Craft Beer and World Travels

I keep a fairly low profile with this blog and don’t talk about other interests I have on it all that often.  I may mention a few here and there, but I don’t touch upon them in great depth.  But something I am truly passionate about and have been for nearly twelve years is craft beer.  Does that ‘twelve years’ date me a bit?  Probably…  Sorry to those of you who could have possibly believed I was still in my twenties (and a sincere ‘thank you’ if you did).

Birthday beer drinking a Bogota Beer Company craft beer in Cartagena, Colombia

<Celebrating my 31st birthday solo in 2014 in Cartagena, Colombia with a Bogota Beer Company brew.>

I have never found a germane way to incorporate that interest on this blog, on the other hand.  I mostly write about Scandinavia and the east, and writing about beer just seemed to be a bit ill-suited, even if I was trialing beers in those regions.  Besides… it’s not like I could afford to drink beer when I lived in Norway.  Well, at least not all that often.

But beer plays a factor in the way I travel to an extent.  If I’m financially deprived (my way of saying ‘on a ramen noodle diet for the month’), I sometimes look at Pint Price for the cheapest places to grab a drink around the globe.  Regardless of whether or not I plan to drink in the location, the price of a pint is typically a decent indicator of the costs of other goods there.

Craft beer in Helsinki
Bartender at Hilpeä Hauki in Kallio, Helsinki

<Ain’t no craft beer scene as undiscovered as Helsinki’s is at the moment.  This is from Hilpeä Hauki in Kallio.  Drinking craft beer is just one of the many fun things to do in Helsinki.>

I also will chat with local or craft breweries prior to going to get an idea of the scene.  Yes, I actually make contact with these people beforehand.  They inform me about locations around the country to find their beers and will also give me the names of the best bars and pubs in the cities I plan on traveling to.  This has been immensely helpful on more than one occasion.  It is not to say that I won’t pop into local bars whilst perusing the city because I tend to frequent these more and rarely make any solid plans.  But I always make an effort of visiting at least one or two of the bars suggested for a good craft beer.

One of my favorite things about craft beer is the way certain countries are embracing it these days.  Did you know Belarus has a pretty decent beer and craft beer scene?  You may not find out about it via the internet, but if you play around on Untappd, the Belarusians on the craft beer app use it with fervor.  A craft and imported beer pub has even opened in recent times.  Ukrainian craft beers are starting to pop up in the country, particularly in L’viv and Kyiv.  Bratislava has a worthy bar (near the fortress no less) called Le Šenk that specializes in Slovakian and Czech craft beers, with a few from elsewhere.  Craving Hungarian craft beer?  You’ll have your pick in Budapest.  But make sure you stop by Jónás Craft Beer House and have a drink literally right on the river.  It is my favorite place for a beer in the city.  And Estonia?  Sooo far ahead of the game right now.  Gambrinus off of Rüütli in Tartu is amongst one of the best craft beer shops I’ve seen anywhere in the world.  And Estonian craft beers are good.  Really good.

Gambrinus craft beer shop in Tartu, Estonia

<Gambrinus in Tartu, Estonia.>

Everything I wrote about probably means very little to those of you lacking interest in craft beer.  No shame- I like wine but can’t tell the difference between a carton of the cheap stuff and a bottle costing $200, so I completely get it.  But… the craft beer culture in certain countries is actually a bigger deal than many consider it to be.

Just twenty-five years ago, it was illegal to be an entrepreneur in the Soviet Union.  Yep.  If you were a ‘creative’ at the time, you almost always had to join a ‘creative union’ which was under strict ideological supervision by the Communist Party.  And these parties did not include entrepreneurs, per say.  They included writers, artists, cinematographers, musicians, etc.  I’m not saying one ideology is better than another and I surely don’t engage in politics on this blog, but if you can wrap your head around the aforementioned information, you can truly understand the importance of craft beer, and other like entities, in the east today.  This most definitely includes Mother Russia, where the entrepreneurial renaissance of the 1990s has turned lines for bread into lines for global investment opportunities, one spellbinding idea at a time.  Today, less than half of Russians believe entrepreneurship is a viable career choice, but that number is proliferating as our world continues to become flatter and better connected digitally.

The east aside, I will still almost always choose to support smaller and more local businesses headed by a creative soul with a dream.  Granted, all businesses are pretty much birthed that way.  But there is something truly special about going to a recently opened microbrewery founded by a guy who traveled the United States and picked up an affinity for the stuff along the way.  Or going to an artisanal coffee shop in Florence opened by a couple who found a passion for the stuff during their short stint in Australia.  I don’t define these people as hipsters for this could very well be me if I ever took the time to brew my own stuff.

