|For beer? Will travel!|
2011 was not simply my most prolific beer sampling year ever--it was also the year in which I visited more breweries and brewpubs than during any other since I first fell in love with craft brews. The fact that I tried so many beers is attributable in large part to the fact that I traveled so widely during the year and was able to sample multiple brews at a given location. In fact, out of the 725 beers that I tasted for the first time in 2011, a whopping 403--solidly 56%--came as a result of my journeying. These beers were enjoyed in a multitude of ways ranging from brewery tour samples at the production facilities to mealtime flights at brewpubs and, perhaps best of all, beers brought home from the region. On one trip in particular back in May I brought home over 60 bottles of beer found mostly or only in the Midwest. I got to enjoy them in the comfort of my home and reflect on the great times that I had had around the time of their purchase!
In total, I visited forty-eight different breweries and brewpubs over the course of 2011. Out of these, I went to forty-three for the very first time. I was fortunate to have been to so many awesome spots, many of which I would love to return to sometime in the future; only an extremely small minority wound up being forgettable. A full twenty of the locations came in one trip that included large cities like Chicago and Cleveland as well as small villages like Flossmoor, Illinois. Each place was memorable for one reason or another and all of them contributed to the color and variety of the most expansive road trip I have gone on since tackling the Alaska Highway back in 2008.
Since I intend to write up a full review of every brewery and brewpub I've visited, I won't say much about any of the places here unless they truly stood out for one reason or another. Any location that had been visited during a previous year will be noted as such; all others were experienced for the first time in 2011.
Weyerbacher Brewing (Easton, Pennsylvania)
Weyerbacher is a great place to go if you're looking to sample a number of beers of varying styles. Their tasting room is a part of the storage and brewing facility and you can walk right up to the counter and try whatever they have on tap. Even cooler is that if there's something that you wanted to scope out and it's not on tap, they'll open a bottle of it just to pour you a sample, regardless of whether anyone else is interested in it at the time. Very cool place and one that I've already been back to!
Dogfish Head Brewery/Brewpub (Milton, Delaware & Rehoboth Beach, Delaware) (OLD)
Dogfish Head's two Delaware locations remain my all-time favorite places to go for beer. There's always something new brewing at the eatery in Rehoboth Beach and the food is flat-out phenomenal. The brewery offers five free samples just for walking in the door and whatever they have on tap during a given day is bound to have at least one gem (and more than a few powerful brews!). The mecca of craft beer in my humble opinion.
Fordham Brewing Company (Dover, Delaware)
I actually found out about the Fordham Brewing Company from Beer Whisperer Nicole. She had gone down for her birthday and impressed me so much with her love and affection for both the beer and the people that I made it a point to take my own journey barely a few weeks later. The beer was tremendous, the people were even better, and, they remembered Nicole and her husband Matt specifically despite having seen at least a hundred other people during the time between their visit and mine. Amazing brewery and a must see for any beer fan.
Iron Hill Brewery (Newark, Delaware)
I actually visited Dogfish Head, Fordham, Iron Hill, and Victory Brewing all in the same day (a very, very bad idea--the beer was phenomenal and I wound up enjoying over 100 ounces throughout the day). The beer at the Iron Hill Brewery was great (it's actually a brewpub--I did not get to sample the food) but the parking situation was insane. It's technically located in and around the University of Delaware so parking is literally at a premium (a quarter was worth 6 minutes or maybe 12 at one of the few meters I saw). Definitely worth planning ahead in terms of the parking if you're visiting this spot.
Victory Brewing (Downingtown, Pennsylvania)
Victory Brewing is often touted as one of the best microbreweries in the country. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their brewpub was also rated the best either in the state of Pennsylvania or the city of Philadelphia (I can't remember--too much beer!) Regardless, it's an award-winning facility with a few legendary beers. What's great about it is that you can get a sampler of any five beers they have available; go with a friend and you can try ten different beers. The samples are huge but they are mostly lagers and, being the ale guy that I am, I wound up feeling underwhelmed by the quality of the brews. Don't get me wrong--they are incredible, just not my cup of tea...or pint of, well, you get it.
