There’s hardly a country in the world that doesn’t make beer, and between obsessive nationalism and outright pride, just about every country claims its beer is the best. For me, it’s not just the beer, but the ambiance that surrounds the beer experience, the stories behind the brew, and the brewmasters.
And, needless to say, some of my friends use the quest to find the best beer in the world as a transparent excuse to travel.
Northern California may have made its name in wine, but Mendocino County is a beer lover’s paradise. These are truly local beers, and yet you’re likely to see them appearing in bars and restaurants all around the country because they’re just that good.
North Coast Brewing Company was at the forefront of the micro-brewery movement before it was a movement! It made a name for itself with intense beers like the Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale and the barrel-aged Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. Stop by the brewpub and brewery in Fort Bragg for a sampler of beers with a platter of garlic fries. While you’re on Route 128, stop in the Anderson Valley Brewing Company in rural Boonville (www. avbc.com) and see the old-school copper brew kettles that were imported from an old German brew house.
Where else but in Sonoma County does beer meet wine? Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa ages its beers in used wine barrels that once stored Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. They’ll even go against tradition and blend beers, just as vintners do with wines, to create new flavor profiles. There are no tours available, but you can see the barrels in full view from the brewpub. www. russianriverbrewing.com
Milwaukee, once home to big names like Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz-and still home to the MillerCoors factory-also has a booming craft beer industry, with standouts like Sprecher Brewing Company (www.sprecherbrewery.com) and Lakefront Brewery (www.lakefrontbrewery.com). Don’t know where to start? Milwaukee Brewfest (www.milwaukeebrewfest.com) is an annual summer event that celebrates craft beers and microbrews from Wisconsin and around the world.
Ask any Madison locals where to get a great beer, and they’ll point you to the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company downtown. The atmosphere is casual and publike, but what you’ll remember most is the variety of beers-cask ales, German pilsners, English porter styles, and the occasional oddball brew like the tri-pepper pilsner, made with habenero, poblano, and jalepefio. www.greatdanepub.com
Why is Portland so obsessed with beer? Some say it has to do with the Oregon rain. In a city that soggy, it’s no wonder it’s brimming with bars, coffee shops, and bookstores. Combine that with easy access to locally grown hops, and you’ve got the perfect conditions for brewing. There are dozens of breweries within the city limits, including the headquarters of the venerated McMenamins Pubs and Breweries (www.mcmenamins.com) and Cascade Brewing Barrel House (www.cascadebrewingbarrelhouse.com).Or.skip the traditional bar crawl and get your own designated driver. EcoTours of Oregon will take you to some of Portland’s best brew houses while explaining the micro brew process as you sample the goods. www. ecotours-of-oregon.com/brew.htm.
Bend, Oregon, is an outdoor playground, but it is rapidly becoming Oregon’s next beer haven. With nine breweries in town, it’s got the Bend Ale Trail that you can explore on foot. Bend is the home base of Pacific Northwest favorite Deschutes Brewery (www.deschutesbrewery.com), and the local McMenamin’s pub is located inside a former Catholic schoolhouse!
San Diego’s beer scene doesn’t get the same love as the Pacific Northwest, but with more than 30 craft breweries in the county, it’s on the verge. Its breweries, such as Ballast Point (www.ballastpoint.corn) and AleSmith Brewing Company (www.alesmith.com), have been collecting one award after another. The beer culture here is growing so big that there’s actually something called San Diego Beer Week, with beer dinners (and breakfasts), brewing workshops, and plenty of tastings.
Denver is a beer enthusiast’s dream, with more than 70 craft breweries within a 90-mile radius-which is why they call it the Napa Valley of Beer. It’s the home of not only iconic breweries like Coors and Anheuser-Busch, but also of notable local producers like New Belgium Brewing, the first wind-powered brewery in the country.
St. Louis, Missouri, may be Budweiser country, but it’s not all about the big brands. The local Schlafly Bottleworks and Tap Room (www.schlafly.com) has also claimed this turf. One of the newer contenders, Six Row Brewing Company (www.sixrowbrewco.com) has six beers on tap including the Honey Weizen, made with a generous portion of honey from Missouri Honey in Florissant, Missouri.
You can’t talk about beer without mentioning Munich. Between pubs, brew halls, beer gardens, and Oktoberfest, so much happening in this city that it’s hard not to find a place to drink. Bavaria’s major breweries are known as the “Big Six”-Lowenbrau, Hofbrauhaus, Augustinerbrau, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, and Spaten.
Hofbrauhaus has one of the oldest beer halls in Germany-it’s right in the city center, but the venue remains a local favorite (translation: it’s crowded) and is a lot of fun. To get off the beaten path and still have the loud, local experience, a good bet is Hirschgarten, an enormous beer garden that seats up to 8,000 people and is located about 20 minutes west of central Munich. Then there’s the 111 Biere, or House of 111 Beers, located in northern Munich, which literally offers you 111 different types of beer.
Munich isn’t your only bet for a great German beer experience. In Berlin, Prater Garten (www.pratergarten.de) is one of the oldest in the city-it was established in 1837, surviving World War 11 bombings and Soviet rule. Today, it’s a hip enclave where locals pack the sprawling, tree-filled garden sipping on Prater pilsner and dark lager. And sitting on an urban beach on Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Strandbar Mitte is one of the prettier beach bars to have a beer, with the majestic Bodemuseum on the other side of the shore and boats sailing by.
