We've all been told that in your professional life networking is everything. As a sales guy, my whole world revolves around knowing the right people and making as many friends as possible. It's obvious in business. Not as obvious when it comes to beer. We all have friends locally that we drink with, and probably have some college or high school friends that we see a couple times a year when we travel, but a lot of new guys to the scene haven't started creating beer contacts.
Particularly when you are getting into craft beer, there is good reason to invest the time into building a craft beer network. Like in business, make sure you're using the right tools to help strengthen your network.
First, talk to people you know. If your best friend from college is in St. Louis, make sure he knows you love beer. If you're interested in breweries in his area tell him. That way if you go out to hang, he will be more understanding when you drag him to Schlafly (or whatever brewery is in the area). Also, if a beer you're interested in drops make sure he knows it's coming. It may shock you but a lot of your friends are willing to pick up a beer and hold on to it for you. Consider it held ransom for fun.
Second, use technology. I recently got back from a really cool symposium about craft beer writing in Lexington, Kentucky. Since I knew I was heading that way, I went out to twitter and instagram to ask for hot spots to check out. This is a tactic I take almost every time I travel. No one knows the best spots better than locals, and as you develop a social network you will be surprised at how many people have already traveled wherever you're going, and most craft beer geeks are willing to tell you where to go and some may even meet you there for a pint. I learned about some good breweries to check out, great bars to hit up, ands a few totally unique liquor stores that helped make my trip awesome. Beer Advocate and Rate Beer also have forums that do a great job of connecting people. Another resource is seekabrew.com, where you can research distribution footprints to find what breweries are available in the state you are visiting that you might not have access to in your state.
Third, check out local blogs. Not to toot my own horn but blogs can be a solid resource for what's going on in an area. We keep local events and beer releases up on our Facebook page and have regular posts about them. A quick Google search for "Craft beer (insert state)" or "(insert state) beer blog" will give you a ton of results. If you can't find what you need on their page, send the bloggers an email. There's nothing we like better than trying to help people navigate the Indiana craft beer scene.
People regularly talk about craft beer as a community, and that's because traditionally we want to help other craft beer lovers. We're all on the same team trying to push good beer forward whenever we can. Use your network, use the community, and go out and try some new beers!