By Ransome Sheets
It wasn’t until I was sitting on a train headed into downtown Munich that it finally started to sink in; I had signed up for yet another Brewtopia beer trip, what has also come to be known as an “Owen trip,” and I was about to spend the next week exploring Bavaria in the best way possible! Attending a Brewtopia trip means that you are going on an adventure with a group of people traveling overseas to learn about great beer and its history from renowned brewers, historians, enthusiasts, and more, all led by none other than Owen Ogletree himself! Just the idea of potentially getting to see a famous German Abbey, go pub hopping in Bamberg, or visit the oldest brewery in the world, is enough to get my heart racing. The long-anticipated trip had finally arrived, and yet I had no idea what was exactly in store.
While I already had high expectations, the week that followed surpassed all my preconceived notions. Our group learned that Bavarian beer predates any other beer that can now be found, and this preservation of recipe, process, and history, shapes not only their incredible beer, but also the current Bavarian culture to which it inspires. Visiting brewery Aecht Schlenkerla in Bamberg was one of my absolute favorite stops, and the passionate brew master’s quote best describes what we learned about the region’s beer: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
Thanks to this “Owen trip,” I have made some incredible new friends, attained priceless knowledge of Bavarian beer, and have a new-found appreciation for the preservation of fire. Since I have returned from the trip, I’m still caught in the haze stirred up by the amazing events that we experienced. I set out to create a list of my favorite events of the trip, and have struggled greatly to limit the list to 10 items! So that being said, here is my Brewtopia Bavarian Beer Top 10 List:
- Ettal Abbey – This amazing abbey has been brewing beer for over 400 years, and we were given a VIP tour by the head brewer. As one of the only English speakers at the abbey, he taught us about their brewing process, tradition, and showed us the entire brewery! If you get the chance to go, make sure to ask him about hipsters and Austrians!
- Neuschwanstein Castle - If you have ever watched a Disney movie or seen their logo, you’re already familiar with this picturesque silhouette. Hidden in the Bavarian Alps, this amazing fortress stands on the side of a mountain and strikes awe into any who look upon it. While not necessarily beer related, the tour and history to which we were introduced was well worth taking a short break from the many beer gardens and breweries that we were visiting.
- Weyermann – When picturing a beer trip, you probably think of breweries, hop fields, and pubs; but it’s easy to overlook a key ingredient: Malts! Our visit to Weyermann Malting Company was an eye-opening experience that delved into the interesting process of malting and distribution. We walked the beautiful and historic grounds, watched the process in action, and even tasted the end results. This was a great experience!
- Richelbräu – Günther, the main brewer of Richelbräu led us into an old apartment building. I may have questioned exactly where we were heading, but after a few steps further into the basement, we were suddenly transported into a comfortable home-brewpub! Günther happily explained that this co-op brewing station allowed a number of homebrewers to have a space to brew their own beer, learn from others and share the products, all in exchange for some of the beer that they brew! As our group enjoyed some of their delicious brews, we wondered why we don’t see similar setups back in the U.S.?
- Ayinger Brewery - The great tour of this brewery was led by our enthusiastic guide, Otto, who happily poured us unfiltered wheat beer straight from the fermenter. If the intriguing tour of the facility wasn’t enough, he then led us up to the tap room where we sampled more styles from this fantastic brewery while looking over miles of Germanic scenery. Our group enjoyed discussing the high levels of carbonation and debating our favorites of the tasting.
- Weihenstephan - The oldest brewery in the world. Need I say more? The incredible team of people who introduced us to it, did an excellent job of teaching us about how they blend their incredible history and classical brewing with modern updates that add a level of detail that you can’t quite put your finger on. I have to mention that you can get this beer in the U.S. and I definitely filled my refrigerator upon my return! This is really a can’t miss stop when traveling in Bavaria.
- Bamberg / Pub hopping - I should have made these two separate bullet points, because they were both absolutely incredible! Bamberg is an old town in Bavaria that works to preserve the architecture and structures of their history, dating back as far as the 11th century! Beer, or no beer, Bamberg is an amazing sight! But did I mention the beer? From the oldest pub in the world, to The Dude (a modern Big Lebowski themed pub we stumbled across), I certainly enjoyed discovering the many hidden treasures which Bamberg holds.
- Aecht Schlenkerla – In the center of Bamberg, there’s a centuries old brewery that has been passed down for generations. Yet it wasn’t completely the beautiful gothic style architecture in the tavern, or even the amazingly underrated Rauchbier (smoked beer) style that made this visit stand out by so much: it was the owner, Matthias Trum. Matthias is one of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic brewers that I have met, and he used his extensive education and passion for his brewery history to share rarely found secrets from the past regarding the beer purity law, the brewer’s star, and much more! This was a once in a lifetime experience that you can only get on an “Owen trip!”
- Hofbrauhaus - This brewery/Bavarian-style restaurant/beer garden was not just a visit, but an event! As we walked into this enormous dining hall, we were immediately immersed in Bavarian culture. With a live Bavarian Oom-Pah band playing, Ox legs being eaten off the bone, and waiters and waitresses carrying dozens of liter steins at one time, this was the perfect last stop to our incredible week! The food was fantastic, the beer, even better; and the great group of beer lovers who barely knew each other when first arriving in Munich, now shared in laughter that was probably much too loud. Hofbrauhaus is one of those places that brings people together and makes everyone feel at home.
- The Beer Group – Yes, I’m aware of the cheesiness! But I have to say that the best part of the trip was getting to meet great new people who share the love of good beer. Since my last “Owen trip” a year ago, I have seen nearly every person again, and we always enjoy reminiscing about the great times and catching up on the new. There is no doubt that this year will be the same. When you travel with Owen, you know that you are going to see the best breweries, taste the best beer, and the find the secret hidden treasures in that area. Knowing that you are in good hands, you are able to relax and spend the trip sharing bus beers, jokes, some of Mark’s magic tricks, and anticipating your next stop. Getting together with people who have a shared passion for good beer and new adventures will never steer you wrong; but with Owen leading the way, you’ll have an experience of a lifetime and make lasting friends who are always willing to talk beer!