Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Regions that Must be on Your Beer Travel Bucket List


Photo Credit: David Wilbanks

Bucket lists come in all different shapes and sizes. Some people put together a bucket list of all the different sites in the world that they want to see (Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China, Petra, etc…). Some bucket lists are full of adventure activities to mark off before passing time comes (skydive, climb a mountain, surf). For others it’s learning to perform an everyday task at an exceptional level like gourmet cooking classes or woodworking. For me, a bucket list is a combination of travel destination and the food or beverage that makes that place unique. My bucket list includes drinking Sake in Japan, eating salchicha argentina in Argentina, and drinking The Beirut Cocktail in Beirut.
Beer in the Alps, check!

Through our journeys we have also completed a bucket list or 2, because why not have different lists for different interests?! One of those lists was hitting the best spots worldwide for a beer. This was not a list of places with either great nightlife or places where beer is readily available, but a list of places to travel to that are known for their beer. People around the world enjoy a good beer at home or at a restaurant, but this bucket list would take us to breweries, beer halls, and holes in the wall. We continue to travel and showcase local breweries that you have to stop at when you are traveling, but for me these bucket list beer regions are places to go before your bucket is empty. Each one of these destinations not only produces some of the finest beer on earth, but the local culture is influenced by these fine lagers and ales and the people wear that culture as a badge of honor.

Staropramen brewery tour, check!
Czech Republic

My first beer (and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc…) abroad was in Prague. That first sip of Budvar on a cold evening was a revelation. Unlike mass produced American beers, this beer from a large brewery had body and flavor. The people drank it different as well. Unlike our bar scene where groups of people cram in to bars and converse with only the folks they know, the Czechs had turned beer into a reason to celebrate with everyone and anyone. Common tables, “nastravi” shouted to the ceiling, and big hearty smiles make this beer capital a must stop on the beer bucket list tour….plus the fact that the “City of 100 Spires” is a magical place which made me realize that I must spend the rest of my life with my travel partner who brought me there. Magic and beer, shall I help you find a flight?
Pretzel and liter, double check!

Bavaria

What’s the picture you get in your head when I say Bavaria? I’m assuming the same one I had before I traveled there. Leiderhosen, pretzels, and giant steins of beer. Well, that picture is more truth than fiction. Bavaria is the capital of laid back in Germany. People in other parts of Germany travel to Bavaria like it’s a different country because it’s culture is so unique. And a giant part of that is its beer. From Munich to Fussen to Nurenburg beer is celebrated as part of the heritage of this region. A liter of beer is not just for binge drinking, but for catching up with neighbors or new friends just made. With an alpine backdrop, sausage to die for, and those large pretzels of your picture,  making a beer pilgrimage to Bavaria needs to be near the top of your bucket.
Lambic, check!
Belgium
Unlike the previous 2 entries on our bucket list, Belgium brings multiple unique styles that are not only part of the countries unique heritage but also rarely attempted elsewhere. Trappist Ales and lambics are unique to Belgium and must be had in this chocolate , beer, and waffle wonderland. Like our previous entries the Belgians are not only happy to share a pint with anyone, but also to share a story and bits of their culture. Brussels has so many places to grab a bite and a unique tour of the places where these sours, lambics, and tripels and the smaller towns will amaze with hole in the wall bars that not only feature hundreds of unique Belgian ales and the proper glass from the brewery to drink them out of. With food, folks, and to die for ales beer touring Belgium is almost as spiritual as hiking the Camino in Spain.
Rocky Mountain Stouts, check!
Colorado
We’ve spent a lot of time and site space on Colorado but that’s because the Rocky Mountain state deserves it. Colorado has led innovations in craft beer from being the first state to can real beer to having one of the breweries to attack a broader market and wake some folks up to the craft beer revolution. New Belgium’s Fat Tire was one of the first water cooler craft beers nationwide and when your state finally got it you were so excited to show it off in your fridge. Breweries spring up all over the state almost daily and that has a lot to do with the people in the state embracing the local scene. With clean Rocky Mountain water to use, breathtaking scenery, and some of the most laid back and entertaining folks in the US….Colorado must be traveled to for it’s beer from all corners of the state.

California
DisneyLand, The Golden Gate Bridge, Pebble Beach, awful traffic, Silicon Valley, and on and on and on. California is the most populous state and most touristed state in the union. There are so many places to see and things to do in California, but beer pilgrimage should be the theme of one of your stops in the Golden State. With some of the earliest craft breweries in the US like Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam Brewing, and Karl Strauss, California not only had quantity but it has a rich pioneer tradition in the brewing industry as well. San Diego is widely accepted as one of the top 5 craft beer towns in America and the state is also home to one of my favorite breweries….the North Coast Brewing Company featuring the always flavorful Old Rasputin Russian Stout. Head to the beach, hang out with the beautiful crowd, the tech crowd, or the brewing crowd in California because brews (new and old) are some of the best in the world.
Wisconsin Beer and friends, check and check!
Wisconsin
Home is where the beer is. There are few places that you will find in this world where people are as passionate about their local beer as the people of Wisconsin. The state of Wisconsin features more taverns than grocery stores and churches. Before prohibition every town featured a local brewer. After prohibition Milwaukee became the king of brewing (not the king of beers) in the US. After craft beer became a viable operation in the 80’s, local breweries came back pre-prohibition style. Hell, one of the most successful breweries in the state started with an IPO funded by tavern patrons around the state. Like their German ancestors, Wisconsinites not only want to tell you about the local news, but they want to rave about “their” beer (meaning whatever brewery is in their town). A trip to a liquor store in Wisconsin can be overwhelming in terms of local choices, and a trip to the brewery will not only be a history of beer lesson but also a place to try new, old, and experimental brews from across the entire style spectrum. It’s a 4 seasons destination that embraces, like Europe, the positives f their beer culture. If you are in a bar with your parents and under 21, you can have a beer with them, isn’t that how we all want beer to be viewed.
As we continue our journeys, we are excited about future beer bucket list destinations. The emergence of craft beer in North Carolina ,for instance, is not only amazing for it’s rapid expansion, but also really fun because like all of these other places there is a very unique culture in that part of the US. Having a new drink, or food, or experience while on vacation is how travel should be approached. But this bucket list should be attacked with full beer ferocity. Try the styles, frequent as many halls of beer as possible, and Prost with as many new friends as possible. Your taste buds will be glad you did….and you will probably never drink a bad beer again. Cheers!

Steven Grams is a seeker of new knowledge. He lives for travel, for adventure, for a new story. He absorbs everything and never forgets where he has been, who he has met, what he has seen, and how he got there.