One of the great attributes of craft beer is that it continues to be primarily a local phenomenon. Travel for beer – or even just travel with hunting beer as a major component – is a pastime that won’t quit.
Our earlier travel adventures that were not primarily for beer, but with good beer quite available and appreciated, included England and Bavaria, both in the 1980s. We didn’t know enough about what we were enjoying to make any notes or seek out anything that didn’t just fall in our laps, but we knew enough to try a variety of offerings and pay attention. It was all part of our gradual beer education, in the context of some walking-centric vacations.
Fragments we remember: While walking on the Coast-to-Coast trail through Northern England, coming off a ridge in the Lake District into some tiny village to the cozy B&B we had booked by phone the day before, we got out of our muddy boots and went over to the town’s only pub for the evening meal and a pint of the invariably delicious local bitter. What the hell was it? Who knows. All we knew was that after the next day’s walk that brew was no longer available and we had another offering in another village. All part of the sense of place.
Another year, we enjoyed a similar experience sight-seeing in several ancient walled towns, while going by rental car from Frankfurt to Munich. Each night we’d have delicious fresh lagers with our meals wherever we were staying, only to learn that the same beers were not available again the next evening in a new town. We quickly learned to revel in the expectation of sampling new and interesting beer each evening, served by publicans who were proud to offer them as their own.
It was on this trip to Germany that we enjoyed our first Monastic beer. Our research told us that a short train ride from Munich would leave us with a nice afternoon’s walk from the the train station to Andechs Monastery and Brewery. After a longer-than-anticipated, hot afternoon walk on country roads we arrived at the Holy Mountain less than one hour before last call. On a summer afternoon, the beer was a minor miracle, to be remembered vividly for years. In fact, Steve would not wait years. He arranged for his train connections 2 weeks later from Prague to leave him with a four-hour layover in Munich which he eagerly used to re-ascend Andechs Mountain and enjoy a more leisurely drinking session. He met a German high school teacher there who was grading papers whilst enjoying some “holy lagers.” The teacher treated Steve to several rounds and bought him a six-pack to take as a house gift for the next stop on his journey.
Almost nine years ago we became acutely aware of the West Coast American IPA revolution, thanks to festivals hosted by The Bistro, one of the East Bay establishments that inspired the creation of our Beer By BART transit guide. The Bistro does an IPA festival in August and Double IPA in February. That year the two of us scouted hoppy beers and compared them intently, trying to cover the major Northern California producers we knew, and some unknowns, too. We took a regional approach, confident that the beers from our area are excellent. They are.
Then the report came back from the judges. The three competition winners that year were all from San Diego county. Huh, what? We scrambled to taste the offerings from some brewery improbably called Pizza Port. This then-new San Diego style was a dry citrus slap in the face — and an elixir of pleasure. Who knew back then? We were fast learners, and immediately started planning a long weekend on the southern border.
When the time came we checked into a hotel on Pacific Beach — unintentionally but fortuitously setting up only a few blocks from a little tavern called The Liars Club. It turned out that The Liars Club was THE local pub for San Diego craft beer. We made many a return visit in subsequent years. They moved from PB out to the small town of Alpine in 2008 and unfortunately closed earlier this year. We still miss it.
We reveled in the joy of discovering Alesmith, Ballast Point and each of the Pizza Ports one at a time, getting leads from people in each brewery or bar about where to go next. Our first time in San Diego for beer was like no other expedition.
San Diego County is difficult to tour because the good beer places are so spread out, and a designated driver (or a group that can hire a driver and split costs) may be the only good solution. In recent years the two of us have stayed in a different hotel each night to be walking distance from the final round at that night’s brewpub or beer bar. Winter is our favorite time for this excursion, when slightly warmer temperatures than San Francisco means more to us. Jeans and a hoodie on the beach, a January treat.
We also brought back great treasures. San Diego beers were a rarity in the Bay Area so we always had unique offerings to bring to dinners and sessions with friends. It was easier to do this, pre-9/11, since carry-on luggage could include bottles of liquid. Now, even though many of those fine breweries distribute at least some of their beers around the state, the trip is still worth it. There are always special releases to try and fellow beer fanatics to meet. The hop shortage helped encourage breweries like Stone, Green Flash and Lost Abbey to experiment more with sour beers just as we are learning to love them courtesy of Russian River, Marin, Drakes, Valley, Moonlight, Schooners and such in our region. A little bit of this new microbial magic makes it to the best bottle shops north of their county, but often a special batch is only poured locally, or at a festival. Something hoppy, puckering or richly malty will warrant wrapping and packing. Bubble wrap never sleeps.
The Session #29 compilation page is now ready, to find more travel posts. Thanks, and happy trails!
Gail & Steve