Let’s say you want to visit a several breweries on a single day. Maybe you are visiting town for the weekend or are looking for something fun to do for a birthday, bachelorette party or other special occasion. There are two options you can choose, an organized brewery tour run by a company who specializes in this sort of thing or a self-organized brewery crawl, like the ones I took and wrote about in San Diego and Asheville. Which one to choose?
In my last post I described the Columbus Brew Adventures downtown brewery tour. As it turns out just two days earlier I went on a spontaneous brewery crawl with my friends Mark, Ralph, Hans, Tim and Nick. After starting at the grand opening of the Sideswipe Brewing tap room (click here for my review) Mark suggested we hit the Four String Tap Room for happy hour, and before you know it we ended up visiting four Columbus area breweries that night.
In this post I compare a brewery tour (specifically the Columbus Brew Adventures downtown tour) with a spontaneous brewery crawl so you can make an informed decision when contemplating this age old question.
Tour: Four in total—Columbus Brewing Co., Seventh Son Brewing, North High Brewing & Zauber Brewing
Crawl: Four in total—Sideswipe Brewing, Four String Brewing, Zauber Brewing & Actual Brewing
Verdict: On each excursion I was able to visit four breweries, so it’s a wash. However, I was able to visit seven of the eleven Columbus breweries in a three day time span, so I’ll declare myself the winner.
Tour: Twelve (CBC—Pale Ale, IPA, Bodhi; Seventh Son—Stone Fort Oat Brown, Golden Ratio IPA, Galloway Tale; North High—Hefeweizen, Milk Stout, Saison, OH-IPA; Zauber—Buxom Blonde, Myopic Red)
Crawl: Eight (Sideswipe—Coop Looter Saison, Fisticuffs IPA, Elegant Hoodlum Smoked Stout, Pixelated Sun Hoppy Wheat; Four String—Big Star White IPA infused with blueberries; Zauber—Myopic Red; Actual—Conductor Imperial Rye, Fat Julian)
Verdict: For variety the brewery tour comes out on top by a 3:2 margin, but the total volume of beer is a different story. Assuming the size of an average sampler is 4 oz and the average pint is 16 ounces, I had the equivalent of 3 pints on the tour and 6 pints on the crawl. On Thursday night when we finished the crawl I would have said more beer is a good thing, on Friday morning not so much. Not everywhere sells samplers so if you want to try a wide variety of beers and walk away functioning a tour is the way to go. If you want to tie one on the brewery crawl is the way to go. Given the sophisticated nature of my readers I’m going to give the edge to the tour.
Tour: Two slices of pizza, a mini plate of nachos, and some soft pretzels all at Columbus Brewing Company.
Crawl: Two tacos from a food truck at Zauber (don’t ask me which one), some left over pizza at Actual (don’t ask period).
Verdict: The tour comes out on top.
Tour: Three (Seventh Son—Colin Vent; North High—Gavin Myers; Zauber—Geoff Towne).
Crawl: One (Sideswipe—Craig O’Herron)
Verdict: For the chance to meet and talk to the people who make beer the tour is definitely the way to go. Although it is often possible to talk with the brewers at the smaller tap rooms like Sideswipe, Zaftig and Actual.
Guide & Companions
Tour: Jim Ellison (standing with the beige cap in the photo below) is a real professional who knows a ton about the local beer and food scene. I learned a number of things from Jim. I didn’t know any of the other people in my group before starting the tour, but there were members of the opposite sex in the group, which is more than I can say for our brewery crawl group.
Crawl: We didn’t really have a guide, but my friend Mark (seated on the right in the photo below with the beige cap and sunglasses) was wearing almost the same hat as Jim and did suggest the first two stops on our route, so I’m going to dub him our unofficial guide. Mark has won awards for his home brewing skills, knows a ton about beer in general, and is a fun companion. On the downside he did ride his bike to the crawl so as chauffeur he was for all practical purposes useless.
Verdict: I’m going to call this one a draw.
Tour: We were driven around in an air conditioned 15 passenger van stocked with water and snacks.
Crawl: We squeezed into Ralph’s Chevy Cobalt. There was an empty water bottle and a bit of food on the floor, but that was not intended for consumption. The following week Ralph’s car was recalled by General Motors for a faulty ignition switch. While replacing the ignition switch the mechanics found a leak in the fuel line that posed a significant explosion hazard.
Verdict: I’m just glad we survived the excursion in Ralph’s death mobile.
Non-Brewery Cultural Experiences
Tour: We stopped at the King Gambrinus (the patron saint of beer) statue in the Brewery district.
Crawl: We stopped for a photo with the creepy animatronic sub girl on 5th avenue near Zauber.
Verdict: Too close to call.
Tour: The Columbus Brew Adventure tours can fill up in advance so it’s best to plan ahead.
Crawl: We didn’t decide to make this a brewery crawl until we had been at the Sideswipe tap room for about an hour.
Verdict: I’m a sucker for spontaneity so I’m going to give the edge to the brewery crawl.
Tour: Columbus Brewing Company is the second oldest craft brewery in Ohio. Galaxy hops are the main hop in Seventh Son’s Golden Ratio IPA. North High Brewing have hired the former production manager of Anchor Brewing in San Francisco to head up their brewing operations. Zauber is also in the middle of a big expansion and they hope to be putting out much larger volumes of beer by early August.
Crawl: You’ll regret it the next day if you finish an extended night of drinking with a 10% abv Imperial Stout.
Verdict: The tour comes out on top.
Tour: The standard cost for the downtown brewery tour is $55.
Crawl: I didn’t keep an exact count but counting the tacos from the food truck I spent approximately $45.
Verdict: It’s a little cheaper to hit the breweries on your own, but only if you have free transportation.
If I simply add up the points from the ten categories above the tour comes out on top by a tally of 6.5 to 3.5. That said they are really two different experiences.
If you take the tour you are likely to learn quite a bit, meet some interesting people, and walk away fully functioning.
If you opt for the crawl you may start with the same lofty goals, but if you are like me at some point it will slip into a more debaucherous experience. If you can either walk between stops or find a designated driver you probably will save a little money. If you pick the right companions you will likely have a lot of fun. If you drink enough beer chances are you will meet some interesting people, but don’t be surprised if you wish you had taken the tour when you wake up the next morning.
I vote crawl all the way. 😉
A chance for the spontaneous people! There are 4 tickets available for the tour tomorrow.
Another advantage of going on a tour is not having to worry about whether the taprooms are open or having to find directions or figure out parking.
That’s a great point that I overlooked. Parking can be a real challenge at some of the downtown and Grandview breweries, and is likely to add to the cost. You also have to do a bit of research in advance.
Great (and fun) post Pat! I’ll throw in a few extras for your readers. We do have snacks on board the van which we bring out at the third stop on the downtown tour. The stops on the tours do vary a bit, for example for the tour Pat did with us, we visited Zauber who was subbing for Barley’s due to Comfest traffic congestion. Our Saturday Tours do sell out a couple weeks in advance but our tours on Sundays and during the week (such as Pitchers and Pizza) usually have spots available. And we do visit Actual and SideSwipe on some of our tours as well.
I would like to add one thing to your post. Readers: if you are looking to do a crawl or a tour, try to get Pat to come with you. He is a lot of fun, handy to have around and knows beer really well. Pat is a great supporter of our local craft brewing community and we really appreciate all he does to support it. Thanks Pat.
Jim, thanks for the clarification on how quickly the tours fill up and also for the kind words. I will say the pitchers and pizza tour looks very enticing, if nothing else to hear your insight about the history of pizza (but also for the chance to eat pizza and drink beer).