Where is the most unexpected place you have enjoyed a cold one?
All of us have experienced that moment when you could really use a beer, but you know the chances of finding a good beer—or even any beer at all—are slim to none. That’s when, if everything is right with the world, the Beer Gods take pity on our thirst and deliver an unexpected treat.
Thanks to the craft beer revolution, finding good beer is easier than it has ever been. Still, there are circumstances and locations where prohibition-like conditions prevail. A public park or beach where alcohol is not allowed. The bumpy flight during which the beverage cart remains stowed away. Or the sports stadium with $11 plastic cups of mass-produced light beer.
While your thirst may linger from these occasions, there are places around the globe where, when you might least expect it, a great tasting beer will find you. Here are a few of our favorite places.
Location, Location, Location
Take Me Out to the Ball Game: More sports stadiums around the country are offering craft beer. Sometimes these concession stands are accessible only to club level patrons or the craft beer taps might be found at a few limited locations. But the Blue Moon Brewery at The Sandlot at Coors Field in Denver gets a big “thumbs up” for offering Colorado Rockies fans a brewpub experience at a major league venue. The brewpub is only open for business during Rockies games and you have to have a game ticket to enter, but beer and baseball are about as American as it gets.
Heavenly Hops: Going to church might not be the first thing you think of when you need a beer, but at several monastic breweries it is a nice side benefit. Two of our favorite religious experiences involving beer have taken place during visits to Europe. On one incredibly hot day during a visit to Rome, at a snack bar just steps from the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City served up a heavenly cold can of Nastro Azzurro. What the beer might have lacked in style was more than compensated for by its thirst quenching qualities. A great side trip to take if you are in southern Germany is to Kloster Andechs, where Benedictine monks make wonderful beer. The famous doppelbock, a hearty plate of roast pork and a spectacular view of the Bavarian countryside from the beer garden is just 45 minutes by public transit from Munich’s central station.
Mickey’s Malt: A crowded amusement park with one too many screaming kids might not be your idea of a good time. The hospitable folks at Disney have thought of a solution and it’s called Epcot Center. You can find beer and food from the host nations at a number of pavilions, including Canada, Japan, Norway, America, Mexico, France, China, Morocco and Italy. Two of the best stops are Germany and England, which do their best to replicate a Munich beer hall and London pub.
Gold Medal Beer: Most coaches wish athletes would give up beer during training, but the fact remains a cold beer is one of the purest rewards after a workout. The U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC, an Olympic Training Center that offers rafting adventures for the common man, along with hiking, biking, rock climbing and zip lines, also has a bar that features live music, food and draught craft beer.
High Flyers: Food and drink at airports usually has more to do with meeting basic needs for sustenance than enjoyment of the experience. For the beer lover, this has slowly changed during the last decade. A growing number of domestic airports have brewpub outposts or beer bars. Some of the best are in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Portland, OR.
One Time, in a Land Far Far Away…
We asked some well-traveled members of the beer community where they have run across great beer when they were away from home and we got some predictably intriguing answers.
Kris Calef runs C&H Clubs, which markets a number of mail order beer-of-the-month clubs as gift subscriptions and for enthusiasts looking for hard to find brews. He lives in California now, but was born in Maine. Calef’s family still has a cottage there on Thompson Lake, about 45 minutes northeast of Portland, ME. “My wife and I were out exploring the coast and headed out to a small town named Castine at my parent’s suggestion. They used to work in a small lobster shack on the wharf when they were teenagers so we had to check it out,” Calef says. “The wharf was still there, but no lobster shack. We arrived at 9 p.m. and were starving. The only place open was a little restaurant, Dennett’s Wharf. It turns out the owner is a huge craft beer nut and had brought in a Belgian draft system from across the pond. He was serving up about 15 stellar Belgian ales and had all the appropriate glassware. Needless to say, I was quite pleased and equally shocked to stumble across such a find in this small coast town. I had several beers that night, but the one that stood out was Brasserie Caracole’s Nostradamus, a 9 percent Belgian strong dark ale. Love that beer.”