John Harvard's Brewpub (Lake Grove, New York) (OLD)
Made a few trips out to Lake Grove in 2011, especially after the Pumpkin Spice Ale came out. An annual trek for me and my wonderful wife Heather!
Blue Point Brewing (Patchogue, New York) (OLD)
Had a much better visit when I went in 2011 as I was able to enjoy almost ten new brews. An awesome value either way as the samples are free (though it doesn't hurt to tip your pourer!)
Brick House Brewery (Patchogue, New York)
Almost literally up the block from Blue Point (it's within five minutes--still quite close!), this brewpub offers a nice sized flight of their beers plus a seasonal option from Blue Point. A decent spot with standard brewpub fare in terms of food. If you're in town for Blue Point, then you should definitely make it a point to swing by the Brick House for some grub (and some more beer!)
Triumph Brewing (Princeton, New Jersey)
One of the most uncomfortable brewpub experiences of my life. When Heather and I walked in, we were not expecting the bougie environ that is the Princeton Triumph Brewing. The beer was delicious but be prepared to drop fifteen bucks for a salad and more than ten for a small portioned appetizer. Yeah...one of those places. Totally wasn't expecting it, which is what made the situation so uncomfortable.
River Horse Brewing (Lambertville, New Jersey)
River Horse is a great little spot that churns out a number of solid brews. My all-time favorite was sampled on my one trip to the brewery last year--a saison that will probably never see the light of day in terms of production and distribution. It was absolutely delicious but from what the brewers said, it seems like it was a one-off type of deal--a real shame!
Triumph Brewing (New Hope, Pennsylvania)
I'll admit, I was nervous about visiting this place after my previous experience with its sister location in Princeton...but for as stuffy and uninviting as its predecessor was, this place was all the more awesome. There was a pool table, a stage for live music, and just an overall fun vibe. Plus it was within throwing distance of the River Horse brewery; I could see one from the other across the river that separates Pennsylvania from New Jersey. Basically, if you're going to River Horse you have to stop here as well and vice versa.
High Point Brewing (Butler, New Jersey)
Another spot I found out about through Nicole, we all visited the brewery together in 2011. Brewers of the Ramstein beers, all of which are traditional German styles, High Point opens its doors to the public exactly once each month for two hours. I've never understood places that are like that and frankly it's a huge put off to me. I've been to places like 16 Mile Brewing in Georgetown, Delaware where the entire operation is literally two guys and a handful of other supporters and they avail themselves almost every day of the week either for tours or for sales. If a place that small and busy can make more time for its beer lovers to roll through, then why can't other places do the same? The shame of it where High Point is concerned is that the beer really is great, you just have to use the rhythm method to figure out when you can time getting some.
Triumph Brewing (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
I completed visiting the trifecta of Triumph locations with a trip to Philly on a nasty, rainy day last year. This one was my second favorite of the three though it definitely seemed like it'd be an awesome place to go for a beer and to hang out if you're in the area around the weekend. The beer was mostly good and the food was tasty. I'll definitely swing by again later this year when I go to try Pat's and Geno's for the first time.
Yards Brewing (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Yards was definitely one of my favorite locations from 2011. As soon as you walk in the door you're greeted and presented with a token for a free brew. The bar itself is pretty spacious and you have the opportunity to sample a broad array of beers ranging from their standard offerings like the Yards Brawler to the Ales of the Revolution series. If you're not up for sitting at the bar, there is plenty of other seating available and a pool table that you can enjoy. Though I did not get to take the tour during my first visit I plan on doing so when I go back sometime later this year.
Heartland Brewery (New York, New York) (OLD)
I visited a few different Heartland locations in 2011 including two new ones. Really the only brewpub option that's worth exploring in the city but if you're more interested in the beer than the food then you should consider the craft beer bar Rattle N' Hum instead.