One day, a few years ago, I was thinking about what I’d consider to be the most essential beer things to experience anywhere in the world. It included the most important old breweries and the industry-changing new brewers, the greatest bars and pubs, the unmissable festivals, the must-visit cities; the unexpected, the unusual, the unknown; the classics, the most famous, and the best. I turned those thoughts into a book, which is out soon. It’s called The Beer Bucket List.
Here are a few of my favourites and a few suggestions for what I think are important ticks on the Beer Bucket List.
THE BREWERY: The Mussel Inn, Onekaka
So many to pick... Pilsner Urquell and their cellars. Cantillon and their cellars. Rodenbach and their cellars (I like cellars lined with wooden barrels, OK?). But the one which is most unforgettable is The Mussel Inn, in Onekaka, New Zealand. It was built, by hand, by owners Andrew and Jane Dixon. Their pub is a single-room wooden hut, there’s a garden and veranda, a fireplace for winter. They brew in the back, they live just behind that (in a house they also built themselves), they grow their own fruits, vegetables and hops, and they’ve been doing this for over 25 years. Their Captain Cooker Manuka Beer is a classic Kiwi craft brew. It’s a singularly great and unique place.
THE BAR: In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst, near Brussels
I found my new favourite bar. It’s a glorious anomaly that could only exist in idiosyncratic Belgium. It’s a bar that only sells lambic and gueuze, plus a little Westvleteren for the tourists. They have some draft lambics plus an extensive cellar of vintage bottles. That’s enough to make them stand out, but that’s the relatively normal part. What really makes it special, or odd, is that it’s only open on Sundays from 10.30am until 8pm (it used to be 1.30pm until recently). The name translates as In The Insurance Against Great Thirst. Just hope you don’t get thirsty on a Tuesday as you’ve got a long wait until they open.
THE UNEXPECTED: Margaret River’s High-End Breweries
A few hours south of Perth is Margaret River, a wine growing region in Western Australia. There are a lot of breweries in the area and they are among the most impressive I’ve ever seen. For example, every one of them has a lake. A lake! They all have large outside spaces where people play catch and cricket or just sit in the sun drinking. And everything is super high-end. Look up Black Brewing Co. and you’ll see what the highest-end of high-end brewing locations is like. Then look up Colonial and Eagle Bay and you’ll see what I mean.
THE CITY: Asheville, North Carolina
What’s the world’s greatest drinking city? Prague is near the top for its mix of classic lagers and modern craft beers. I love Munich for the beer halls and beer gardens. San Diego is great for beer but everything is so far apart. For me, the city that’s almost perfect is Asheville, North Carolina. There’s a load of great breweries, great diversity in beers, and it’s all in large venues in the centre of town – you can visit over a dozen breweries and never have to walk more than a few minutes at a time. Wicked Weed were my favourite, alongside Burial, plus New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues all have second sites nearby.
THE BEER: Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild
The Beer Bucket List is about the experience. I travel for beer or beer is at the forefront of my travel plans. Writing this took me on a world tour but a British beer was one that grabbed me most powerfully. Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild at the brewery pub in the Midlands was complex, rich and smooth with dried fruits, dark fruits, cocoa, malt. I had three pints and every mouthful was different and interesting and exciting. I love it when a beer somehow becomes more than just a refreshing, tasty liquid. It was one of those rare beers and moments that made me think differently about something, that made me stop and say wow. It made me remember what it was that I loved so much about beer.
THE EVENT: Annafest
Annafest takes place in the Franconian town of Forchheim, upper Bavaria. Here breweries once dug cool cellars in the hills above town to mature their beers before selling the beer back in the town. One day, a smart local realised that drinking them cool near the cellars was better, and the green land above ground became gardens to drink in. Now every July there’s a 10-day festival held at what’s known as ‘the largest beer garden in the world’. Several breweries take part and make a special Festbier and you drink it by the litre. I’ve been to Forchheim and the cellars but not Annafest. I’m going this year.
Mark Dredge’s new book, The Beer Bucket List is a beautifully presented and entertaining guide to over 150 must-see beer experiences from around the world. It’s available now online and from all good book shops.