Getting a taste for the craft-brew scene with beer industry expert, Michael Kiser
There’s something about the mystery of unknown territory that drives us to travel. For some of us, it’s the opportunity to witness the wonders of the world. For others it may be the chance to experience life outside our comfort zones.
For Michael Kiser, what spurs his travels is something slightly more crafty: beer.
Michael is a Chicago-based brand strategist in the craft beer industry. With this responsibility comes a healthy appetite for brews, and Michael’s palate is on point. One beer at a time, he travels the globe, brewery-hopping, ale-tasting, and chronicling his adventures on his website, Good Beer Hunting.
Because we love both good beer and travel, we recently picked Michael’s brain to learn more about his brewery-inspired excursions and his Oktoberfest advice.
Expedia Viewfinder: What is the most interesting aspect about the craft brew culture?
Michael Kiser: Craft brewers tend to value both perfection and innovation. These two ideas often are at odds with each other. But in craft brewing, a producer always is trying to offer you something familiar and evocative, while taking you someplace new with innovative flavors and aromas. Producers can talk at length about the technical aspects of their products, but they can also kick back and enjoy beer for what it is—a relaxing, social beverage that brings people together.
Expedia Viewfinder: Are there any stereotypes in the beer industry that are actually true?
MK: There are a lot of beards, and I count myself as one of them. There’s something deeply rooted in the culture of beer making that either attracts or produces the civil disobedient types. There is power in beer-making. Once you can make your own beer, who can possibly convince you to shave? It goes back hundreds of years, although it was mostly about the mustaches back then.
Expedia Viewfinder: We always hear about the same craft brew cities: Denver, San Diego, Portland, and others. Is there a top beer city that completely deserves all the mentions?
MK: If forced to pick one, I’d still have to say Portland, Oregon, mostly because of its culture. While the rest of the United States hovers around 10 percent market share for craft beer, Portland is nearly off the charts at 40 to 50 percent. To get to a level like that, it means you’ve convinced Joe Plumber, who only buys six-packs at the grocery store, that great beer is worthwhile. And as far as I’ve seen, Portland is the only place that’s hit that mark yet.
Good Beer Hunting’s Michael Kiser. Photo credit: Eva Deitch
Expedia Viewfinder: What are the most exciting moments you’ve experienced during your craft brew adventures?
MK: Taking an elevator many floors below sea level at Akkurat Bar in Sweden to visit their beer cellars was unbelievable. They have some of the world’s greatest beers stored down there, and a lot of them. Witnessing the first harvest at Elk Mountain Hop Farm this year was also stunning. And my most recent great memory was traveling to a remote brewery in the Czech Republic as the brewery roared back to life after almost 40 years of silence ([the Communists] had shut it down). The building was like an ancient relic, still a bit crumbled, but newly outfitted with stainless steel tanks and making perfect Czech beers.
Expedia Viewfinder: We know you live in Chicago, can you give us your go-to local spot to kick back and enjoy a good craft brew?
MK: Honestly, my studio is probably the truest answer. I often host tastings and parties, but I also meet friends and out-of-towners here to share a couple bottles of rare beers. In my neighborhood, I often walk over to Half Acre’s taproom in North Center as soon as they open. I grab a lemongrass tofu sandwich at Nhu-Lan on the way, and kick back for a couple midday pints of whatever is on the board that week. It’s a beautiful setting.
Viewfinder Tip: Beer fans visiting Chicago should swing by the Half Acre taproom in North Center for a great craft brew experience.
Expedia Viewfinder: What do you look forward to most about Oktoberfest?
MK: Oktoberfest draws people from all walks of life, and it’s a great reminder of how social and universal beer really is. In Chicago, it often marks the last few weeks of warm weather, so there’s a clear shift in the air that makes us all a bit nostalgic [for summer]. And of course, there’s the drinking in the streets at festivals, the special menus at our amazing German restaurants, and polka music.
Expedia Viewfinder: Lastly, what’s one thing newbies should understand about attending their first Oktoberfest/tasting event?
MK: Pace yourself! Whether you intend to or not, you will drink a lot. There’s something about the atmosphere and the size of the liter steins that’s hard to measure with our normal standards of drinking. The beers go down easy and they’re fairly cheap. Take time out to eat a pretzel or sausage, or try to match one glass of water for every beer. If yo do this, you’ll have the staying power necessary to get out on the dance floor.
For the next few weeks, Michael dutifully will knock back a few at various festivals around Chicago, including Oktoberfest Chicago, Chicago Brauhaus, and the Revolution Brewing Oktoberfest Party. Follow his adventures with the hashtag #findyourbrew.
What’s your favorite city for beer-tasting and why?
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