I can remember the first brewery I every toured. It was Grand Teton Brewing Company (GTBC) in Victor, Idaho. My sister’s then-girlfriend (now wife), had just picked up me and my sister from five days of backpacking in the Grand Tetons, and we were now road tripping west to Portland, OR, and then south down the coast to San Francisco, CA. The intent of the trip had been to follow the Lewis and Clark trail, but things soon took a turn as we cruised past GTBC’s facility at 9:15am and saw a sandwich board out front advertising that their tasting room was open. A brewery with a tasting room? Beer before 10am? Why not!?! Lewis and Clark were soon a distant memory as we sought out other breweries to visit on our journey west and south.

Though that trip was only a decade ago, it was another world entirely. The number of breweries in the US has roughly tripled from approximately 1,500 at that time to more than 4,500 today. Where once we might have driven hours through sparsely populated rural and small town Idaho and Eastern Oregon without a hint of a craft brewery, now you can count on every Pocatello and Pendleton to play host to a least one local craft brewery.

And at the same time, technology has advanced immeasurably. When we rolled into that first brewery parking lot, we had cell phones, sure, but the most recent advances they featured were the ability to text and take pictures. The iPhone was right on the precipice of being introduced but it would be a few years yet before I owned one myself and a few more beyond that before the proliferation of beer apps.

Now? I carry a charging cord at all times and two adapters (one for wall sockets, one for cars) to ensure I’m at full charge whether I’m sitting through a 5 hour flight, driving myself from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, or just walking around Portland stopping at a new brewery on every block. And I need that charge to keep my line of access to the wealth of brewery visiting information that’s at our fingertips. There are six apps I use to a greater or lesser extent while brewery visiting. And while I wish there were ‘one app to rule them all’, I’ve found they each excel in different areas and that using them in combination is necessary if I really want to be sure I’m making the most of my downtime, visiting the best local breweries in the most efficient order. (Editor’s note: See our prior Enjoy Beer blog post for greater detail on JJ’s beer touring quest).

HopPlotterThis one is the newest addition to my beer app lineup, thanks to a tip from my co-worker, Archie Gleason. It uses geolocation to display breweries near you, then allows to select individual breweries, view their operating hours, and add them to an itinerary you construct. It’s the most closely suited to the brewery touring I tend to do, which involves trying to visit all of the breweries in a given area and to optimize the order I visit them to fit the most breweries into the smallest amount of time. Where it sometimes falls short is in its brewery database which can be spotty, missing many of the smaller, newer breweries, and even some of those that are not-so-new.

Find Craft BeerThis was my primary brewery touring app before HopPlotter. It can display breweries, brewpubs, beer bars, beer stores, or homebrew shops, or any subset of one or more of those categories that you select near you or in a destination you select. It displays the breweries on a map, making it easy to identify neighborhoods with dense clusters of breweries or breweries closest to you. However, it doesn’t have the itinerary building feature of HopPlotter, nor does it display brewery hours in-app, though you can select a brewery and click through to its website to find that info.

BeerAdvocate This app’s ‘Nearby’ feature is very similar to Find Craft Beer. However, while Find Craft Beer lets you hide non-brewing destinations (e.g. bottle shops) from the map if you so desire, BeerAdvocate does not. This means the map is sometimes cluttered with markers for non-breweries, obscuring the picture of the landscape of breweries around you. BeerAdvocate does tend to have a strong database of breweries though, so it can be worth checking in case it finds one the previous two apps have missed. While RateBeer is often mentioned in the same breath as BeerAdvocate when it comes to rating and reviewing breweries, it’s not worth using when it comes to visiting breweries. Their ‘Places’ feature only displays items as a list, not a map, and has no option to filter the list to just breweries.

Untappd – This beer and brewery check-in app has a good Nearby Breweries option, that does let you view just breweries, though it can get stuck. As I sit at home in Eugene, Oregon, writing this post, the app still thinks I’m in Pensacola, Florida, a destination I visited weeks ago, despite having reopened the app and having tried to reset this function several times in between. But Untappd’s main strength is the completeness of its brewery database. With its very large base of users, new breweries get added to Untappd quickly after opening, so I always give this app a quick check to make sure it’s not showing any destinations the others are missing.

CommunityWalk – This is the website my sister and I use to map our life lists of the breweries we’ve been to. If Untappd had existed when we started this quest, we might be dedicated Untappd users, but it’s too late now for us to migrate the nearly 900 locations a piece that we’ve visited into Untappd. While CommunityWalk is old school in that it doesn’t have an app and its user interface isn’t optimized for mobile, it does a commendable job of displaying our custom map of hundreds of points.

Google Maps – This is where I maintain my list of Oregon breweries I still need to visit. With 200+ breweries, approximately ¾ of which I’ve visited, it’s hard to view HopPlotter or Find Craft Beer and discern at a glance which of the points I’m seeing are points I’ve been to and which I still need to visit. Google Maps lets me create layers of points, each with their own color, with different types of breweries in each layer. That way I can turn on or off the layer containing “existing breweries without public tasting rooms” or “breweries in planning” to view just “existing breweries with pubs or tasting rooms” that I have yet to visit. It will also display these points on the maps within my Google Maps app so that as I drive around living the rest of my life, I can see when I’m near a brewery I intend to visit.

It’s a far cry from my early days of brewery visiting. And while these apps certainly make brewery touring more efficient, there is something to be said for the welcome surprise of running into an inviting brewery along your route. Luckily, in this era in which a new brewery opens every day in this country, I find that no matter how many apps I use, I still sometimes stumble across new breweries from time to time and am grateful for it.

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