It is no surprise that Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch’s story involves a bottle of Samuel Adam’s Lager, but the location gets plenty of style points. At the end of 1992, Koch went to Argentina and climbed Aconcagua, at 22,841 feet the highest mountain in the Americas, and highest peak in both the Southern and Western Hemispheres. At the summit on Jan. 1, 1993, Koch cracked open the brew. “I’d carried it in my pack, close to my back and slept with it to keep it from freezing,” Koch explained. “When I opened it at that altitude, it foamed like crazy. There was only an ounce or two left in the bottle and it was a sublime antidote for dehydration.”
Beer journalist and author Stan Hieronymus says one of the joys of travel for him and his wife, Daria, is in the preparation, so they usually have their beer finds mapped out in advance. In 2008, while on a 14-month sabbatical that included 15 weeks in Germany, the couple visited Rothenburg ob der Tauber. They stayed inside the city walls at the Jugendherberge youth hostel, which serves families and people of all ages. It’s quite common, and somewhat disappointing, to find many stores and bars in Germany serving the same brands you can find in the US—but not this hostel in the ancient city. “They had three different local beers in the cooler, sold at about the same price we saw them in the grocery, as well as the proper glassware,” Hieronymus says.
Mike Saxton of Missoula, MT, is the owner and founder of BeerTrips.com. He makes a living designing small group tours to classic beer destinations and finding unique places to ponder life over a pint. His beer discovery takes place in 2009 where you would normally expect to enjoy a Brunello. “At the start of our inaugural Northern Italy BeerTrip we were in Monterosso al Mare, which was included not for beer per se, but simply because the Cinque Terre is one of the world’s great destinations,” Saxton says. “We stayed at Andrea Poggi’s family owned La Spiaggia (The Beach) Hotel in the new part of Monterosso. The guests on this particular trip had been dubbed the ‘repeat offenders,’ as some had attended as many as 10 BeerTrips. Plans had been made for a special ‘imported beer tasting.’ Everyone brought something special from their cellar. We expected nothing beyond Peroni and Moretti in the well-touristed five villages of the Cinque Terre. But then the first of several happy beer moments began to unfold. Upon my arrival at Hotel La Spiaggia, the owner greeted me with a welcome drink—a crisp, dry, local white wine that hit the spot perfectly after 120 minutes on an Italian train. After I quickly emptied the glass, he asked me if I would like a beer. He said he had something sort of special, if I was interested. He soon appeared with a La Trappe Quadruple, a St. Bernardus Pater, a couple Orvals and a single Rochefort 8. I was very happy. He said he would find the rest of the good beer and put it in the fridge. We drank his entire stock of Belgians and Italian craft beers. Even when you know where to find beer, sometimes you don’t know where you will find it!”
Charles Finkel has been a wine distributor, beer importer, package designer and now runs the Pike Pub and Brewery in Seattle with his wife, Rose Ann. Finkel’s unexpected beer experience took place at a dinner at a monastery dating from 1028, buried deep on pastoral land in Belgium’s Gaume region. “My dinning partner was the abbot of the cloister, the CEO in secular speech. Together, we sat at a simple wooden table, laden with food the monks had hunted and gathered,” Finkel says. He was leading a group of 20 American beer sales people and the room was filled with twice as many monks. “We supped on roasted rabbit, vegetable soup, fruit for dessert, and the beer that fathers drank daily—a beer that I called Orval Light. At 3.5 percent, it is their regular tipple and not for sale. The classic Orval, marketed internationally is 7 percent. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Questions rolled before my eyes, like visions—‘Why am I here, just to drink beer?’; ‘Did my job as a beer marketer pale by comparison to days of daily prayer?’; “Do you think that I could ask for more vegetable soup?’ This is one of my most memorable beer drinking experiences! Obviously, the beer gods were watching over me!”
