So much beer, so little time.
If you're a beer lover who lives in the U.S., you might be familiar with this problem. The U.S. has tons of fantastic breweries -- 3,464 in total in 2014, about 1,800 of which were microbreweries, according to the Brewer's Association.
So Nathan Yau, who runs the blog Flowing Data, has performed a great public service -- finding the top-rated breweries in the continental U.S., and then creating a map for a road trip route that will take you to all of them in the fewest miles possible.
Yau's map uses the same technique as a road trip map that I wrote about previously: Randy Olson's amazing data-driven guide to visiting a top-rated historical landmark in each of the lower 48 states. Olson's route took the traveler to the Grand Canyon, the Alamo, Mount Vernon, Graceland, the White House, the Statue of Liberty, and much more.
To create this route, Olson used a technique called "genetic algorithms" to determine the most efficient route between all of these sites. Calculating the fastest way to drive between all 50 landmarks – 2,500 individual routes – could theoretically take forever by hand, so Olson used something called a "genetic algorithm."
This algorithm basically starts with a handful of solutions, takes the best one, and then compares that to other solutions until it can’t find a better one. Here's a snapshot of how that algorithm works, from one of Olson's projects, finding the optimal search pattern for perusing "Where’s Waldo" books.
Yau used this same approach. He referenced a list of the 100 top breweries in the world for from RateBeer, a beer and brewery review sites, and found 72 were in the U.S. He ended up eliminating two from the list for methodological reasons, leaving him with 70 breweries to map.
Using Olson's method above, he came up with this route (you can click on the map to enlarge it):
As the map shows, the East Coast is a great place to be for beer drinkers. The Pacific Northwest, Colorado, California and the area around Chicago and Michigan also look like pretty fertile spots.
(Since this article was first published, readers have sent in a few words of caution. According to the local experts, Almanac Brewery and Pipeworks are not open to the public for tastings, and Rogue's location in San Francisco is a restaurant, not "officially" a brewery. Also Stillwater does not have its own brewery in Maryland, though the owner has a bar/restaurant there.)
The route covers 12,299 miles, stops in 28 states and passes through 40. If there was such a thing as a beer roadtrip odometer, this is what it would read when you finished the trip:
Yau calculates that the whole route would take you about 20 days, including stops at night, as well as the time it would take to sample some beers at each place and then wait to sober up (no drunk driving!). For most mere mortals, it would probably take a little longer. Like you could with Olson's map, you can hop on Yau's route at any point and follow it back to your starting point.
Yau points out that the road trip isn't just about the destination -- it's also about what you see along the way. So he took an additional step and gathered more info about excellent breweries and brewpubs that are on or close to the route -- more than 1,400 within a five-mile radius of the route he planned. Those are marked on the map above as the thicker black lines.
This post has been updated to include reader comments.
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