Virtual tours of leading galleries and museums have been all the rage during the coronavirus lockdown. Stuart Forster has found an alternative form of armchair tourism and suggests drinking beer at home.
Savouring a freshly pulled pint of beer in a brewery taproom isn’t possible at present. That, though, doesn’t stop beer lovers enjoying produce from some of the world’s leading breweries at home while dreaming about future travel plans to the premises where those beers are brewed.
Disclosure: Some of the links below, marked with a (£), are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
The lockdown has resulted in a surge of interest for virtual tours of the world’s leading museums and art galleries. By contrast, the UK’s Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has reported that, on average, sales of its members beers dipped by 82 per cent. The majority of SIBA’s members offer free local deliveries.
I placed orders with two outstanding local breweries during the early phase of the lockdown. Alpha Delta Brewing and Two by Two Brewing both delivered beer to my door so that I could enjoy a beer at home.
Off-licences were designated to count among the nation’s essential retailers, so have remained open during the coronavirus lockdown. Along with online beer platforms such as TheDrinkShop, Beer Hawk and Beerwulf, off-licenses and supermarkets are continuing to sell beers from around the world. Together they present the possibility of organising an armchair world beer crawl (£):
Beers from Australia
Australian brewing has much to offer beyond the fizzy lagers normally so widely available in British pubs.
Little Creatures, an Aussie brewery which operates premises by London’s Regents Canal, produces a cracking, lightly hopped American-style Pale Ale (5.2 per cent alcohol by volume), with hints of citrus. The original taproom is in the main hall of the harbourfront brewery in Fremantle.
Coopers Sparkling Ale (5.8 per cent), a bottle-conditioned beer with a biscuity undertone, is brewed in Adelaide. Want to try it close to where it’s made? Travel to Adelaide and taste it at Coopers Alehouse, in the Earl of Aberdeen Hotel, a 19th century property with a shaded veranda.
Beer from Austria
Stiegl, Austria’s largest brewery, is based in Salzburg where the World of Beer provides insights into the story of the brand. Its most popular beer is Stiegl Goldbrau (five per cent), a golden Märzen — a smooth, full-bodied style of lager. The brewery’s onsite tasting cellar and the Stiegl-Keller, whose terrace overlooks Salzburg’s rooftops, count among top places to try it while on the road.
A range of creative beers are brewed with grain grown at the Stiegl-Wildshut beer farm, on the periphery of Salzburg, where you can taste the likes of Wildshuter Urbier (10.2 per cent), a beautifully crafted organic sour made with honey and dates. The beer is aged in amphorae
Unesco lists Belgium’s beer culture among humanity’s intangible cultural heritage. Westmalle Abbey, a monastic brewery, is celebrated for its red-brown Dubbel (seven per cent), a beer which undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle, helping to produce a long, balanced finish. (£):
The Pajottenland, west of Brussels, is famed for its complex, often tangy, Lambic beers whose fermentation in open tanks, known as coelships, is triggered spontaneously by wild yeasts. That process is explained during tours of the Lindemans brewery, where semi-sweet fruit beers, including blackcurrant flavoured Cassis (3.5 per cent) are also brewed.
Beer from Canada
Canadian brewing was long dominated by just a handful of players. Moosehead (five percent) is a lager brewed and exported by the country’s largest independent brewer, New Brunswick-based Moosehead Brewery.
Saint John is also the home of the Big Tide Brewery and Loyalist City Brewing Company craft breweries. The craft scene thrives in the country’s west, notably around Vancouver, in whose eastern fringe the Steamworks Brewery has its taproom. Heroica Red Ale (5.6 per cent), a popular North American style with a hint of caramel and a twist of hops, is served at Steamworks’ brew pub in the Gastown district, near the Vancouver Lookout.
Pilsner — the crisp, mildly hoppy style of lager that is the world’s most widely consumed beer — was first brewed in the Czech city of Pilsen. Pilsner Urquell (4.4 per cent) is still brewed to Josef Groll’s original recipe of 1842. Thinking of heading there? Central Pilsen’s Pivotečka (Rooseveltova 76/4 in Pilsen) bar serves broad a selection of draught beers, including local brews.
