The two of us who make up Brews Travelers 365, Michael Roberts and Brandon Wurtz, have been on the road since we left Dallas at the beginning of the year. We are in the process of traveling across the United States with a mission - to visit at least one brewery per day throughout 2014. By the end of this year, we will have made visits to at least three breweries in each of the 48 contiguous United States, which means we are a little over halfway through now.
During the first leg of our trip (January 1 to May 1), we hit the East Coast, traveling from Texas to Florida to Connecticut and then back to Texas. We chose to share with you the 10 places that left the biggest impression on us during that period, which was quite a struggle since we have thoroughly enjoyed every single brewery we have been to this year. To choose the following list, we looked over our map and picked the breweries we had the best time at, whether it be because of the people, environment, quality/variety of beer, history, business models, brewing methods, or a mixture of these factors.
Note: We did not include any Texas breweries, since we are from there and are extremely biased. All of the breweries in Texas should be considered our most memorable and favorite ones, as we are close with a significant number of them and love supporting the local breweries from our home state.
With that being said, here are the 10 most memorable breweries from the first leg of our trip in the order that we visited them.
Bayou Teche Brewing (Arnaudville, La.)
Bayou Teche is a family-run operation and was our first stop after leaving Texas. Three brothers - Karlos, Byron, and Dorsey Knott - operate the business on the family's land located just northeast of Lafayette. President Karlos Knott said they prefer to be called a "cultural brewery" rather than a craft brewery because of the business' focus on preserving the Cajun heritage. All beers are crafted with Cajun food pairings in mind (including a beer we tried in the tasting room made with a ginger and cumquat-stuffed duck), and proceeds from most of the yearround beers support a local cultural charity, which is listed on the bottom of each six-pack. The brewery also supports many Acadian cultural festivals in the region and even partnered with Dockside Studios to record a CD of classic rock songs performed by a variety of bands in Cajun French.
Another distinctive aspect to Bayou Teche is their natural process for disposing of waste water. The property contains three different ponds. After acids and bases have neutralized, the water is added to the first pond where solids separate. Then it goes to the second pond with native plants that filter and purify the water. The treated water ends up in the third pond, which also doubles as a crawfish farm.
Dunedin Brewery (Dunedin, Fla.)
As soon as we walked into Dunedin Brewery, we were welcomed by multiple members of their staff with open arms - they were clearly excited to talk with us about their brewery. We sat at a table with them and munched down on some amazing "appetizers" (a sumo wrestler would have a hard time finishing the mountainous volume of nachos they brought us), then spent some time sampling their beers as they talked to us about what makes them unique. Other than a strong focus on making incredible beer, Dunedin consistently hosts events with an emphasis on their community. They have live music on their stage, comedy nights, participate in the Jam Cruise, and do so much more than that to ensure their patrons are always having a great time. Our time spent there felt like an episode of Cheers and we cannot wait to go back.
Fonta Flora Brewery (Morganton, N.C.)
During our visit to Fonta Flora Brewery, we spoke with the only brewer, Todd Boera, who likes to do things his way and has a desire to create something he can be proud of. According to Todd, "what I'm trying to do is create more of an Appalachian/mountain/North Carolina style. What you have here [at Fonta Flora] you can't have anywhere else." Need proof? Fonta Flora has brewed a beer with beets, one with sweet potatoes, a kiwi blonde, an Appalachian Patersbier, and a smoked and salted Biere de Garde with local oyster shells, which was openly fermented. Between the constantly changing, unique, and delicious recipes, use of local ingredients, one-of-a-kind location in a tight knit community, the fact that they have a very creative brewer, and comforting feel of the taproom, this is definitely up there as one of the breweries we were most impressed with. We are excited to see what the future holds for this operation.
Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery (Goochland, Va.)
Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery is located less than an hour west of Richmond on a 221-acre farm. The majority of the property is employed for the farm-style building that houses the brewery as well as for growing a variety of crops utilized in their beers. At the time of our visit, they were growing hops, barley, pumpkins, and a several different berries. Lickinghole Creek Craft also has a farm expansion plan for 2014 that includes adding figs, hardy oranges, sunflowers and a "Simon and Garfunkel herb garden" - parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, anyone?
The brewery began with three bottle-conditioned ales, Three Chopt Tripel, Magic Beaver Belgian-style pale ale, and Short Pump saison. The names draw inspiration from Virginia history and geography. The brewery continues to release specialty beers, including their Enlightened Despot Russian imperial stout aged in Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels and several beers under the Estate Series, which are all brewed with ingredients from the farm.
Bluejacket (Washington, D.C.)
After our scheduled meeting at Bluejacketwas cancelled due to a snowstorm, we were thankful to get the chance to reschedule and visit perhaps the most visually and technologically stunning brewery we've seen to date. The custom-fitted brewery can be viewed on three different mezzanines, all visible from the restaurant, The Arsenal, on the ground level. The brewhouse itself is on a third floor from where wort can be pumped to the second level that houses the fermentation vessels. Additional fermenters are on the first mezzanine, which also contains the separated wild and non-wild barrel-aging cellars.
