I started following The Adventures of Pookie & The Bear on social media in 2017. Who is Pookie and why are they hanging out with “The Bear”? And what does this have to do with beer?
Who are Pookie and the Bear?
Melinda and Eryk Collings have been full-time travelers since February 2017. They travel across the country in their RV, searching for the perfect beer experience. They visit breweries and taprooms and create tasting flights of unique, craft beer. They are Pookie and the Bear.
Beer Experience Scouts
In August 2018, I interviewed Brett Vassey, President, and CEO of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild. I asked for Brett to look into his crystal ball and tell us about the future of craft beer. The future is not just the in the hands of the brewmaster. The future of the craft market and a specific brewery weighs heavily on the total experience of the customer. The experience of the guest at the local tap room is paired with the beer to create a successful brand. It’s the age of the nano local-brand fan.
I immediately thought of The Adventures of Pookie and The Bear. They go beyond tasting a flight of beer. They uncover the total experience and the vibe of the brand. They taste the food, listen to live music and talk to the locals. Each brewery stop becomes an impression on their travel route. They taste, they photograph and document their beer adventures on social media. They are the scouts to tell us about the craft beer market. They go “Behind the Taste”.
“We live in an RV and travel in search of the best beer in America”—from The Adventures of Pookie and the Bear Facebook page.
I reached out to Melinda and Eryk with a few questions…
Interview with Pookie and The Bear
Kim: First, I have to ask about the name Pookie and the Bear. Tell us the story behind the name.
P&B: We’ve been adventuring together for over 17 years and those have always been our pet names for each other. Bear is a giant, it’s kind of fitting. A lot of bloggers are so serious about their branding and we’re just goofy people and wanted to reflect that. Life is too short to be serious or drink terrible beer.
Kim: Over 250,000 Americans are full-time RVers. Each traveling the roads of the United States, and many documenting travels on social media. Your social media pages are a wealth of information on and photographs of craft beer. When did you decide to blend your lifestyle and love of beer together on social media?
P&B: Our love of sharing photos of beer began long before our travels. We didn’t have any breweries in our town and had to rely on a small craft beverage store to fill our needs. Once we hit the open road, it was game on to share our finds across the country with our friends and family back home.
Kim: As you plan your travel route, do you pick a location and then research breweries? Or do you have a bucket list of breweries? Tell us about your process.
Pookie and the Bear have visited over 70 Breweries, and counting….
P&B: It’s a little bit of both, we love serendipitously stumbling onto breweries. Most times we will pick a general area about 200 miles from where we are and then search for breweries to visit. There are some cities that we visit just for the breweries like Huntsville, AL and Hershey, PA. We don’t do too much research on a brewery because we don’t want to set expectations and we generally avoid the “big guys”. We prefer small, local breweries that aren’t on everyone else’s beer bucket list. If a taproom has a large parking lot, we will go out of the way for it since we travel in a 38ft RV and it takes the stress out of trying to find somewhere to park the beast!
Kim: The winners in the future of the craft beer market will be the breweries that present a great customer experience. What creates a customer experience that stands out? What makes you stay in the tap room, beyond the initial tasting flight?
P&B: As travelers, customer engagement is king. When we visit a brewery we want to casually chat with the staff, owners, and locals. When we walk in and they don’t have bar seating, we’re sitting at a table alone and that makes for a boring experience. Breweries are a window to the community and we want to chat about how the brewery got their start, their community events and all the great local places to visit.
The tap rooms that have what we call the “total package” are the clear winners for both travelers and locals. They are the breweries that are kid-friendly, dog-friendly, have both indoor and outdoor games and communal seating areas. Food is also a big part of our taproom experience and we have found that craft breweries rarely disappoint whether they have a kitchen on site or amazing food trucks.
Kim: Food has become an integral part of the total taproom experience. Breweries are hiring chefs to custom-create menus. Many have embraced the Farm-to-Table and Slow-Food movement. You have visited many taprooms, tell us about a favorite food and beer pairing. Is it the all-American cheeseburger or something more complex?
P&B: To date, our favorite dish has been the Black Rice Bowl from Backslope Brewing in Columbia Falls Montana paired with Thereafter Hazelnut Stout on Nitro. The dish was forbidden black rice, sesame kale, pan seared Brussel sprouts and pepitas in a bowl with sweet potato chips!
Honorable mention goes to the Back on Beet sandwich from Bonsai Brewing Project in Whitefish Montana. Beer braised beets, goat cheese, arugula and pickled red onions on a panini paired with Big Ol Poppa Bourbon Barrel Aged IPA.
Kim: Can you give DW&S beer lovers a location that should be on their Bucket List? Is it a specific tap room or a travel region?
P&B: Troegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, PA! While it’s not our favorite small quirky style of the taproom, the beer is worth the trip. Troegs should be on everyone’s beer bucket list. Some of our other favorite areas for beer travel are Chicago, Down East Maine and Huntsville, Alabama.
Kim: How can DW&S readers follow your travels? Where are you heading next?
P&B: All of our social media is connected to our website, www.PookieandTheBear.com For the winter, you can find us hanging around our all-time favorite local brewery Halpatter Brewing in downtown Lake City, FL.
I took the advice of Pookie and the Bear and visited Troegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, PA. The day I visited, the showcase menu item was Street Corn Fries. Imagine hand-cut fries, covered in Sweet Corn Aioli, Quesco Fresco, cilantro, and a secret sauce. A lime wedge available on the side. A bowl of awesome.
Troegs checked off many “experience” boxes. They offer a guided tour of their production facility and a self-guided mini-tour. Visitors may enjoy both indoor and outdoor seating, and the entire complex is kid-friendly. Both flights and pints are available as well as a local hard cider for those that are Gluten Free. The on-site store included several unique merchandise options.
In a future edition of DW&S Magazine, I will continue my visit of Hershey, PA and explore the “Sweetest Place on Earth”…for adults…
In the last decade, America has seen an explosion in the craft beer market. In Virginia, the market is still growing at an annual rate of 7%, per the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild. We can only state a guess on the future of the market. One thing we do know. We are entering the age of the local brand fan. Beer lovers are now “Experience Scouts .”
Want to check out one of Virginia’s great craft brew experiences? Visit Dine, Wine & Steins article Behind the Taste at Lost Rhino Brewery.