The Craft Beer Revolution Goes Global
You might not realize it but the surge in popularity for craft beers and small batch microbreweries is not just an American phenomenon. It has had a global impact and that’s great news for avid travelers who also happen to love beer. What could be better than visiting a city on your bucket list that also happens to be a thriving center for beer brewers as well as an ideal location for sightseeing, local history and cultural events? The following list highlights six beer meccas that are generating the biggest buzz among beer lovers today.
Most beer aficionados know that Belgium beer stands in a unique class of its own with more than 400 different varieties that encompass such styles as lambic, white, brown and golden beer. And the ideal place for a crash course is the laid-back and picturesque Medieval city of Bruges which offers an amazing array of venues for its size. Start your visit with a tour of the historic De Halve Maan Brewery, founded in 1856, and stick around to sample some award-winners in their Tavern like the Straffe Hendrik Wild, a traditional triple beer. As for drinking rooms, ’t Brugs Beertje has a friendly, casual vibe and a menu that demonstrates the range of Belgium beer with over 300 choices while Comptoir Des Arts serves up 90 selections in its cellarpub along with live blues and jazz acts. Other standouts include Staminee de Garre, a hidden gem on a side street that is famous for their house beer Tripel van de Garre (with an alcohol level of 11 percent, you aren’t allowed to order more than three), and Bierbrasserie Cambrinus, which serves excellent Flemish cuisine made with some of its beers like the beef stew cooked in Gulden Draak (dark strong ale).
A tradition of beer making is part of this city’s DNA with such still-active legends as the 140-year-old Caledonia Brewery, which produces such winners as Deuchars IPA and Flying Scotsman Pale Ale, and the Innis & Gunn line of beers aged in oak bourbon barrels. But the microbrew scene has also been ramping up here for some time with such well-established players as Jeremiah’s Taproom with sixteen taps and an extensive list of Scottish and English bottled craft beers and The Bow Bar featuring cask house ales and rotating specials from saisons to black IPAs to barley wines. Other popular favorites include The Cumberland Bar, a cozy, wood-paneled beauty of a pub with unique offerings like Williams Caesar Augustus (a lager/IPA hybrid), The Hanging Bat with over 20 draft choices and a 100-plus bottled beer list in a cave-like setting lit by candlelight and gas lamps, and Andrew Usher & Co., a brewpub in a 19th century home serving imaginative creations like mint chocolate porter, banana bread rye ale or Belgian Abbey style beers.
With the end of communism and the beginning of a free market in the early 1990s, Krakow has slowly but surely emerged as the number one destination in Poland for local craft beers. Omertà Pub is credited with starting the beer renaissance, first selling bottled beers from smaller breweries before becoming a full-fledged brewpub with one bar dedicated to Polish microbrews like Pierwsza Pomoc (First Aid) and the other serving up Europe’s top craft beers. The historic C.K. Browar is another excellent place to sample unfiltered lagers and dark beers such as the CK Jasne (a light wheat beer) and the CK Dunkel Wizen. Also recommended are Strefa Piwa, a cosy, friendly pub where the hardcore craft beer enthusiasts hang out, the unpretentious House of Beer, offering the largest selection of bottled beers in town amid four large pub rooms, and Stara Zajezdnia in the Jewish Quarters with its sprawling arched roof, 600-seat restaurant and reputedly the longest bar in the country serving intriguing items like a dark toffee-scented stout and an apple beer.
One place where the rise of craft beer has had a significant effect on beer drinking habits is Australia where micro-beer sales account for an amazing 30 percent of the country’s beer market. And Melbourne is well on its way to becoming the go-to city for the best in microbreweries, beer halls and taprooms. Mountain Goat Brewery, founded in 1997, helped pave the way with its winning formula of creating rare, small-batch releases like Surefoot Stout. Since 2001, Little Creatures has developed a fervent following with their distinctive take on ales, pilsners and seasonal brews and 2 Brothers is a more recent up-and-comer whose owners Andrew and David Ong first learned their craft working at breweries in America (Kung Foo Rice Lager and Voodoo Porter are among their in-demand creations). Among the most popular beer bars are Forester’s Beer & Music Hall which offers 50 beers on tap - 32 of them dedicated to craft brews - and The Terminus Hotel with a beer garden famous for its Asian-inspired food and a gastropub focusing on steaks and a 16 beer tap rotation schedule.
Germany has always been an epicenter of beer culture and Munich can claim to be the country’s crown jewel due to the presence of seven world class breweries (including Hofbrau, Lowenbrau, Spaten and Paulaner) and serving as host to three annual beer festivals, Oktoberfest, Fruhlingest and Starkbierzelt. But commanding equal attention is the burgeoning craft beer scene which offers beer lovers the opportunity to experience a non-traditional German style like the triple-fermented Bourbon Bock at Brauerei im Eiswerk (located in a reconverted ice making plant) and then go native and have a mug of Hofbrau lager with roasted pig knuckle at the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) beer garden. But if you want to focus solely on Munich’s craft beer happenings, the Tap-House is a great place to start with over 40 taps and fan favorites like an oak barrel aged doppelbock or a marzen lager. Other high profile trendsetters are Giesinger Brau, an unpretentious garage brewhouse specializing in unfiltered dark beers, Red Hot Bar, a great place to satisfy your IPA and pork cravings at the same time, and Crew Republic, which one reviewer described as “Portland meets Munich” due to the grunge-glam feel of the place and tasty brews like Foundation 11 (pale ale) and Roundhouse Kick (imperial stout).
Until recent times, the best known beers from Japan have been the pilsner style offerings from Sapporo, Kirin Ichiban, Asahi and Suntory but all that is bound to change as the craft beer revolution sweeps the country with Tokyo leading the charge. While you won’t find any of the famous breweries located here like Baird and Kiuchi, you will find an abundance of brew and food venues with craft beers as the focal point. At the top of the list is Popeye which offers 70 beers on tap (mostly Japanese microbrews with some European and American imports) and a lively bar scene of locals and tourists mixing it up and eating snacks like grilled Camembert and Japanese beer pickles. Other top contenders are Goodbeer Faucets with a state of the art tap system and popular brews like their Endless Brown Ale, Devilcraft, an outfit opened by three Americans in 2011 which is winning praise as much for its craft beers as its Chicago-style pizzas and all eight locations of Craft Beer Market which are often standing room only like the original 40-seat pub at Toranomon (their West Shinbashi Ale is highly recommended).