I love, love, love going on brewery tours. Why? I love it because it’s a behind the scenes look into the magic, art, and science of how a brewery makes their beer. You get to see equipment, look at the processes, and get a true scope of what goes into that glass that you pour their brew into.
I’ve lost track as to how many brewery tours I’ve been on (Not many really, maybe 40 at best) but I always go in with a fresh perspective regardless of how much brewery knowledge I think I know. Why? Simple – having an open mind allows you to reinforce what you know and ask more insightful questions.
Many people believe that working for a brewery is fun all the time but it’s actually a lot of hard work. Sure there are good times and laughs to be had but it balances out in the long run. Brewery Tours are a great opportunity for the brewery to show the public what really goes on…and perhaps brag a little.
I've put together some simple insights from my meager experience to help make the most out of your brewery tour experience, many of these are based on simple courtesy.
1) Check the brewery website 1st, then phone 2nd - Regardless of what the website says, I ALWAYS phone first and talk to a live body (talking to dead bodies gets a bit one-sided). Websites can change or not be up to date with brewery tour times. Maybe the brewery is having a special event on the day you and your friends want to go and won’t have tours available. It never hurts to double check to avoid surprises. Some breweries expect you to have a group of individuals before they consider conducting a tour.
If the brewery either doesn't have a website (yes, there are breweries out there that don’t have one) or they don’t post tour times or say if they conduct tours, it’s a good idea to phone. I know I always want to be mindful that I don’t expect a tour on a during a brew day or cleaning day because it can be a bit hectic in there and you don’t want to be in the way of people doing their job.
2) Prepare safe travel – Brewery Tours are MUCH more fun with a friend or 5. I know my friends tend to stand back, watch, and laugh as I nerd out over a German made 6-roller mill, or the fact that the brewery has Cascade hops. One part of the fun is if you have prepared for a designated driver. Depending on the brewery location, you could try and use transit but some breweries are tucked away in industrial sections of towns or cities. If you can take transit, do so. Otherwise, make you have a Designated Driver (DD) or plan to use transit or the like to get safe travel to and from the brewery. Or you could connect with a company like this so that you can enjoy some tasty libations and they’re drive you around.
3) Please prepare to be early – Don’t wait until you jump into your car, plug in your GPS, and find out there is construction that will prevent you from arriving on time. Give yourself at least 15 minutes of extra time to find the brewery so your DD to locate a good parking spot.
|This person didn't give obviously give themselves enough time to find a good parking spot before their scheduled brewery tour. Tsk, tsk.|
The brewery staff are taking time out of their day to show you around their place of work. I've lost track as to how many tours I've been on where I've had to wait for inconsiderate dolts that show up late like they own the joint…those people should just stay home. Some tours are first come, first-serve so you don’t want to be late.
4) Dress Accordingly – The vast majority of breweries will show you around regardless of what you wear and people want to be comfortable in the summer. If you read Step #9 in this blog post of mine then you'll see some parallels. Do keep in mind that you’re essentially visiting a food production facility. I remember one particular tour where one woman was wearing a flowy dress that was getting caught on every piece of equipment she walked by and almost slipped a few times in her high heels trying to walk through a small puddle. She complained and belly-ached the entire time and made it seem like it was the brewery’s fault for having valves and hoses in specific spots. It pretty much was an accident waiting to happen.
I’m not saying you need to wear steel toed CSA approved work boots but I know one particular brewery in Vancouver states on their website for their tours:
“Please Note: For compliance with BC Health and safety standards, all participants must wear close-toed shoes and be at least 19 years of age.”
5) Don’t expect the tour to be conducted by the Head Brewer or Brewmaster – To get a tour by the Head Brewer or Brewmaster is a real treat (at least it is for me) because you can ask more technical questions (i.e. nerd out) and get some unique insight. If the brewery conducts paid tours then it is likely one of the retail or sales employees will be conducting the tour. This is NOT to say that your brewery tour guide wouldn’t be a knowledgeable individual (They know their stuff and some are downright hilarious!). Many people tend to assume that the Head Brewer can drop what they’re doing to conduct tours at a given moment. Keep in mind, that it is certainly not for the lack of want that a brewer would like to talk about their facility, brewing, and even share a sample with you but these guys and gals have lots of other tasks to complete when they’re not brewing (Trust me on that).
|Brewing Director Brian Smith of Wild Rose Brewery in Calgary taking time out of his day to host a tour. |
A pleasant surprise and very informative.
|Ah, the beer sample flight - it's a "nice to have" after the brewery tour but don't expect it.|
7) Don’t touch anything…unless told to. – I can’t stress this enough. Even if you think you know what you’re doing, these pieces of equipment are very expensive and chances are that if you touch anything you could adversely affect an entire batch of brew.
I've witnessed this on a tour where one guy was leaning on a fermenter and had his hand on a butterfly valve. The guy conducting the tour didn't see but a few of us were ready to pounce on “Mr. Lean” in order to prevent a possible beer disaster. (and Peter if you're reading this, this was not "Mr. Lean" as in LEAN procedures) If the tour guide wants you to touch and hold malt, hops, or anything else – let them lead you through the process for your own safety.
8) Do ask questions – How else are you going to learn if you don’t ask? Take advantage of this opportunity and don’t be shy (usually a beer sample helps with that). I remember being on one tour where the mill had “SLAYER” written in dust on the side with a funny story to partner with it. Every brewery has a unique story or funny tale behind it that lends to its unique personality alongside their beers.
9) Show appreciation – Don’t forget to say thank you to your tour guide. (No, that doesn't give you the right to hug them regardless of how attractive you think they are.) Support the brewery further by taking home some of your favorite beer or some swag or both! (For me, brewery t-shirts and glassware with the brewery’s logo are my bane.) Tell your friends using social media! Lately I’ve been trying to remember the name of the tour guide so I can send people to that person specifically. A little goes a long way here.
10) Have fun! - 'Cuz that's what it's about right?
Do any of you have a unique tip that makes for a fun brewery tour? If so, post it in the comments. What are some of the most memorable and enjoyable brewery tours that you’ve been on? What made that experience fun?
Now get out there and go check out some breweries this up and coming summer and see for yourself how they put together some of your favorite beers.
Thanks for reading,