Beer-lovers are finding a new way to explore the burgeoning craft-brewing world: on bicycles.
From Oregon to New Mexico to Vermont, beer aficionados can now hop on a bike and be led from one brewery to another. After sampling the latest microbrew, they can then pedal away all those extra calories.
The tours — which range from a few hours to several days — offer a chance to meet other travelers, learn about the local culture and, of course, sample some great beer. And each tour has a different strategy for preventing biking under the influence, from limiting tastes to 4 ounces and providing a back-up van, to saving the swigs for the end of the trip.
Heather Wess Arnold and her husband Josh, owners of Routes Bicycle Rentals & Tours in Albuquerque, took their love for beer and biking and combined them in a tour in April.
"We were expecting it to be mostly tourists, but it's also been a lot of locals," she said.
Novice riders will appreciate the bicycle-friendly paths, lanes, roads with light traffic. Beer-lovers can enjoy visits to at least three breweries. The $45 tours — rental included — are offered the third Sunday of each month.
Every three months, the tour is changed so people can learn about new neighborhoods and new beers. The three-and-a-half to four-hour tours cover 10 to 15 miles.
Along the way, bikers learn about the history of brewing in Albuquerque, some local trivia and are given backroom tours of the breweries, led by the master brewers. Some of the spots even let bikers participate in the process, adding the hops or stirring the mash.
There are three to four tastings — each 4 ounces — at each brewery. Plenty of water is served and Wess Arnold says the tour spreads out the drinking to keep bikers under the legal limits of driving — um, biking — while under the influence. A vehicle follows the group in case anyone becomes too impaired to bike.
"So far that hasn't had to happen," she said.
The vehicle also offers a way for bikers to transport any six-packs or growlers of beer, T-shirts and pint glasses without worrying about juggling the souvenirs on the bikes.
For those looking for a bit more of a challenge, Sojourn Bicycle Vacations offers a Vermont Bike & Brew tour. The six-day, five-night trip is geared toward more avid cyclists who ride 50 miles a day and includes many hills.
"It just combines some great riding and some of the world's best craft breweries," said Susan Rand, president of the company. "We do more riding than drinking."
The group stops at seven breweries along the way, but also ends each day with some local beers out of a cooler. One night, there is a private chef's beer-pairing dinner led by the brewmaster from Otter Creek Brewing.
The 18-person trip, which goes for $2,195 per person, covers the rural back roads of Vermont.
Bob Gross, 63, and his wife Cyndy, 54, were on the first tour last summer. They've done wine bike tours but thought it was time to learn more about beer. More than 20 years ago, she bought him a home brewers kit and he's been hooked ever since.
"I like specialty beers, I love microbrewers," he said. "All our bike trips gravitate toward alcohol."
She loves Michelob Ultra but went along on the trip since they bike together two to three times a week.
"The cool thing about the trip, you got to meet the brew masters. You learn a lot about the business," he said.
As for getting drunk while biking, he said, "You're just really sipping a very small amount."
Most of the drinking happens at the end of the day.
Mount Major Adventures offers customized Vermont Bike and Brewery tours that visit more than a dozen breweries in the state over a four- to eight-day period.
Too exhausted to think about that much biking? Well, there are plenty of other day trips out there including those offered since 2008 by Cycle Portland Bike Tours in Oregon.
Owner Evan Ross sums up the tours as a great way to "work off some calories and build up some thirst."
The group visits three breweries over three hours and then ends in the bike shop where there is a keg of beer from another local brewery. Like all of the tours, Ross tends to change the beers with the seasons and his tastes.
The $40 tour used to include alcohol, but Ross said "people got too wasted." Now, participants purchase drinks a la carte along the way. This way, no one feels like the need to finish every beer to get their money's worth.
Other companies around the country offering similar trips include Beer & Bike Tours in Fort Collins, Colo., and Motor City Bike & Brew Tours in Detroit, which focus on the city's brewing revitalization as well as sites from the Prohibition era.
If You Go...
ROUTES BICYCLE RENTALS & TOURS: Albuquerque, N.M., Bikes & Brews, http://routesrentals.com/
SOJOURN BICYCLING VACATIONS: Vermont Bike & Brew, http://www.GoSojourn.com
MOUNT MAJOR ADVENTURES: Vermont Bike and Brewery, http://www.mountmajor.com/
CYCLE PORTLAND BIKE TOURS: Portland, Ore., Breweries by Bike, http://www.portlandbicycletours.com
BEER & BIKE TOURS: Fort Collins, Colo., http://beerandbiketours.com/
MOTOR CITY BIKE & BREW TOURS: Detroit, http://motorcitybrewtours.com/bike-tours.html
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