The Beer Hacker: Beer and brewery maps

Beer Mapping Project logoI’ve blogged about the Beer Mapping Project before, but I thought it deserved an in-depth look and would make an ideal topic for this Beer Hacker column.

For the uninitiated, the Beer Mapping Project is a great resource that combines the power of Google Maps with one of the most complete listings of breweries, brewpubs, beer bars and even beer stores that I’ve ever seen. They have larger-scale US Brewery Maps, organized by region, that show brewpubs and breweries; and a growing selection of city beer maps that include the beer bars and stores, focusing on much more detail for that particular city.

Combined with the power of Google Maps and a clean interface and legend for displaying beer location information, this site is simply one of the best beer-related resources out there. For instance, I recently pulled up the Portland Beer Map to locate breweries for friends who were visiting Portland; knowing where they would be, we could find places in the immediate vicinity to check out.

Okay, enough fawning. Let’s look under the hood a bit, and get geeky and technical. (Feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs.)

Each map page pulls its relevant data from an XML file stored on the server (check out the Pacific region file for reference). The data in this file includes name, full address, latitude and longitude, phone number, URL (if it has a website), and location type (e.g., brewpub). The program script cycles through each of these items, adding the location to the Google map on the page.

Where the data came from initially, I’m not sure; there’s a monstrous amount of information there. My guess is an automated script that pulled all the listings from BeerAdvocate and maybe Beer Me! and then did an automatic address lookup on Google Maps (the site mentions a geocoder service) to get the appropriate lat/lon coordinates.

These coordinates are often accurate but are still not perfect; you’ll notice in the images below, which I pulled from the Portland City Map zooming in on one of my favorite Portland brewpubs, the Tugboat, the location marker is slightly east of where I know the brewpub to actually be (which I marked in both images with a red "x"):

Google Map of the Tugboat Brewery in Portland, Oregon

Google Maps hybrid view of the Tugboat Brewery in Portland, Oregon

These images also highlight one of the powerful aspects of Google Maps: you can switch from a regular map view to a satellite (and in this case, hybrid of map and satellite) view for an aerial view of the region.

By far the handiest aspect of the Beer Mapping site is alphabetized list of beer places that link to the spot on the map. Just pulling up the map of Portland won’t do you any good by itself—sure, you can click around the locations on the map to see what each is, butif you’re looking for someplace specific, without a reference you’ll be at it for an hour or more trying to guess the needle in a haystack. An item from the list, when clicked, jumps to the location on the map and pulls up the info balloon for it. Nifty!

Besides the overall US maps (divided up into six regions), the site has 18 finer-detail city maps (one of which is actually for the entire state of North Carolina, and two others are in beta), and has several more on the to-do list.

What more would I like to see here? For starters, include a link to the brewery’s BeerAdvocate profile (if it has one), so we could do a quick scan of reviews for it. Perhaps allow user comments that could be "sticky notes" that could attach to the info balloon, on another tab (with the option to toggle this feature on and off).

Really, though, it’s simply an amazing site right now, and should be in the bookmarks as a "must visit" for anyone interested in beer, or even involved in a lot of travel. It’s definitely near the top of my list of online beer references.