Monday, November 30, 2020

A Few of Owen's Favorite Craft Beer Spots

Look below for a few of Owen Ogletree's absolute favorite places in the world to enjoy craft beer. If you love beer and travel, make a note of these bucket list spots...

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Back in 1991, when I first saw beer writer Michael Jackson's Discovery Channel special that features this Amsterdam brewpub, I knew I had to visit. I still feel excited each time I see the statuesque windmill and walk through the doors to the taproom. Started in 1985 by a famous Dutch folk musician who loved chemistry and brewing, the place was once a bathhouse with water pressure powered by the adjacent windmill. The name 't IJ comes from the river that runs just outside, but the name also sounds like "egg" in Dutch, thus the ostrich egg on the logos. Expect Belgian-styled beers like a Wit, Dubbel, Tripel and strong ales, with modern additions like IPAs, red ales and Bocks served alongside munchies such as nuts, dried sausages, and Dutch cheese cubes sprinkled with celery salt. The place is a brisk hike from central Amsterdam but well worth the steps. Taster beer flights are available, and a second taproom has opened in the Vondelpark area of the city.

Escondido, California, USA
Stone Brewing has been creating exceptional craft beers for years, and there's no better place to enjoy them than the breathtaking
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Escondido
. The complex includes a massive bar area with a glass wall looking into the main brewery. Trees, boulders, wooden tables and a water feature surround the central bar where the draft selection includes 36 taps, and the food menu is loaded with local, organic, farm-sourced cuisine. Step out into the beer garden area for more seating, a tranquil pond, boulder landscaping and a short nature trail. Leashed dogs are welcome in the one-acre beer garden. A second location exists in the form of
Stone World Bistro & Gardens Liberty Station
in San Diego. Both are "must-see" spots when visiting the area. The blurry photo occurred when Greg Koch, Stone Brewing's co-owner, grabbed our camera for a group selfie when we visited him back in 2010.

Bamberg, Germany
Historic Bamberg ranks as one of the most scenic and iconic locales in all of Germany, and there's no better place to sip a bit of the city's history than the renowned
smoked beer brewery tavern in the heart of old town. Over the years, I've taken more than a hundred friends to Sclenkerla - many of which thought they wouldn't like smoked beer (Rauchbier). Every single protester left Schlenkerla with a new love and appreciation of this classic lager style. Having the beer fresh from the brewery makes all the difference. Expect a dark Marzen-style brew made with malt that is smoked over a beechwood fire. The beer is served by gravity tap from wooden barrels hoisted to the top of the bar. The brewery also produces specialty smoked variations made with wheat, oak, and a high gravity malt bill. There's even a golden lager that picks up a smoked note simply from repitching the Rauchbier yeast and running the wort and beer through the brewery's smoky lines and hoses. The tavern houses several historic dining rooms, a central courtyard and a swag booth selling glassware, tin tackers, apparel and more. The pub opens at 9:30 am to allow loyal patrons to stop in for sausages, bread and a glass of Rauchbier on the way to work. Hearty Franconian menu items include crispy pork knuckle, bratwurst, beef brisket, and Bamberg-style onions with pork and smoked beer sauce. Owner
Matthias Trum
is a wonderful friend of mine who has worked hard to preserve the history and charm of Schlenkerla.

Decatur, Georgia, USA
1997 saw the American craft beer movement just starting to take hold. Three buddies from Athens, Georgia (Dave Blanchard, Mike Gallagher and Tom Moore) had decided to open a specialty beer pub in a slightly run-down spot in downtown Decatur, and many people thought the three guys were crazy. It didn't take long for the
Brick Store Pub
to bring new life to the area and become established as one of the country's best craft beer destinations. The front door leads into the atmospheric and welcoming main bar that's loaded with delectable craft beers, while the stairs to the left of the bar take patrons to the gorgeous upstairs Belgian Bar that pours an exceptional range of hand-picked Belgian beers from taps and bottles. Across from the Belgian Bar, check out the pub's beer vault that stores prized, vintage brews in a climate-controlled environment. The kitchen rolls out a satisfying range of tasty pub grub to enjoy alongside your beer, and Brick Store recently expanded the outdoor seating space to the rear of the pub.

Brugge, Belgium
t Brugs Beertje
ranks as the best beer bar in the scenic, medieval town of Bruges. With over 300 Belgian beers and five taps, this cozy "brown cafe" features walls covered in antique beer tin tackers and memorabilia. My friend Daisy Claeys started the pub back in 1983 and became one of Belgium's most active craft beer advocates before retiring in 2017 and passing the pub on to her trusted co-owner and managers. Beer writer Michael Jackson filmed portions of his 1990 Discovery Channel "Beer Hunter" series in the pub, and craft beer tourists from around the world make the pilgrimage to Beertje to soak in the classic Belgian ales and warm atmosphere. If the small front parlor is full, a spacious back seating room awaits. Check the atypical opening hours before planning a day to visit the pub. When my
Brewtopia Events LLC
tour groups visit Bruges, this pub has always been the favorite stop.

