“What’s your favorite brewery?”. After visiting over 350 breweries in less than four years we get this question with some frequency. As you watch them lean towards you in anticipation you can tell they awaiting some sort of craft beer enlightenment in the form of a one name answer.
“Free State Brewing Co in Lawrence, KS”, I respond, “My hometown brewery”. When I see the quizzical looks on my questioner’s face I know I am going to have to follow up with some explanation. Why in the world, after three and half years of beer travel, would I pick a place I left behind in my stationary life?
The answer is pretty simple, because a brewery is not just a place where beer is made it is an environment inhabited by people who share a love of hand crafted food stuffs. The memories around the beer are formed by the environment, personalities, and emotional connections. As with most travelers my favorite destination is the one where I have had the most fun. After living in Lawrence for 10 years and visiting the brewery hundreds of times I have built a cache of great stories and conversations with or without a beer buzz…usually with.
Free State is local institution where the community gathers to celebrate life’s little accomplishments. This is a place where patio space on a Spring afternoon is the most sought after real estate in town. Without Free State I still might be swilling Miller Lite with an Ice House chaser. When it comes to emotional value you can’t compete with 10 years (and counting) of lunches, lagers, and laughs.
Whenever we visit there is bartender who knows our name and has beer waiting us. The personal connections with brewers, bartenders, managers, and wait staff can’t be trumped by big marketing budget. In the end I hope everyone’s local brewery is their favorite, because if it isn’t it means you probably aren’t spending much time there or engaging with the people who inhabit it. When that is the case a brewery simply becomes a building where beer is made.