Drinking a locally brewed beer is high on my list of things to do when I travel. It’s right up there with an epic hike, eating a (sometimes revolting) regional delicacy and running a 10K. I’ve had beers all across the United States, and from 44 degrees latitude south to near the Arctic Circle.
So, where are my favorite spots? Here they are. And be assured, I tried to get away from the same ol’ same ol’ and show you at least a few places that aren’t on your map yet. Let’s go!
Let’s get this out of the way: Foster’s is not Australian for beer. During my 2009 visit, the Aussie craft beer movement was still in its infant stages. We found succor in Sydney at the Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe. I learned about Redoak from the lone grumpy Australian I met in Katoomba. Sourpuss that he was, Redoak is proof that he knew his beer. I still remember its oatmeal stout with its hint of butterscotch. I wasn’t yet a huge India Pale Ale fan yet, but I’d bet Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe has a good one. And it’s slick, elegant hangout. It would be my first destination next time I arrive in Sydney.
There’s more to Japanese beer than Kirin and Saporro. Head to the Ropongi District. Evade the barkers trying to lure you into their loud, expensive nightclubs. Go down a staircase, and bask in the Ant ‘n’ Bee. During our visit, one of the waitresses radiated ecstasy from her recent visit to the American Craft Beer Festival. But she proved that Japan has its own craft beer pride. She hooked us up with a selection of regional brews, including a cask-conditioned stout, a strong ale and a harvest beer. The selection rotates – but chances are, you’ll still be able to get an order of incredible アントンビー六本木 Ant ‘n’ Bee fries to go with your brew.
The climate in New Zealand can grow anything edible. Including hops. Since my visit, craft beer has boiled over down there. I found Dux de Lux to be the top choice. You can find a Dux De Lux in Queenstown or Christchurch. It’s hard not to love a beer called the Black Shag Stout. But surprise! It was the Ginger Tom that stayed in my memory banks. The ginger-infused ale inspired me to put a ginger twist on my homebrewed India Pale Ale … which is currently the favorite among those I’ve forced to drink my homebrew. How’s that for a lasting impression?
In Flam, Norway, you’ll find Ægir Bryggeri. It couldn’t possibly be cooler if Vikings had chiseled it by hand from a solid block of kryptonite. There’s the architecture – based on a centuries-old stave church. There’s the dessert, a gooey brownie with ice cream and fruit compote. But none of this means anything without great beer. The India Pale Ale will please any hop lover. The Sumbel porter is also terrific, and then you can be ready to try the seasonals. How does a Cardinal Double Chocolate Chili Stout sound? Well, it’ll be even better when you get to swill it at the Ægir microbrewery.
Craftworks Tap House in Seoul is the total package – top-flight craft beer and awesome food. It’s a respite for those who long for a touch of Anglo-influenced cuisine. Myself? I can’t get enough bi bim bap, banchan and bulgogi. If you’re up for quesadillas and bangers ‘n’ mash, this is your place. I had the Geumgang dark ale and the Moon Bear India Pale Ale. Despite the craft beer status, they don’t have quite the alcohol percentage of North American brews. Still flavorful, still well executed, and still far better than anything else you’re likely to find in Seoul.
I live in a big country. And its pint glass overflows with killer craft beer. Since it’s my home country and it covers so much space, I’m going to give you TWO recommendations.
Alright, let’s start with the west. North of the hurlyburly that is San Diego, you’ll find Carlsbad. It’s no sleepy little town, but it’s far more relaxed than its neighbor to the south. It’s also the home of Pizza Port (there are other locations, too). I found this by accident – a nearby seafood restaurant had a long wait for a table, and I wandered in. And discovered a wonderland of craft beer, all from Port Brewing. Port has the distinction of being the only brewery that’s whipped up a pilsener that could get me excited. And it’s SoCal, so expect hard-hitting India Pale Ales, some Belgian fun and some stouts in the cooler months. The pizza ain’t bad, either. The place is also chaotic, fun, unpretentious and friendly.
Let’s go further north. In St. Paul, Minn., look for The Happy Gnome. It doesn’t brew its own. But it has assembled a collection of regional brews that will astound. The northern Midwest makes a good show, with stuff like Dragon’s Mill from New Holland Brewing; Pahoehoe blonde ale made with coconut water; and the hefty Scotty Karate from Dark Horse Brewing. The food is also excellent (game hen, coconut-beet risotto!), with dessert being a particular standout. The Happy Gnome creme brulee was worth every calorie.
Oh, hell – I changed my mind. I’m adding a third location. If you ever visit the Phoenix area, send an email my way. I’ll arrange to meet you at Papago Brewing. If you don’t like something in one of its 20-some rotating taps or in its huge refrigerated case, go drink some Budweiser or equally swilly Stella Artois. This week, I had an oak-aged Belgian quad from Sierra Nevada that blew me away. It’s in no way unusual to have something so awesome at Papago Brewing.
More on My List
There are places I didn’t visit, for one reason or another. But I will next time I’m in the area!
Boris Brewery (Jeju, South Korea)
I somehow missed Boris Brewery during my stay in the Hawaii of South Korea. Don’t make the same mistake. Word is, Brewmaster Boris knows how to make an India Pale Ale. This is a local favorite near Jeju City Hall. I like that the menu has Korean bar food. Do NOT make the mistake of going to Modern Time. That used to be Boris’ place, but it has taken a nosedive since his departure as brewmaster.
Monkey Wizard (Riwaka, NZ – near Nelson)
I must’ve looked so forlorn; both times my bus passed the Monkey Wizard (know known as Hop Federation), it was closed. How could I not want to drink craft beer at a place a called Monkey Wizard? Barley wines, Belgians, stouts … and a picturesque setting equal a great place to drink a pint. Oh, and there are magnificent hop field nearby. I can imagine that Monkey Wizard Brewery is tapped into the local hop sources. I can only guess how that impact the taste of its craft beer creations.