Today we feature our first contributing writer: our friend, Jackie Wickham. Jackie works at huge Chicago-area university where she met Joanna and they bonded over beer, food and life in general. When we learned that Jackie was going on this epic beercation, we asked her document it and to give us a write-up in her own style and perspective. She's loads of fun, so enjoy!

When I decided to drive instead of fly from Chicago to my friend’s wedding in Vermont, I knew one thing: To survive 40+ hours in the car, I was going to need a LOT of beer. (Note: special thanks to my designated driver!) Twelve days, 9 states, and 14 breweries later, I’d say the trip was a success that can only be described in superlatives, so here goes!

Best Staple Beer - Green State Lager, Zero Gravity, Burlington, VT

We brought back 12 cans of Green State Lager, and I’m already realizing that wasn’t nearly enough. I’m not a huge lager fan (more of a pale ale girl), but I would drink this beer every day for the rest of my life. It’s crisper than most lagers but has a super-delicious malty taste.

Runner up: Switchback Ale, Switchback Brewing Co, Burlington, VT

Most Likely to Become More Popular than Their Older Brother - Focal Banger, The Alchemist, Waterbury, VT

I know this will be a heavily unpopular opinion, but I wasn’t that impressed with Heady Topper—though I WAS impressed with the efforts of the family friend who illegally stockpiled it for my friend’s wedding. Heady Topper tasted exactly as I expected it to; it was an excellent, smooth double IPA. Focal Banger, on the other hand, far exceeded my expectations. It had a much richer flavor than any pale ale I’ve ever tasted, and I chose a second one over another Heady Topper!

Best Low-Alcohol Beer - Baby Genius, Bissell Brothers, Portland, ME

We stopped at Bissell Brothers after our flight at Allagash, and at first glance, I thought I was wasting my time. They only had three beers available, and only one was over 6%. The other two checked in at 4% and 2%! We ordered a flight anyways, and I’m so glad I didn’t let my first impressions get the best of me. The Baby Genius (4%) was a refreshing, hoppy blonde with a surprising depth of flavor for such low alcohol content. My only regret? Not ordering a lobster roll from the outside cart. Extra points to Bissell Brothers for being the only brewery with a bar dog.

Most Likely to Inspire My Future Kitchen - Zero Gravity, Burlington, VT

In addition to brewing my favorite beer of the whole trip (Green State Lager), Zero Gravity’s decor game is on point. I loved their white subway tile, concrete counters, and butcher-block wood. If I owned a home and had unlimited money, my kitchen would look exactly like their taproom. I was reluctant to try a new beer here since I loved Green State Lager and didn’t want to miss out on drinking as much as I could, but I branched out to the Summer Gruit Ale, which had a very herbal, almost tea-like flavor that I really enjoyed.

Runner up: Prohibition Pig, Waterbury, VT

Best Flight Display - Switchback Brewing Co., Burlington, VT

Switchback served their flights on a cool, tie-dye plate shaped like the state of Vermont. If the awesome display wasn’t enough, this place is home to the best sour I’ve ever tried. Their Berliner Weisse was effervescent and refreshing without being overwhelming. If you didn’t want their regular five-beer flight, like I tried—the Switchback Ale and Extra Pale Ale were both excellent and came home with us—you could order a “stoplight” flight of three Berliner Weisse varieties: red, flavored with raspberry syrup; yellow, the standard brew; and green, flavored with Woodruff syrup.

Runners up (tie): Maine Beer Co. and Allagash Brewing Co., both in Portland, ME

Best Beer City - Burlington, VT

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Wait, didn’t she also go to Portland?” The Portland breweries were great, but I felt like beer culture was just ingrained in downtown Burlington. (To be fair to Portland, we spent about twice as much time in Burlington.) Every restaurant had a fabulous selection of local beers. Our favorites were American Flatbread, a wood-fired pizza place that serves even more Zero Gravity beers than the brewery itself, and the Farmhouse Tap, where we ordered untold 6 oz. pours of Vermont beers from Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s Finest Liquors, among others.

Best Views - Trapp Family Lodge/Von Trapp Brewing, Stowe, VT

If this place didn’t serve beer, I would still recommend going here just to sit on the patio and look at the mountains! My favorite beer here was the Golden Helles, an easy-drinking light lager that perfectly complemented the sunny day and the gorgeous panoramic views. The picture does NOT do them any justice!

Runner up: Genesee Brewing, Rochester, NY

Best Hidden Gem - Paradox Brewery, Schroon Lake, NY

We never would have even gone to this place if we weren’t almost out of gas—the downside to taking the scenic route is the lack of gas stations. Originally, we drove past the brewery in our quest to refuel, but curiosity about the outdoor tent next to the small, log-cabin-like building got the better of us, and we returned for a flight. Schroon Lake is now on my “places to vacation” list mostly because of the friendly bartenders and delicious beer at Paradox. I especially loved their IPA series: a session, basic, and double IPA all in a row!

Most Knowledgeable Bartenders - Bar Harbor Brewing, Bar Harbor, ME

I can hardly ever find the correct words to describe beer. “It tasted….good?” and “I really liked it” are probably my most common utterances after drinking something new. When the bartender at Bar Harbor Brewing told us that the blueberries were added to their blueberry ale after the brewing process, which gave the beer a lighter blueberry flavor than most fruit beers, I wanted to bottle HIM and open him up every time I needed to describe a beer to someone.

Runner up: Zero Gravity, Burlington, VT

Overall, Chicago beer is fabulous and I love it, but I’ll definitely be headed back to the northeast to enjoy the beautiful scenery and drink more delicious beer!