By Ana Swanson
So much beer, so little time.
If you’re a beer lover who lives in the U.S., you might be familiar with this problem. The U.S. has tons of fantastic breweries — 3,464 in total in 2014, about 1,800 of which were microbreweries, according to the Brewer’s Association.
So Nathan Yau, who runs the blog Flowing Data, has performed a great public service — finding the top-rated breweries in the continental U.S., and then creating a map for a road trip route that will take you to all of them in the fewest miles possible.
Yau’s map uses the same technique as a road trip map that I wrote about previously: Randy Olson’s amazing data-driven guide to visiting a top-rated historical landmark in each of the lower 48 states. Olson’s route took the traveler to the Grand Canyon, the Alamo, Mount Vernon, Graceland, the White House, the Statue of Liberty, and much more.
To create this route, Olson used a technique called “genetic algorithms” to determine the most efficient route between all of these sites. Calculating the fastest way to drive between all 50 landmarks – 2,500 individual routes – could theoretically take forever by hand, so Olson used something called a “genetic algorithm.”
This algorithm basically starts with a handful of solutions, takes the best one, and then compares that to other solutions until it can’t find a better one. Here’s a snapshot of how that algorithm works, from one of Olson’s projects, finding the optimal search pattern for perusing “Where’s Waldo” books.