Arguably, the United States is brewing some of the best beer in the world right now. (Sorry world, but it’s true.) This is a recent phenomenon though. Before Americans learned to produce and savor the finer flavors of 99 IBU double IPAs, barrel aged sours, and yeasty farmhouse ales, we were keg-standing alcohol-spiked stagnant water at frat parties and calling it beer. Our only foray into good beer was when we splurged for a night out on that backpacking adventure across Europe.
Today, it seems that the United States has forgotten that before we had an exploding craft beer scene, we were looking across the pond for beer-flavored beer. While our summer navigating the hostels of Europe may lay recessed in our memories, those European cities are still brewing world-class beers steeped in a history much richer than our decade old boom. In fact, many of our own craft breweries make pilgrimages to Europe to learn from centuries old traditions.
Why shouldn’t you follow their lead and plan a beer vacation? Here are 7 European cities that are worthy of a proper pub-crawl:
Okay, maybe I was exaggerating just a little that the United States currently brews the best beer in the world. A huge nod goes out to Belgium as a world leader in beer. Belgium should be the first stop on your European beercation. Fly into Brussels, rent a car, and head directly to Westvleteren in the heart of the Flanders region.
It’s here where many beer experts argue that Saint Sixtus Abbey brews the best beer in the world. While the abbey itself is not open to the public, visitors can sample the monks’ world famous quad, Westy 12, at In De Vrede Café across the street. Other breweries to note in the region are St Barnabas Brewery, which brews a close replica to Westy 12 and has a guesthouse, and De Struise Brouwers, a newer brewery, which is Belgium’s correct answer to craft beer.
Bamberg, not Munich, is the true capitol of the Bavarian beer culture and is a must stop on your European beer odyssey. The UNESCO World Heritage City boasts 9 breweries amongst a population of only 70,000. In the surrounding countryside are 300 additional breweries, many of which are easily accessible by bicycle.
While you’re in Bamberg, be sure to try Schlenkerla’s Rauchbier, Bamberg’s stylistic claim to fame. To brew the beer, brewers dry the malts over an open flame lending a deep, smoky richness to the beer.
While Munich’s beer scene tends to lean macro instead of micro (Hofbräu, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Erdinger, and Löwenbräu), the city is the birthplace of many beer styles known around the world. Are you a fan of Dunkel, Märzen, Oktoberfest, Doppelbock, or Helles? All have roots in the brewing traditions of Munich.
Not to mention, Munich is also home to the world’s most famous beer festival – Oktoberfest. So they got that going for them…