There’s been a lot of talk in the travel news lately about what vaccination passports are going to look like for planes, conventions, concerts, and even whole countries, but this post is about a beer passport instead. The other kind of passport is still taking shape, but you can obtain the second one right now. Spend $20 and get 20 craft beers on draft at different pubs around town.
“Which town might that be?” you’re probably wondering. Well, if we’re talking about the Pub Pass, you’ve got 13 of them to choose from. I’ve been getting the Tampa Bay one for years, so that’s where I have personal experience, but they’re available for D.C. to Denver, New Orleans to Milwaukee. See the full list here.
How the PubPass Gets You Free Craft Beer
A lot of cities have some kind of local craft beer passport for their regional pubs, but most of the time they don’t save you any money, much less get you free beer if you use them enough. You get a bunch of pages stamped and you’ll get a beer koozie or a t-shirt, like this one from Jacksonville. I’m all for getting swag, but I’d rather drink good beer for less, which is what the Pub Pass accomplishes.
You purchase a passport-sized book from them for the U.S. city you live in or are visiting for a while and that beer passport is filled with local pubs offering you a beer for the asking if you have the passport. You show the passport, get it stamped, and tell them what your flavor of choice is. IPA or stout, red ale or lager, you’ll be set. I usually order another to mix up the sampling, but you could just move on to the next place.
This is no flimsy, cheaply printed passport either. It’s on quality stock, with gold accents, and a cut-out showing the city abbreviation. There’s a map with each participant marked and then a description of what you’ll find when you get there. If the place serves food, there’s usually a bit of info about that as well.
The passes will usually be $20 and include 20 pubs, or sometimes $25 for 25 beers, which the ones for Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Milwaukee, and Madison are this year. I rarely see a good craft draft going for less than $4 these days, just as often $6 or $7, so even if your financial math skills are not good you should be able to see that this purchase is a no-brainer. If, in the entire course of the calendar year, you are not able to drink enough to be in the black, you don’t get out much.
Even if you only managed to get to 1/4 of the 20 listed pubs and drafts average $5, you’ve already broken even. Everything after that you can look at as free beer. Good beer at that. If you get to half the places, you’ve more than doubled your investment. Plus you got out of your rut and went somewhere new!
If you want to feel even better, know that $1 from each pass goes to charity. Want to doubly feel good? Think about how rough of a year 2020 was for breweries, especially those not distributing to supermarkets. They’d love to see customers coming back and spreading the word, especially new customers trying them out for the first time. Sip something new, tip your glad-to-be-working-again bartender, and give a shout-out on social media.
A Passport for Brewpubs, Breweries, and Tap Rooms
You never know who’s going to show up from year to year in the PubPass, which is part of the fun. I’ve been getting one for years and each time there are places that I never would have known about, much less stumbled into by chance. Sometimes you’ll end up in some neighborhood joint in an area that’s locals-only, other times it’s an adventure to add onto a nearby errand or shopping trip. There may be a few non-beer options in the mix too depending on the city, like a cider house or a distillery.
The first place I went and got a stamp this year was Hopscotch Cafe in Dunedin, Florida. It’s right next to 7venth Sun Brewery, which is not in the pass, but when we ordered lunch there I got a beer from them and my wife got one from House of Beer Dunedin, which we could also see from our outdoor table. A triple win for local businesses. I visited another taproom I probably wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise: Willard’s Tap House in Largo, in an area of warehouses and strip malls that’s not really on the way to anywhere.
I got to order a beer from a couple old favorites, like Pinellas Ale Works and Big Storm, but I also got to slap down my passport for a free pour at the shiny new Grand Central Brewhouse. That one has a fun outdoor play area and these suspended brewing tanks that must have been a real job to install.
It’s only April as I’m writing this, so I’m far from done. When I’m back in town again, I plan on visiting some other old favorites in the book like Tampa Bay Brewing Company in the Ybor City section of the city and 81 Bay in South Tampa. (That one is next to a fitness center, which always makes me chuckle, wondering if anyone looks at the two doors and goes for pleasure over pain.)
Plan Your Own Pub Tour
If a few of you get this craft beer passport together, you can plan some exploratory visits together, maybe a few in one night. There have been times in the past when the Tampa/St. Pete PubPass has some nice clusters to enable a pub crawl among its 70 or so breweries. But this year they’re all over the map in this spread-out city except in downtown St. Pete, where you could put together a proper four-bar walking itinerary. In more compact cities it can be easier to avoid motorized transport: the Boulder version has eight within a couple miles of each other. There’s a cluster of seven in downtown Des Moines, five in one section of St. Louis (that’s ironically not far from the leading worldwide producer of crap on tap).
Most of these cities don’t have a robust public transportation system, but D.C. is a clear exception, St. Louis has some options, Denver is pretty good. You can actually get around parts of Tampa Bay without a car, especially downtown St. Pete and by bike on the Pinellas Trail. Otherwise, assign a designated driver or have your rideshare app ready. This is not watered down near-beer you’ll be drinking.
Just so someone doesn’t call me out on it later, the once Pub Pass exception to the norm in the 13 cities is the Phoenix version. Because of strange local laws, you need to carry around some pennies. Your $18 beer pass gets you 18 beers at 18 places but…they’ll cost you a penny each. Hey big spender, you can spare it.
Get all the details on the official PubPass website here and don’t worry if the year is half gone when you see this. They might be running some kind of special and you will have fun making up for lost time with your brewery passport. In current circumstances, it’s better when you can drink outside anyway, or at least with all the windows open.
Have you tried this pub pass or something similar? Let us know how it went. Here’s a video with more from me and the area pubs: