Every great road trip starts with an epiphany. For Michael Rob, an avid craft beer fan from Dallas, his epiphany came the day before Christmas when he found himself at the end of the road with his boring 9-to-5 desk job:
“On the day before Christmas Eve of 2012, I got stuck at my corporate job late and then had to make the five hour drive from Dallas down to San Antonio. On that drive, fueled by anger and exhaustion, I started thinking about how I could leave my job and take an extended vacation.”
While driving to visit his family that Christmas, Michael realized he needed more than just another vacation — He need a life change. He needed an adventure. The idea of sudsy wanderlust had gotten the best of him. So he hit up his lifelong beer-drinking buddy, Brandon Wurtz, and proposed the trip of a lifetime: 365 brewery visits in 365 days.
“At first I wanted to take a month off to visit breweries and by the next day I had convinced myself that a month would not be enough,” Michael explains to BroBible. “After making the treacherous drive over [to Brandon’s house] during an ice storm, I threw the idea out of visiting 365 breweries in 365 days and he was immediately all-in…”
“I don’t remember my exact words when he told me,” Brandon adds, “but it was something along the lines of ‘Hell yeah, I’m in!’ without any hesitation.”
After a year of saving and preparations, the two bought a 2004 Honda Odyssey, named it Homer, and set off to visit one brewery a day for the next year.
Thanks to the craft beer explosion, there are over 3,400 unique breweries in the United States. According to the U.S. Brewers Association, there haven’t been this many breweries in the U.S. since the years following the Civil War. At 365 breweries a day, Michael and Brandon would barely be making a dent in sampling a diverse cross-section of America’s thriving craft beer scene. Shortly into the trip, they realized they’d needed to ramp up their effort. So doubled up by adding 424 bonus breweries to their itinerary, opting to visit a total of 789 breweries in the 48 contiguous states.
Brandon and Michael documented their year of beer on their website, Brewstravelers365.com, along with dedicated Facebook and Instagram pages. I first got wind of the trip when a BroBible reader involved in the Texas craft beer scene said “Pssshhh, that’s nothing” about a road trip designed to visit 70 breweries in 20 days. The reader put me in touch with Michael and Brandon, who were more than happy to recap their adventures nearly one year after it officially ended.
Here is the story of two guys who quit their boring jobs and pursued what they love in the most epic way imaginable.
How long have you guys known each other? How did you become friends?
Brandon: Michael and I met on drum line the first day of my freshman year in high school, which was his sophomore year. We have been friends about 16 years now. We both went to college at different schools and didn’t return to hanging out regularly until we both happened to move back to the Dallas area in 2010.
Michael: On the first day of band in high school, I asked what his name was and he responded “Brandon” so I looked at him and said “You don’t look like a Brandon, you look like a Haggis.” I don’t know why I said that, but I have been calling him Haggis ever since…
How did you guys get into craft beer?
Michael: Back in 2005 when I was living down in Austin, one of my best friends, Tyler, got a homebrew kit for Christmas and we immediately started brewing all the time. That kicked off my love for good beer and that love quickly turned into an obsession. Clearly.
Brandon: We both developed a love of craft beer separately in college, where all everyone drank was cheap macro. As soon as I was 21 and able to go to bars I discovered the plethora of other options. A local bar that had 40+ rotating taps held weekly $2 Pint Tuesdays and I would go in each week and try several new beers. This was 2006-2007 and local options were essentially nil, so I first fell in love with Belgian and German beers. Over the next several years I continued my interest by frequenting local craft beer bars and the only local brewery in my area, Rahr Brewing Co. in Fort Worth.
Meanwhile one of my old college roommates and an old high school friend I kept in touch with had taken up home brewing. I was fascinated by the process and opportunity to be both creative and scientific. When I moved back to Dallas, Michael (who had already been home brewing down in Austin) and a couple other friends and I started brewing together every week. It was a lot of fun. When the first brewery in Dallas opened up in late 2011, we all jumped at the chance to get involved in the industry by volunteering at weekly brewery tours.
I fell in love with this environment of good beer, good music, good food, and, most importantly, amazing people. From there came involvement at local beer festivals and helping out at a few other new breweries.
What was the impetus for the road trip?
Brandon: The idea came to Michael over winter vacation in 2012. I had been visiting family in Topeka, Kansas and was driving through a snow storm back to Dallas on Christmas day when he called me up and said he had an idea and wanted to talk.
