sweatshirt (Peanut Butter Stout), Garrison City Beerworks
    • Super Imperial Smells Like Bean Spirit (Imperial Breakfast Stout), Mikerphone Brewing
    • Vanilla Pot & Kettle (Oatmeal Porter), Trillium Brewing
    • Booze for Breakfast: French Toast (Imperial Stout), Eagle Park Brewing
    • Stranger Things (Smoked Apple Gose), Foam Brewers
    • Blueberry Muffin (Fruited Sour), Great Notion Brewing
    • Razzberry Twang of Fruitility (Berliner Weisse w/raspberry), Brewing Projekt
    • Passion Pit (Barrel-aged Wild Ale w/passion fruit & naranjilla), NOLA Brewing
    • Supplication (Sour Brown Ale aged in Pinot Noir barrels), Russian River Brewing
    • Meotic Drive (Foeder-Aged Solera sour ale w/elderberries), Speciation Artisan Ales
  42. Excluding those from #41, some of the best taprooms I’ve visited:
    • Prairie Street (Rockford, IL)
    • Magic Hat (South Burlington, VT)
    • Ahnapee (Algoma, WI)
    • St. Joseph (Indianapolis, IN)
    • Ocean Beach (San Diego, CA)
    • Green Tree (Le Claire, IA)
    • Pryes (Minneapolis, MN)
    • Great Rhythm (Portsmouth, NH)
    • Surly (Minneapolis, MN)
    • Door County (Baileys Harbor, WI)
  43. Top 5 Large Beer Cities (that I’ve been to breweries in):
    1. San Diego, CA
    2. Portland, OR
    3. Denver, CO
    4. Minneapolis, MN
    5. Chicago, IL
  44. Top 5 Small Beer Cities (that I’ve been to breweries in):
    1. Grand Rapids, MI
    2. Asheville, NC
    3. Portland, ME
    4. Duluth, MN
    5. Burlington VT
  45. I separated the small and large beer cities because they are truly different experiences. I can’t say I prefer one over the other, as they both have their positive factors. Some will enjoy the excess of options and other amenities in the large cities, while others would choose the accessibility of the smaller locations. I can say, not dealing with rush hour traffic is a positive in the less populated areas!
  46. I’ve enjoyed a beer with lots of amazing people, but my favorite person to enjoy a brew with has always been my father.
  47. Hopefully we will continue to see more diversity in beer. Both in terms of who is making it and who is drinking it. Gender, race, economic status, we should all be able to enjoy a drink together!
  48. If you personally witness something that contradicts #47, please say something.
  49. While for many of us, this is a passionate hobby, don’t forget to step back and simply enjoy the beer. I’ve caught myself being more concerned about the pursuit of the next brewery rather than focusing on what I was experiencing right at that moment.
  50. I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. It has been a pleasure to not only travel the country and visit breweries, but be able to share my endeavors with everyone. I am extremely excited to see where we will be going in the future, here’s to the next 500! Cheers!

Bonus thought: I would also like to thank my amazing wife, who has not only supported, but enabled this passion of mine. She herself does not drink, but her desire to travel with me and her past (and possibly future) career has played a huge role in my ability to visit breweries. I’m certainly a blessed man!

At Central Waters Brewing

Current Brewery Count

504 breweries across 221 cities in 38 states. These numbers are current as of 8/3/19. For an up-to-date count, and to follow where I go, check out my social media accounts!

Instagram: @brewery_travels

Twitter: @brewerytravels

Joel Geier

2 thoughts on “50 Thoughts After 500 Breweries”

  1. NICE READ. Cannot agree more with your #4. However, almost all beers in #41 are gimmicky and/or big?!?! Cheers.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article! I certainly have a bias towards sours and adjunct stouts, and when I say ‘favorite beers’ those are ones that are generally catered towards my personal preferences. In reference to #4, I have certainly loved many phenomenal beers from the more classic, lighter styles, such as the Cream Ale from Castle Danger Brewing, the Kolsch from Mike Hess Brewing, the California Common from Iowa Brewing, and the Hefeweizen from ELK Brewing just to name a few! Cheers!

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