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Featured Beer Traveler: Heather Vandenengel (Beer Hobo)

Beer travel in Colorful Colorado
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(All pictures are from Heather’s Instagram account)

Tell us about yourself in 140 characters or less. OR in a haiku
Heather: Vagabond beer drinker and writer. Looking for adventure/good beer/good stories/not sure yet.

TRP: If beer drinking was your “job” what title would you give yourself? If beer drinking is your job, tell us more!
Heather: I’m a beer writer, so there is a good deal of beer drinking involved. I wrote a weekly beer column for a paper in Boston (the alt-weekly DigBoston) for two years, then left this September to freelance and work as News Editor for All About Beer Magazine. I like writing about beer culture–the people who make the beer, the places where they do it, and who’s buying and drinking that beer.

TRP: How did you get involved in the craft beer industry?
Heather: I had always been interested in trying new beer and learning about local breweries, but I got hooked when my editor at the paper assigned me a few beer stories. There was a wealth of stories about the local beer industry and when I started meeting people through events and Twitter I felt like I found my people. I was an intern at the time, but eventually took over the column every week.

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TRP: What was the inspiration for your Beer Hobo trip?
Heather: I had lived in Massachusetts my entire life and in Boston for six years so I knew I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t decide where to move and I didn’t really want to jump from one nine-to-five job to another. I just had this urge to get out there and travel anywhere I could because now was as a good of a time as any to do it. It took months of deliberation, but I finally decided to just give a lot of it up–my apartment, cat, full-time job, home base–and commit to a more nomadic lifestyle. Beer fits in well because I can travel from city to city, explore their beer scenes and then write about it.

As for the hobo bit, I kind of have an obsession with train hoppers and hobos and had this image in my mind of a hobo with a growler slung on a stick. I don’t have a car, only carry my backpack, and am generally broke, so I’m hobo-ish.

TRP: If not answered above how do you determine your travel path? Do you have a loose plan or is it freeform?
Heather: It’s a combination of the two. I have a rough idea of what I want to do or where I want to go, but I try to look out for opportunities and take any if I get them. I’d like to slow it down a little bit and spend a month or more in every place to get to know it better and to give myself a break.

I’ve also been WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), where you work on an organic farm 4-6 hours a day in exchange for room and board. It’s an incredible way to travel because you get to learn so many skills, have these amazing fresh meals every day, and meet some awesome people (and dogs/cows/pigs/cats).

Beer travel shots from the road.

Wanted to take a photo of Alpha King winner Jeremy Tofte of Thai Me Up Brewery, but he insisted we do a selfie.

TRP: How do you define “beer travel”?
Heather: I see it as getting to know a place through its beer scene–the breweries, bars, and beers. The question I’m always asking myself when I’m in a new city or region is “What’s happening here?” What are people brewing? Who’s doing it? How are they doing it? Who’s drinking it?

And, of course, drinking all the local beer I can.

TRP: Why do you travel for beer?
Heather: For work, for stories, for festivals with friends. To try something new, meet some new beer people, find a new favorite pub.

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TRP: Any revelations about beer and travel that you have learned so far in the trip?

Heather: Just in awe of how cities and even small towns are developing distinct beer cultures through local breweries and bars, and how much support they seem to get from their communities.

I was blown away by Colorado and its amazing breweries. Each one I visited had an awesome tap room, patio/beer garden, bar snacks, a stack of board games (or cornhole/Skee Ball), and dogs. It was heaven.

Also, I don’t buy many bottles of beer because I don’t want to have to carry them in my pack, so it’s actually been a bit of a relief not stressing about having to buy or find it all. I just drink what’s on tap and move on.

TRP: What is your role/ involvement with All About Beer?
Heather: I’m the News Editor, so I cover a few sections of the magazine: the What’s Brewing (news briefs), New on the Shelves (new beers to be released), and the calendar (beer events/fests), as well as contribute additional coverage and features.
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TRP: What was your first craft beer travel memory?
Heather: First distinctive beer travel memory was sitting down for a pint of Pilsner Urquell in a smoky pub in Prague after a hellish day of travel with my friend Courtney. Also the first time I really explored Portland, Maine as a beer drinker and fell in love with the city and its beer.

TRP: What is your favorite form of beer travel and why?
Heather: Although I like going to breweries and checking out their tasting rooms, I love going to a good bar and talking to the bartenders and the locals. I think you get a better feel for the city and the scene. My fondest beer travel memories are almost always a few beers with friends at a great bar. I also love a great brewpub.

Homebrew shops are also a good way to get a feel for a city because you know the people who work there are all big beer geeks and eager to give advice.

TRP: What is on your beer travel wish list?
Heather: Belgium. Michigan. Oregon/Washington. Chicago. I’d love to revisit London and Prague. Pretty much everywhere.

TRP: Where are you heading next?
Heather: I’m living in Montreal until the end of May, staying warm by drinking my way through the fantastic brewpubs. My dad’s from here and a bunch of my family still lives in the city, so it’s great to spend time with them and explore. After that, I keep on saying I’d like to head west. We’ll see.

Where can we find more about you online?
My Twitter and Instagram is @heathervandy.
I blog about my travels and beer stuff at beerhobo.com.

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