2. Look for deals
We're not saying you shouldn't take a sip if someone offers you a $150 bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias. We're just saying that if you can get a dram of it for less, go for it.
Maybe we've just been getting spoiled by breweries beyond the big cities and coastal towns but, more often than not, we're discovering that you can still get your hands on good beer for $5 or less. Yes, Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco -- this means you too. Here in Portland, most brewpubs will let a 12-ounce glass of their stronger beers go for $4.50, with pints of midrange beer elsewhere going for $5 on the high end. At taphouses, pints of just about anything that isn't a barleywine or a Belgian import will land between $4 and $5.
That gets tougher elsewhere, but there are some tricks to the trade. First, ask for half pints. A pub's ability to serve them will vary widely by state, but if you can get your hands on one, it's a great way to do a lot of tasting for little. Failing that, ask for tasting sizes. Good bartenders will happily pour some for you and it prevents you and the establishment from wasting beer and money on a full pint you didn't want.
We also strongly suggest hitting bottle shops if your state allows it. Stay away from 22-ounce bottles when possible, as they're a slightly less terrible deal than pints, and mix-and-match as much as possible. Finally, don't be afraid to look in places you'd least expect. The Craft Brew Alliance's Redhook brand recently partnered with Buffalo Wild Wings to get its beers on tap there, while Boston Beer put both Samuel Adams and the specially crafted pint glasses it makes for that beer in Red Lobster locations across the country.
3. Keep your eyes open
There are now 2,500 breweries throughout the United States. If you're taking a trip somewhere, chances are there's one nearby.
My father-in-law, who joins me on several of my own beer excursions, used to find breweries just by working on boats for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association. While stationed in Kodiak, Alaska, he had the great fortune of coming across Kodiak Island Beer and its La Granja stout and Liquid Sunshine California Common. While driving across the country on our move to Portland, my wife and I got to sample great breweries in Syracuse, N.Y. (Middle Ages and Empire Brewing); Cleveland (Great Lakes); Chicago (Half Acre and Revolution); Rapid City, S.D. (Firehouse Brewing); Bozeman, Mont. (Bozeman Brewing and Big Sky); McCall, Idaho (Salmon River) and Walla Walla, Wash. (Laht Neppur).
Each year, we write a large piece documenting craft beer vacation destinations. It's because each year we find a dozen or so new breweries to visit while just out and about. While it's tough to traverse the whole country each year, popping into the occasional beer festival or keeping track of the point of origin for beers of a taproom beer list make it a bit easier to double back later and check places out.
The best way to find new beer and new people making it is to seek it out. Who knows? Maybe you'll take away a better souvenir from that vacation or business trip than you anticipated.