Beer experts Bob and Ellie Tupper have just released their new book, Drinking in the Culture, an exhaustive guide to all the best places to drink beer in Europe. Here are their top 10 favorites in an excerpt from the book.
#10. Sheffield, England. Hop off a train and into a bar. Many European cities have good beer in train stations. The Sheffield Tap sits right next to the tracks and features about 30 casks and drafts, usually including a handful of local and relatively obscure breweries. You could get on the train and go visit some of them … or just stay put and spend more time sampling them. “Tap” clones in York and London are similarly rewarding, but Sheffield is unique in having its own on-premise brewery.
#9. Brussels, Belgium. Choose from nearly 2,500 beers in the heart of Brussels. Delirium Village (Impasse de la Fidelité 4) has grown from a bar into an empire. You can buy almost anything alcoholic in its eight adjoining venues, but the heart of the place is the downstairs bar, with a beer menu more massive than most telephone books. Some are vintages from breweries that went out of business long ago—you have the feeling you’re drinking beer from a dead star. The less crowded loft bar upstairs specializes in craft drafts, with a very knowledgeable bar staff to guide you.
#8 Bruges, Belgium. Visit a brewery museum with a round of superb Belgian beers. The Brewery Museum (Breidelstraat 3) fills two stories with interesting exhibits linked by an interactive computer guide that gives the most curious beer geek as much information as he or she could want. The star of the show, however, is the tasting room at the end of the visit. It has a great view of the historic square below and a wide range of Palm and Palm-related beers. Some of the beers are extremely rare—you’ll find at least a few you haven’t tried.
#7 Regensburg, Germany. Drink fresh beer in the garden of a historic riverside hospital. Be patient enough to secure a waterside table at Gaststätte Spitalgarten (St.-Katharinen-Platz 1), then drink in views of Regensburg across the sprawling Danube. At night the spot-lit Cathedral towers over the old town and the ancient Stone Bridge. The St. Catherine Hospital has functioned on this site since the Middle Ages. Good basic food and a small range of very pleasant house brews would be less memorable in a less memorable setting, but this is always our first evening each time we return.
#6. Copenhagen, Denmark. Drink fresh-brewed beer in the world’s most beautiful amusement park. Færgekroen Bryghus, a small brewpub perched on a lake in the middle of Tivoli Gardens, is close enough to the thrill rides to hear the screams. Just a stroll through this Danish fantasyland is worth the price of admission; you’ll forget you’re anywhere near a big city. Linger into the night when the lights make it really special, with fireworks and lasers almost every Saturday night. The beers at the pub vary but can be quite good, though it’s the setting that vaults this place into our top ten.
#5. London, England. Drink Samuel Smith’s ales in a centuries-old pub. A narrow passageway at 145 Fleet Street takes you to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a warren of small rooms, snugs, and corridors that wander down several levels. Supposedly monks brewed on the site before it was a pub; the lower rooms were indeed the beer cellars, and some still are, though off limits to the public. Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens really did drink here. It’s a short walk to other pubs with broader selections of beers … if you can tear yourself away.
#4 Munich, Germany. Savor a “dinner theater” where beer is the star. Der Pschorr (Viktualienmarkt 15) is one of the most entertaining of Munich’s brewery restaurants. A supporting cast offers a virtual ballet, as waitstaff pirouette under loaded trays of beer and food, but the beer is the focal event. Several times a night, wooden barrels (sized to require frequent changing) are muscled up onto the bar. The barman then hammers in a brass spigot and releases the first half dozen glasses of galloping foam. Prices are a cut above other beer halls, but the locally sourced menu is definitely worth it.
#3 Aldersbach, Germany. Drink and sleep like a monk. The Monastery Aldersbach brewery and hotel is a manageable rail and bus journey from Passau, Germany; the distance in history seems much greater. You’ll eat in the café, but the beer is best in the Stüberl, a modestly sized, historic beer hall that drips with atmosphere. After dinner, climb the steps to your room: a former monk’s cell, upscaled with a toilet and shower. Touring the brewery and church buildings competes a full day of meditation on how blessed you are to like beer.
#2 Pilsen, Czech Republic. Taste the world’s best pilsner in an underground fermenting cellar at the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. Unfiltered Pilsner Urquell is served at the brewery and the brewery museum, but you have to take the tour to reach true beer heaven. Though the brewery has modernized since 1993, the miles of aging cellars that remain underground are part of the tour. A subterranean ramble ends at an open wooden fermenter and a couple of the huge wooden barrels of the type that were used to age all Pilsner Urquell. The beer from the pitch-lined superbarrel is, quite simply, the best lager beer we’ve ever tasted.
#1 Salzburg, Austria. Visit the world’s best beer garden. In frequent visits over several decades, we have found Augustiner Bräu Kloster Mülln one of the most welcoming beer gardens on the planet. Our experiences have ranged from passing around a guitar with a couple of dozen students to mere “Prosit” mug-clinking, but Mülln’s always been more social than even the best of the German gardens. Six-euro liters of beer brewed only meters away, fresh charcoal grilled fish, and a staggering array of deli items further enrich the experience. The contented hum of the busy garden is the “Sound of Music” to our ears.
Pick up the guide online at Amazon.com. All photos copyright Bob & Ellie Tupper