A while back the BBC posted a feature titled “50 things to eat before you die” and I thought at the time that this would make a good topic for beer. So in the spirit of adventure and living life to the fullest, etc. etc., I’m coming up with the 50 beers to drink before you die, in ten weekly installments listing five beers each (in no particular order, other than whatever theme I fit them into).
This week’s theme is a little different from what I’ve been doing. Instead of picking a specific beer that you could (theoretically) get anywhere and drink at home, I’m going with styles of beer of a particular destination that you will have to travel to for the experience. “On the Scene” picks, as it were, and something everybody should do at least once.
In most cases, these are styles from which I’ve already picked bottled examples, but I think they’re worth revisiting for the world traveler.
Düsseldorf, Germany: Altbier
Altbier in German literally means “Old Beer” and refers to the old, pre-lager style of brewing this beer: it is brewed with ale yeast but stored at cold, lager-like temperatures for up to eight weeks. I once heard it opined that the only place in the world you can drink true Altbier is in Düsseldorf, where the style originated—other beer purporting to be an Alt doesn’t measure up. Ever since then, I’ve personally considered Altbier to be the modern Holy Grail of (regional) beer.
Al Korzonas in his excellent Homebrewing, Volume 1, describes Altbier thusly:
Düsseldorf-style Altbiers are very malty and intensely hoppy.
Some interpretations are not very fruity in the nose, but most are quite fruity… in both aroma and palate. Malt flavor and aroma are strong, but hop bitterness dominates the palate…. All are medium-bodied, but are still refreshing.
Should you find yourself in Düsseldorf, head down to the Old Town and enjoy an Alt or four at Zum Uerige, of which Michael Jackson writes, “Fashion icons, rock stars, punks, men in suits, old ladies with big hats… everyone in Düsseldorf drinks at Zum Uerige by the river.”
The one style of beer associated with location more than any other is lambic. The unique combination of wild yeast and bacteria that spontaneously ferments this beer is only found in a small region of Belgium, and it can be rightly argued that the only true lambic experience can be found in the country itself.
And while I covered Lindemans Framboise in Part 2 of this series, I don’t think any such list can be complete without including the straight-from-the-source version. There are actually four different styles of lambics available in Belgium: unblended (traditional), fruit, gueuze, and faro. Outside of the country, the bottled lambic you’ll find most often are the fruit and gueuze varieties; if you want to try the others, a trip to Belgium is in order.
Munich, Germany: Oktoberfest
This is much more an event-driven beer recommendation than for the style (which I already covered in Part 2). But if you’re going to drink an Oktoberfest, than what better place to do it than at the king of beer festivals in Munich? ‘Nuff said.
The Wikipedia Oktoberfest page has the dates for the next nine years—for 2007, it goes from September 22 through October 7. Buy your tickets now!
Burton upon Trent, England: Bitter (and others)
When one thinks of Beer in England, the first place that comes to mind is Burton upon Trent, in Staffordshire. In fact, Burton upon Trent has been associated with the English brewing industry for centuries, largely because of the high quality of water there, which produces excellent beer.
The bitter recommendation here is rather arbitrary, but since there’s no other ale as quintessentially English as a bitter, I went with it. But really, you could go with any local-brewed beer; the English pub experience is as much about the locale as the beer.
If you get there, try the Burton Bridge Brewery—still locally-owned and brewing authentic British ales.
Portland, Oregon: Varied
Like the event-driven Munich recommendation above, this is more of a place-driven recommendation and is not tied to any specific beer. But Portland, Oregon is a beer aficionado’s paradise: home to more breweries than any other city in the country, and possibly the world, Michael Jackson in 1999 considered Portland a contender for the title “Beer Capital of the World.”
Where to start? You might check out The Portland Brew Bus—they offer chartered and scheduled public tours of the brewery scene in Portland:
Our tour bus will take you around Portland to three or four breweries, where you can have samples of 15-25 different fresh beers. Our on-board guide gives a fun, educational tour of Portland, the history of craft brewing, and more.
A very good cross-section of Portland breweries participates.
If you’re looking for more of a “taste of Portland” as far as beer goes, three breweries I would recommend are Widmer (their Gasthaus), BridgePort Brewing, and Hair of the Dog. (Not to slight the many other really good breweries there, but to me these three are very “Portlandy.”) And for a beer? Since this is hop country, go with an IPA—perhaps BridgePort’s signature version.