Hipster in Bratislava serving up some craft beer

<Okay, he is probably a hipster.  Bratislava, Slovakia.>

In 2009, I thought it would be cool to drink a Kona Brewery Longboard Lager and an Alaskan Brewing Company beer (can’t remember which specific beer) side by side in Astoria, Oregon at a local fish and chips shop.  You couldn’t find the latter on the east coast or Great Lakes region of the United States, and I hadn’t really seen Kona too available either.  A year later, I found myself in Kona, Hawaii at the brewery itself.  Three years ago in Oslo, I sat at a local pub and ordered a Kona beer on my birthday.  It brought back fierce memories.  Only a beer or a certain song has the ability to encapsulate me with such stirring recollections.  You can even find Kona beer here today in Frankfurt.  Anyone who knows how pitiful the craft beer scene in Germany is knows that only a handful of beers can be found in this country from abroad.  Every once in a while I will grab a Kona, not for the taste, but for the memories and nostalgia the beer brings me.  And from the bigger picture, I can proudly say I helped support someone’s dream which started with bottling beers and kegs in Hawaii in 1995 and can now be found in over twenty-six countries and all fifty states.

Djævlebryg Gudeløs russian stout from Denmark

<Djævlebryg Gudløs, Imperial Stout from Denmark.  Gudløs means ‘Godless’ in Danish and part of the proceeds made from this beer go to the Danish Atheist Society.  You can get drunk and donate money at the same time.>

So, what does this have to do with my blog?  Pretty much nothing.

…….but sometimes (and just sometimes I promise) I’m going to write about the beer and breweries I’ve experienced while traveling, regardless of whether it is from a road trip through the Florida Keys, a quick jaunt to Bratislava, or a long week in Kyiv.  And sometimes I will share my experiences on social media whether I’m visiting breweries in Burlington, Vermont or enjoying a seaside beverage in Portugal.

Cigar City's "Florida Cracker" served at Cork and Stogies in Key West, Florida

<Enjoying a Witbier by Cigar City at my favorite place for a drink in Key West- Cork and Stogie>

I rarely incorporate alcohol or beer on this blog, aside from my last two yearly roundups, but someone out there knows my passion for it because I do get asked questions on a more frequent than you’d expect basis.  I used to conduct beer tastings in the US, I’ve worked behind the scenes on a travel show for the Travel Channel (regarding alcohol, of course) creating itineraries and contacts in certain countries, and I spend a lot of my time traveling interacting with young, and occasionally older, entrepreneurs and creative minds who just want to get their product and brand out there.  It would be a shame to not subsume some of that information on a platform like this every once in a while.

Craft beer has played an important factor in travel for me over the years and I can’t wait to share some of the cool breweries and people I’ve met over the years on my little piece of the web.

Craft Beer and World Travels- a synopsis of how major of a role craft beer has played in my travels around the globe.

  • Amanda
    Posted at 08:30h, 23 February Reply

    Yay! I’m so excited to read more about your beer-y travels. We need to go on a craft beer trip together sometime as no one I know is as into beer as I am.

    Also…there’s an awesome beer shop/brewery thing in Hannover with tons of bottles from all over Germany. If you ever find yourself in the city, stop by. Julika and her boyfriend also seem to be trying some new German craft beers every weekend so maybe they have tips on good ones?!

    • Megan
      Posted at 08:56h, 23 February

      thanks love- i knew if anyone understood the importance of the stuff it would be you! too bad you’re not closer to go for that weekly (okay… daily) beer with me haha!

      i’ll have to ask julika about it! as for now, i know every single craft brewery in germany (some of them personally, embarrassingly enough). frankfurt is lightyears behind with the stuff, but hannover, bonn, hamburg, and a few other places are making a bigger effort. with that said, i can still count off the entire list of breweries here. my two favorites are actually out of munich (and union & crew republic). i know the second one personally and i think they are the best in all of germany, but some other ones are making an effort to catch up!

      Thankfully, travels keep me sane from that and I can still experience the good stuff around Europe! I’m going to be in Italy later this summer and may need your help on some brewery information :):)

  • Nick @ concrete and kitsch
    Posted at 10:02h, 23 February Reply

    I used to be pretty into the craft beer scene locally here in the Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon, mostly), and am kind of sad I don’t explore this much when abroad anymore. My husband will drink local beers wherever we travel – he agrees with you that Estonian beers were awesome – and I’ll typically have a sip or two, but my palate is so unrefined these days, I can’t really tell the difference anymore. Great to read your perspective on it – if you ever end up in Japan, you’ll find some great ones there (surprising, I know)!