Michael: On the day before Christmas Eve of 2012, I got stuck at my corporate job late and then had to make the 5 hour drive from Dallas down to San Antonio. On that drive, fueled by anger and exhaustion, I started thinking about how I could leave my job and take an extended vacation. At first I wanted to take a month off to visit breweries and by the next day I had convinced myself that a month would not be enough. When I made it back up to Dallas on Christmas night, I called Brandon and told him I needed to talk to him in person as soon as possible. He was about an hour away driving back from Kansas, so he told me to meet him at his place.
Brandon: The entire back seat of my car was stacked full of out of distribution beers I picked up in Kansas and Missouri and I told him to come over and share his epiphany over a few beers.
Michael: After making the treacherous drive over there during an ice storm, I threw the idea out of visiting 365 breweries in 365 days and he was immediately all-in.
Brandon: I don’t remember my exact words when he told me but it was something along the lines of “Hell yeah, I’m in” without any hesitation. While my parents were great about taking my sisters and myself on fun vacations while growing up, I had never done so on my own terms as an adult. I have always had the travel bug but had never really been in the position to go anywhere outside of the occasional extended weekend camping trip, having been in school steady from 18-25 including many summers and working low-wage jobs the most of the time.
I had finally built up a decent savings and this opportunity at an amazing life experience seemed like a much more worthy venture than paying off most of my student loans or putting forth a downpayment on a crappy old house. Perhaps not the most responsible financial decision but I don’t really feel tied down to that linear life plan that so many obsess over.
Michael: From that day, it took us a year of planning and saving before we hit the road.
What car did you take on the road?
Brandon: We purchased a 2004 Honda Odyssey for the trip which we ended up naming “Homer” — the name having a dual meaning, a nod to Homer’s Odyssey and to Homer Simpson’s love of beer. Both of us drove small cars pre-trip and knew we would need something with a lot more space to carry camping gear, clothes, and, frankly, beer. Other priorities including something with decent gas mileage since that would be our largest expense throughout the year as well as seats that laid relatively flat for sleeping in the car when we couldn’t find somewhere to stay.
Where did you guys stay when on the road?
Michael: At times, we would park Homer in a Wal-Mart parking lot, crank the front seats back as far as they would go, and pass out. However, most of the time we stayed with friends, family, people on CouchSurfing.org, or random people we met on the trip.
The people we stayed with ended up being the highlight of the trip, as we met so many kind strangers that went out of there way for us to be able to have a place to stay.
One of my favorite memories from the trip was when we visited Blue Pants Brewing in Madison, Alabama. When we first got there, we were talking to the bartender who eventually asked where we were staying that night so we told him that we had planned on camping but, since it was raining, we weren’t sure. He immediately told us we could stay at his house even though we didn’t even know his name yet at that point. He was such a cool guy that we ended up staying there two nights in a row. This type of situation ended up happening multiple times throughout the year.
Brandon: We tried to plan at least a week in advance with the breweries so we would know generally where we would be and could try to be as methodical as possible in locating places to stay. The first goal was to stay with friends and family (or friends and family of friends and family). We couldn’t be more appreciative of those who put us up for a night – or seven – or who graciously connected us with people that they knew around the country.
If that option didn’t work out, we made ready use of Couchsurfing.org. Neither of us had ever utilized that community’s resources but are so glad we did. It’s an amazing way to travel. We had the opportunity to make so many new friends.
If that fell through, the next option was camping. That said, we ended up doing WAY less camping than either of us had expected. Due to the nature of breweries being centered mostly in cities, it ended up being pretty impractical to drive 60 miles round trip to find an affordable camp site then come back into town the next morning.
We spent a total of 52 of the nights sleeping in the reclined front seats of the van. The first couple nights were fairly sleepless but pretty soon we were both so exhausted from traveling that we had no problem sleeping straight through the night. On average, about once a month we would break down and get a room at a cheap motel. Usually after a few days with no shower and sleeping in the van it just needed to happen to stay on the right side of the beer gypsy / homeless line.
One notable night we were driving from Salt Lake City towards Boise and had slept in the van the previous night at about 24 deg outside. That wasn’t so bad with warm clothes and a sleeping bag but I, with priorities aligned, was concerned about the beer freezing so we got a motel. The front desk ladies inquired about if we were having a party, as we made several trips lugging in coolers.
How many beers DID you drink in total? How did you account for driving between breweries? What was your system to make sure you were plenty sober between brewery visits?
Brandon: 7,124 was our total unique beer count on Untappd. Of course, these were not all pints. That would just be absurd. With the goal of being responsible and not driving intoxicated, most of the beers were sampled in flights, accompanied with an overwhelming volume of water – I had more than a few bartenders comment about coming into a brewery and ordering water, in which case I held my tongue, smiled, and insisted since they couldn’t possibly have known what we were undertaking.
