Your travel itinerary says that you’re in Berlin about to get on a plane to Rome. Your brother sends you a message from home wishing you a safe flight. However, in reality, you’re actually just waking up in Barcelona with a splitting headache to the sound of the morning café trade along Los Ramblas, wondering what the hell happened the night before. Beer is responsible for many things: from that unplanned change in travel plans, to the awkward addition to the family nine months after your parents got a little too merry after a cousin’s wedding. However, what should not be overlooked is how one of the world’s oldest drinks can be a focal point for an unforgettable travel experience in itself, and provide the social lubricant to bond strangers in far-flung locations.
So instead of sticking to your favourite lager next time you’re abroad, why not get off the beaten path and try something a little different?
Japan—The Golden Gai District
Picture this: The bar is full. It is impossible to move to the small bathroom without getting physically intimate with other patrons. Conversations are shared between strangers and swigs of hard liquor. The bartender closes the door to the outside world. There is no space for newcomers. There are six people inside the bar.
This is snapshot of life in the infamous bar region of Golden Gai in Tokyo. The district is a hard-to-find collection of ramshackle buildings that house more than 200 tiny bars along six narrow streets. Full of local musicians, filmmakers and artists, Golden Gai is a glimpse back into Tokyo’s past. It is a celebration of a city and its people from a simpler, slower time.
Getting a beer in Golden Gai is not easy. Many of the bars do not welcome tourists. Some only ever serve regular customers, but it is worth persisting for the chance to experience a slice of old Tokyo and a unique, stomach challenging, Japanese brew called Bilk — a beer that consists of 30 percent milk.
Czech Republic—The Beer Spa
You could say that Czech’s dislike their beer nearly as much Donald Trump loathes a strong wind wreaking havoc with his suspect comb-over. Except you’d be lying. About the Czechs and the beer that is. You see, not only do the Czechs hold the title of the country that drinks the most beer per capita, they are also the only country in the world that boasts a remote beer-themed beauty spa–brewery where you have the option to either drink or bathe in your favourite beverage.
So for those looking for a weird and wonderful beer experience, head to the east of the country and to the St Wenceslas Microbrewery in Olomouc. Known for its house-brewed beers that bypass the pasteurization and filtration process, the brewery has made a splash with its newest installation in the cellar — a spa filled with beer that doubles as a bar and relaxation centre for men. Men who no doubt eat their meat bloody, could braid their chest hair if they so wish and like to give off the odour of a delicious fresh brew when they walk into a room.
California—Hornin' in Boonville
It seems microbreweries have become mainstream in California these days. Every man and his dog is cooking up their own delicious mix of hops for a ready-made audience of beard-stroking bloggers. However, those travellers on the lookout for a star spangled beer drinking destination with a story to tell should head to the north of the state to the isolated farming, ranching and logging town of Boonville.
Boonville is known as the home of the Boontling folk language, which was invented in the late 19th century. Although the language’s exact origins are disputed, one theory is that Boontling was created by the children of Boonville so they could speak secretively around adults. The language has more than 1,000 words and phrases but is sadly dying out and only spoken by roughly 100 older residents. Some Boontling phrases handy for any visit to Boonville include horn (to drink beer) and brightlighter (an outsider not from Boonville) but try not to bow, which means to challenge someone to a fight.
When in Boontling, a visit to Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville is a must to do some serious hornin. The brewery produces a delicious range of stouts, IPAs and even a fall pumpkin ale.
Tanzania—Mbege, the banana lolly beer
While East Africa may be as expected to appear on a beer connoisseur’s drinking map of the world you should know that tucked away behind Mt Kilimanjaro and across the Serengeti, tantalizing Mbege-style beers are being brewed from bananas in Tanzania.
Often made by hand and based on sorghum, millet and banana juice, Mbege beer is unfiltered, gluten free and apparently tastes like the kind of banana sweets your grandparents bought you when you were a child.
A refreshing pick-me-up after a long day searching for the Big 5 in the shadows of Mt Kilamanjaro, or a relaxing evening sip while enjoying the broad midnight skies of Tanzania, you’d be “bananas” to visit East Africa and not try Mbege beer.
Peru—Chicha de Jora, The Corn Beer
Going on a walk may seem like something your elderly uncle may do after a big meal; however, hiking the ancient Lares Trail through the communities surrounding the Sacred Valley — where you can take in views of the snow-capped Cordillera de Vilcanota range — is becoming increasingly popular with active travellers of all ages.
And there is no better way to quench your thirst after a busy day hiking than with one of the oldest beverages on Earth, a corn-based beer called Chicha de Jora, which dates back to the time of the Inca Empire. Ideally suited for consumption at higher altitudes due to its low alcohol content of just 1 to 3%, Chicha de Jora was the drink of choice in Incan times, and was commonly consumed in large quantities for ritual purposes.
Thirsty travellers may want to inquire about the process for which their Chicha de Jora was made, however, before becoming too acquainted with the drink, as some traditional Chicha-makers grind the corn and then actually chew it to add moisture. After the human saliva breaks down the corn starch, the chewed corn is inserted into clay vats and warm water is added for fermentation. So if you’re after a beer that truly offers a taste of local life, Chicha de Jora may just be for you.
G Adventures runs a number of departures encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.