Saturday, October 30, 2010

Farewell to Franconia & Bamberg

This past week I have been trying to relearn German.  I owe my high school German teacher Frau Tangert a debt of gratitude as much of what she taught me in 1980 about this country, I got to experience this past week as I immersed myself in the culture.  Some of my German speaking ability came back to me, seemingly out of nowhere, but not as much as I would have liked.  But through persistence, the kindness of strangers amd gppd beer,  I got through fine.  There is so much to say about Bamberg and Franconia.  Where to start?  Well, for one thing they have huge pillows on the beds and the only English radio station is The Eagle broadcasting from the local U.S. Military base to "America's Finest."  Driving around listening to this station gave me some insight into what it must be like to be a U.S. soldier over here.  Lots of subtle suggestions to speak with an Army chaplain before you do anything crazy to yourself or others...but first another song Niceklback.

I went 110 mph on the autobahn and I met Canadian beer writers Josh Oakes and Sunshine Kessler, who are living here for more than two months.  I thank them for sharing their beer wisdom and knowledge of Bamberg.  We went to hear live music at a brewery in the country last night and we were the youngest people there by about 20 years.  It was a great experience and a little window into the world of the locals.  I plan to post some pics of this later.   Today, we had lunch and beers at Brauerei Sonne.

Then of course there was the beer: Rauchbier and country beers.  All pure, fresh and full of character...and much of it fire brewed.  Many of these breweries have mountains of the most beautiful hardwood firewood, all harvested from the thick Bavarian forests.  They brew mostly lagers here with the exception of some wheat ales.  And, they're not afraid to drink them at 9 a.m., when many of the breweries open.  I have to admit, I had my eyes opened to how good a lager beer can be.  And, how different, subtle and full of character they can be.

More later, but for now I have to get some sleep to be ready for my last full day here.  But first, I have to finish the Drei Kronen Rauchbier I'm drinking....mmm...Did I mention I went 110 mph on the autobahn?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bamberg, beer & bikes!

Stu with Fred Waltman at Fassla Brewery
I'm in the middle of a week in Bamberg, Germany.  As Many of you know, Bamberg is home to nine breweries, all within biking or walking distance.  Two of these breweries are famous for rauch beer, aka, smoked beer.  It's like drinking a glass of beef jerky, except better.  If you only have one day here, it's not enough.  You need at least a week.  I've tasted many fine beers since I've been here, too many to mention now.  I've also met a number great people in the vibrant beer culture, including Fred Waltman, author of the Franconia Beer Guide.  Fred is from Marina Del Ray, Cal., and happened to be here now on one of his many trips here.  I got to have some beers with Fred and his crew at Fassla Brewery.  Bike is the best and fastest way to get around here and I've been enjoying the cool crisp Franconian air in between brewery visits.   More later on this exciting beer city when I return to the U.S.

A river runs through it.
The famous Herren Pils at Keesmann Brewery

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Trappist Tour in Progress...

Orval, anyone?
The Lonely Monks Trappist Tour is entering its final day. We've covered a lot of ground, visited a lot of beery places and tasted some world-class beers. I had intended on blogging along the way, but there just has not been time or access to a computer. I'll spend some time writing about both tours when I get back. In the meantime, follow Bryan Falman's Tweets ( to see current pics and updates. We have six Trappist Abbeys down and one to go: Westvleteren! Tomorrow morning we also tour the In Flanders Field WWI Museum in Iepers, where we are spending the night tonight. Tonight we attended the famous WWI Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. The tour is drawing to a close, but these great memories with a great bunch of beer hunters will last forever! Above is also a pic of part of the group touring the brewery at Orval.
Part of the group at Orval
In Bruges

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Home of the Ch'Ti in Northern France

The people of this department of Northern France refer to themselves at the, "Ch'Ti," which is how the flagship beer of Brasserie Castelaine got its name.  We had a nice tour in English by our guide, "Loic." who came all the way from Brussels to be with us.  Thanks, Loic.  Afterwards we sample some beer, then raided the gift shop to buy more beer and breweriana.

We also visited the brasseries of La Choulette, Thierez, Dubuisson, DuPont, Blaugies, Fantome and Kerkom Brewery.  We spent one night in the scenice Ardennes Mountain town of Durbuy and our final night in Leuven.  I'll share more experiences  and pics of of this great tour later.  Computer time lately has been minimal.  Breakfast this morning concluded this grand Farmhouse Ale Tour.  This group was fun and interesting.  I enjoyed spending time with them and getting to know them.  Good beer people. 