If we had plenty of time to spend at a location, I would often get a pint of my favorite beer out of a flight, but rarely any more than that. Any beers we acquired along the way we made a point to share with other breweries or with our hosts for the night as a small token of gratitude for their time and generosity.
Michael: There wasn’t any set system, really, we just knew not to drink too much and made sure to always have extra time after drinking to chill for a little bit before getting back in the van. The few times we did drink slightly more were times we knew that we wouldn’t have to drive – for instance, when we were taking public transportation around New York City or when we took a bus to the Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, WI.
What was the most unique beer that you sampled? Anything made with crazy indigents?
Brandon: Breweries are now being extremely creative with ingredients and, after everything we have tried, I am personally convinced there are no limits to what can be made.
I know Michael and I will agree about the “most unique beer” without even having to confer with him because it was just that out there. Dock Street in Philadelphia released a beer called Walker while we were working our way through a few bars and tourist spots on Michael’s birthday. The beer was released in celebration of the season finale (maybe premier) of AMC’s The Walking Dead. In true zombie fashion it was a pale stout made with cranberries and smoked goat brains. And it was delicious.
Michael: The craziest beer we had was hands down Walker from Dock Street in Philadelphia; it was brewed with roasted goat brains and cranberries. I mean, how insane is it to put cranberries in a beer?!
Brandon: Some of the other truly unique beers that come to mind are Illinois based Scratch Brewing’s beer made without any water, instead utilizing maple sap, along with several of their other gruit styles that were at that point very uncommon but seem to be gaining popularity in the industry; Portland’s Breakside Brewing made Birra Minestra to imitate the flavors of a caprese salad; NC brewery Fonta Flora had a Bulls Blood Beet infused saison aptly called Beets, Rhymes and Life; and OC’s The Bruery is doing some neat things, experimenting with beers flavored like classic cocktails.
While it was out of season and we weren’t able to sample it, Michigan’s Right Brain Brewery makes an asparagus ale that caught my eye. Also out of Michigan, Short’s Brewing and Odd Side Ales are machines at doing some truly creative brews – far too many to list here.
Are there any beer(s) in particular that stands out as personal favorites?
Brandon: By far the most asked question during and after our travels has been what was your favorite beer/brewery. I’m not really the type of person who has a favorite anything but I can attempt to offer some personal highlights. I’m thankful you asked favorite rather than best because I find all this talk in the industry of “best” to be complete nonsense. I cringe every time I see a best IPA list on one of those entertainment/lifestyle sites. It’s just so personal and subjective, dictated by the people, environment, what you ate that day, your mood…
There were too many excellent beers but these stand out in my mind without having to go back and do a daily recap:
Free State Owd Macs
New Glarus Belgian Red and VSP
Cigar City Amplitude
Smog City Coffee Porter
Devil’s Backbone’s lagers
Vermont Pub & Brewery / Dieu du Ciel collaboration Sunset Vibrations
And by far the most exciting were the unreleased beers that breweries generously allowed us to taste out of barrels.
Michael: We had a ton of good beer and it would be near impossible for me to list favorites, but here are a few beers that stick out in my mind:
Sunset Vibrations – a damn solid Scotch Ale that was a collaboration between Vermont Pub & Brewery (where we tried it) and Dieu Du Ciel.
Amplitude – a rich Doppelbock aged in bourbon barrels with Peruvian cacao nibs from Cigar City in Florida.
Birra Minestra – an incredibly unique Golden Ale fermented on tomatoes, basil, and pluots from Breakside Brewery in Oregon
What are some of your favorite under-the-radar breweries that you visited along the way
Brandon: I think Michael would agree that discovering some of these breweries we had never heard of was one of the most rewarding aspects of our trip. While we were excited to visit the Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Dogfishes of the world, nothing compares with coming into a place with no clue what to expect and being blown away. As with the favorite beers there’s a lot of competition with so many excellent operations but, without trying to over think it, these come to mind for reasons that combine beer, people, environment, and overall business approach. I’m excluding my favorite TX breweries aside from Noble Rey Brewing Company, where I currently work.
