When you talk to fellow travelers and beer nerds enough you will undoubtedly hear the term “beer scene” every now and then. Beer enthusiasts will use it describe the general state of beer culture in an certain area. It often comes up when you are getting ready to take a vacation and someone has been there or heard about it. “Oh, you’re going to Asheville? They have a great beer scene there.”
It always good to hear that someone else is excited for your trip, but what exactly does a good beer scene entail? I use the term quite a bit in my writing and conversations because it is very travel related. However, a quick web search shows the words showing up in all manner of pages but without a clear definition. It’s one of those phrases that gets used to specifically define an ambiguous notion.
As with any topic it becomes harder to discuss the subject if everyone has a different idea of what it encompasses. So I’ll go ahead and throw my two cents in the hope that is spurs further conversation…or just so that my definition becomes the predominant one 😉
For me a “beer scene” involves four key elements:
- Location: It may big (USA) or it may be small (Idaho Springs, CO) but a beer scene needs to have a location that your further analysis applies to. The more specific the better and probably more accurate. Saying Colorado has a good beer scene because Denver has a lot of breweries is describing two different things, a city and a state. The city is very prominent but does not exemplify the whole state.
- Community: The people that support and participate in the craft beer community usually have a big influence on what kind of scene you will get. Maybe it’s a tight knit group of beer enthusiasts that’s hard to break into or maybe it involves free for all get togethers where anyone with a bottle is welcome. Either way it’s good to know what to expect.
- Breweries and Beer Bars/Stores: It’s important to make a note of the quantity and quality of the beer establishments in the location you reference. While there are many cities with double digit breweries it’s what those breweries do that make the scene. Are they close together in a way that supports walking or biking tours or are they spread apart? Are they downtown or rural? Do they all have tasting rooms? Food? Do they have patios with live music? Are they dog friendly? The answers to these questions can help define the scene and give it a personality.
- History: Some places like Milwaukee and Philadelphia have a lot of history in their beer scenes. These histories help make up the present and will undoubtedly show up in the attitudes of the people and the styles of the beer. The way the community talks about and treats beer will often be different based on how old their beer history is.
In the end when you describe a “beer scene” you are speaking in generalities. Beer scenes are stereotypes that roughly describe a place, culture, and atmosphere and may ignore outliers that fit the image the person is describing. Often times they will throw in that brewery X is different and that you should seek it out to see why.
It is the details that follow “________ has a great beer scene” that will give you the best insight into the beer culture of that place so be sure to ask “why?”.