I'm  off to Brussels today to meet a new group of beer hunters to begin the Lonely Monks Trappist Tour.  I hope you are enjoying following along.  Thanks for the comments!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Farmhouse Ale Tour of Belgium & France

The Farmhouse Ale Tour has been in full swing this week. We are basing out of the magnificent Brouwershuis B&B at the St. Bernardus Brewery near Watou, Belgium. So far we have had visited the St. Bernardus Brewery, Brasserie Castelaine in Benifontaine, France; Brasserie La Choulette in Hordain, France; and Brasserie Thierez in Esquelbeque, France. All had amazing, but very different beers. Northern France, while little known to the general beer public, has some great beers. We've enjoyed meeting our new French beer friends. Pictured to the right are beer hunters Bryan, John David and Allen on the other Abbey Road, which leads to the great farmhouse breweries of the region.  More to come!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Belly of the Beast. In a world, where...

This photo would be:
A) A bunch of brewery workers on break.
B) The cast of Glee.
C) A bunch of exchange students from North Dakota State University touring the AB Inbev brewery in Leuven.

Correct answer, "C."

As it turns out, the most interesting thing today about touring the home of Stella Artois was the people on the tour (who knew?).  These lucky future leaders of America are beginning a five-week exchange program in Antwerp.  I asked them (hypothetically, of course) what their favorite beer was in North Dakota and they all said, "Bud Light."  After five weeks in beer paradise (legal drinking age is 16), their re-entry into the Bud Light world of Fargo will be a difficult one.  Damn you Belgium, you ruined them for the rest!
Bob, Carole, Simon & Suzanna

I also met a fun group of international exchange students studying in Leuven.  This was an organized event for them to all get to know each other better.  Afterwards, a group of them invited me to have dinner with them, which was  a great time to meet people from around the globe, get to know them and hear their world views. I met students from Iceland, Netherlands, Serbia, Macedonia and Iran.  What great reminder that we are all one planet and one world.  And, at the end of the day (or brewery tour), we are all more similar than different.  I  thank them for their hospitality, window into their lives and  wish them much luck in their studies, careers and lives.  So what did I learn?  Well, just to mention two things, Iceland's currency has devalued by 80% and McDonald's closed all its restaurants there.  "Ladies and gentlemen, McDonald's has left the country!"

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Generations of Beer Drinkers in Leuven

Oud (old) Leuven Cafe...literally!
"OK guys, only four left..who's with me?"
The cafe scene in Leuven is virbrant; a little something for everyone.  Here is a pic from the Oud Leven Cafe.  Next is a photo from the Young Leuven Cafe, where you can order a "meter of beer":  14 pints for 21 Euros.  Now, if we could just get them to drink something besides Jupiler, one of the common bland pilsners here in Belgium.  This pic was taken in the Oude Markt, which is this huge town square surrounded by bars.  It is known as the largest bar in Europe, and really, who's to argue?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Livin', lovin' Leuven!

My flight from Detroit to Amsterdam was packed.  And, a late departure gave me a three hour layover in AMS.   A surprise U.S. Customs team were selectively "interviewing" some passengers heading down the tunnel to the plane.  I've never seen this before.  The looked at my U.S. passport and waived me through without blinking an eye.   Then, I  made it to Brussels in 1/2 hour with a short flight.  Claimed my bag and I was on a train to Leuven, only about 10 km away.  Found my hotel and did a little walking tour of the town.  My first beer here was a Corsendank Agnus Tripel I picked up at the corner grocery store...a nice welcome to beer paradise.  I'm running on empty, though, despite tyring to sleep on the plane a little.  Leuven is home to the gigantic corporate beer Stella Artois, now owned by AB Inbev.   At least that's what they are calling it at press time.  Tomorrow, by virtue of its location, I will venture into the belly of the beast and tour this mammoth purveyor of uneventful pilsner.  I'll let you know how it goes.  Now, I'm heading to dinner at Domus.  According to the Good Beer Guide Belgium, it is the longest surviving brewpub in Belgium.  Great to be back in beer paradise!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

If it's October it must be Belgium

Tomorrow, I leave for Belgium to lead my Farmhouse Ale Tour and my Trappist tour.  After that, I will spend a week beer hunting in Bamberg, Germany.  I'll take lots of pics and chronicle my journey.  I hope you enjoy it!  That is if I can figure how to add photos from internet cafes.  Here we go!