My husband and I are craft beer enthusiasts in the truest sense. When our friends proudly show pictures of grandchildren, we show pictures of the latest delicious double IPA we sampled. Or stout. Or bock. Or amber. Or sour. You get the picture.
Up until the last couple of years, we lived in a craft beer wasteland. No local breweries. The craftiest of beers offered at local watering holes were the big names: Samuel Adams, Blue Moon, Summit. Traveling across our great state to the side that actually had breweries, our draft beer inquiries were met with, “Yeah, we have draft beer. Both kinds- Miller and Bud Lite.” We did have a couple of places with great selections, but we were beginning to feel like Norm on Cheers and wondered if, perhaps, we needed a new hobby.
If we wanted the brewery experience, we had to road trip it. The length of the trip depended upon the direction we went. The microbrewery wave came late to our state, like most things. Our state motto should be “Welcome to South Dakota. Turn back your clocks back twenty years.” That said, we are not last among the fifty states in number of breweries by population; we are number 45 gunning for number 44.
Recently, things have changed. Our city now has five breweries (!!!!), not counting the big chain brewery in town. We have many fine tap houses and bars with great rotating taps. We are an oasis of fine brew. But years ago, we did live in a craft beer desert.
1. We found the homebrewers. These men and women know great beer and where to find it. They were generous with their time and expertise. We friended them on Untappd (the app we use instead of trying to notate everything on paper); we quickly found out where the best beer was. Home brewers are easy to spot, too. Look for the beards- on the men, not the women. We went to a store that had home brewing supplies and voila! We found a group of enthusiasts that brewed.
2. We joined a beer group. We used Meetup and found a group of people that meet monthly to enjoy a pint (or two) together. We also found a hash group (Hash House Harriers) that runs and drinks crappy beer, but also enjoys finer beer off trail. Conversations with a diverse group of people always teaches us something about kinds of beer, favorite breweries, and a funny thing called “cellaring” (Seriously? Who does not drink the beer after it is purchased…).
3. We went to beer dinners. This was and is a great way to meet brewers, talk beer and enjoy delicious beer and food. Many times, we have been able to sample beer not readily available elsewhere.
4. We found the places that rotate taps of the craft variety. OK, this took time. We have discovered, surprisingly, that some of the diviest of dive bars offer the best craft. Often times, it is seasonal. It took trial and error to find the best places, but drinking beer at various locations is not a bad way to spend time.
5. We attended local beer festivals. What could be better than a chance to sample hundreds of beers, four ounces at a time in a three hour period? And, another opportunity to see the home brewers.
6. We planned our vacations to include brewery visits. My folks lived in the Black Hills across the entire state of South Dakota from us. The Black Hills in South Dakota has eight breweries. I am nothing if not a devoted daughter. My parents have passed away, but my brother lives in Wyoming. I am nothing if not a devoted sister.
We finally have accessible, locally brewed beer in South Dakota (by the way, it is delicious!). Our state has fourteen craft breweries (not counting one big chain brewery) which may not seem like a lot, but, oh, we have come a long way, baby. We are not close to the number of breweries many cities and states have; however, considering how many miles we have to travel to even get to another town (go ahead, look up South Dakota- there is a whole lot of nothing between towns), craft beer around here is not doing too bad.