Friday, November 10, 2017

Beer Travel - I Want to Do That!

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.
nther 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.
  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. I don’t have enough vacation time.” No problem, just skip the family vacation and join us instead!
  4. 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.
  5. I don’t want to share a room with someone.” No problem, for a small fee you can have your own room.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. I don’t like long flights.” No one does. Get over it.
  9. I don’t like craft beer.” I’m sorry. Why are you reading this?
  10.  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.

Top Ten Moments from 2017's Brewtopia Germany Trip

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!


Photos by Mary Fiorello