USA

The Travel Guide to Inside Your Beer Glass

Crack open a can, break off that bottle cap, and pour a pint of your favorite beer. Before you put it back and down the hatch take a gander at the label. Where is it from?

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On the outskirts of Burlington, Vermont rests the Magic Hat Brewery. From the outside it looks like a mishmash of Steampunk creations. All conical towers, rusty weathervanes, and spindly windmills.

Entering the self proclaimed “Artifactory” the interior of the brewery is awash with bursting colors and zany decorations. Going on the free walking tour you’ll encounter Magic Hat’s unorthodox take on beer brewing. Whimsical signs point your way through the factory as you encounter labeled containers, belts, and machinery. With equipment colorfully labeled, names like “The Uncanny and Monumental Bottlemabob” and “The Stupendous Sticker Licker” gives one the impression that they are touring a business run by Dr. Seuss rather than one of the state’s largest beer distributers. At any turn I expected to encounter an inebriated Willy Wonka-esque character that would guide me the rest of the way.

Filtering out into the brewery’s tasting room you are invited to sample the signature and seasonal brews on tap. With interesting names like “Circus Boy” “Hocus Pocus” and “Wacko” you’re more driven to try the beer out of pure curiosity rather than learning what is actually in the bottle first. Experimenting with ingredients like beets, dandelions, and honey you never know what you’ll get in each glass.

Like the quintessential Vermonter, Magic Hat drives home the clear message that brewing beer is fun and never dull. That laid back, its all good, life’s a garden Vermonter attitude shouts out from every bottle. Whether the latest flavor craze works for you or it doesn’t there is no denying that everyone had a hell of a good time creating it.

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In the heart of Bavaria in downtown Munich, Germany I sat on a bench across from my uncle in the world famous Hofbräuhaus. The long benches and tables filled the hall giving the brew house a sense of communal camaraderie rather than individual private socialization.

The waitress lifted and placed our beers in front of us with a thud. The mugs were massive. Half liter monstrosities of tried and true Bavarian recipes. Robust lagers and refreshing pilsners graced the menu. Each massive glass screaming with that world renown German flavor. I flexed my arm to lift the giant mug and brought the brew to my lips as I observed my surroundings.

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The brewhouse seemed alive with all the boisterous jovial appeal of what one would expect from a south German pub. Coworkers, friends, and families laughing, shouting and raising their glasses, clanking them together in celebration of whatever struck their fancy on that particular day. Behind us a band blasted away on a small stage. The lederhosen clad quintet maintaining a romping tempo with brass instruments and percussion. The red faced tuba player bellowing with laughter between horn blasts as he reached for his own beer, sloshing on a small wooden stool next to him.

The noise was deafening, but it was the best kind of noise. The noise of people enjoying life. To me those big gulps of Hofbräuhaus pilsner were just like the German people that surrounded me. Loud, proud, and sure to put a smile on your face.

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Munich, Germany

If you travel out into the Asian Far East to the Pacific coast of China you may happen upon the old colonial city of Qingdao. The colonial influences of Qingdao are present in European architecture and cobblestoned streets. One of the city’s biggest claims to fame is the Tsingtao Brewery which churns out its one and only signature beer: Tsingtao.

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Walking into the halls of the massive brewery I prepared myself for China’s take on the ancient art of beer brewing. Huge chrome vats, shiny cylindrical holding tanks, snaking pipes and polished tubes lined the walls. I quick back stepped out of the way to make room for an employee pushing a squeegee in crisp white overalls. His footsteps echoed through the huge chamber of bare concrete walls and smooth tile.

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From the factory I was led into a rectangle hall. The walls were suddenly lined with framed pictures. Executives and CEO’s shaking hands and accepting rewards. I stood in front of a picture portraying a clean suited Chinese businessman, he cradled a golden star trophy in the crook of one arm while firmly shaking the hand of his counterpart. Both men smiling at the camera mid-shake. The translated plaque read, “Tsingtao brews beer for the glory of the People’s Republic of China.” The entire hall was dedicated to honors such as this. Framed ceremonies and glass cases of plaques, trophies and awards.

Exiting the big hall of credentials I took a seat at the tasting bar. I redeemed my ticket for one free glass of Tsingtao beer and in one fluid motion the bartender snatched up my ticket, poured a beer from the tap, and had it placed down in front of me before I could blink. In stark contrast of the fun tomfoolery of Magic Hat, brewing beer in Tsingtao was a very serious business. As I sipped the accredited brew I thought how like China, Tsingtao was no-nonsense, efficient, and a little bit intimidating. I shot glances around at the hundreds of Chinese redeeming their tickets and scooping up a glass of their national beer. If I didn’t like the taste, I sure wasn’t going to say so.

So I say to you beer enthusiast. You don’t have to be a world traveler to get yourself culture. Right there infused with all those hops, barley, and tasty goodness you’ve got a big ole’ helping of global insight. Every beer comes from somewhere and that somewhere speaks to you directly from your heady glass. So sit right down and pour yourself a pint.

Go ahead, drink up.

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Cheers!
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Categories: China, Germany, Travel Insight, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back In Byram

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The axel of my Jeep groans as I make a right onto Waterloo Rd. Rain thrums against the canvas roof and the wipers creak and keep metronomic time. It is an uncharacteristically warm January day in northern New Jersey, a far cry from the sub zero temperatures I had grown accustomed to. Recently returned from two years in central Mongolia, my hometown of Byram, New Jersey had taken on an exotic aura.

I took in the drippy scenery as I wound down the old county road. The dense woods of rural New Jersey closing in on both sides. Spindly branches reach out across the pavement overhead gesturing to their counterparts on the other side. Telephone wires chase the road, rising and descending beneath the overgrowth. The driveways of the houses that hug the street are capped with trash cans. A man waves in greeting as I pass, dragging his refuse to stand at attention with the rest. I cross the old stone bridge of Lubbers Run, the creek swollen and fast with the snow melt and rain. At the end of the road I’m met with an unfamiliar sight. Byram transformed.

I turn onto the main artery that traverses the small town of Byram, Route 206. Ongoing widening of the road has put Byram in a different state than I left it over two years ago. As I pass the old bike shop I see that construction has torn much of Byram asunder. Traffic cones dot the highway. An army of orange and white zig zagging this way and that. Excavators groan and snort, belching exhaust and fumes as they pile their earthen payloads alongside the road. Construction workers shout at each other over the racket and rain.

Passing Shoprite, the town supermarket I make a left pulling into Salt, the local watering hole. The quaint gastropub seems quiet and removed from the chaos of progress only miles away. I smile up at the old rusty Schwinn bicycle that hangs from the establishment’s rickety sign.

Entering the rustic bar my friend Andrew claps me on the back as I sit down on the stool next to him. “Beer and a burger?” the bartender asks, an empty pint glass already at the ready under the tap. Couples sit at tables for two forking through salads topped with goat cheese. Families delve into their burgers and fries. A waitress weaves through the crowd and tables, juggling twice as many drinks as she has hands. On the tiny raised stage folk music twangs from an acoustic guitar. The musician smiling out at the patrons as the notes fill the warm air. A cheer erupts from the bar as a touchdown is scored on the TV screen.

“Feel good to be back?” Andrew asks as he raises his glass to his lips.

I look around at the people of Byram. Eating their dinner and marching on through their lives as the town evolves and changes around them.

“Yeah.” I answer, raising my glass.

I guess I’ll march on too.

Categories: USA | 1 Comment

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