Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Factory Tours: An Educational Way to Kill Time

Photograph by Nicole Holt

Since I don't have much choice in the places to which I travel for work, I've decided to make the most of it and I try to enjoy places as they come and see what each new destination has to offer as I encounter it.

I try to keep an open mind in how I fill my free time while traveling. While it is true that I end up wandering around a lot, I have quite a few options: I could go to a museum, visit a coffee shop or, if I'm lucky, go on a factory tour.

For some reason, I really like to find out how things are made, and factory tours are a great way to indulge that desire. It is true that some factory tours are overproduced and a little too "Disney", but for the most part, I've found factory tours very rewarding. I'd like to share with you three of my favorite factory tours that I've been on so far.

1. Theo Chocolate
Location: 3400 Phinney Ave N, Seattle, WA,
Cost: $12
An organic, free trade chocolate company, Theo is located in the Fremont area of Seattle, just a short walk from the Fremont Troll. The Tour starts with an informative lecture which describes where chocolate comes from and how it's harvested. With the groundwork established, you get to go into the factory. Nothing was active on the weekend tour, but the duties of the machines and steel tanks were all explained satisfactorily.

Samples were available both on the tour and immediately after. You can try any of the chocolate bars that they have on hand so that you can make an educated choice in deciding what to take home with you. They also have a variety of non-bar confections as well, I'd recommend the salted caramel.

2. Harpoon Brewery
Location:306 Northern Avenue Boston, MA
Cost: $5 and you get a sample glass to take home.
Who wouldn't want to go on a tour of a beer factory? This tour was just plain cool and parts of it made me feel like I was in the movie Strange Brew. While the initial description of how beer is made was educational to those that don't know how beer is made, the tour really starts to shine once you are walking through the factory.

Being amongst the massive mixers, storage tanks and pipes is quite an experience. You get to walk right where the workers walk and you can almost feel that beer is made here. You can't go everywhere on this tour, but I felt that I wasn't being coddled at all as the tour had a very relaxed feel about it.

After the tour, which lasts 30 minutes, there is a 30 minute beer tasting back in the tasting room/gift shop where you can sample any of the beer that they have on tap. The sample glasses had a line at the 2 ounce mark, but I didn't see any samples poured that were less than 4 ounces. Everyone really enjoyed this tour.

3. Hammond's Candies
Location: 5735 N. Washington Street, Denver, CO
Cost: Free

I visited Hammond's several years ago at their old location, but they still run regular tours. I remember being the only non-parent, non-child on the tour, but I enjoyed it immensely. Unlike the other two tours mentioned in this article, the Hammond's tour was conducted while candy was actually being produced.

Since candy making is a hobby of mine, I appreciated seeing candy being made with old equipment, just like it has been made for years. Of course, there were samples at the end of the tour and an opportunity to buy more candy in the gift shop.

I will admit that there is one factory that I missed out on visiting while traveling which I do regret. I was in Switzerland and did not visit the Victorinox factory, which produces the beloved Swiss Army Knife.

I looked into it and I just wasn't in the right part of the country to be able to make the trip. I try not to have travel regrets, but that one gets me when I think about it.

Do you make a habit of going on factory tours while traveling? What's the best factory tour you've been on?

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