    I guess my equivalent would be cheesy pastries? Can I be a cheesy pastry connoisseur? ;-)

    • Megan
      Posted at 10:41h, 23 February

      ahhhh your husband likes estonian beers?! :) i was so shocked by the selection and market there. i figured it would be grand considering helsinki has been moving breweries down there for some time and the estonian people are creative in general, but it even left me surprised!

      yea i heard japan has a raging craft beer scene- i actually had some beers from there in tartu from that beer shop i mentioned in the post.

      cheese pastries!? yes please. im lactose-intolerant but i dont even usually care when it comes to cheese and i eat it anyway and just deal with the stomach issues. how pathetic is that?!

    • Nick @ concrete and kitsch
      Posted at 12:12h, 23 February

      Oh yeah, I am definitely not great with dairy myself, but just go all out when I travel because I can’t not drink and not eat cheese. Cruel and unusual.

      But yeah, burek, banitsa, khachapuri – I’ll take it all!

    • Megan
      Posted at 12:58h, 23 February

      i fully intend to eat my body weight in khachapuri in kyiv next week. that is where i first fell in love w/ georgian food :D

  • Emily
    Posted at 10:52h, 23 February Reply

    You should definitely incorporate this into your blog more! I’m not a beer drinker, but my husband would be very thankful of your inside knowledge if/when we visit places where you share great breweries and such.

    • Megan
      Posted at 11:10h, 23 February

      that makes my heart happy :):) i think if i could get craft beer in copious amounts here in germany id probably feel less inclined to travel with such purpose (of drinking it!) but yea… that is where i stand now! and have for a while :) ill definitely have some stuff coming out in the future! hope all is going well in the 804!

  • grammy goodwill
    Posted at 09:41h, 23 February Reply

    I know nothing about craft beer or even regular beer. Last year I tried to understand my son’s explanation of them, but yours makes more sense. I love your story about the Kona beer and its history. This was very interesting to read. I never would have thought to explore something like this as part of my traveling. (You’ve made me wish I liked beer!)

    • Megan
      Posted at 10:39h, 23 February

      my thighs wish i didnt know anything about any type of beer ;)

      im glad you found this post interesting despite! thanks so much for your comment! hope all is going well back in VA :)

  • Rachel
    Posted at 16:16h, 23 February Reply

    I’m not sure about FFM, but we actually have a pretty decent craft beer scene here in Berlin. More than a few Berlin based breweries, a LOT of bars specializing in craft beer, and Stone just opened up a Berlin branch. Pop on over and try some :)

    • Megan
      Posted at 16:28h, 23 February

      i know berlin makes craft beers more accessible, but the amount of craft breweries in germany is still significantly lower than most other countries… :( i think the reinheitsgebot is holding them back big time (most all german and international craft breweries will tell you this too). it is so funny that goses and rye beers are traditionally german but became nearly extinct due to reinheitsgebot and now they are making a huge comeback… everywhere else. haha!

      ive been to berlin quite a bit and never found the selection to be much different than here in frankfurt (frankfurt has good selection for germany because of the amount of expats and americans here). and i mean ‘good selection’ for germany. most of the craft beer enthusiasts here have just given up on the scene… even many of the bars are crossing over into gin because it is the next ‘big trend’ here. sigh….

      nevertheless, pretty stoked that the stone brewery is finally open! i didnt realize they had already opened! ill probably be back up that way sometime this spring and am pretty excited!

  • Julika
    Posted at 03:26h, 24 February Reply

    I just started understanding the concept of craft beer and it might take me another few years to really grasp its full capacity, but I would love to read more about beer and travel on your blog, Megan! From what I’ve seen so far, Germany is still very behind on many things, but right now the craft beer scenes in Hamburg and Berlin are exploding (there’s gotta be a reason Stone is opening a new mega brewery in Berlin next month!) — they’re even talking about changing the Beer Purity Law to finally open the country’s beer culture for more innovative flavor experiments. There’s a Facebook group, I think it’s called Craft Beer in Deutschland or something similar, with lots of recommendations for German beers (and some of the more famous brewers are in there too!). Also, I love following a guy called @Bosch on Instagram for both coffee and beer recommendations. And I gave the boyfriend a subscription of Craft Magazin for Christmas which I can also recommend! We’ll be in Berlin this weekend checking out Heidenpeters at Markthalle Neun and a couple of other places, I’ll let you know what we found! Also: I saw that you plan on attending CRAFT festival in Frankfurt in April and we’d love to have a drink with you guys! (And I’ll tell Steffen to follow you on Untappd ;) )

