Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Today's column: The ultimate beer run

Brian Yaeger, admittedly, was introduced to beer the way many young people (perhaps too many and definitely too young) are.

He was a college student, and drank "all the super-cheap stuff" in larger quantities than he should have. A chance to travel Europe for a semester broadened his beer horizons and opened his eyes to all the good stuff available at home.

"It was definitely after a semester abroad when I discovered," he says, "that you could drink it because it tastes good and not because if you drink eight or 10 of them it gets you drunk."

Fast forward a few years, and Yaeger, 34, says his days of mass consumption are long since over. But he is still using travel to experience new beer. The San Francisco-based writer has just published Red, White & Brew: An American Beer Odyssey. The book is an account of a series of road trips he took across the United States, sampling local beer everywhere he went.

He likes beer, of course, and enjoys traveling (he came to the attention of this column after meeting a Calhoun County resident when both were vacationing in Southeast Asia this summer). Put the two together, and both are the better for it.

"It's not so much in seeing the monuments or visiting the friends you're going to see," he says. "Of course, that's the main purpose, the main objective. But the experience of traveling is just made so much richer if you … partake of the local cuisine and drink the local beer. I meet people all the time who make that a big part of their road trip."

Of course, for Yaeger's trips, trying the beer was the main objective. He visited breweries and brewpubs in almost every corner of the country, from America's oldest brewery, D.G. Yuengling & Sons in Pottsville, Penn., (opened in 1829) to one of the newest, Lazy Magnolia Brewing of Kiln, Miss. (opened in 2005).

"It's something you could only do with beer, in a sense," he says. The climate for wine grapes is limited to a few select regions, and only a few areas of the country have a tradition of distilling spirits, he notes. "Beer is the one thing that is made everywhere."

Yaeger is now back on the road, this time touring the country to promote his book. Of course, some of his signings are taking place at breweries and pubs rather than bookshops. On Thursday he'll be in the Atlanta area, at Decatur's Brick Store Pub, 7 p.m. EDT.

That should give Yaeger a chance to finally try beers from Atlanta's Sweetwater Brewing Co. His earlier travels didn't take him through Georgia, and he's wanted to sample their wares for a while now.

If you decide to head over to Atlanta for the book signing, you could make it the first stop on your own brewery road trip. Sweetwater, in Atlanta's midtown, offers free tours and tastings Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Just be sure someone else does the driving.