Bluejacket in Washington, DC
Boothbay Craft in Boothbay, ME
Burley Oak in Berlin, MD
Council Brewing Company in San Diego, CA
CraftHaus Brewing in Henderson, NV
Dangerous Man Brewing Company in Minneapolis, MN
Dragoon Brewing Company in Tucson, AZ
Draught Works Brewery in Missoula, MT
Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton, NC
Happy Valley Brewery in State College, PA
Horse & Dragon in Ft. Collin, CO
Infusion in Benson, NE
Ladyface Ale Companie in Agoura Hills, CA
Naked City Brewery in Seattle, WA
Newburgh Brewery in Newburgh, NY
Odd Side Ales in Grand Haven, MI
Pfriem Family in Hood River, OR
PUBLIC Craft Brewing Co. in Kenosha, WI
Scratch Beer in Ava, IL
Sick-N-Twisted Brewing Company in Hill City, SD
Michael: There were a lot of favorites, but here are a few breweries that come to mind:
Scratch Beer in Ava, IL
Sick N Twisted Brewing in Hill City, SD
Chuckanut Brewing in Bellingham, WA
Jackie O’s in Athens, OH
Relic Brewing in Plainville, CT
Dangerous Man in Minneapolis, MN
Southern Prohibition in Hattiesburg, MS
All of these breweries had the three key things that made breweries stand out for me: Awesome people, great beer, and a fun environment.
I hate to ask this, but it’s something I think a lot of readers would want to know — How did you guys afford the trip?
Michael: Savings. We did not make money from our trip, only spent money that we had saved up for multiple years. Both of us had made a lot of cuts during the year we were planning and saving – for instance, I moved in with a roommate, cancelled cable and internet, did not go out anywhere near as much, etc. By doing this, we were both able to save up just enough money to make the trip. And by just enough, I mean each of our bank accounts were hovering at around $100 when we finished the trip. Barely made it.
Brandon: After school I had been working a corporate gig for about three years prior to hitting the road – I had a decent wage but was by no means wealthy. I’m a pretty sensible guy of simple needs – and, importantly, single – so most of my income went into savings rather than buying new clothes, a new car, or the latest gadget. Okay, I would have had a lot more in savings if not for my craft beer consumption, but hey, a guy’s gotta splurge somewhere.
After Michael pitched his idea we both spent the next year making cuts in our budget to save additional funds. I’m not going to say how much I personally spent but I can assure you it is much less than most people would guess. Just look at our style of travel – we weren’t staying in posh hotels and eating out at nice restaurants every day. We were sleeping in the car or on strangers’ floors and eating way too much $5 Subway as an entire day’s meal. I think the experience is more genuine and rewarding with this type of travel. You get to see a different side of people — much more pure kindness and openness — when you aren’t just seen as a tourist with money burning a whole in their pocket.
Who are some of the unique people you met at breweries along the way? Any characters?
Brandon: Most people in the industry are just solid – kind, genuine, passionate – my kind of people. Despite my introvert tendencies, meeting the individuals behind the beer or even the consumers saddled up at the bar was by far my favorite experience of the trip. Exhausting, but fantastic. I don’t want call anyone out by name but we certainly met a few characters along the way. I was struck by how many people we met who were also traveling and have been able to turn it into a lifestyle. As you likely know, beer festivals bring out a wild streak in people and we were fortunate to make it to Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison as well as Great American Beer Fest in Denver. It was a treat to get to catch up with so many of the brewers, owners, and reps we met during our travels.
What was the most grueling part of the road trip?
Michael: We did not get sick days or lazy sit-on-the-couch days, there was constant momentum for a full year and that was draining at times. There were definitely days when I felt exhausted, sick, or just didn’t want to do anything at all. However, that wasn’t an option. On those days, we still had to drive, work on the website/social media, drink beer, talk to strangers, etc.
I use ‘had to’ loosely because these are amazing things to do, especially drink beer, it’s just that sometimes it’s difficult to do anything at all when your body wants to shut down and you won’t let it.
Brandon: The constant socializing was exhausting for me. I enjoyed meeting everyone I had the opportunity of speaking with, but I really needed some days off to spend in solitude. That is exactly what I did when I got home. Honestly, by about six months in I was completely mentally and physically burned out but kept going out of pure stubbornness.
My main concern before leaving was for my back. I have had some back issues over the years and was worried all those nights in random sleeping positions would cause me to lock up or be in grueling pain with no source for relief. I bought one of those 2″ self inflating sleeping pads for camping the week we left, which was the best $70 I’ve ever spent. Not by any means replacement for a comfortable mattress but I probably slept on that thing 200 times last year and it got me through whole.
Any notable mishaps?
Brandon: All in all, the trip went off without too many issues.
Michael: The biggest mishap was probably when we got a flat tire driving 80 MPH through the middle of nowhere in southern North Dakota. It was pretty scary because I almost lost control of the van when the tire essentially disintegrated.
