These are my favorite five places to visit if you truly want that quintessential beer experience! I can honestly say that I’ve been around the world sampling, tasting, and visiting “beer” establishments — this is my refined list (since I haven’t gotten around to posting my top 100 … lol).
First, here are three criteria/reasons why these are my Favorite 5. First and foremost, it needs to be great beer. I’m not saying it needs to be your favorite or it has to fit in a particular category — nor does it have to be considered “Craft” or “trendy” or whatever. It needs to be great. Great tasting, technically well-done, without any faults or off-flavors. Second, the locale should enhance the pleasure of drinking the beer. There should be something about the place/history/experience that makes you think the beer wouldn’t taste any better than right where you are drinking it! Finally, it should be a place with some permanence/staying power — it shouldn’t be in danger of closing, it shouldn’t be a place you can’t visit without a special pass — it should be accessible to anyone and welcoming to all. This is a tough one — for instance, I was going to include “The Falling Rock Tap House” in Denver — it had been around for over 25 years, was a popular hangout for the After-Great American Beer Fest Crowd, and simply had fantastic beers. Unfortunately, it closed in June of 2021. Sad. Oh well — I will just have to be more careful with my Favorite Five!
One caveat — I’ve been to hundreds of places — but I haven’t been to all places — so my list is a little skewed by the fact that there may be a better place … I just haven’t been there yet. We’ll call this a “living list.”
Another caveat — I won’t list any Festivals here — Those, too, may not be there the next year — and sometimes it is difficult to obtain a ticket, etc. I’m trying to choose places that, while they may be difficult to visit, are accessible to anyone with some effort.
Ok, here we go! Working from #5 up #1 …
#5. Ye Old Mitre, London, England. A place that opened in 1546 and is still going strong probably will be around a while longer. Plus, it is owned by the Fuller Company (former owners of the Brewery, now they simply operate about 360+ pubs in the UK). With an excellent selection of beers on tap (folks in the UK call it “Real Ale”), a cool alleyway entrance and a comfortable atmosphere, it’s well worth a visit.
#4. Staffelberg-Klause, Bad Staffelberg, Germany. This one is as far away from the city as The Old Mitre is close to one. haha. The Staffelberg-Klause is a small Bier-garten in Germany — near the city of Bamberg. You may, or may not, be familiar with Bamberg as the city of smoked beers (Schlenkerla). Here’s a map image (with the link here) of where the Bier-garten is located.
It takes a little work to get there — you can’t drive; you have to hike! However, the scenery in the area is stunning. Not only that, there are several Baroque-style Churches in the area, over 100 breweries/brewpubs, and … did I mention stunning views? Here are a few pictures:
They have the typical German-selection of beers — Pils, Weizen, or Kellerbier. Either one will be refreshing and the food is good too!
#3. In de Vrede Cafe, Vleteren, Belgium. Next up, a trip to have some of the most elusive beer in the world! Westvleteren 12! In fairness, a very (very) close approximation that is more readily available worldwide is the St Bernardus Abt 12. Also … a wonderful beer! But I digress. Back to “In de Vrede.” Translated, in de Vrede means “in Peace.” Or quiet, solitude; any number of phrases that you would associate with the Monks. The cafe is across from the brewery, but still out in the countryside. Closest city would be Poperinge (the Hop Capitol of Belgium).
The food is wonderful and you can drink all three of the Westvleteren Beers here … a bonus is the opportunity to purchase some as well! The area and the cafe all deserve your consideration for a visit … finally, it’s a pretty short drive to anywhere, all things considered. There are so many things to see, and do, in the area. Visit the Hop Museum, an active Hop Farm, other breweries … explore!
#2. Orval, Belgium.
To me, this is a very special place — Orval is, hands down, my favorite beer. I’ve visited the “Valley of Gold” at least three times. Each time is special. The first time there was late November. We stayed at a small hotel nearby in Florenville. You could have any beer you wanted, as long as it was Orval. A big one, too!
The next day, we lucked out and were able to join a tour group of French Students at the Brewery —
The third time I visited, I was with my best friend and my brothers … an awesome trip. By this time, in 2012, they had improved the whole “Orval Experience” with a wonderful museum … the tour of the grounds was tranquil. I even tasted the Spring Water used to make the beer!
We had the tour and retired just up the road to the local restaurant to reflect on the experience and to enjoy a wonderful glass of Orval. Consider it a must for yourself!
The only reason it’s not my #1 is you can’t drink the beer on the premises — However, you can buy a small case at the gift shop!
#1. Bräustüberl Weihenstephan, Freising, Germany. Here’s the place on the top of my list … a trip to the oldest brewery in the world — established in 1040 AD! Not only do they have the brewery here, they also have a University devoted to the study of beer. If you make your way into the Bräustüberl, you can drink your fill of the wonderful beers they have available. Plus enjoy some traditional Bavarian cuisine–I do recommend a reservation!
Well … there you go!! My favorite five! I hope you have the opportunity to visit one or two of these places and see if they make it into your top 5 as well!