Troutdale, Oregon, USA
Located on a former farm and large poorhouse on 75 beautiful acres, this charming hotel complex is just a short ride east of Portland near the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
McMenamins Edgefield
houses 100 cozy sleeping rooms decorated with folk art depicting elderly characters who lived and died there. Stroll the grounds to visit the brewery, brewpub, winery, distillery, heated mineral pool, herb garden, nine-hole golf course, movie theater, Jerry Garcia statue and a multitude of bars scattered around the property. The delousing shed is now a gift shop. The power station is now a brewpub. The trash burning shed is now a cigar and cocktail bar. A storage cellar room has been converted into a Grateful Dead tribute bar. Tasty house-made beers include Terminator Stout, Hammerhead Ale, Ruby, Black Rabbit Porter and Sunflower IPA. If you find yourself in the Portland area, be sure to spend at least one night at Edgefield.

Aldworth, Berkshire, UK
My second favorite cask ale pub in England has to be a remote, rural pub to the west of London that was named the UK's 2020 "Pub of the Year" by the Campaign for Real Ale.
The Bell Inn Aldworth
has been in the same family for around 250 years and treasures its history, warm personality and unspoiled interior. The pub pours local cask beers from brewers such as West Berkshire Brewery, Arkell’s, Rebellion and Loose Cannon, with the simple food menu including house-made soups alongside mouth-watering crusty rolls filled with meat or cheese. The Bell is normally filled with locals who have always given me and other visiting strangers a warm welcome. The men's toilet is outdoors in a rustic shed with no roof, so guys can pee while gazing at the stars. Locals call it "the planetarium."

Amsterdam, Netherlands
I simply love Amsterdam - the canals, architecture, art, progressive culture and pubs are so appealing. Imagine an Amsterdam beer pub that only serves craft beer made by the 400+ Dutch breweries. This pub actually exists and is known as
Proeflokaal Arendsnest
. Owned by my beer expert friend Peter van der Arend, Arendsnest is tucked away on a quiet street on the edge of central Amsterdam and offers a vast selection of craft beers from the Netherlands. It's a dream for Untappd patrons who will love ticking all the rare beers on draft and in bottles and cans. The place boasts a beautiful, welcoming atmosphere and amazing sausages and cheeses from the region. If the main bar area is packed, try the downstairs seating area. Peter van der Arend is pictured behind the bar in the photo.

Pilsen (Plzeň), Czech Republic
Czech Pilsner lagers originated at the Pilsner Urquell brewery in the mid-1800s, and even after all the years of political and ownership change, the brewery still produces the world's greatest Czech Premium Pale Lager. No true craft beer lover should miss the
Pilsner Urquell
tour that takes participants across the historic brewery campus and into three brewhouses from different centuries. The culmination of the visit is a tasting of unfiltered Pilsner Urquell beer in the icy, historic cellars. While most of the lager is now fermented in massive stainless steel tanks, the tour beer is fermented and matured in old, traditional, wooden vessels. This exceptional beer offers a huge depth of complexity from Moravian malt, spicy Czech Saaz hops and light notes of buttered toast from the malt and fermentation. Most pubs in Pilsen serve wonderfully fresh Pilsner Urquell alongside hearty Czech cuisine.

Mills River, North Carolina
Yes, "Malt Disney World" does exist, and it's located in North Carolina. If you've made the pilgrimage to the gorgeous Sierra Nevada facility in Mills River, you know the awesome scope and appeal of the place. The brewery produces all the old favorites like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Stout, Torpedo, Hazy Little Thing and Bigfoot Barleywine, with a load of exceptional brewery exclusives thrown in for fun. Be sure to try the unfiltered Pale Ale that's made with an added dose of Cascade hops. Take a detailed guided tour or a self-guided walk along the upper-level brewery catwalk and exhibition and be sure to check out the massive back patio and amphitheater. Sample mouth-watering menu items from the kitchen and purchase sampler trays to try all the beers. There's also a gift shop with tons of swag and beer to take home. NOTE: Due to COVID, the facility is currently welcoming guests for taproom takeout, curbside pickup, virtual experiences and online orders. Dine-in, tours, gift shop and outdoor areas are closed to visitors through the end of the year.

Westvleteren, Belgium
Many people worldwide consider the Trappist beers made by the monks of Saint-Sixtus Abbey of Westvleteren to be among the greatest ales ever brewed. To sample these amazing beers without paying the inflated prices of unauthorized resellers, you must visit the blissful cafe In de Vrede located just across the road from the abbey. The cafe and gift shop usually offer the Westvleteren Blond Ale, Westvleteren 8 and the extraordinary Westvleteren 12, served alongside sandwiches and small plates made from the abbey's own cheese. With an impressive complexity in aroma, flavor and mouthfeel, Westvleteren 12 is genuinely heavenly. A visit to this peaceful corner of Flanders makes for one of the greatest craft beer pilgrimages on the planet.