Brandon: By far the most frightening, we were driving through North Dakota on our way from Bismark to the Badlands in South Dakota. Those rural highways are pretty open and I think the speed limit was about 75. Michael was going about that fast when our rear passenger side tire just exploded, not wen’t flat but exploded. At that point we are on a two way highway with no median and running on nothing but rim. Fortunately Michael was alert/skilled enough to keep us on the road (and that no one was in the other lane) and guided us slowly off to the side of the road. There wasn’t a tire shop until we got another 150 miles to Rapid City so we ended up driving all the way through the Badlands on our donut.
Michael: Luckily, the spare got us all the way through the Badlands of South Dakota and then all the way to Rapid City where we were able to get a replacement tire.
Brandon: Probably the most nonsensical mishap was during our overnight stay in Pittsburg where some classy individual decided it would be fun to spray paint a line across the entire driver’s side of the van, hitting every panel and the side-view mirror. Probably some displaced Eagles fan who saw TX plates and assumed we were Cowboys fans – of which I am not. Regardless, that wasn’t a nice site to wake up to on our way into the WV mountains. They could have at least drawn something fun like a peace sign or a middle finger. No hard feelings with Pittsburg though, such a gorgeous city that I would love to explore further.
The only time we had any interaction with the authorities all year was in New Jersey. We had met up with our Couchsurfing host at a local watering hole and I was driving the three of us back to his apartment when I got pulled over less than 100 yards from our destination. I wasn’t too concerned since I had only had one beer in the previous two hours. Apparently a taxi matching our van’s description had been reported speeding on a street that we hadn’t been on and, after a bit of a disagreement about how Texas doesn’t provide registration cards and instead places them on the windshield, we were let go.
What were some of the non-drinking highlights of the trip?
Brandon: I’m a big fan of the outdoors so the opportunity to experience the natural beauty of our country was a huge highlight for me. I wish we had spent some more time at our State and National Parks but scheduling and traveling kept us pretty damn busy and I do have an idea of places I would like to go back to revisit in the future. I had done a fair amount of traveling in my youth so visiting places like Yellowstone and the Colorado Rockies was a treat, but something I’ve experienced many times before. My favorite new sight was Zion National Park. Not a huge space but uniquely beautiful – like a Colorado Springs’ Garden of the Gods on steroids. I was also thoroughly impressed with Glacier NP and Badlands NP. While I had spent some time in the north east, it had typically been by flying to a large city so I was also taken aback by the beauty of WV, central PA and NY. Certainly unexpected with the smaller Appalachian chain.
Aside from sight seeing I was also thrilled to catch up with old friends who had moved around the country, some that I hadn’t seen in 10 years or longer.
Additionally, as much as we ate on the cheap almost every day, we tried our best to take locals’ suggestions on must have foods in the area: Lobster rolls and clam chowder in New England, Walleye in Minneapolis, Old Bay seasoning in MD, pork rolls in NJ, slinger in Saint Louis, bratwurst in Sheboygan, biscuits in the Carolinas, deep dish pizza in Chicago, southwest style Mexican, Pacific coast seafood, and BBQ in Memphis, Kansas City, etc. It was always an excellent treat as was the occasional home cooked meal from our hosts. Thank you all SO MUCH.
I would have preferred catching a lot more live shows around the country but we weren’t typically out late nights I really enjoyed those that we were fortunate enough to see. Like I mentioned earlier – beer, food, music, nature, and friends. I don’t see need for much else.
Michael: Getting to see State and National parks, for sure. Glacier National Park in northern Montana, the Badlands in South Dakota, Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, Death Valley in California, and Zion Canyon in Utah were some of my favorites. And again, the people. The people we met were the biggest highlight of the trip without question – even more than the breweries/ beers.
One year later, what are you guys up to?
Brandon: I currently work as a Cellarman at Noble Rey Brewing Company in Dallas’ Design District. I still help out in the taproom quite a bit so everyone please come by and say hi if you are in the area! The hours are pretty long so I try to make it out a couple nights a week to catch a concert or taste some new beers on the market but mostly spend my free time at home reading or watching Netflix, getting caught up on shows I missed while traveling. My background is in Microbiology so in the long run I would really love to get into a QA lab and/or do some experimenting with wild yeast and bacteria.
Michael: I now work at Oak Highlands Brewery (though I spent most of this year working a On Rotation Brewery before switching over about a month ago). If anyone visits Dallas, be sure to drop in to our taprooms and say hi!
Check out Michael and Brandon’s website for full brewery reviews and recaps, along with Instagram and Facebook for more pics.