In almost every corner of the world, beer is a universal language and each country has their own unique take on it. From the age-old brewing traditions in Bavaria to experimental brews in the US, beer isn’t just about socialising, it’s about experiencing a local culture.
The US has over 5,000 breweries and counting – California alone has over 600 craft breweries, while Vermont has the most breweries per capita. There’s no state that doesn’t brew.
In Colorado, you can combine Rocky Mountain adventures with craft brews. It also hosts The Great American Beer Festival (Oct 5-7) that brings together hundreds of breweries. Washington hosts the Fresh Hop Ale Festival (Sep 30) in Yakima during the harvest season, showcasing over 100 beers brewed with hops picked within 24 hours before brewing.
Plenty of craft brewery trails are spread across the US, ranging from scenic regional routes like Jackson Hole and the Finger Lakes, to long-distance journeys like the Craft Beer Trail, a 4,000km road trip from Montana to Arizona where you can sample local brews amidst dramatic desert and mountain scenes, combining local culture and hiking trails. There are also plenty of craft beer-themed marathons and fun runs, like Buffalo’s Taptrails 6K.
Belgium is home to more than 1,500 different types of beer, including Belgian-style Abbey, Flanders, lambic and Trappist beers. Trappist beer is especially revered as there are only 11 Trappist breweries worldwide, with Belgium being home to 6 of them.
Rebuilt in 1998 after being damaged in WWI, the St. Benedictus Abbey in Achel is one of the only monasteries in Belgium with a brewery that welcomes visitors.
The Belgian Beer Routes includes a number of itineraries that take you through breweries, as well as historic villages and cities along the way. The Flanders region, covered by the bike routes, is known for its unique sour-flavoured Flanders red and brown ales; the latter is brewed primarily in West Flanders and can be found in most breweries.
The world’s first blond lager, Pilsner Urqell originates from the city of Plzeň, and continues to be produced today. Around Plzeň, a number of microbreweries have popped up over the last few years, including Purkmistr Brewery, best known for organising the annual Slunce ve skle (The Sun In Glass) festival (Sep 15-16). Plzeň’s other attractions include a pretty town square and historic underground tunnels of up to three levels under the whole Old Town area.
Nearby Prague is also home to a number of bars – like Zly casy and BeerGeek – that serve up local craft brews; while the original Czech style continues to be associated with the pale pilsner, new breweries tend to be more experimental. With over 300 craft breweries, there’s no shortage of variety.
Bavaria may be the most famous beer-brewing region in Germany, known for its weissbeir and rauchbier (smoked beer from Bamberg). The Bavarian Beer Trail Cycle takes you through the brewery-laden Aisch Valley, dropping by medieval towns like Bamberg, Rothenberg and Nuremberg. There are also ancient abbey breweries to visit, like the Andechs Monastery (est. 1712), owned and operated by Benedictine monks, and the Weltenburg Abbey (est. 620), the oldest monastic brewery in the world, famous for its black beer.
Cologne – or Köln – may be famous for its cathedral (one of the largest in the world, taking 700 years to build), but its other traditional attraction is its local brew called kölsh, a pale-coloured beer similar to pilsner that may not be brewed outside the Cologne region. It’s served in numerous centuries-old Brauhaus across Cologne, including Früh, Sion, and Pfaffen – each with its distinctive brew – making brewhouse-hopping a great way to explore the city.
Kölsch is served only in 200ml glasses, and often drunk in groups of mixed social standing to eliminate any exclusivity in its drinking culture – this also means that no kölsch has titles like ‘Premium’ or ‘Special’. Another social culture here is that ordering anything other than beer at a Brauhaus is frowned upon by the waiters, who are known to jest customers according to custom.
Breakfast of halve hahn (rye bread with cheese) is more commonly served with kölsh than coffee, the former served in a unique tray that holds 10 glasses. Another delicacy is Reibekuchen, a potato pancake served on select days of the week during fall and winter.
Yokohama is the home of Kirin beer, which paved the way for Yokohama’s – and Japan’s – now thriving craft beer scene. Spring Valley Brewery, a microbrewery in Kirin’s beer factory, offers brewery tours, tasting and pairing.
Yokohama is also home to Japan’s oldest craft beer brewery, Yokohama Brewery, a brewpub with a unique crew of opera-singing staff, as well as tiny Yokohama Bay Brewing. Both Baird Beer’s Bashamichi Taproom and Thrash Zone also serve their own brews, and there are plenty of craft beer bars spread around the city centre, serving brews from around Japan.
Yokohama hosts several beer festivals, including the large-scale Oktoberfest at the iconic Red Brick Warehouse (with over 130 types of beer) and The Great Japan Beer Festival (or BeerFes, Sep 16-18) bringing in hundreds of beer from all over Japan. Smaller craft beer events, like the BinCan Fes, add to the vibe that makes Yokohama a magnet for craft-beer lovers.