The Ultimate Beer Travel Guide: Atlas of Beer

When National Geographic gives you the opportunity to travel the globe all in the name of beer research, you go – immediately.

Beer geographers Nancy Hoalst-Pullen and Mark Patterson did exactly that, setting out on an epic 13-month, over 160,000-mile quest to discover the ins and outs of beer making and drinking around the world for their new book Atlas of Beer: A Globe-Trotting Journey Through the World of Beer.

Published by the National Geographic Society, this ultimate beer travel guide gives readers a truly unique take on the history, culture and tasting trends of all things beer across six continents – all from bar owners, brewers and industry experts. And readers also get some incredible travel tips, including how to order a beer in 14 different languages.

Connecting the world of geography and beer is a passion project for Hoalst-Pullen and Patterson, both academics with PhDs in geography and individualized experience across the beer spectrum. Hoalst-Pullen is an avid world traveler and beer writer, while Patterson is a well-versed homebrewer working on a script for a pilot series on the U.S. craft beer industry.

“If you look at the ingredients in beer, you have four of them: water, yeast, grains and hops,” Patterson tells On Tap. “And from those four ingredients, you can produce hundreds of styles of beers, and almost everywhere you go, these beers taste slightly different than [their] next-door neighbors. I think that is slightly a function of geography.”

Hoalst-Pullen adds that she finds it amazing that wherever you go, you’ll find that the beer there has a distinctiveness you won’t find in other places.

“If you go to a location and drink a particular style that originated there, you not only appreciate the beer more but the location as well,” she says.

Out of all the countries visited, the pair says Argentina and Belgium proved to be the most surprising – for quite different reasons.

“Argentina is known for wine, and so there are a lot of used wine
barrels sitting around that breweries have taken advantage of to age their beers in,” Patterson says. “And some of the brewers there are producing phenomenal beers.”

As for Belgium, the sheer variety of beers that this small country is producing is impressive, the authors notes.

“Belgium is really quite traditional,” Hoalst-Pullen says. “A lot of times, you have beers that evolve with ebb and flow. But Belgium uses some traditions that have been used forever, and the beers are timeless in many ways. I think that’s what makes Belgium unique.”

Both are quick to point out that the U.S. is by no means one to leave out of the conversation on impressive beers, with some lesser known areas (e.g., outside of Denver, San Diego, New England, etc.) producing some pretty incredible beers.

Hoalst-Pullen says they visited some noteworthy breweries in states like Texas and Ohio.

“You don’t tend to hear someone say, ‘Hey, let’s go to Ohio and drink beer,’” she says. “But they’ve got some pretty upstanding breweries there too. The same places are covered repeatedly in literature, and I think some of these other places really do have amazing breweries that are unfortunately overlooked.”

Along their travels, both authors picked up quite a few misperceptions about beer – the most popular of which were that beer served in a cold glass is best, and one should pour a beer with the least foam possible. Patterson explains that the foam is actually a pretty important part of the beer because it extenuates the beer’s aroma, but a cold glass will detract from the flavor. Another interesting perception the authors encountered frequently during their expedition was the viewpoint of American beers outside of the U.S., specifically when it came to the interpretation of an IPA.

“I found it interesting how those outside of the U.S. would say ‘Oh, this is an American-style IPA,’ and really it was more their own personal interpretation from their country with their culture infused into an IPA style,” Hoalst-Pullen says.

You can come and hear both authors speak about their travels, and their new book, at a Nat Geo Nights event from 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, November 30 at the National Geographic Campus. Guests will get to hear about beers from the far reaches of the world visited by the authors, and enjoy a guided beer tasting with food pairing led by James Bear Award-winning brewmaster Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery.

“I think we’re educators at heart, and we really enjoy talking to people about the book and about beer,” Patterson says. “We are always trying to weave geography into our conversations. And for me, I really like it when people say, ‘I know a lot about beer, but I didn’t know this about beer or about a particular style.’”

Hoalst-Pullen added, “If we can be entertaining and educational at the same time, and do all of it while drinking, is there anything better?”

Learn more about the Atlas of Beer event on November 30 here. Tickets are $100 each and include the beer tasting and food pairing.

National Geographic Campus: 1600 M St. NW, DC; 202-857-7700

Alex Thompson

Alex is a fan of all things food and sports, as well as a writer. By day she is a nonprofit communications manager, and by night she is searching the District for the best cocktails, whiskey selection and cuisine. Check out her blog at and follow her on twitter at @sportsfoodalex.