Part 1 of this two-part series looked at beer and brewery tours as a travel theme within the United States. Part 2 concludes with a taste of beer travel around the world.
You can easily spend all your vacations in breweries and brewpubs at home. Eventually, though, your tastebuds may develop some serious wanderlust.
You find yourself sampling imported beers, just to see if they’re worth all the hype. By and by, you start to wonder what these international brews taste like at the source.
There’s only one way to find out. Time to dig out that passport. Beer is as good a reason as any to see, and taste, the world.
That’s especially true if you decide to delve into the origins of beer, which dates back to ancient Iraq and a good six millenia before the birth of Christ.
Every region seems to produce some good beers. Continental Europe is all but saturated with them, but you’ll find worthy brews in the Americas, Asia, Australia and Africa.
(“Africa?” you say. A cold Tusker Lager on a hot summer day will answer your question.)
All brewery tours are not created equal. In addition to those prized free samples, some offer knowledge, in everything from how to properly pour a beer to hands-on steps in the beer-making process itself.
And when it comes to breweries, you’ve got more destination choices than vacation days. A lot more.
The country that gave us Oktoberfest (see the pic above) has more than 1,300 breweries, half of them in Bavaria. Together, they crank out a dizzying 5,000 different brands in 23 different varieties…at least.
The Bavarian city of Bamberg in southern Germany supposedly has the largest concentration of working breweries in the world, so you might want to start there.
(Another reason for visiting Bamberg is to get a feel for what a German city was like prior to World War 2; it was one of the few that Allied bombers left alone.)
Or you might want to check out the Benedictine abbey at Weihenstephan, which has been making the stuff since 1040.
And yet, all those breweries and Oktoberfest notwithstanding, Germany is neither the largest maker nor the biggest consumer of beer. They’re third, behind Ireland.
So who’s Number One? An Eastern European country that not only produces some of the world’s best beers, but also happens to be very high on the tourism radar these days.
Since the end of the Cold War, Prague has become one of the hot new travel destinations in Eastern Europe, and that’s exposed a lot of Americans to some incredible Czech beers.
After all, these are the folks who invented pilsner, the light, golden beer most familiar to Americans. That’s a good reason to visit the town of Plzeň.
We know it better by its Germanic spelling: Pilsen.
The first non-American beer I ever tried was Kirin. It was first brewed, and still is, in Yokohama.
Yokohama is where where Americans introduced beer and brewing to Japan back in 1870. It’s also the place where America’s Adm. Matthew Perry sailed into the harbor with a fleet and opened Japan to the Western world — more or less at gunpoint.
Other brands that brew beer throughout the country and do brewery tours include Asahi, Orion, Sapporo and Suntory.
In Japan, you may literally get a chance to double-dip, since beer is not the only alcoholic beverage brewed there. Sake, Japan’s deceptively potent rice liquor, also is the product of breweries, which also conduct tours. Far too many to list here.
The grand-daddy of brewery tours doesn’t even take you into the brewery itself, but that doesn’t stop beer lovers from flocking to with near-religious fervor.
The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland is a slick multimedia presentation on the makings of Guinness Stout. that, when I was last there, included a man-made waterfall and a walk through a real, and enormous, beer cask. It also features a spacious bar that serves up not only your one free Guinness, but a 180-degree view of the Dublin skyline and maybe the best beef stew you’ll ever have.
Made with Guinness.
Whether in a bar or a brewery, if you’re new to international travel, there’s something comforting about being around beer. It’s familiar. Language, scenery and brewing methods all may vary from one place to another, but beer is beer, pretty much, wherever you are.
Comfort zone in a glass.
Some of these breweries will be in the heart of great cities, others in small towns, or abbeys in the countryside. The mere act of traveling to reach them can give you an ample slice of life to go along with your beer sample.
You do remember where you stashed that passport, right?
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
If you really want to have some fun, you’ve got to hit the brewery in the Czech town of České Budějovice. The name doesn;t ring any bells with most Americans, until you hear its German version: Budweis.
Where they’ve been brewing beer since the 12th century, which they call…
…wait for it…
August Busch hit St. Louis a few centuries later and started brewing his own Budweiser over here in 1876. A-B and the Czechs have been battling in court over the use of this name ever since.
I’m not even going to try to unravel this mess. If you’re curious about all the legal back-and-forth, read it here.
Bottom line: the Czechs get to use the Budweiser name over there, A-B gets to keep it over here. A-B also cut a deal with the Czechs to market their “Bud” here in the States, under the name Czechvar.
So if you ever comes across one, you’ll know you’re drinking the original Budweiser from “the old country.”
So which do you think is better, the Czech “Bud” or ours?
Find that passport!