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Hoops on Hops: Beer tourism a growing trend on all levels

If you want to get the most out of a trip, search for beer styles you like in the area you are visiting. thinkstock.com

As we head into summer, now is a perfect time to talk about the growing popularity of beer tourism.

Duluth is a destination for all types of people: campers, history lovers and families — you name it, people are coming up north. Along those lines a new type of tourism has arrived. Enter beer tourism or beercation. Our Twin Ports region has been recognized as a serious national player for beer and breweries. Because of this, more people are coming to enjoy great beer along with the area's natural beauty.

I recently spoke with my friend, Dave Grandmaison, who is an owner of The Duluth Experience, a tour operator specializing in walking tours, kayaking and, yes, beer tours. According to Grandmaison, "In many circumstances, tour businesses have teamed up with local breweries to promote their regions as craft beer destinations." Companies like The Duluth Experience have helped propel beer tourism into the mainstream while creating travel opportunities that connect their guests to the local craft beer scene in a personal way.

"We're not just telling the story about Duluth's brewing legacy, we're providing an experience that immerses our guests in that story and allows them to tap into the excitement surrounding locally crafted beer," he said. Beer tourism works in the Northland because there are so many established breweries making quality beer.

On a more national scale, just do an internet search and you can find almost any kind of experience from special beer dinners to weeklong brewery-to-brewery operation tours.

According to the Brewers Association, Travelocity has joined the fray with a beer tour index. A good criteria for me in deciding where to have a beercation includes: number of breweries; beer quality; great craft beer bars; beer and local culture; and overall fun factor of visiting the area. My current top 10 beer communities in the U.S., in no particular order are:

• Portland, Maine

• San Diego

• Twin Cities

• Bend, Ore.

• Fort Collins, Colo.

• Chicago

• Madison

• Portland, Ore.

• San Francisco Bay Area

• Austin, Texas

If you want to get the most out of a trip, do some research online. First, search for beer styles you like in the area you are visiting. Then, it would be very worthwhile to search the top breweries in the area as well as beer-specific events. There are also many beer tours in the U.S. that are all-inclusive, all beer top to bottom. Many of these operations have been around for a while and include testimonials and various packages.

As for international beer tourism, there are a lot of options. First, Oktoberfest in Munich is probably the most well-known, and it really is a blast to attend. I also really love the Bamberg area in Germany with many great lager and smoked beer breweries. My very favorite beer area to visit in Belgium is Bruges. And let's not forget Amsterdam, which is a wonderland of amazing beers and places to enjoy them.

One friend I know booked a river cruise in Germany and stopped at more than 20 breweries during the trip. If you have the time, I recommend checking out one of the many websites that offer tailored tours by boat. I hope to do this myself sometime.

Beer tourism is a really great way to target a location, find new tastes, meet people and spread the word about the cool new brews you've tried.

Enjoy some local and far-away beers this summer.

Dave Hoops lives in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at dave@hoopsbrewing.com.

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