    • Megan
      Posted at 03:35h, 24 February

      aghhhhh this makes my heart so happy!!!!! my boyfriend and i are huge craft beer fans and are very active in the scene in germany so it is always nice to hang out with other like-minded folks! are yall coming to the festival in frankfurt? the last one was literally about 500 americans (and a few brits) and no germans so it will be nice to have some deutschland representation there!

      yea i remember reading that stone’s was coming this way which is very excited! they actually have their breweries in california and richmond (where im from). good to see something happening this way! as for right now, i literally know every single craft brewery in germany. so embarrassing- and i know a lot of them personally. ive been very active in the scene since arriving here a year and a half ago. it is not a huge community, but we all try to make a difference. luckily, frankfurt is teeming w/ americans who demand the stuff, so, frankfurt literally gets every craft brewery in germany available. it is not like typical german beer where it is regionally based. we have it all here. but, there are not many choices. fortunanately more are popping up here and there- more often in the spring and summer than any other time due to the showcasing at festivals (we have a few festivals in ffm and there are some good ones in mainz and wiesbaden where many americans live).

      please tell steffen to add me! will be so fun to connect over beer! i use untappd just to log and not rate though (i cant be bothered with that aspect). my name on untappd is ‘meganstarr’. yayyyyy!

      and we will definitely have to get together for some beer action this spring/summer. the best festivals for it here are at the food truck festival and the craft beer festival in the fall. i just went off at naiv (the craft beer bar and a major influencer in the scene in germany) for attempting to cross over into the gin arena and kind of giving up on craft beer. that is kind of where we are standing in frankfurt at the moment. sigh. okay, i could go on and on and on. but let’s just meet up soon :):)

    • Megan
      Posted at 03:38h, 24 February

      i forgot to mention- YAYYYYY for changing those purity laws! this will allow a lot more innovation and exports in to germany :):)

  • Heather @ Ferreting Out the Fun
    Posted at 10:51h, 07 March Reply

    I’ve been very surprised to discover a burgeoning craft beer scene in Latvia. Labietis in Riga is probably the most experimental, but I’m finding that most of the “major” Latvian breweries are also turning out specialty craft beers. I went to the Valmiermuiza brewery recently and it was absolutely fascinating to hear them talk about their processes. Have you explored the beer scene here? I think the next beer festival in Riga is in May. Maybe you should plan a trip! :-)

    • Megan
      Posted at 09:06h, 15 March

      i have to admit, i struggle a bit when in riga w/ craft beer (although estonia knows what’s up!) a lot of latvian craft beer seems to be distributed or owned by the bigger companies and i think that is why i shy away from it sometimes. that is cool you went to valmieruiza brewery though! id love to do a tour of breweries in this part of the world. i think they are innovative cultures who are ready to boom.

      on another note- when i was in riga i couldnt walk far (that dang ankle which is still swollen), but i went to beer house no.1 (was right beside where i stayed) and had a keninmeita (which the clueless bartender said was an english pale ale but i reckon it was a weak IPA) that was pretty decent. i found lots of other beers, but not too many latvian crafts! i have to get back there soon and you can show me the ropes!

  • Corina
    Posted at 07:45h, 10 March Reply

    Love this! Great article. I don’t know much about the European craft beer scene but I’d love to learn more about it. Keep posting my fellow craft beer gal!

    • Megan
      Posted at 08:48h, 15 March

      thanks love! ill do my best :)

  • Jure
    Posted at 23:58h, 17 March Reply

    I admit I am not that much into beer, I don’t drink more than a pint or two per month.
    But I hear there’s some great craft beer to be had here in Slovenia.
    Some ideas:

    • Megan
      Posted at 09:06h, 23 March

      ohh thanks for this information! im hoping to get back to slovenia this year (although may wait until next!) im glad to see they are tearing it up on the craft scene!

  • Craft Beer Guide to Kiev
    Posted at 11:37h, 13 July Reply

    […] written an article on here regarding why I find it so important to support businesses like craft beer or specialty coffee when I travel, particularly to this part of the world.  I really made an effort to do this in Kiev […]

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