40,000 miles, 7,124 brews later, beer-drinking road trippers return to North Texas
By Charles Scudder
The Brews Travelers (a.k.a. Michael Roberts and Brandon Wurtz) stand at the Texas state border during their 365-day beer road trip.
Just before I moved to Dallas in May, I stopped at a brewery near my parents’ home in southern Illinois. Scratch Brewing, in Ava, Ill., makes their beer from locally-foraged ingredients and is a rural stop for folks looking for interesting, off-the-wall beers.
There, at the bar, were two bearded men in hoodies who looked like they’d been on the road for a while. Turns out they were Michael Roberts and Brandon Wurtz, the Brews Travelers from Dallas who spent 2014 driving around the country in a silver Honda Odyssey named Homer.
They blogged throughout the trip at brewstravelers365.com and logged every beer on Untappd. Last week, they finished their adventure back here in Texas just in time to ring in the new year.
Brandon and Michael still have a lot of writing left to do, but we caught up with the pair this week to debrief after their year on the road.
DMN: First off let’s get the stats. How many beers? How many breweries? Miles covered? States visited? Etc.
Michael Roberts: We sampled 7,124 beers during the year (19.5 beers per day) and visited 789 breweries, we interviewed brewers at 365 of those. The minivan we drove gained 40,007 miles from driving through all 48 lower US states as well as 3 Canadian provinces and Mexico.
Brandon Wurtz: In order to get an overall idea for what a brewery was producing and keep things safe, we typically shared taster flights and would only get a pint if we were going to spend several hours at a location. We visited all 48 continental states as well as short trips through Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia, Canada and to Tijuana, Mexico.
What made you set off? Did you have any goals at the beginning?
MR: A strong love for the craft beer community combined with wanderlust gave us enough drive to plan this trip and leave our corporate jobs in search of adventure. Everything was up in the air at the beginning, so thoughts of filming the trip, doing podcasts, and more ideas were tossed around, but settled on three goals:
Visit, interview, and profile 365 breweries in 365 days
Go to at least three breweries in each of the lower 48 states
Use social media and our website to promote all things craft beer
BW: Speaking to my decision to go along, my acceptance of the idea was nearly instant. I had been wanting to have a life adventure such as this for many years. I feel that traveling does much more to teach one about the world than any book ever could.
I went straight from high school to college to graduate school, spending much of my life learning about the world through books and never having much money to go on a trip of my own choosing. Following the departure from my grad school program, I thought seriously about backpacking Europe or joining the Peace Corps, but opted for the more responsible decision of joining the workforce. After a few years of working I had saved up a fair amount of money and found myself increasingly disillusioned with that world.
Michael’s proposition was well timed as I was finally in a financial position to do the traveling that I had wished to do for many years. I liked that the trip was going towards a particular goal — of attempting to bring attention to the craft beer community that we had really grown to appreciate as it grew and developed in Dallas-Fort Worth.
We had been home brewing for a while and started volunteering at Deep Ellum Brewing Co. on their opening weekend, continuing to be involved by helping out at other local breweries and beer festivals and attending new beer releases and tap takeovers at the new craft beer bars that sprouted up all over the area.
I saw the obvious economic benefits, how a brewery could serve as a centerpiece to revitalizing a neighborhood. Most importantly, I witnessed the sense of community that developed and observed how a simple beverage could knock down boundaries and bring people of various backgrounds together as friends.
That really motivated me to experience this phenomenon all over the country. It starts with beer but, truly, it’s about the people.
Did you meet those goals?
MR: Of course! We also added an extra 424 bonus stops.
BW: We successfully visited and interviewed 365 breweries, at least three in each of the continental states. Regarding the traveling itself, I think those goals were met. I learned a lot about myself and gained a new appreciation for the country overall and the astonishing kindness and support of strangers.
There is still much work to be done as far as the goal of supporting the craft beer community. We have posted over a third of the profiles for the breweries we interviewed but have much more content to compile and share over the coming months.
That said, we have already met several people who told us they took small trips to visit some of the breweries we shared or were inspired to go on an adventure in the future. I consider that a success.
What did you get out of the year on the road? Lessons learned?
MR: There are so many lessons I learned about myself, my country and American craft beer that I don’t know where to begin. The main takeaway from this year would probably be to encourage others to take action in order to achieve their dreams. This trip could have easily been something I just wanted to do, but instead it is something I actually did and will never regret.
BW: Overall, I gained a once in a lifetime experience — an opportunity to explore our beautiful country and meet its people — and, yeah, to sample tons of beers and glean some insight into the growing beer industry. I will own up to being quite introverted at times prior to this trip, jaded and cynical towards the world around me.
We experienced an overwhelming amount of kindness from strangers this year. People who offered us a place to stay, unsolicited, after just minutes of conversation. People with so much trust that they left us keys to their home so that we did not have to get up and leave as they shuttled off for work. People who offered to put us in contact with their friends and family throughout the country. People who just offered up their time for a friendly conversation.
It was truly eye opening. The gratitude we share for the support of our family and friends back home as well as those new friends we made along the way cannot be overstated. I think what I learned most from this venture is to not write people off, to open myself up, and to not waste an opportunity to make a new friend. You never know what could happen if you don’t put yourself out there and just continue to sit by yourself in silence.
I heard you’ll be doing a post later on some of the more memorable brews, but what was the most unique beer you tried on the trip?
MR: After 7,124 beers there truly wouldn’t be a way to answer this with an absolute answer, but here are three unique beers that come to mind:
Dock Street Brewing’s Walker (PA) — a pale American stout brewed with roasted goat brains and organic cranberries. That’s right, goat brains.
Breakside Brewery’s Birra Minestra (OR) — an experimental beer made with Sungold tomatoes, wild plums, and Genovese basil. It was quite refreshing, delicious, and memorable.
Scratch Brewing’s Maple Sap Mumm (IL) — a tart dark ale with lavender, basil, pineapple sage, mint, and elderflower. Oh, and did I mention it is brewed entirely with maple sap, no water?
BW: I agree with Michael’s choices. It’s really tough to answer questions of favorites, there were just too many excellent beers of dozens and dozens of different styles. Why pick just one? Thankfully you asked about a unique beer and without question the most unique ingredient all year was found in Dock Street Brewing Company’s Walker – a pale American stout made with organic cranberries and roasted goat brains. We enjoyed trying that beer while we explored Philadelphia on Michael’s birthday.
There were plenty more unique beers made with non-traditional ingredients ranging through a large variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and salts. One of the things I truly appreciate about the small independent breweries is their creativity and willingness to push the boundaries of beer.
Was there a particular style that seemed to really do well (or not so well) brewery to brewery?
MR: Every single brewery had a unique way of doing things and no single style was done well or not so well as a whole, it just depended on how the brewery decided to take on the style in their own way.
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