Travel becomes so much more fulfilling when there’s a goal in mind, a path to follow, and a beer in hand. One thing Europe has been doing for a long, long time is making beer. The Christian monks used it to get people to come to church. Soon after, it became the backbone of European society.
I sat down with contributing editor for Draft Magazine, Joe Stange. Joe lives and works in Berlin, Germany, where he studies, writes, and lives beer. He’s also written two very useful books about beer and Belgium. The first is called Around Brussels in 80 Beers, a nifty guide for hitting Brussels with some knowledge about their local brews before getting flabbergasted by the massive variety available. The second is the co-authored The Good Beer Guide to Belgium, a comprehensive primer to the best pubs, cafés, breweries, and beers in Belgium. Joe has also guest judged beer competitions in Belgium, the UK, and the good ol’ US of A. The guy knows beer.
We decided to meet at a new gastropub over in Kreuzberg, Dolden Mädel. Here’s what he had to say about traveling to Europe and finding some really special beer experiences:
As an American who is thinking of coming to Europe and loves beer, where are the real places to find beer and brewers who are wholly unique?
There are five pilgrimages that people from the States should make in Europe. Bearing in mind always, that as Americans we tend not to have that much vacation time–couple weeks a year if we’re lucky. Obviously it’s not cheap to come over to Europe. So you want to make it count.
What I would hone in on and reconnect with are the European folk beers. You don’t need to come to Europe to drink their American-style craft or their IPAs. You’ll pay extra for those when you could be sitting in the rural cafés with the folks that are still drinking the same old fashioned, flavorful beers that inspired our beers. The beers that they’ve been drinking for centuries. You know, they pay a couple euros for a half liter. I think that’s the experience. Sometimes the beer geek loses sight of the importance of the experience. They like to collect beers: Like, “I went to this place, I drank that beer in some big city craft beer bar.” But, that’s…so what? You can get almost any beer you want in the mail these days. More and more tap houses have 50 or 100 taps, and crazy bottles lists.
You can get what you want, except the experience. You have to go there for the experience.