Beer destinations: Where to head for the world’s best brews

Michael Donaldson shares a beer lover’s wishlist for the best destinations in the world.

Bamberg — Smoko time

Franconia is the historical home of lager — the cool climate and underground caves suited lager brewing before anyone understood yeast. You could call it the spiritual home of German beer. I’d bypass Munich and its beer festival, dodge hip Berlin and (only just) cut out Cologne and its famous Kolsch in favour of Bamberg, known as Franconia Rome for its seven church-topped hills. And Bamberg is the home of Rauchbier — beechwood smoked beer — which makes it a dream destination for me.

Galway — Hooked on IPA

In this case IPA stands for Irish Pale Ale — particularly the version made by Galway Hooker. Galway in the west of Ireland is a spectacular and wild weather-beaten coastal town full of narrow streets and narrower pubs. There’s nothing better than finding a nook or cranny of one its many wood-panelled pubs and having a Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale — a zingy but well-balanced pale ale — named after the famous sailing boats that tackle the wild Atlantic.

Brussels — Beer heaven

My first visit to Belgium was to Leuven where I didn’t have a single Stella Artois. Instead I dipped into pages-long beer menus I hardly understood (I was a beer neophyte back then) and played backgammon. I want to go back to Brussels to visit the famed Brasserie Cantillon for a gueuze (pronounced gooze) — a blended beer made up of Lambics (wild fermented ales) of different tastes and vintages, aged in oak barrels .

Vermont — Artisan’s dream

The Alchemist brewery in Stowe, Vermont, has legendary status as the creator of Heady Topper — the beer that sparked the hazy IPA revolution. The beer long had mystical status — it was available only on set days from a small retail shop and people would drive for miles and queue for hours to get it. It’s way more freely available now and The Alchemist has opened a second, larger brewery. But Heady Topper beer remains a regional speciality — you literally have to go there to buy it, which is kinda cool.

I’m obsessed with Scandi Noir — can’t get enough of that dark brooding TV genre. The Killing and The Bridge were both filmed extensively in Copenhagen’s meatpacking district and that’s where you’ll find Warpigs brewpub, a Danish-American collaboration between Denmark’s top craft brewery, Mikkeller, and American legends, 3 Floyds. Staying with the noir theme I’d have their Coffee Berliner Weisse.

Mumbai — the final frontier

The final frontier is a reference to my last visit to India, as a sports journalist, covering Steve Waugh’s Australian cricket team as they tried to conquer India in 2001. Waugh dubbed India the final frontier for his all-conquering side (and they fell short in a dramatic test series, losing 2-1). Back then it felt like the wild west when it came to beer. We drank a lot of the sponsor-supplied Foster’s on that trip. I’d love to go back to Mumbai — one of the world’s great cities IMHO — and try the raft of new craft breweries booming there. I figure it will be like the New Zealand beer scene circa 1995.

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