Holland may be best known for Heinekin and Grolsch, but one very cool stop is the Koningshoeven Brewery, located in a monastery in Berkel-Enschot (about 90 minutes from Amsterdam). It’s one of seven Trappist breweries and is open to the public. Learn the history of the Trappist monks who have been brewing beer for centuries (the idea was to fund the monastery’s operations, not make any profit) and then taste the intense dubbel and tripel ales that make these guys a force to be reckoned with in the beer world. www.latrappe.nl.
Beer And Bikes
How about beer combined with biking? Sounds dangerous, but if you drink in moderation, it’s actually a Lot of fun. In MiLwaukee, Wisconsin, many of the smaLLer riverfront breweries and brewpubs are connected by a network of bike trails, Lanes, and bridges, making it easy to hop from one to the next. Cog WiLd (www.cogwiLd.com) offers the weekend Bike and Brew tour in Bend, Oregon, where you combine the best mountain biking traiLs with LocaL brewery visits. Colorado’s New BeLgium Brewing Company has taken its amber aLe flagship beer, Fat Tire, and turned it into an annuaL beer and bike event. The Tour de Fat is a free bicycle festivaL across the country and features New BeLgium beer (of course), circus-type acts, bicycLe dance troupes, and a giant group parade around town. www.newbeLgium.com.
What better place to taste Guinness, Ireed’s national drink, than at the source? Firrst take a tour of thtate-of-the-art St. James’s Gate Brewery iin Dublin, where Guness has been made since 1759. The master “brewer shows you hewater, barley, hops, and yeast are combined to make the distinctsdraught and stout. There are tastings all ower the facility, but )IIll’best bet is the seventh-floor Gravity Bar, which offers a panomic view of the city. www.guinness-storeho\L....”Se.com
If you’ve done the Guiinness thing, it’s tirrae explore the dozens of other options in Irelaand. Notable brandsino1ude Moylan’s Dragoons, Murphy’s Irish Sftout, the FranciscanWelI Brewery, and the Dungarvan Brewing Crompany, to name a i, Start your tasting tour at the Stags Heads c(www.louisfitzgeraldmm/stagshead) pub in Dublin, one of the mostIhistoric in the city ro tucked in a narrow alley off Dame Street. Owerwhelmed by the dices? The annual All Ireland Craft Beerfest ~ww.irishcraftbeerfti\i.vaLcom) showcases the country’s “other” beeers in one place.
It’s not a trip to England without a pub crawl of sorts. So why not check out some of the quirkier pubs in the country? In St Albans, Hertfordshire, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is supposedly the oldest pub in Britain, with reports dating back to 1129. It’s even thought that monks were selling beer here as far back as the year 700. And in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, there’s the Nutshell (http:// thenutshellpub.co.uk), the smallest pub in England, standing a mere 15 feet wide by 7 feet deep.
The Danish beer scene is booming, and the best way to experience it is at one of the best beer fests in the world. No, not Oktoberfest. It’s the Copenhagen Beer FestivaL The 3-day event is held every May and brings together hundreds of beer makers, including several dozen craft breweries. It’s held on the grounds of the old Carlsberg Brewery, but the point is to showcase just how far the industry has grown beyond its most recognized brand. www.beerfestivaLdk.
Grab a brew at an outdoor cafe in Brussels, the city of beer and beer lovers. Fin de Siecle boasts an impressive list of Belgian beers, from Mort Subite (“sudden death” in French) to Duvel (“devil” in Flemish) to the sublime Leffe. Sip Hoegaarden outside during the summer and watch the sun pour through the art nou- veau windows. Set on a busy intersection in the St. Gilles neighborhood, the artsy SiSiSi cafe is a great spot for sipping a Chimay and people-watching.
Explore ales, pilsners, lagers, and more at 35 microbreweries in the Australian state of Victoria. This region (of which Melbourne is the capital city) has a microbrewery scene that has been booming in the last 10 years. In the Yarra Valley, which is better known for its wine production, Coldstream Brewery (www.coldstreambrewery.com.au) has large windows where you can see the brewing process firsthand; the White Rabbit (www.whiterabbitbeer.com.au) boutique brewery in Healesville is one of the few to ferment its beer in open vats; the Otway Estate Winery and Brewery (www.otwayestate.com. au) in Barongarook brews 12 different preservative-free beers; and the iconic Holgate Brewhouse (www.holgatebrewhouse.com) in Woodend also has a restaurant and B&B on the premises.
Culled from the book ‘Best place for ‘everything’
Move over, Oktoberfest. The Great American Beer Festival in Denver is the place to get to know America’s beer scene. The September event is a 3-day beer extravaganza with a tasting pavilion, beer and food pairings, and a competition that’s become an industry standard in the brewing world. www. greatamericanbeerfestival.com
Like champagne or Roquefort cheese, some beers can only- be brewed in a specific region to merit the name. A true limbic style can only come from a region of Belgium’s Senne Valley, where- wild fermentation means it’s exposed to indigenous yeast and bacteria.
Meanwhile, the original (and some say the only) pilsner, pilsner Urquell, is a Czech beer brewed since the mid-19th century in the Bohemiam city of Pilsen and made specifically with the local mineral waters.