Our region's craft beer scene has exploded over the course of the past half-decade to the point that planning a day of beer tastings — even for locals — can be intimidating. Thankfully, there's the Inland Northwest Ale Trail, which gives you a map with participating breweries marked, so you can taste your way around the region's 40-plus breweries. If you get a stamp at 12 different breweries, you get a mini-growler. It's simple, commitment-free and a helpful incentive to get out and drink, if for some reason you needed one. Here are some ideas to help you make the most of a day on the path.
1. Download the map at inlandnwaletrail.com
OK, this isn't as much of a tip as it is a required step for traveling the Ale Trail. Don't just download it — print it, too — because breweries can't stamp your phone, silly. With map in hand, take a moment to survey the terrain and notice that there's a big cluster of beer makers in and near downtown Spokane, a few in Coeur d'Alene and then several on the outskirts, as far west as Yakima and far north as Republic. We'll come back to this.
2. Be realistic
You're almost certainly not going to make it to 12 breweries in a day for one of the following reasons: teleporting hasn't been invented yet; that much beer might kill you; breweries are not open 24 hours. Also, this is supposed to be fun. So pick a half-dozen at most that are geographically convenient and work from there. You'll get to a dozen after a few separate outings.
3. Hit the trail one zone at a time
Make a plan for the day with the idea of cutting things short if you run out of steam. A solid afternoon-into-evening route doesn't even need to really leave downtown Spokane. Begin at Iron Goat Brewing and then head just a block and a half north to River City before going another couple of blocks to the Orlison taproom. Then you can hit Steam Plant before sauntering to Black Label on the east end of downtown. Then take your lubricated joints for a stroll down the Centennial Trail, crossing the river at Gonzaga on your way to No-Li Brewhouse (maybe for some dinner by this point). In North Idaho, you can taste your way around Coeur d'Alene with Slate Creek, then Trickster's and Daft Badge, stopping in Hayden for Mad Bomber, before ending the day in Sandpoint with MickDuff's and Laughing Dog.
4. Travel safe
Don't be an idiot. You're making a plan and you know that plan includes drinking beer, which doesn't mean you need to be missing a shoe by night's end. Again, you are drinking, so you shouldn't drive. If you have someone who doesn't want to drink and is willing to drive, that's great. If you can walk to most and cab your way to the rest, that's cool, too. If you want to get serious, hire a limo or a mini-bus.
5. Get a damn stamp
Because beer tasting is fun, it's easy to take your last sip and happily exit the establishment without realizing that you're on a mission. Remember, get a stamp on your Ale Trail map. Once you have 12 stamps, remember to claim your rightful prize, that 32-ounce growler. If the particular brewery is out, hit up the Ale Trail website (inlandnwaletrail.com) and let them know.