“This one hasn’t even come on the taps yet, but given you made it all the way here I’ll sneak you a taste”. Being in California for work was nowhere near as glamorous as expected given a lack of free time and an absence of friends, but I had an evening to myself. I headed to a local independent brewery to take a tour around it to try and feel cultured and drink some beer simultaneously, my regular strategy when thirsty and on the road.
As luck would have it, nobody else showed up for the tour, leaving me to a one-on-one with their brewer and all the conversational, educational and thirst-quenchable perks that came with it.
Over two hours later, we parted ways. I left with a real buzz, maybe predictable given my consumption, but intensified greatly by my overall experience. I now understood the locale and the people who lived there, through laughter, conversation and the sharing of stories. This feeling will be familiar to you too - the unrivalled satisfaction of an immersive local experience that travellers worldwide work so hard to find.
This may have taken place across the water in California but the experience is the same here in the UK. Our thriving independent brewery scene is the perfect framework for a local trip, and with a bit of help from SALLY you can locate and enjoy them.
In the UK, breweries often appear like mirages, incongruous and unexplained. They emerge when you are wandering through a suburban maze of semi-detached houses and tree-lined streets in Zone 5 London, they materialise in the distance when you are driving along remote lanes in the Scottish Highlands, and they pop up within warehouse districts near motorways. In all cases, the feeling when you see that unexpected beacon of fairy-lights and a chalk board with that day’s selection is the same: joy. The joy of finding a brewery is unrivalled because it promises two wonderful things: beer, and someone passionate about the beer.
Discovering craft beer, in the place and from the place, allows an exploration of local culture through drinking as a holistic experience, not just to get wasted (despite that often happening anyway – depends on how good the beer is!). It assumes a commonality - you’re all there for the beer - and uses it to provoke conversations with strangers. This allows a window into where you are, providing a concentrated snapshot of the essence of the location that can otherwise be hard to come by. You could argue that this is the same as at a pub, given they are also often populated by locals and regulars; indeed, the variation between a pub and a brewery is minimal on the surface – they both serve booze, after all.
However, the key difference is this: a pub does not necessarily demand its people be passionate about the beverages being served. A brewery does. When you enter a craft brewery, regardless of whether it is the head brewer or a seasonal bar staff member, you are greeted with warmth and even gratitude for making the effort to single out this place and taste what they are pouring their heart and soul into creating. This demeanour is great for groups and couples and is even more rewarding for the avid solo traveller looking for refuge, or to share their experience with others.
In an independent brewery there is no intimidation factor or atmosphere suggesting this space is only for the locals. There is no time limit and the rules are usually more relaxed (e.g. permission to bring in kids, pets or your own food). Every brewery makes you feel comfortable in a new way because their creations and environments are unique, and all of this is packaged together to express the ultimate form of hospitality: allowing you to make their home your own for a few hours.
This doesn’t go for all breweries – you aren’t going to be received in this way walking into the juggernaut Guinness operation in Dublin. Macro-breweries, those global operations that made beer into the formidable force it is today, can serve an entertaining purpose for sure, but they come with a necessary facelessness that defeats the purpose I am talking about here. The places on SALLY, despite some becoming larger and more successful businesses, are always personable – even the buildings themselves tend to resonate with the character of the characters within them.
Basing a trip around an independent brewery as a destination is incredibly rewarding as it produces a combination of factors that is hard to rival and consistently delivers an immersive experience. Plus, as per my strategy laid out at the start, you get a cultural and educational reason to drink beer. You’re welcome! 😉