This article originally appeared on AmericanCraftBeer.com.
With summer coming to an end, the window for road trips in 2013 is rapidly closing. Luckily, I was able to take an epic road trip from Michigan back to Colorado, visiting five breweries along the way.
It all started when I needed to move my RV from Michigan to Colorado. Obviously I planned to drive that bad boy back myself over the course of the weekend, but then the wheels started turning in my brain. I looked at my favorite brewery map website, and picked out some breweries along the route. Not wanting to go this mission alone, I convinced one of my buddies back in Michigan to come out to Colorado with me and drink some great beer along the way. Every road trip needs a co-pilot.
So I made a few calls, sent a few e-mails, and fired off a few tweets trying to formulate a plan. Pretty soon, the road trip began to take shape, and the itinerary was set. Here’s what happened:
Our first stop on this long strange beer trip was a strip mall just outside of Indianapolis. Next to a homebrew shop and not too many other tenants was Bier Brewery, easily the #1 spot for the people of Indy (or at least the ones who responded to my tweets). Almost every person mentioned Bier Brewery as a must stop, and after meeting the crew and tasting the beer, we could see why.
Immediately upon entering Bier, we were greeted by a wall of awards. They’ve won the Indiana State Fair Champion Brewery award for 2011 & 2012. They also took home a silver medal in the 2012 World Beer Cup Belgian Dubbel category, and took another silver at the Great American Beer Festival for their Belgian Quadruple named Sanitarium. That’s a pretty good bit of hardware for a small brewery in Indiana.
Then we met Jerry Connor, who started Bier Brewery with his son and Head Brewmaster Darren back in 2010. Jerry took on the role of host and tour guide, showing us the brewery systems and letting us taste some of their delicious brews. Their Belgian Dubbel definitely lived up to its award-winning status, as it tasted just as good as anything I had in Belgium. Another favorite was the Farm Gal, which was a great farmhouse-style ale that packed a ton of flavor into a lighter beer.
Bier Brewery definitely lived up to the Twitter hype, and is a must see if you’re in the Indianapolis area. They only do tastings and growler fills, but check their Facebook page for a schedule of pint nights each month.
Sun King Brewing
A quick jaunt to the downtown area took us to our next brewery, which is quickly making a name for itself in the Hoosier State. In July 2009 after years of planning, Sun King opened their doors and became the first full-scale production brewery in Indy since Indianapolis Brewing Company closed its doors in 1948. Sun King has grown into the third-largest brewery in the state of Indiana, and has won multiple medals at the Indiana Brewers Cup, Great American Beer Festival, and World Beer Cup competitions.
Sun King’s Promotions Director Beth Belange hooked us up with Owen Thompson and James Hellmuth, the Tasting Room Manager and the Quality Control Manager respectively, for an amazing experience. Having read up on Sun King, I knew that they had taken on canning on a large scale level, but I had no idea that they were producing so many high-quality beers.
Their three house beers sold in a 4-pack of 16 oz. cans are Osiris Pale Ale, a super hoppy beer that rivals anything happening on the West Coast; Wee Mac Scottish Ale, which is nice and malty just like it should be; and Sunlight Cream Ale, an easy-drinking light ale that harkens back to the style of early American brews.
After a tour around the massive production and canning facility, we took a trip across the parking lot to the barrel cellar, which is where the real magic at Sun King happens. It’s there that Sun King is making some of their award-winning flavors. Here we tasted their Flanders Oud Bruin called Stupid Sexy Flanders, which is hands-down one of the best beers I’ve ever had.
We also tasted Johan the Barleywine, which is the first beer they ever produced and a gold medal winner at last year’s GABF. If that wasn’t enough, we also tried their Pappy Van Muckle, which is their Wee Muckle aged in Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20-year-old Bourbon barrels, and a silver medal winner at last year’s GABF. All of their special releases also come in a cool-looking psychedelic can with a twist top.
James and Owen were able to show us that Sun King is much more than a run-of-the-mill canning operation. Their core line-up is different than most, and their specials are truly amazing. They are currently only available in Indiana, but I can’t see that lasting very long.
