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Sunday, May 19, 2019

Six Country Tour

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale
A tale of an epic trip

That started from this Schwabian port

At the Alps tiny tip

 The mate was a mighty drinking man

The driver brave and sure

Two people set off that day

For a six-country tour….a six country tour

Every now and then friends propose something so radical you can’t help but jump on the beer wagon. Such was the case when my friend Peter proposed a one-day car trip visiting six countries. Because I eat sleep and breathe beer I thought “Hey, what if we visited or purchased beer from each of those countries?”  Peters rationale was sound, “How many people can say they visited six countries in one day?”  You had me at hello. Trip planning began in mid-April with Peter doing all the heavy lifting, identifying routes and brewery stops along the planned route. In Peters expert opinion the trip could be completed in 10 hours with no stops. We estimated 12 hours with our “Quick” brewery stops.  As the launch date drew closer it became clear that many European breweries are inexplicably closed on weekends, forcing us to seek an alternative. Where breweries were closed we would purchase locally produced beer at stores near the brewery.

The Route

The route would have us driving from Germany through Austria into Northern Italy. From Italy we would backtrack into Austria crossing into Switzerland and on to Lichtenstein. From Lichtenstein back into Switzerland then into the Alsace region of France before finally returning to Germany. For those keeping track that’s six countries including Germany.

It’s a cold rainy morning when the navigator drops me off in front of Peters house. A little after 6:00 am on Saturday morning we strike off in eager anticipation of the adventure ahead of us. Travelling south through the Schwabian Alps the rain tapers off. Approaching the Austrian border the sun breaks through the clouds revealing the amazing snow-covered peaks of the Alps.
Approaching Austria

Austrian Alps
 At 9:00 am we make our first stop of the day, purchasing a vignette (Road Tax) at a gas station just across the Austrian border. Travelling through the Austrian Alps the sites are awe inspiring. At every hairpin turn snow-covered mountains kiss the sky as beautiful ponds fill the valleys. I nearly forget about our beer mission. 

Entering Italy we opt for an unscheduled stop at Reschensee, the largest lake above 1000 m elevation in the Alps. Reshcensee is also manmade. Completed in 1950 a total of 163 homes were submerged during its creation. Only the steeple of a 14th century remains.  A stark reminder of the houses that were destroyed.

Reschensee Steeple
Leaving Reschensee it takes only a few minutes to reach Malles Venosta, home of Forsterbrau -Forst and our first beer stop of the day. Forsterbrau is the largest brewery in South Tyrol. They are also closed on Saturdays. Forsterbrau-Forst is a restaurant serving, you guessed it, Forsterbrau. Entering the smallish restaurant we ask the hostess if she speaks English, she does not. We also strike out with French and German. Fortunately a local diner offers translation services, explaining we can’t purchase bottled beer there, but we can find some at the grocery store down the street. Twenty minutes and 14 bottles of beer later we strike off back the way we came, next stop, Lichtenstein.
Leg Two
The rain returns as Italian sprinklers shoot across fields of dandelions; we don’t know why. The second leg of our journey has us briefly back-tracking north to Austria, then west into Switzerland, with a scheduled beer stop in Lichtenstein. Much like the first leg the second leg takes us through amazing scenery, not the least of which is the Arlberg tunnel. The Arlberg Road Tunnel is Austria’s longest at 13.9 kilometers long. At the time of its opening in 1978 it was the longest tunnel in the world.
Arlberg Tunnel
 Since our return route took us through Austria and Switzerland we decide to make our beer purchases on our return. Both Austrian and Swiss beer are heavily influenced by Germany, sharing many of the same styles. The same can be said of at least one brewery in Lichtenstein. The Lichtenstein town of Balzers is home to Prinzenbrau. Founded in 2010 Prinzenbrau adheres to the German Purity Law of 1516. They are also closed on weekends, which is why we found ourselves in a small locally owned liquor store. While the store contained all sorts of liquor there were only a few bottles of Swiss beer on the shelf. Inquiring about beer we are once again directed to a grocery store around the corner. Here not only did we find various styles of Prinzenbrau but also a wide variety of craft beer brewed by Lichtensteiner Brauhaus. Exiting the store with two large bags of beer we hit the road again. Next stop France.
The Third Leg
Leaving Lichtenstein we struck off northwest for France. The Alsace region of France is well known for its vineyards and wine. What most people don’t know is that the Alsace region is also home to many French Craft Breweries. In the Colmar region alone there are more than six breweries. Just northwest of Colmar is Brasserie du Vignoble, a nano brewery with a quaint tasting room. Unlike the rest of Europe French breweries are open on the weekend. Entering the tasting room I immediately order their BDA (Belgian Dark Ale). Unlike traditional Belgian beers BDA is stout-like with hints of coffee. Color me impressed. We leave Brasserie du Vignoble with a variety of bottles, tossing them in with the dozens of other beers we have purchased throughout the day.
Brasserie du Vignoble
Homeward Bound

As we drive from France back to Stuttgart we reflect on the days adventures. Mountains, tunnels, vineyards, and yes, let’s not forget the beer. SO much beer. So much so that it takes Peter and I a full 20 minutes to sort out. “One for you, one for me. Two for you, one for me”.  While most people don’t understand the intrigue and impetus for this trip I can some it up in one word, memorable. Not many people can say they travelled 15 hours, 650 miles, visiting six countries while buying beer along the way. Good friends+good beer=great memories.  Next year, seven countries!