Aying, Germany
Just a 30-minute drive south of Munich brings you to the
Ayinger Privatbrauerei
, Aying Brewery Guesthouse Hotel and the brewery's wonderful
Ayinger Bräustüberl
beer hall restaurant. The hotel and beer hall are positioned across the street from each other in the center of the tiny, picturesque village of Aying, while the brewery is located just down the quiet road. In my opinion, Ayinger brews the greatest traditional beers in all of Germany, and the welcoming Bräustüberl makes the ideal place to enjoy the beers alongside a dish of hearty Bavarian fare. Beers include an exceptional Helles, Pilsner, Dunkel, wheat beer, malty Jahrhundert Bier and the amazing Celebrator Doppelbock. Sit inside to soak in the old-school Bavarian decor or grab a bench in the cozy beer garden. The hotel offers a more upscale restaurant and a variety of beautiful sleeping rooms.

Wellington, New Zealand
My Kiwi buddy
Kelly Ryan
made outstanding beers for Thornbridge Brewery in the UK, and when this brewing rock star moved home to New Zealand, I knew I had to visit him at his current brewpub gig -
Fork and Brewer
. When
Kerri Allen
and I spent an afternoon with Kelly, we were blown away by the flavors, technical merit and creativity of his 30+ house beers. My favorite was an authentic Burton-style ale called "Burton Ernie." Fork & Brewer sits in the heart of "windy Wellington," and the friendly, cozy spot produces some of the best beer in the Southern Hemisphere. The pizza and pub grub menus are also exceptional. If you are lucky enough to visit, plan to stay for at least five hours, then take a taxi back to your hotel for a nap.

Appletreewick, Yorkshire Dales, UK
If you know me, you know that I love authentic cask ales in a beautiful pub in the UK. Craven Arms ranks as my favorite pub in England. Yorkshireman David Aynesworth and his son Robert bought a rundown pub on the side of a hill in the lovely Yorkshire Dales, removed the linoleum floors, fluorescent lights and 1970s wallpaper, taking the pub back to its 19th-century roots by installing stone floors, a rock fireplace, gas lights and historic decor. In 2006, Robert even built a replica of a medieval "cruck barn" behind the pub. With tree trunk trusswork, wool insulation, exterior heather roof thatch, and walls from stones found on-site, the Yorkshire Dales has not seen a new cruck barn since Henry VIII was alive and kicking. Craven Arms serves the best cask ales from the region, and the kitchen cranks out truly amazing dishes made from traditional recipes. Annual beer festivals and ferret races at the pub are popular with the locals. The group photo below was taken with David in his cask ale cellar during one of my Brewtopia group trips several years ago.

Santa Rosa, California
If you ever have the opportunity to visit the quaint and cozy town of Santa Rosa, be sure to get in line at Russian River Brewing about 30 minutes before the doors open. This extremely popular brewpub is run by Vinnie Cilurzo, a former winemaker who transitioned to craft beer in the '90s. Vinnie's Pliny the Elder has achieved cult status and was one of the handful of potent, hoppy beers that created the style of Double IPA. Along with hoppy beers, Russian River also offers a range of funky, wild, barrel-aged beers such as Damnation, Temptation and Supplication. Sandwiches, pizza and calzones are on hand to enjoy alongside the exceptional beers. Russian River ranks as one of the greatest brewpubs in the world, and the owners have opened a beautiful second location in Windsor, California, that I have yet to visit.

Brussels, Belgium
I still get chills every time I walk into Cantillon, and it's not because of the cool temperature of the brewery - it's because of the exceptional beer and atmosphere. This family brewery is also a historic museum, offering self-guided and expert-led walk-throughs, followed by a tasting of the brewery's flagship Lambics that offer a huge depth of complexity and pleasant acidity from wild fermentation and multi-year barrel-aging. After enjoying your tour samples, hang around in one of the two tasting parlors to purchase and sip bottles of some of Cantillon's rare fruited versions and specialty Lambics that are always on rotation. When sitting in the tasting area next to the old wood-burning stove, you'll feel as if you stepped back in time 100 years as you savor an ancient style of ale. A gift counter sells t-shirts, souvenirs and bottles of Lambic to take home.

Dusseldorf, Germany
Just like the citizens of Cologne (Köln) Germany love golden Kölsch ale, folks who live a few miles away in Düsseldorf are fiercely loyal to Altbier. Amber to copper in color, Altbier is a historic German ale style that used to be consumed all around the region, until pale lagers became popular. Moderate malt richness is balanced by German hops, with some Altbiers ending sweeter, and others offering a more hoppy, bitter finish (like
- my favorite). Like Kölsch, many Altbiers enjoy a cold lagering period that reduces fruity esters to low levels. Altbier offers 4.3–5.5% alcohol, a crisp, grainy malt character and a medium body. It's so enjoyable to wander the streets of Düsseldorf, visit all the Altbier taverns, drink lots of beer out of small glasses, and compare the flavor nuances of different breweries. The Uerige brewery tavern ranks as my favorite place in Dusseldorf to enjoy flavorful Altbier and hearty German cuisine in a traditional setting.