Specialist tour focuses on American beer

Last Sunday's craft beer festival at Blenheim's Drylands Estate winery proved to me once again that the majority of beer enthusiasts share my passion for learning about their favourite beers from the people who actually make them - preferably with a glass of the beer in hand.

On Sunday I hosted the "meet the brewer" sessions with six brewers: Tracy Banner (from Sprig & Fern, Nelson), Andy Deuchars (Renaissance, Blenheim), Soren Eriksen (8 Wired, Blenheim), Dave Nicholls (Moa, Blenheim), Dale Holland (Dale's, Nelson) and Kieran McCauley (Brew Moon, Amberley).

The sessions attracted a cross-section of people from novices to craft beer geeks and avid home brewers and in each case they listened attentively and sipped the beers while the brewers recalled their own experiences in the industry and explained how they created the various colours, flavours and textures of the beers.

If there's one thing I enjoy even more than sampling a beer with its creator, it's doing so at its point of origin. The word provenance is often used by wine lovers to explain the influence the land and climate in which the grapes are grown has on the finished wine, but the term is equally applicable to beer. A beer's provenance not only involves the environment in which the grains and hops were grown, but also that of the brewery in which it was created.

Last year I visited the United States with the Hamilton craft brewer Graeme Mahy and his partner, Di, where we enjoyed a whistle-stop tour of one of the world's most developed and prolific craft beer regions, the Pacific Northwest.

I wrote about our experiences in Portland, Pacific City and Newport (in Oregon) and taking the Amtrak train up the coast to Seattle (Washington), while visiting as many breweries as possible along the way. It was a memorable trip during which we enjoyed stunning scenery and some wonderful beers, but for me the highlight was meeting and spending time with two icons of the American craft brewing scene whom I'd only previously read about.

Having started his brewing career at Alaskan Brewing Company in 1987, John Maier has been the head brewer at Rogue Ales in Newport, Oregon, for 23 years. Seattle's Charles Finkel was brave enough to start importing European craft beers into the US back in the 1970s and later founded Pike Brewing. I was lucky enough to catch up with both of them before heading down to San Diego.

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, my columns caught the eye of Glen Armstrong, an Auckland beer aficionado who owns the House of Travel franchise in Ellerslie. Glen has for some years organised specialist art tours to various parts of the world and, noting the fun I was having on my beery exploits, contacted me on my return home to ask if I would consider being the guide for a beer tour of the Pacific Northwest region for Kiwi beer lovers.

You can probably guess my response.

Suffice it to say, after almost a year of planning, Glen is now inviting bookings. The tour starts in San Francisco on Thursday, September 5, 2013, and ends in Seattle a fortnight later. After a night there we'll tour America's oldest craft brewery, Anchor Brewing Company, before heading north to Santa Rosa, where we'll visit the famous Russian River brewpub, home of America's most famous double IPA, Pliny the Elder. Next up we'll head inland through Napa Valley and past California's Old Faithful geyser to Chico for a tour, tastings and dinner at the iconic Sierra Nevada brewery.

Having crossed into Southern Oregon and overnighted in Medford we'll take the scenic drive past Crater Lake and on to Bend, a city with its own ale trail and 14 breweries (including Deschutes) to explore. We'll have a leisurely two-night stop in Bend before heading across the mountains to the coast, for a visit to the aforementioned Rogue Ales in Newport.

From Newport it's an easy drive up the Pacific coast to Cape Kiwanda, home of the award-winning Pelican Pub & Brewery, before heading inland to Portland.

Home to a ridiculously large number of breweries and brewpubs (35 at least!) and arguably the world's most sophisticated beer culture, Portland will be our home for three nights before we head north to Washington and on to Seattle. Two nights in Seattle will afford us time to check out some of the city's 20-plus breweries.

Full details of the US Pacific Northwest Tour are available online at beertours.co.nz or by email to info@beertours.co.nz or by contacting Glen Armstrong on 021 509 093 or 09 525 2363. Places are limited to 25 and a deposit is required by March 31.


Declaration of interest: Geoff Griggs is the tour guide for Craft Beer Tours' US Pacific - Northwest Tour 2013.

The Marlborough Express