Until next time,



Sunday, May 12, 2019

Dutch Treat

Keukenhof Gardens

As the Navigator and I prepare for what will likely be our last summer in Europe we are frantically compiling a list of places we have yet to visit. Therefore on Easter Monday we found ourselves hurtling down the autobahn toward Amsterdam. The impetus for the trip was not beer, but tulips?  Yes, you read it correctly, tulips. No this isn’t some new millennial slang term for a sour beer but rather one of the Navigators bucket list items. Like any good beer obsessed spouse, I did a little research before embarking the tulip express, identifying an actual brick and mortar homebrew shop along with a couple of breweries. All’s fair in love and beer.

 My tens of followers may not be aware, but Easter Monday is a holiday across many parts of Europe. As we hurtled through parts of Belgium into the Netherlands, we encountered not less than 15000 motorhomes and tag-along camper trailers on the highway. (I may be exaggerating). Approaching the southern suburbs of Amsterdam, the temperature continued to rise, approaching 80 degrees Fahrenheit by late afternoon. I selected accommodations strategically located in the North Sea waterfront area of Zandvoort, driving distance to both the world famous Keukenhof Gardens and a couple of breweries. Approaching Zandvoort it became painfully obvious that the warm weather combined with the holiday sent the entire Dutch population to the beach. One hour and 5 kilometers later we arrived at our hotel
After schlepping our luggage to our room and spending 30 minutes trying to lock our hotel room door the Navigator and I were in dire need of sustenance.  Wanting the full Dutch culinary experience, we opted for the first restaurant we encountered, an Italian café. Not surprisingly the café offered two beers on tap, Heineken and Heineken. With sparks flying from our cutlery we wolfed down our meal before taking a short five-mile stroll along the beach.  Admiring the sunset on the North Sea I dreamed of homebrew shops and breweries.
The following morning we are awakened by the melodic shrieks of seagulls before we struck off for the day’s adventures, Keukenhof Gardens, a wool shop in downtown Amsterdam, followed by dinner at Jopen Brewery.  Unfortunately only two of these things would happen. As soon as we arrived at Keukenhof I had an epiphany. At least 13182 of some 15000 campers we encountered during our previous day’s drive were parked in the parking area. Camper mystery solved. Despite the plethora of campers the first 90 minutes of our visit were quite pleasant as we strolled comfortably around the world’s largest flower garden.  Suddenly, swarms of camper driving tourists surrounded us as they jockeyed for the perfect selfie. By noon we had our fill of both tulips and tourists, striking off for the wool shop in downtown Amsterdam. One down, two to go.
Entering the heart of Amsterdam, I’m amazed by the size of the streets. While narrow streets are perfect for the thousands of bicycles, not so much for a big American SUV. The city is busy with bicycles, mopeds and tourists scurrying back and forth. The smell of marijuana hangs in the air. I would smoke marijuana too if I had to live in this madness. Color me unimpressed. A mere 90 minutes later the navigator exits the wool shop with not less than 10 lbs. of yarn and assorted yarning books.  Next stop brewery!
Jopenkerk (Jopen Church) opened in 2010. Jopen is some of the best Dutch craft beer I have had. I quickly put their address in Garmin bitch. My heart races as I rapidly push the accelerator of my big American SUV. Thirty minutes later I find myself in a suburb in the middle of a construction detour. 20 minutes later I utter a few expletives, deciding to cut my losses on the narrow streets.  The brewery would wait for another time. I punch in the address for our hotel. Or so I thought. Thirty minutes later I found myself back where we started, in downtown Amsterdam. This has turned into a trip from hell. Two and half hours after leaving Amsterdam the first time we arrive at our hotel. Still no beer.
Our final morning in the Netherlands a sense of urgency falls over me. Today I’m finding beer. Brouwmaatje is a Dutch homebrew shop a stone’s throw from Schiphol Airport. We enter the shop shortly after their 0900 opening time and are immediately greeted by Whiskey and Guinness, the shop owners two cats. Despite the shops modest size, it contains everything a homebrewer could need and probably a few things they don’t. As John the owner boxed up my rather large homebrew supply purchase, he mentioned a new brewery some 4 kilometers away. John hurriedly walks back to his office returning with the brewery’s address and a bottle of homebrew from his homebrew club.  John is good people.
Brourij De 7 Deugden
Six minutes and 4 kilometers later we arrive at Brourij De 7 Deugden.  Brourij De 7 Deugden was created in 2010 and has occupied its current space for just over a year. Entering the brewery, we are greeted by one of the owners, Mrs. Haakma.  She eagerly shows around the facility explaining the new Czech produced brewing system occupying their new brewhouse. In their smallish tasting room lined with shelves of Brourij De 7 Deugden bottles Mrs. Haakma suggests I sample their spring seasonal dubbed Spring Tijm. A Pale Ale with just a hint of thyme its surprisingly good.
Spring Tijm
As I sipped my beer Mr. Haakma walked in, offering additional background on his brewery and his choice of beer styles. “Why would I brew an IPA? How would I make my IPA standout from the hundreds of others?” He makes a valid point which is driven home by his beer which include ingredients like thyme, cloves and others. In addition to their beer styles their employees make Brourij De 7 Deugden truly special  As stated on the brewery’s website “We employ for whom a normal job is not self-evident”. Brourij De 7 Deugdens brew-master is deaf. The gentleman operating the bottling line has cerebral palsy. Mr. Haakma explained to us “We work until our employees need to go home, whether its 2 hours or 6 hours we stop bottling and begin anew the next morning.”  What a rarity in the age of the almighty dollar/euro. A business where the employees truly come first.

Despite the somewhat bumpy start to my Amsterdam visit my time at both the homebrew shop and brewery reinforced the common belief that beer brings people together.  A genuine “Dutch Treat”.

Until next time,