Budweiser Budvar (five per cent) is produced in Ceske Budejovice. The company has partnered with CzechTourism for the Cheers from Czech campaign, offering ‘care packages’, meaning six packs of beer, to travellers able to prove that their plans to visit the Czech Republic were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
France’s north-east has a strong tradition of brewing, including the bière du garde style of strong beer. It was originally made in farmhouses during the year’s cooler months and stored for summer consumption.
Brasserie Castelain’s Ch’ti Tripel (8.3 per cent), named after the regional dialect, is a strong and balanced pale ale with fruity tones. It is served at the Galibot, a bar and restaurant opposite the Louvre Lens.
In nearby Aix-Noulette, the Saint Germain Brewery produces a malty amber ale, Page 24 Reserve Hildegarde (6.7 per cent) and serves beers in its taproom. Looking to travel to France after the lockdown is lifted? Sample beers from across the region at La Capsule, a bar 20 minutes’ walk from Lille’s Eurostar station.
Munich’s 2020 Oktoberfest has been cancelled because of the coronavirus. Having lived in Munich, I know that locals tend to think of the Hofbräuhaus, in the heart of the city, as touristy. Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed numerous visits to that institution. Many of Munich’s residents favour other venues for a post-work beer, including the Augustiner-Keller, a beer hall with a sizable beer garden on Arnulfstrasse, a short walk from the city’s central railway station (£):
Augustiner Helles (5.2 per cent) is a crisp, sessionable lager that is ideal on balmy days. So too is wheat beer. Franziskaner Weissbier (five per cent) is sold in UK supermarkets; it has a cloudy appearance and a hint of banana in its flavour.
Bamberg, a two-hour train ride from Munich, is the home of the Franconian Brewery Museum and the Schlenkerla tavern, which serves Rauchbier (five per cent), a smoke-flavoured dark beer, direct from a wooden barrel.
Available from Tesco, Asahi Super Dry (5.2 per cent) lager is, as its name suggests, crisp. Slightly maltier, Kirin Ichiban (five per cent) is another Japanese lager available in the UK.
The Kiuchi Brewery — based in Naka, a two-and-a-half hour rail journey north-east of Tokyo — was originally a sake manufacturer. It brews Hitachino Nest Sweet Stout (four per cent), a beer with an aroma of roasted malt and chocolate. Dreaming of travelling and tasting draught beer on a night in Tokyo? Goodbeer Faucets, in the Shibuya district, serves 40, including several beers from Japan.
Amsterdam’s Heineken Experience draws more than a million visitors every year. Its tours convey the story of the company behind the widely available lager, a pilsner with an alcohol content of five per cent. A virtual tour of the brewery is available in the form of a 30-minute video which can be downloaded to enjoy as a form of armchair travel.
Meanwhile, the city’s Brouwerij ’t iJ represents a chance to combine a brewery tour with a visit to a windmill. Flink (4.7 per cent) is a mellow, unfiltered blonde ale with a fruity hint of hops.
If you’re interested in exploring beyond Amsterdam, stop by the Jopen Brewery, which is based at a former church in Haarlem, a city just 13 minutes’ train ride from the Dutch capital. Jopen’s produce includes Gin Trinitas Tripel (nine per cent), a limited edition, gin-infused variation on the punchy triple style of pale ale.
America’s vibrant craft brewing scene means a broad choice of characterful beers and urban taprooms.
Denver is dotted with craft breweries, including Great Divide, which operates the Barrel Bar in the RiNo district; Vanilla Oak Aged Yeti (9.5 per cent) is a viscous imperial stout with notes of coffee.
India Pale Ales (IPAs) vary from heavily hopped, almost chewy, brews popular on the west coast to the smoother more citrussy New England style. The Chicago-based Goose Island Brewing Company has a taproom on West Fulton Street and produces an aromatic, rounded IPA (5.9 per cent) that’s available in the UK.
Hopefully you enjoy your armchair tourism. If you have any beers that you’d like to recommend, you’re welcome to suggest them in the comments field below.
You can, of course, stay at home and purchase beer (£):
Stuart Forster is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and available for travel and beer-related writing and photography commissions.
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