Bluejacket is located in the old Navy Yard Annex of D.C. and is the newest project by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, whose beer director, Greg Engert, developed an industry recognized flavor profiling system consisting of seven categories - crisp, hop, roast, fruit and spice, tart and funk, and smoke. The Arsenal always serves 25 beers, including five cask-conditioned ales and at least one beer from each of the aforementioned flavor profiles to pair with food. A unique disbursement system serves beers at three different temperatures - 42, 48, or 54 degrees Fahrenheit - depending on the style. The brewery also boasts a variety of fermentation methods - traditional conical fermenters, open fermentation, a horizontal fermenter dedicated solely to beers infected with lactobacillus, and a cool ship, which began operating just after our visit. The tap list is constantly rotating through a long list of highly creative beers like the Galaxy dry-hopped Forbidden Planet Kolsch, The Arsonist smoked Oud Bruin, or Mexican Radio, a sweet stout made with lactose and spiced with vanilla beans, cacao nibs, cinnamon, and ancho chilies.
Burley Oak Brewing Co. (Berlin, Md.)
The town of Berlin, located on the southern end of Maryland's eastern shore, was recently voted "America's Coolest Small Town" by Budget Travel, and we feel this may have something to do with Burley Oak Brewing Co. The brewery is the brainchild of Bryan Brushmiller, who decided to forgo potential investments and take a much tougher and labor intensive road in order to retain full creative control. Our stop just so happened to coincide with their regular fundraising night, which brings in guest bartenders and local bands to pair with raffles and auctions for a local charity. Despite the hectic environment, Bryan and his staff showed us a great time and even invited us back the next morning to help mash in for a batch of their 'Merica Brown Ale.
Burley Oak has taken to several side projects, like working with local farmers to grow hops and barley, in hopes that they can eventually produce enough to source to other breweries and help support the eastern shore economy. Having studied biochemistry, Bryan has even taken some classes with the goal of later doing some in-house malting. They offer a ton of rotating beers in addition to a plethora of barrel-aged special releases.
Newburgh Brewing Co. (Newburgh, N.Y.)
Newburgh Brewing Co. is located in a huge, four-story warehouse that was built around 1860 with an absolutely stunning view of the Hudson River. We spent a significant amount of time there talking to the Brewmaster and CEO Christopher Basso, who treated us like we had been his best friends for years. All of the beer we tasted there was delicious, unique (like the India cream ale, for example), and obviously crafted with care. The combination of great beer, rustic atmosphere, amazing views, beautiful bar, and sense of community make this a top notch brewery. Oh! It also has one of the largest and nicest taprooms we've seen on our trip.
Chestnut Brew Works (Morgantown, W.Va.)
Chestnut Brew Works opened in March of 2013 and is the passion project of Bill Rittenour. He is the sole employee of the two-barrel brewery, which is currently operating out of the stand alone garage of his private residence. However, during our visit he shared with us plans to expand into a seven-barrel brewery with adjoining taproom that would be moved to a space in downtown Morgantown. While attending nearby West Virginia University, Rittenour studied the blight of the American Chestnut tree (hence the brewery's name) and following completion of his doctorate in Nebraska, moved with his family back to West Virginia where he began the brewery after becoming disenfranchised with his day job. This business exemplifies the do-it-yourself mentality we have witnessed within the craft brewing community throughout the country.
Rittenour is growing hops on the property and even shared plans to partner with the university in isolating wild yeast in hopes of creating a beer made with solely West Virginia ingredients. The brewery's flagship beer, Halleck Pale Ale, can be found in draft accounts in the Morgantown area, but Rittenour constantly releases different brews ranging from Belgian wits to Jack Daniels barrel-aged imperial porters. We truly enjoyed chatting with him and drew inspiration from hearing about how his sacrifice and hard work has paid off in a growing business.
Jackie O's Brewery (Athens, Ohio)
There is definitely a reason that we spent more time at Jackie O's Pub & Brewery than we have at any other place we have been to (12-plus hours). During our day with the owner, head brewer, and other staff, they popped open some bottles of their more unique and rare beers, gave us a very personal, in-depth tour, and even pulled nails from unfinished beers that were being aged in barrels so we could taste them. On top of having both the original brewpub location and newer production facility with a taproom, Jackie O's also has its own farm where ingredients for its beers grow, as well as ingredients for food served at the brewpub. They have around four bottle release parties every year, which we were told are fun, organized, and fair. We had an equally great time at both the brewpub and the production brewery, so go check out either one or both next time you're in Athens.
Against the Grain Brewery (Louisville, Ky.)
Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse categorizes each of its beers into one of six categories - hop, smoke, dark, malt, session, and whim. Six quirky characters are used in the artwork to correspond with the respective style the beer falls into, making the bottles unique and very easy to identify (especially the bottle with chicken feathers glued to it). The brewing equipment is located on the second and third floor, visible through glass panes from the bottom floor where the taproom and dining area are located. A few things that stood out to us included the brewery's impressive list of collaboration beers with breweries both in and outside of the U.S., constantly changing beer selection, the smoker used to smoke malts onsite, and broad distribution. The brewery is physically connected to a ballpark, and the owners and staff of Against the Grain are very down to earth, nice, and knowledgeable, including co-owner Sam Cruz, who spent a great deal of time with us.
Michael Roberts was born and raised in Richardson, Texas. He graduated from Texas State University in San Marcos with a B.B.A. in Computer Information Systems, and worked in the merchandising department of a large convenience store chain while volunteering for breweries and festivals up until the day Brews Travelers 365 began their epic journey. Brandon Wurtz moved to Texas from Kansas in 1998, graduated with a B.S. in Biomedical Science from Texas A&M University and proceeded to graduate studies in Microbiology and Immunology. He moved back to Dallas where he began working at a bank in home mortgage services and, more importantly, started homebrewing and participating in the growing Dallas craft beer scene by volunteering at breweries and beer festivals. Follow Brews Travelers 365 on Facebook.