Drinking On The Road To The 2013 Final Four

Mike Ehrmann

The Road to the Final Four need not be littered with rest stop Roy Rogers and their Fixin's bars. Here are the bars (and breweries) you're going to want to stop at if you want to make that road a little more...drunken.

So let's say you're a maniac and decided to drive with your buddies all the way to Atlanta this weekend. And, let's say you wanted to make your personal "Road to the Final Four" a drunken one at that. Here are the places you should be stopping en route.

Disclaimer: Don't drink and drive. Though do drink in the back seat while your sober friend is driving. That's a dumb law.

I'll be making this actual trip from NYC, but you can pick me up en route. Start early in Syracuse with a vehicle stocked with something light from Middle Ages and perhaps even a few feet of Danny's Favorites from Wegmans. Head down I-81 and...

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Our first stop will be less than an hour into our journey. We'll pull over in Cortland and visit Cortland Beer Company. Their tasting room is open every day except Sunday and Monday, but we have no time to sit around and quaff. I'd love to drink a little Flight Level 410 Bourbon-Barrel Aged (#8 on my Upstate Beer Top 25), but we don't want to hit that Herculean level of ABV so early in this trip. Instead, let's just grab a growler of their Sunrise Coffee Stout to get us through the next leg of our trip.

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81 will take us into Pennsylvania, one of America's finest craft beer states with over 100 breweries highlighted by such standouts as Troegs, Victory, Weyerbacher, and Bullfrog. But we aren't gonna stop at any of those. Instead, our first stop will be Scranton where we'll pop into Pat McMullen's for a Guinness, even though Gerry McNamara once confided to a friend of mine:

"Hard liquor during the season, beer only during the off-season."

More than lackluster beer and French dip sandwiches, though, we are going to Pat McMullen's to take a look at their selection of Jim Boeheim Scranton Miners memorabilia and see what a professional basketball player could look like in the 1960s:

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Talk about beer goggles. From there, let's again thumb our nose at all of the state's fine craft beer offerings for a trip through Pottsville and a stop at--literally--America's oldest brewery. Of course, I'm talking about Yuengling, who actually make many more fine beers than their unofficial state beverage "Lager."

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Around Harrisburg, we'll switch to I-83 South to make our route a little more scenic. I mean...drunkic. I mean...let's head on to Baltimore. I'm going to want to stay in Baltimore a little longer than we probably have time for and drink the town harder than even the great McNulty did. My first stop is going to be one of America's best brewpubs, the gorgeous Brewer's Art (I once even had a book-signing event there) where I'm going to grab a flight of their Belgian-inspired beers while snacking on their decadent rosemary garlic frites. If I have time for a second stop, I'm dropping in on (warning: worst brewery website I've ever seen) Stillwater Artisanal Ales' new-ish bar Of Love and Regret. Let's split a bottle of their Pappy Van Winkle 23 barrel-aged Folklore and perhaps throw back a glass of their housemade coffee/bacon/vanilla-infused bourbon for an extra eye-opener. We still have a lot of trip to go.

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I know I'm gonna regret dealing with the DC loop traffic, but I'd regret even more not stopping in Washington for a bit to pay my respects at the best beer bar in America, Churchkey. Owner and beverage director Greg Engert knows more about beer than any one in the world. I'll put myself in his hands and, like a freshman pledge, drink whatever the hell he tells me to. Perhaps something from his new brewery Bluejacket?

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From there, let's take I-95 to lovely Richmond and see if Shaka Smart is 'round for a tipple. I made a grievous oversight in my NCAA Beer Tournament by not mentioning Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, one of the more ambitious young breweries in America, but let's rectify that error. I wouldn't mind popping into their tasting room for a bit and trying some of their more interesting selections like Chocolate Heat.

From Richmond we'll head into North Carolina, another great beer state, and now we have a lot of decisions about what route to take. Man, I'm gonna think really hard about stopping in Raleigh for some world-class "whole hog" from The Pit. It's gonna be equally hard to pass on Greensboro and breaking my seal on their Coliseum while shoving a "Lumberjack" Grand Slam down my fat face.

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But, no, the only real choice once we enter North Carolina is hanging a right at Durham and taking I-40 to Asheville, considered by many to be "Beer City, USA." Now is when the choices will get difficult. To stop at one of America's best beer bars The Thirsty Monk? Or any one of Asheville's splendid breweries such as Highland, Wicked Weed, or The Wedge? Naw...I'm going to spend my limited time in town at perhaps the world's best beer store, Bruisin' Ales, where I'll buy as much Olde Hickory stuff as I can carry.

(Note: I'll gladly eat every single meal at Denny's during next year's ACC Tournament if it means I can spend my between-sessions time exploring the glorious North Carolina beer scene.)

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Now we're onto the final stretch. Still, I'll probably hop off I-85 and take a little side route to Athens and one of Georgia's more prominent craft breweries, Terrapin Beer Company. I think I'll grab some bottles of the single-hopped special release Mosaic. It'll give me something to drink in the room while my friends are getting dressed and putting on their game faces.

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Once in Atlanta, I'll toss my bags (and perhaps my cookies from all this drinking) back at the hotel, before finding a prominent seat at either The Wrecking Bar brewpub or, more likely, The Porter, one of the highest rated bars in THE world.

You want to meet Goldfart this weekend, you want to bring a comment section to life, I'll be there. And, from the looks of their prodigious bottle list, I'll be drinking a lot of Bell's Black Note. A Michigan beer. Fuck.

See you there. Or probably not if you actually do all these pit stops.

Aaron Goldfarb is the author of How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide. Send thoughts to aaron@aarongoldfarb.com or @aarongoldfarb

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