Exit 6 Brewery
Exit 6 Brewery had the distinction of being the only brewery open by the time we rolled into the St. Louis area. But boy were we glad when we stumbled upon this hidden gem. Located in a strip mall 4 miles off of Highway 40 in the St. Charles area of Missouri, Exit 6 Brewery could be very easy to miss. But trust me, if you like beer, you have to check it out.
The owner Jeff Britton operates Exit 6 as a unique nanobrewery + pub concept, and then takes it a step further. He’s got 3 of his own brews on tap at any time, as well as around 15 or so of some really great and hard to get beer from around the country. He buys kegs one at a time from breweries and distributors, and when one keg taps out, he goes back to the fridge and pulls the next one in line, whatever it may be.
This means that his tap list is constantly rotating, and no two weeks are the same. This keeps locals coming back as they never know what unique brew might be on tap with each visit. When we were there, Jeff had Stone Farking Wheaton w00tStout on tap before anyone even had it in bottles. He also had a delicious tripel of his own on tap that rivaled some of the best.
Check this place out if you’re ever in the St. Louis area – you won’t regret it.
Boulevard Brewing Company
After some back and forth with Twitter extraordinaire and Boulevardbrewer Jeremy Danner, he got us in for their “Unfiltered Tour,” which according to their website “offers a super-special, 1.5 hour in-depth experience,” eclectic tastings, plus a token of appreciation.
That token of appreciation was a super cool Boulevard snifter glass to keep, but the tour itself was the star. It reminded me a bit of the tour at New Belgium, possibly because they serve a decent amount of beer throughout the tour. But also because the main brewhouse was designed by the same person, and looks eerily similar.
Our tour leader Ali Bush made it fun and interesting for everyone, while also filling us up with some great beer from Boulevard’s “Smokestack Series.” Tank 7 and Sixth Glass Quad were already some of my go-to Boulevard beers, but it was great to try a few additional seasonals, including a new Session IPA and Zon, a great Belgian-style Witbier.
Boulevard is ranked as the 12th biggest craft brewery in the US, and is available in parts of 26 states. Even though they’ve grown so big, when you’re at the brewery in KC, it still feels “local.” Maybe it’s the friendliness of the staff, or maybe it’s because of the accessibility of their delicious “Smokestack Series.” Whatever the case may be, I was happy to see that such a large and growing company was still able to keep most of their Midwest charm.
Free State Brewing Company
Like any good road trip, we were running a little late on our way toFree State Brewing Company in Lawrence, KS (this may or may not have something to do with the BBQ in KC…). To make matters worse, their downtown location is basically a brewpub located on the very busy and popular Massachusetts Ave. in downtown Lawrence, which isn’t exactly the best place to park a 28-foot RV.
Luckily, Head Brewer Geoff Deman was nice enough to hang around and wait for us. Free State Brewing just recently started packaging their beer for stores, but they’ve been brewing for a lot longer than many craft breweries in the US. They won a bronze medal for their Ad Astra Ale at the 1991 GABF. After tasting some of their core beers, including the aforementioned Ad Astra Pale Ale and their Oatmeal Stout, Geoff took us through the kitchen and into the brewhouse, which was one of the more tightly packed setups I’ve seen.
And then it was time to taste some of their new creations, pulled right from the fermenters (I’m always excited when this happens). First up was the Bleeding Kansas Lager, which commemorates the role Kansas and Lawrence especially played as a battleground leading up to the Civil War. This light and crisp premium lager was then used as the base for their Orange Radler, which combines the lager with house-brewed orange soda for a unique flavor.
We then tried the Lemongrass Wit, which is a classic Belgian Wit beer spiced with coriander, bitter and sweet orange peel, and some Kansas honey, then ‘dry-hopped’ with a small dose of lemongrass. The earthy flavor went nicely with the crispness of the wit beer style, and was a great way to end our brewery adventures.
Another successful brewery road trip is in the books, and it never ceases to amaze me how nice and welcoming the craft beer community can be. There are still a few weeks left of good weather, so go out and visit some of the fantastic craft breweries in your nearby states on a craft beercation. You never know, you just might find your next favorite beer.