Expert Topic Being a Beer Tourist: Why Travel Is Good For The Soul and Can Help Your Business

It’s incredibly easy to experience the wide world of beer from the comfort of your couch. Distribution has made sampling world class beers easier than ever. While this is remarkable and praiseworthy, it’s no substitute for getting out and experiencing other cultures and breweries in their home environments. Whether it’s the taproom a few miles away or a brewery halfway around the world, traveling for beer helps expand our understanding of the beverage we love and widens our experience and knowledge.

The same applies for those working within the beer industry. This industry remains surprisingly open and most brewers actively welcome fellow beer lovers and even fellow brewers into their workplaces, share their best practices, and answer every question. Other industries don’t operate this way. Trade secrets are few in craft beer, even among direct competitors.

Traveling to breweries and seeing how other folks in the industry brew their beers and do their jobs has long served as an invaluable and inexpensive tool for professional development. I recently talked with Jason Perkins, Brewmaster and Vice President of Brewing Operations at Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine, about the value of beer travel.

Perkins remembers Allagash’s founder Rob Tod taking him on a trip to the World Beer Cup ceremony in New York City in 2000, shortly after he joined the company. But Allagash didn’t start taking employees on beer trips for another decade. When an employee has been with the company for five years, they get to join Perkins and Tod on a trip to Belgium. Perkins admits that Allagash borrowed the idea from some friends.

“Shout out to New Belgium, we totally stole that idea from them,” Perkins says with a laugh. “And we are more than happy to say that we did. We heard that they were doing that and were like, ‘that’s cool, we should do that.’”

Taking long-tenured employees on a trip to Belgium serves as a reward for their service but it also nourishes their professional spirit. “It was originally intended to be an inspiration trip and a reward trip, a thank you for employees. But it has gone beyond that,” says Perkins. “Belgium is such an unbelievable and spirit inspiring country for beer. Just the reverence that the beer holds in that country is like no other.” Tod and Perkins lead the staff on visits to mostly small breweries run by passionate individuals, visiting one or two breweries a day as well as some beer bars.

“As you know, not only is the culture of Belgium very drawn towards beer, there’s just this kind of natural creativity built into the people who make beer there and non-adherence to style and that kind of opens the eyes of a lot of people,” Perkins says of the inspirational value of the trips.

The trips also serve to help employees get to know each other better, bond, and build camaraderie beyond their set units and teams. For Perkins, the trips offer “countless tangible benefits” for employees.

“It has now become such a part of the culture here that it’s so fun to watch. As people get hired, they already know, ‘oh, I’m gonna go to Belgium in four years with that person, that person, that person, and it’s almost like a freshman class in college kind of thing, where you bond right from the beginning. We were hired in the same year, so we’re gonna go to Belgium.”

The trips even bond newer employees to those who have been on previous trips. “We have very long tenured people here, who stay way beyond five years, and they continue to reminisce on those trips that they went on,” he says. “As the Belgium trip starts approaching, people who have been on prior trips will talk to the people and be like, ‘oh, where are you guys going? Oh, we went there too.’ And like just all these intangible culture benefits that I never even thought of, and then being able to bond with those people.”

The trips also offer Perkins and Tod the opportunity to get to better know their team members. “It’s great for me personally,” he says. “After five years, I know these people, I know them well. But I certainly haven’t vacationed with them. And that’s essentially what it is: we’re going on vacation together. It’s just hard to even put a value on the cultural benefit it provides here with the company.”

Perkins acknowledges that a big international trip may not be financially viable for many breweries. But he says that shouldn’t limit their options or diminish the value of these team building opportunities. “It’s super cool to go to Belgium, don’t get me wrong, but going to any number of cities in New England or anywhere in the country, where there’s a concentration of some cool breweries, that alone is pretty eye opening,” he suggests.

Allagash has taken employees on shorter trips to other breweries in its region and achieved similar results. For the price of gas or a couple of hotel rooms, brewers and other staffers can tour other breweries and talk with their team members. “For technical brewers visiting another brewery with a strong technical background, that can almost be more educational than a course at [the Craft Brewers Conference].” Perkins also recommends taking staff members to local hop farms or maltsters to learn more about ingredients and their processes.

Perkins also encourages his team members to visit other breweries on their own, even if just to see what kind of beers they are making and to check out their approaches to the trade. “I think it’s a huge value,” he says. “Every brewery I’ve ever been to, big or small, I walk away with something. There’s lots of different approaches to it. We’re fortunate that this community is as open as it is. So I think it’s hugely, hugely valuable for whatever your role is in the brewery. To see the inside of other facilities is really eye opening.”

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