Right now I should be in Pittsburgh for Brewcation 2020, but thanks to COVID-19, I’m sitting here in my living room watching a Psych marathon and listening to Parkway Drive’s new live album Viva The Underdogs. I realize there are worse ways I could be spending my time, but I’d much rather prefer option A. Since I’m bummed (and quarantined), I felt compelled to write something.
Brewcation, our annual pilgrimage to a different city in which we cram as many breweries and beer bars as possible into a three day period, is more than just a boys trip or bro-cation, it’s a rite of passage. While that might sound a little grandiose, if you were ask anyone who has ever been on one of these trips, they would certainly agree. Yes, it does involve a lot of drinking, but there are countless ‘had to be there’ moments as well. Brewcation is Brewcation in so many words.
We first came up with this idea back in 2014, an idea hatched by myself, BBL co-founder Scott and our friend Jesse (our friend George came too) while planning over pints at Mr. Goodbar. We basically built the trip around three breweries – Ommegang, Ithaca and Galaxy, and traveled around the state, hitting Cooperstown, Binghamton and Ithaca. Ommegang was a bucket list brewery for us, and it was also on this trip that we discovered Upstate Brewing in Elmira, who are still our close beer friends to this very day. We also scored a free round at Horseheads Brewing because the former owner walked in on Jesse in the bathroom, so that was something. I still have a bottle of Ithaca Luminous from this trip now that I think of it in the cellar. I also had the best tasting Brooklyn Lager ever in our hotel in Binghamton.
After taking a year off, we set our sights on Rochester, this time with my brother-in-law William replacing George. The core three of me, Scott and Jesse has always been the same. Speaking of bucket list breweries, we crossed off Genesee Brewery during this trip and made it out to Nedloh one last time before they closed (to eventually turn into Other Half). One of my favorite memories from this trip was hitting Lost Borough Brewing for a number of beers then heading next door to Sticky Lips BBQ for hot garbage plates. Or when Jesse was in Nedloh’s one-hitter bathroom as two buses of wine tasting folks arrived and all had to use the facilities. I also vaguely remember being at Swiftwater for Vinyl Night. Good times.
We then spent back-to-back years in the 6, or Toronto for those less inclined. Toronto is one of our absolute favorite beer cities in the world and we explored a lot of it in 2017 and 2018. There are so many must-stops – Bellwoods, Halo, LCBO, Burdock, Henderson, Bar Volo and the list goes on. Steam Whistle was fun for tasty pilsner, Rohrshach Brewing featured a ton of great beer (Scott did a 5 beer flight of 13% imperial stouts at 11am) and we made lifelong friends with the dudes at Henderson (I seriously cannot express my love for them enough – Adin, Mark, we love you guys). I’m pretty sure Jesse got roofied (all of the beer hit him at once is probably more like it) at Tallboys (great burgers BTW), which led to the longest conversation with an Uber driver I’ve ever seen (Blackout Jesse of course). One of my fondest memories from Toronto was sitting in the living room with Jesse drunk and pantless while watching Archer and Scott came into the room yelling that our Uber was outside and we were going drinking at Pharmacy Bar, perhaps the most unique establishment I’ve ever drank at. Also, Toronto had some of the best AirBnb’s we have ever stayed in. Like I said, I love this city and the beer scene there. I need to go back.
We discussed Toronto for a third year, but settled on Richmond, Virginia – the furthest we have ever traveled for Brewcation. Speaking of bucket list breweries – The Veil and The Answer were fabulous. We fell in love with Bingo Beer, ordered the entire draft board at Vasen Brewing (thanks drunk Mark), drank a 40 beer flight at Strangeways for breakfast, spent a lot of time in the basement at Capital Ale House, rode the pony at midnight at some diner I can’t remember the name of, made friends with the guys at Tabol Brewing, drank way too many IPAs (and some imperial stouts for good measure) at Triple Crossing and got maybe the best brewery tour of my life at Hardywood, thanks to our new friend, Hardywood’s Production Manager Tim Norman. We drank from brite tanks, pulled some nails in many barrels and enjoyed a fantastic bottle share in their ‘employee lounge.’ Hell, we even got a performance from the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. Oh, and this was the first trip Mark came with us, so it was memorable in that regard too.
We’re hoping to hit the road later this year for some type of Brewcation once things normalize outside our doors, so hopefully that happens. I didn’t think I’d miss it as much as I do, but now that I’m sitting here writing this and not drinking my face off in some Pittsburgh brewery, it’s hitting me pretty hard. Looking back, I don’t know how we managed to be okay with skipping a year of this because not doing it right now really sucks. Writing is, and has always been, my coping mechanism, so thank you for giving me a few minutes to rant, ramble and reminiscence. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading and thank you for taking the time to care. I’ll be cracking a few beers tonight in honor of Brewcation 2020: Pittsburgh Plunge (working title) and in sincere hopes that I never have to write another article like this. And as long as there isn’t another global health pandemic anytime soon, I shouldn’t have to (fingers crossed). Cheers to you and yours, here’s hoping you are safe, happy and, most of all, healthy.
Brian Campbell is co-founder and Brand Manager of the Buffalo Beer League, and writes the weekly Buffalo Beer Buzz column. If you have beer news that should be included in the Beer Buzz, Brian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter (@buffbeerleague), Instagram (@buffalobeerleague), and Facebook (@thebuffalobeerleague).