Friday, April 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Joe Sixpack: 5 must-stops for real beer lovers

YOUR CORNER bar is your favorite beer haunt, of course, but every once in a while you've gotta stretch your legs.

This year, make your vacation plans around one of these five Beer Destinations You Must Visit Before You Die.

 

McMenamin's Edgefield

 

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  • This 99-year-old former poorhouse on 74 acres in Troutdale, Ore., outside of Portland, is one of the McMenamin chain of quirky brewpubs (no relation to McMenamin's Tavern in West Mount Airy).

    With your choice of more than 100 turn-of-the-century rooms, you won't even have to get out of your slippers to enjoy fresh ales for breakfast in the downstairs Black Rabbit Restaurant.

    You can't walk 100 feet without bumping into another row of tap handles. The grounds also include a movie theater, gardens, spa and two par-3 golf courses. I don't golf, so on my visits I just hang out at the clubhouse, which doubles as a distillery.

     

    Hofbrauhaus, Munich

     

    Roll out the barrel, you're going to have a barrel of fun. With seating for 2,000, the beer hall is a manic din of swaying, laughing lager-lifters who keep the beat to the blare of a loud brass band.

    Founded in 1589 by Wilhelm V, the Duke of Bavaria, it's seen centuries of Munich history, including the birth of the Nazi party. Today, it's largely a commercialized tourist trap on the same street as a Hard Rock Cafe.

    But it's still a lifetime experience to order a "mass" of Helles and a huge pretzel, then join in the chorus with a room full of paunchy guys in lederhosen and feathered hats.

     

    McSorley's

    Old Ale House, NYC

     

    Proving that it's not just about the beer, McSorley's is a landmark destination for any suds slinger - even though it serves just two varieties: light or dark.

    Yes, this is another tourist trap, but it's a unique step back to the 19th-century saloon era, when men were men and ladies . . . well, they weren't admitted until 1970.

    The floors are covered with sawdust, antique gas lamps attract cobwebs, and the men's room is dominated by massive ceramic urinals.

    Get a cheese platter with raw onions and remember McSorley's motto: "Be Good or Be Gone."

     

    Bierhuis Kulminator, Antwerp

     

    Hop vines drape from the ceiling, glassware piles atop the sink, and the beer menu is the size of a telephone book. This is almost certainly the greatest beer bar in the world.

    Plop down at one of the wooden picnic benches, quickly order something from the chalkboard tap list, then spend the next hour trying to decide which of the outstanding vintage beers you'd like to sample.

    The selections are astounding, especially the Belgians. I've seen everything from 10-year-old, perfectly cellared bottles of De Dolle Stille Nacht to 20-year-old lambics. You might even stumble across extinct brands, including the dearly beloved John Courage Russian Imperial Stout.

    If service is slow, it's only because owners Dirk van Dyck and Leen Boudewijn are hunting for the proper glass in which to serve your selection. Pass the time by chatting with other patrons; they all love beer just as much as you do.

     

    Wrigley Field, Chicago

     

    There's nothing more American than baseball and beer, and no one does it better than Wrigley's beer vendors.

    It's a treat just watching these guys (and a few gals). They entertain the crowd with exotic beer pours, funny jingles and the occasional in-your-face bit of profanity.

    Sitting back in the sun, watching men play America's pastime on a verdant lawn with a cold one in your hand - there's nothing better. The beer is plain old Bud and Old Style, unless you duck into the concession area for a Goose Island.

    But then you'd miss all the action on the field and in the stands.

     

    Saint Sixtus abbey

     

    A visit to this Trappist monastery in Westvleteren, Belgium, the hops-growing region of West Flanders, is not necessarily an act of contrition for all your carousing. Instead, it is the one place where you can be assured of enjoying a glass of what many believe is the best beer on the planet.

    Westvleteren is one of six Belgian Trappist monasteries where beer is brewed as a revenue source for church work. Strict distribution controls make it nearly impossible to buy the abbey's three varieties (known simply as Blond, 8 and 12) in America.

    To get a taste, you have to call ahead and reserve a maximum of one crate per month (+32 70.21.00.45).

    It's easier to visit the abbey's Cafe de Vrede and enjoy the ales' intensely complex flavors by the bottle. Make sure you visit the gift shop to pick up a sixpack to go.

    "Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to joesixpack@phillynews.com.

     

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