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Session 93: The intrinsic value of breweries

The first Friday of each month brings together beer bloggers around a common topic under the banner of The Session. This month The Roaming Pint hosts, giving us the topic “beer travel”:

session

So as not to tread over old ground my question is going to focus on the “why” more than the “what”. So I ask you fellow bloggers and beer lovers, why is it important for us to visit the place the where our beers are made? Why does drinking from source always seem like a better and more valuable experience? Is it simply a matter of getting the beer at it’s freshest or is it more akin to pilgrimage to pay respect and understand the circumstances of the beer better?

On visiting breweries

The last brewery I visited, besides mine, was Steam Whistle. When we made plans to go there I realized that I actually don’t care about touring breweries anymore, because I know what goes on. In general I know what a brewery contains: ingredients here, big shiny kettles there, lots of fermentation space, a packaging line. Steam Whistle had an actual steam whistle, which I quite enjoyed.

Essentially: I know how you make beer. I don’t need someone to show me.

And yet, and yet.

The Sam Adams test brewery in Boston

The Sam Adams test brewery in Boston (10/15/2008)

An aside about podcasts

Radiolab1 had a great segment in its podcast on Things, titled The Explorer’s Club & The Sugar Egg, which starts in a museum of, well, things. As they often do, hosts Robert and Jad play the parts of the old believer and the young skeptic, with Robert amazed at the collection of things with historical significance: a chair belonging to the last Empress Dowager of China, a flag that had been on the moon.

As Kumail Nanjiani said on an episode of Harmontown2, “I’m, like, very science.” I don’t think that a flag that has been on the moon somehow gained special powers, but the fact that it has been on the moon does imbue it with a sort of extra significance. I generally tell anyone who will listen about my deep, burning desire to go to space, and so when they talked about that flag I held my breath. I wanted to touch it. Not for “magical” reasons, but because through the transitive process touching something that had been on the moon, or even by being in its presence, would give me a connection to the moon, to space, to everything I’ve dreamed of since I was 10.

Relating said podcasts to said breweries

Before I owned a brewery I worked as a librarian, and before that I had plans to become an archivist. Archivists have a name for this sort of thing: “intrinsic value.” The Declaration of Independence has some merit from its words, its content, and yet if I scribbled down “We hold these truths to be self evident” and so on and so forth on a napkin I got at a Five Guys nobody would think it was special or worth saving. The original has intrinsic value, for being the thing.

So it goes with breweries, I think. I know how breweries work, yet I still want to go to as many as I can. I visited Ellicottville over the summer. I’ve had EBC’s beer, and while I’m not a close personal friend or anything I’ve met Dan Minner, their brewer, multiple times, yet I still had as my one desire for our week at Allegany to go visit their brewery. Go on a hike, definitely Thunder Rocks, but above all I wanted to visit a god damned brewery.

Visiting the brewery sometimes has tangible benefits, like beer you can’t get anywhere else. I am a sucker for the unique, the authentic, whatever “authentic” means. I don’t think beer tastes better at the place that brewed it (though freshness could play a role), but, while being like very science I do think it becomes more special.

The Flying Dog brewery (2/14/2009) (wait, we went there on Valentine's Day?)

The Flying Dog brewery (2/14/2009) (wait, we went there on Valentine’s Day?)

I buy a glass from every brewery or brewpub I go to, much to the consternation of my wife and our cabinet space. I take them like the mementos of some serial killer, keeping them in my basement in a cabinet constructed explicitly for that purpose. I consider each one special, both because they are of the brewery and because they bring back memories.

  • Half Acre: given (!) to me by the brewers after I dropped in mostly unannounced during a brewday (don’t do this)
  • Flying Dog: one of the first breweries I toured, where I first saw what production-level CO2 blowoff looked like and discovered my love of English style barleywines
  • Cambridge Brewing Company: having dinner with my friend Matt, where I tasted gruit for the first time

I could go on for literally every glass in my collection. So I suppose I’ve figured out why I like going to breweries: for the memories. I don’t define my trips to Cooperstown by my visits to Ommegang, but the Rare Vos glass I have brings back memories like a picture.

I have my own little memory palace in the basement.


  1. Which has come under scrutiny, I understand, so take my recommendation with caveats. 

  2. Speaking of things which I sometimes find impossible to defend, and yet which I love dearly…