By Rick Fifer
It’s eight hours into day one of a six day exploration of the best beers offered in the Bavarian and Franconian states of Germany. Sixteen of the eighteen beer aficionados following Owen Ogletree around the streets and gardens of Munich completed a nine hour flight just eight hours ago and are operating on whatever sleep they were able to get in the air. No coffee, only beer at this point, and we are already entering our third beer destination. We look like a commercial for the new season of The Walking Dead. The locals couldn’t help but stare as we trudged through the park to our previous stop, the Hirschgarten biergarten. Only two of us are fresh and ready to drink more beer because we arrived days earlier. That’s one of the many benefits of the Brewtopia Beer Tours – come early, stay late, just so long as you’re on time once Owen’s agenda begins. He runs a tight ship.
Earlier in the week, Ransome Sheets (yes that’s his real name and make sure you check out his article on his top 10 memories of the trip) visited Austria, and I went to Stuttgart to tour the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche Museums. It’s Germany, so of course there was beer at both museums. But back to today, Sunday – day one of the actual “trip”, and we are looking for Richelbrau. Owen’s not been there before and it’s not exactly obvious, so we all walked right past it at first.
Richelbrau is not your ordinary brewery or traditional German biergarten. It’s definitely a brewery but more like a co-op for homebrewers. A compact and very tidy 60 liter brewhouse is nestled in the cellar of a residential building, and Günther, the owner, makes it available to local homebrewers. In typical German fashion, they have a simple yet very effective arrangement – brewers rotate between brewing house beers and their own personal creations, but in all cases, 30 liters goes home with the brewer and 30 liters stays in the tiny pub for patrons. It’s Sunday evening and Günther opened especially for us, but two of his local brewers joined us to share their stories and, of course, some beer.
Günther is eager to have us sample some beer, and once we have a mug of Casa Nova Biere, the house dunkelweizen, in our hands he asks Bob to tell us about the brewery. Bob and Mike are the two brewers who joined us, and both happen to be Americans now living in Munich. Later Mike shares a very tasty American Pale Ale served from the most interesting looking crowler any of us have seen, but Bob’s story is the reason for this article. Bob explains how Günther built the brewery as a place for homebrewers to gather and hone their craft, but the place also serves as a neighborhood pub. Munich homes are rather small, so homebrewing on any scale can be challenging. But the part of Bob’s story that strikes me is how he came to learn about Richelbrau to begin with. Early on, a retired professional brewer from Augustiner came to brew at Richelbrau because he missed brewing. The story made the local paper, and when Bob saw the article he said, “I want to do that!”. So he did. That simple statement hit home for me. When I mention it to him later, Bob replies, “Did I say that? I don’t remember saying that.” So there you go, the simplest of statements, unrecalled by the speaker, got me thinking about the meaning of life. How many times do we say, “I want to do that.”, but fail to act? Bob is a doer, not a wisher. I want to be like Bob. I want more people to be like Bob.
(I’m switching tense here but I’m warning you, so don’t be a hater.)
There were so many wonderful experiences on this trip that I have no clue how Ransome will narrow them down to a top ten. From the big names you might recognize like Schneider, Weihenstephan, Augustiner, Weyermann Malting, Ayinger, and the world-famous Hofbrauhaus to some less recognizable gems like Geisinger, Ettal Abbey, Café Abseits, and Tap-House Munich, we were welcomed with open arms (and open taps) everywhere we went. My personal favorites (it’ll be interesting to see where they land on Ransome’s list) were the famed smoked Schlenkerla beers and the incredible history lesson presented by Matthias, the sixth generation owner. Our tour of the Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps was also amazing.
In honor of Bob the brewer from Richelbrau, I will instead provide a slightly different top ten list. If you find yourself reading about the Brewtopia Beer Tours and you think, “I want to do that!”, here are my top ten reasons to overcome your top ten reasons for not joining us next October in Belgium.
- “I can’t afford it.” Owen understands that not everyone has a lot of extra money laying around but he loves to share his passion for beer and travel, so these trips are very cost effective. We don’t stay in five star hotels, but they aren’t dumps either. We walk a lot and take public transportation when feasible. The important part is that we don’t skimp on beer – neither quality nor quantity, and it’s still very affordable. If you put away $50 each week, you would save enough for your airfare and the trip and maybe even have some pocket money left, depending on the airfare. Sharing a room with a friend helps to bring the cost down too.
- “I don’t have a passport.” Get one. It’s less than hundred bucks and is literally your passport to the world! You won’t regret it.
- “I don’t have enough vacation time.” No problem, just skip the family vacation and join us instead!
- “I don’t like Belgian beer.” First of all, are you f’ing crazy? No matter, if you don’t like Belgian beer, you will by the end of the trip. Plus you’ll love the sights, history, culture, etc. If for no other reason – Belgian waffles, chocolate, and frites with mayo.
- “I don’t want to share a room with someone.” No problem, for a small fee you can have your own room.
- “My spouse / significant other doesn’t drink beer.” They don’t have to drink beer. They can tag along for the sights and, with the diversity of Belgian beer styles, I bet we’ll find at least one he/she will like. This is your chance to convert them!
- “Frites with mayo sounds disgusting.” I thought so too, until I tried it in Belgium. Don’t try it in the states – it just doesn’t work for some reason.
- “I don’t like long flights.” No one does. Get over it.
- “I don’t like craft beer.” I’m sorry. Why are you reading this?
- “I can’t come up with any more stupid reasons not to go to Belgium. I want to do that!” Then come with us!
So, next October, don’t think “I want to do that.”, and then stay home. Be “Bob the Brewer” and join us for some of the most amazing beers you’ve ever had with a bunch of friends you haven’t met yet.