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How to Prepare for a Beer Tour
Sage Advice From the Iron Liver Tour Veteran
August 15, 2002
Written by Oakes
<P>To some people, vacation time means heading to the cottage. Well, here in Toronto, any cottage that you can actually drive to will set you back so much money that you have little choice but to vacation there exclusively for the next thirty years. So bugger that. To other people, it means blowing off to some beach and sipping drinks with palm trees growing out of them and then dancing all night at some club with a bunch of other tourists. Personally, I’m not a tourist, but a traveler. And while I enjoy meeting other travelers, I could live just comfortably if I never meet another tourist in my life, so you can have the beaches. So what is left but to take trips that interest you. If you are into art, go someplace with lots of museums. If it’s history that’s your thing, there are plenty of spots with a rich depth of history. If you’re reading this, however, you’re probably into beer. So why not take a beer trip? The English have a whole segment of the travel business based around beer trips, so the idea is not just for the chronics among us.
<P>So what kinds of beer trips are there? How does one prepare for a beer trip? What can a person expect when they go on a beer trip? Well, I’ll tell you. First, there are two kinds of beer trips – packaged and independent. Packaged tours usually involve riding around a region in a bus, touring breweries and many will be built around a certain event, such as Oktoberfest, or the 24uur. You get a guide, accommodations, most of your food, and all of your arrangements are done for you. You just pay and show up. The only work you really need to do is to research the company that you’re touring with, to make sure you don’t end up at some gigantic beer factory with a bunch of lager louts getting blasted off the house malt liquor.
<P>But packaged tours of any kind are not cheap. If you are tight on cash, good at organizing your own travel, or both, you’ll want to do an independent trip. I’ve done a few, the Iron Liver Tours I call them, so I’ve got some advice I can lend. The first thing you need to do is choose a destination. You need to visit a place with a wide variety of beers and breweries within reasonable distance of one another – you don’t want to spend your entire trip on trains and buses. Second, all of the regular issues – weather, ease of travel and accommodations, and costs – need to be in place. So whether you’ve settled on Bamberg or Brittany, Oregon or Ireland, the fun part of planning begins.
<P>I’ve found that to maximize your experience, you’ll want to schedule at least one beer festival on your tour. That way you can expose yourself to those small, country breweries that you might otherwise have been unable to visit. And you can talk to local beer lovers, some of whom might even speak English.
<P> But you don’t want to spend your whole trip at a festival – good beer is best consumed in good beer establishments. Once you’ve sorted out your basic itinerary, you need to find a listing of good places to consume your favourite liquid – pubs, biergartens, beer bars, and bottle shops (especially in Europe, where you can drink your beers in the park with your lunch). There is no definitive resource on the Internet, so it will take some work to compile a proper list. For example, various local CAMRA branches will have their own websites, listing past Pub of the Year winners for their region. Professional beer hunters like <a href=http:/www.netcom.ca/~jdoakes/toptaps.html>myself or<a hrefhttp://ohhh.myhead.org> Per Samuelsson have some pub guides on our websites as well. Some sites, like <a hrefhttp://www.belgianstyle.com>Belgianstyle.com specialize in certain regions, and their members have vast amounts of knowledge to share. A search on Ratebeer will yield a list of local micros and brewpubs. The brewpubs speak for themselves, but most micros will have web pages, too (we don’t have them all listed, btw, so be prepared to break out the search engine) and sometimes those web pages will contain listings of outlets for their products. There are bars listed in various publications, from the Pocket Guide to Beer to the Serious Drinker’s Guide to Amsterdam to the Good Beer Guide. I cannot put enough emphasis on the fact that if you take a half-assed approach to this and only try one or two sources, you put yourself at serious risk of going thirsty for a good pint. Effort made in researching this component of your tour will pay for itself, I can assure you.
<P>Now you know where you’re going, what you’ll be drinking, and where you are going to drink/buy it. What can you expect physically on a beer tour? Well, they are not easy. Unless you just got out of university, you are probably not accustomed to getting drunk every night, you will probably eat poorly, and a good night’s sleep is no guarantee. Expect to be hungover and tired a lot of the time (until you start drinking again!). To maximize your physical condition, I do have a few pointers: First, don’t start drinking too early, or if you do have a few with lunch, take several hours off before starting up again in the evening. Second, drink lots of water – you’ve heard it before but it’s worse on the road because the temptation to drink nothing but beer after 11am is that much stronger when you’re traveling. Third, eat a big lunch. You may be having too much fun to sit down for a large dinner, or you may not be that hungry with a stomach full of hoppy goodness, so starting your day with a full stomach will help you to avoid getting too drunk too fast. Lastly, show some discipline. Yes, it is hard to do when you feel like a kid in a candy store but if you can refrain from consuming that last tripel or doppelbock, you’ll probably thank yourself in the morning.
<P>There are some other things to know about beer touring. First, take careful notes. Why? Because you’ll never see some of those beers again and remembering what beers, what breweries, where they were from and what they tasted like is not as easy as it is back home when you can just go back to the bar and look at another bottle (and especially not when they are in foreign languages!). Second, shipping beer back home is expensive and should be done only if there are still classics you cannot get to. Drink the best stuff while you’re on the road and you’ll find you don’t need to haul so many bottles back. No point in paying a day’s wages to send yourself twelve mediocre beers, just because they come from Bohemia. Third, be sure to get out of the cities. They may offer the best beer selection, but unless you live in the country back home, a day in someplace small and quiet will be needed to give yourself a slight break (these trips have a pretty intense pace, normally). Just make sure there’s at least one decent drinking place where you’re staying, because nobody wants to get stuck drinking Heineken. Fourth, you never know when you’ll need an opener, corkscrew or glass, so don’t forget to bring them.
<P>I hope this gives you some guidance for planning your beer trips. If you love beer, you need to do this at least once in your life, and some of us do it as often as humanly possible. With a little bit of planning, and knowing what to expect before you start your trip, and you’ll find that you’ll never want to waste a week at the cottage or Cancun ever again.
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