Adrian Tierney-Jones is a British beer writer who is responsible for several books including serving as editor for 1001 Beers You Should Taste Before You Die. He recalls a trip 20 years ago when he was driving back to London from Tuscany with a girlfriend that he can only describe as “mad,” in an unpredictable sort of way. “We got into the Lyons area on the Saturday night and we went for a meal,” Tierney-Jones says. “I hadn’t had a beer all week while I was in Italy—it was all wine. The Kronenbourg 1664 went down like a dream and I remember my then girlfriend explaining in French to the patrons that I was English—hence the love of beer.”
Tom Phelan who works in the marketing department of Northern Brewer, the Minnesota-based homebrew supply company, plays in a band—The People’s Revolutionary Jug Band. “My band gets to tour infrequently, so when we’ve got the chance to play a gig out of town, we jump at it,” Phelan says. “This one was way out of town: the Neighborhood Tavern in Effie, Minnesota. Population of Effie: 123. We showed up a bit early to get situated and I smiled at the hitching posts outside the bar, which I assumed were an attempt at ambience, or maybe even a relic of a bygone time. I came out a bit later and there were three horses hitched up to them. During a set break I stepped to the wooden bar, expecting to find limited choices. Instead one of the two taps they had coming out of the wall was Summit EPA. I got a glass, and it was some of the freshest hop flavor of any Summit EPA I’ve had.”
According to Ralph Woodall, director of sales at Hopunion in Yakima, WA, nature is often the best place to enjoy craft beers. “In 1983 I was on the top of Darland Mountain in central Washington state about an hour jeep ride west into and on top of the Cascade Range,” Woodall says. “From the Darland Mountain Look Out you can see south to Mount Bachelor and Mount Hood In Oregon and into Washington State to Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens, with the view in wide span encompassing the Goat Rock, Mount Rainier and then to the north to Old Snowy, Mount Stuart and then east to the Yakima Valley.” He was with Sierra Nevada Brewing’s Ken Grossman and Steve Dressler, and then Hopunion colleague Ralph Olson. The beers were Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Porter, Stout and Bigfoot. “Seriously that is the best way to do it. Get the beer you like, the hill you can climb and the scene that makes you shine and you have all that is divine. I have been back many a time in the past 30 years and it always brings a chill to my spine and the memory of times. It can be Pikes Peak, Mount Shasta, Mount Katahdin, the Smokey Mountains or even the top of Canyon De Chelly.”
Keith Schlabs is general manager of Eight O Management in Dallas, which runs the 15-location Flying Saucer Draught Emporium chain and other restaurants. His beer moment came on a fly fishing expedition near Placenia, Belize. “Our flight was delayed and we missed our connecting plane, so we had to take a three hour taxi ride to get there in time for the morning’s fishing excursion. With lack of space in the taxi, I took the trunk in the station wagon which was a rough ride on some unstable roadways,” Schlabs says. “The next morning, we boated over massive swells to a series of islands near Lime Cay, a deserted island owned by our guide’s mother. We fished all day in the scorching sun and caught plenty of bonefish. A friend and I decided to stay the night on the island with our guide so we could fish nearby the next morning without the long trip back and forth to Belize. His mother, Bernice, boated to the island to cook for us since it was last minute and we had no electricity or food. I asked Bernice if she had by chance brought any beer with her to the island. With a smile she produced a Belikin Red which at that time was the best beer on the planet.”
Max Bahnson, a Czech beer writer and producer of the Pivní Filosof (Beer Philosopher) blog, says he found beer joy after a 16-kilometer hike at the Samaria Gorge National Park on Crete. He is not exactly sure which brand was involved, but the kiosk selling snacks and fast food at the exit of the park was serving draught beer. “The hike was over some rough terrain on a rather warm day. The place is stunningly gorgeous and I was very pleasantly tired, but not thirsty because there are fountains with spring water everywhere along the trail,” Bahnson recalls. “I wasn’t thinking about beer, but I was really, really happy when I saw they had some on tap that was served the Greek way—tooth-shattering cold in a frozen mug. In another place and time I would have sure considered that beer to be rubbish, but there and then it was the loveliest drop of heaven. To this day, I rank that pint as the best beer I’ve ever drunk in my life.”