Wednesday, April 16, 2014

beer column

my notes from yesterday's beer column on beer travel
on cbc radio one's on the coast with stephen quinn

I would love to be able to travel the world for beer! So far, Mexico and Central Ontario are the furthest I have travelled since becoming a beer geek, and those were places I was visiting for other reasons. Those totally count as beer travel though, since I sought out all the beer I could while I was there!

There are two basic methods of beer travel. The first is to find a beer event you would like to attend, or choose a beer-centric place to visit, and then plan a vacation around the beer. The second is to research the beer options available in a place you already have plans to visit. So far my beer travel generally falls into the second category. I find all the beer I can at places I already have plans to visit. Quite often serendipity graces me with a beer festival during the very period I need to be somewhere. For instance the Washington State Cask Festival that happened to fall on the same weekend I had plans that took me to Seattle; and the upcoming Las Vegas Beer Fest that is conveniently taking place on my birthday weekend.

This method of beer travel is wonderfully simple. Once you know when and where you are travelling, you just let your fingers to the walking and see what the internet can tell you about which breweries are near your venue, which beer happenings may be taking place while you are there, and if you are very much a beer geek, you can plug into the local beer scene before you even arrive. The easiest way to do this is to research the local breweries, start following them on social media and strike up conversations.

Beer Advocate is a beer magazine and website that can help you find craft beer locales in cities throughout the US and a few other countries. They also have a very extensive beer events calendar. Ratebeer.com also has an extensive beer events calendar for the US and some other countries, as well as reviews of breweries, brewpubs, bottle shops and craft beer bars.

Friends of mine also take BC beer with them when they travel, to share with the locals. Often they are given beer in return to bring home with them. Sometimes they even share it with me! This is a great way to bring BC beer to foreign places, making you a beer ambassador, which in turn gives you an in with the local beer crowd.

More planning is required for the kind of beer travel that has you intentionally chasing beer around the globe. First you have to research beer festivals and beer-centric cities, find out when their festivals are and then plan your travel around them. One of the oldest beer destinations has been Germany’s Oktoberfest. People from around the world make the pilgrimage. I have not been, but it is definitely on my bucket list.

My beer festival travel has been limited so far to the Great Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria in early September. This year’s festival is September 5 and 6. But I plan to expand that in the coming years to include the Great American Beer Festival in Denver Colorado in October and Montreal's Mondiale de la Biere in June.

There is a great list of beer festivals world-wide on the RealBeer.com website, and a list of Canadian beer festivals on the Canadian Beer News website. Beerfestivals.org is another good site to check. There are so many festivals these days I don’t think anyone could make it to them all in just one lifetime!

But you don’t need a beer festival to attend. Beer destinations can also be about the place itself. Like travelling to Belgium to try all those great Belgian beers right from the source.  You can take a tour of the monasteries to learn about the trappist beers, and bring some of the beer only available on site home with you. Chimay in Belgium sells their Red, White and Blue beers all over the world. Westvleteren, on the other hand, only sells their beer one case at a time and only by appointment at their door. Achel makes four different styles of beer but only sells one. The other three are available only on tap at the monastery's guest house. So the only way to try some of these beers is to travel to Belgium.

There are plenty of great beer centric cities to visit a little closer to home. Portland, Oregon tops that list. A mere 7 hours away by car, bus or train, it is a great long weekend getaway to non-stop beer fun. Boasting so many breweries and bottleshops, it is possible to walk around Portland from brewery to brewery. If you haven’t already been, I strongly suggest you put Portland on your short-list of places to explore. I try to get there at least twice a year as new breweries are cropping up there at least as frequently as they are here in Vancouver.

My internet research only took me to one actual beer travel agency... in France.  But there are plenty of companies around that offer beer tours and beer travel packages.  Because isn't it nice to have someone else getting you to and from the breweries?

Beertrips.com is an American company that offers beer travel packages in Belgium, Germany, Quebec, the Czech Republic, Scotland, Italy… you get yourself there and they take care of the rest.  They aren't cheap tours, but they are small groups escorted by beer experts so they're probably worth every penny! 

In Vancouver alone there are multiple tour offering short tours to get you from point A to point B to point C.  Some of them even feed you!

Vancouver Brewery Tours will take you on a three hour tour.  Leaving from Waterfront Station they take you to three breweries, for behind the scenes tours and intro to the brewing process, plus samples!  You also get a souvenir pint glass to take home with you.  They offer public tours for $69 per person and private tours starting at $600 for up to 13 people.

The Tour Guys host a spring and summer walking tour called Beer Makes History Better that will walk you around Gastown, stopping at 3 pubs along the way.  This 2.5 hour tour costs $49, and will be starting up again for the season in June.

The Original Vancouver Food Tour also offers a 3 hour walking Gastown beer tour, called Craft Beer n’ Bites Tour that takes you to three establishments for food and drink, for $75 per person.

And Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tours has an upcoming one-off beer tour in conjunction with Vancouver Craft Beer Week:  4 incredible craft beers, 3 breweries, 2 hours, 1 murder.
Select a team of your most able friends. Get ready to sample some of our city’s finest craft beers. And blaze a trail through Mount Pleasant on a mission to discover … who killed Kraft Bier???
A 2 – 3 hour adventure through Mount Pleasant:
• Sample four incredible local craft beers.
• Visit two of Vancouver’s best craft breweries.
• Enjoy exploring Vancouver’s historic ‘Brewery Creek’ area.
• Learn the true history of craft brewing in Vancouver.
• Prove you have the wits and guile to solve an infamous murder.

The shocking murder of Kraft Bier is long famed as Vancouver’s most notorious unsolved crime. Honest hard-working brewery man Kraft was found floating face down in a vat of cheap lager, more bloated and soggy than the commercial beer industry itself. But who would want poor Krafty dead? Was it hot shot lawyer and future Mayor Gerry McGeer? Showgirl Pat La Belle? Arch-villain Shui Moy? With puzzles, clues and riddles strewn across Mount Pleasant, this is a case for only the most-hardened detectives. But beware, there’s more to the murder of Kraft Bier than meets the eye…
Tickets on sale April 28. More information coming soon.

If this tour proves popular, it could become a regularly scheduled tour.
 

Following along with the beer travel theme, my beer picks for this week are from Belgium and Portland:

Chimay Red, White and Blue caps are all available at specialty liquor stores.
(Blue is a strong dark ale, Red is a dubbel and White is a trippel)

Gigantic IPA is available at specialty liquor stores in 22 oz bombers.

Hopworks organic lager is available at specialty liquor stores in 4-packs of cans.

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