In honor of Oktoberfest, we’re turning the pages of The Beer Book for recommendations on where in the world to find the best beers and breweries—from the great brewing nations in Europe to the fast-growing craft beer scene closer to home.
Bamberg, Germany Any travel tour of world beer must start in Germany, renowned for its beer culture and home to Munich’s famous Oktoberfest (September 19th–October 4th). Germany owes much of its reputation to the Reinheitsgebot—a set of 16th century laws that govern methods of beer production and remain guiding principles of German beer making today.
If Munich is the most famous place to drink beer in Germany, then the most beautiful may be the island city of Bamberg, situated on seven hills encircled by branches of the river Regnitz. This Bavarian city was built on a medieval foundation and today splits eleven breweries among just 70,000 residents. There’s more to do than drink, of course. Start your tour in one of the country’s loveliest squares, the Domplatz, tour the cathedral church and bishop’s palace, and wander the riverbank to enjoy the town’s well-preserved baroque architecture, one factor that makes Bamberg a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While at the river’s edge, be sure to head into “Little Venice,” a district of picturesque fisherman’s cottages, and down a draft of the local rauchbier, distinctive for its smoky flavor.
The Cotswolds, Great Britain For the best of the classic English pub experience, start your journey in the Cotswolds at the village of Hook Norton, where a horse-drawn cart still delivers beer to local pubs straight from the Hook Norton Brewery. Luckily for serious drinkers, three of the pubs in the village offer beds to stay the night.
A jaunt north takes travelers to nearby Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace and cultural torch-bearer for playwright William Shakespeare. Iconic half-timbered Tudor architecture abounds, as do opportunities to visit buildings associated with the Bard and see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform.
Head south to explore the university city of Oxford, where good beer and culture sit cozily together. You can’t help but take in a bit of history with each pint. The Turf Tavern is built on a remnant of the city’s wall, The Bear Inn atop a former bear-fighting pit, and the Eagle & Child was once the haunt of writers J.R.R Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and the literary group they called the Inklings.
Brussels, Belgium For the enthusiast, Belgium is the Holy Grail of brewing, making more beers, in a greater mix of styles and flavors, than any other country in the world. The very best place to embrace Belgian beer culture is in the capital, Brussels, with its many cafes, bars, and brasseries.
Most visits to Brussels begin with a stroll around the Lower Town, the ancient heart of the city and home to its most famous area, the Grand Place. Bordering this square, you’ll find museums and buildings with centuries-old details, statues, and ornaments—and Le Roi d’Espagne, a bar from which to take in the architecture and watch the crowds.
In the evening, head for the cobblestoned Rue des Bouchers. The “belly of Brussels” beckons the hungry with a plethora of cafes and restaurants, as well as lavish displays of seafood, piled high on mounds of ice and lit romantically by an amber glow from the streetlamps.
Prague, Czech Republic The city of Prague is one of the world’s greatest beer destinations and where better to start your pilgrimage than in the Old Town Square, location of the famous 15th-century Astronomical Clock. This feat of engineering is one of the world’s oldest clocks (still working) and is a gorgeous feat of mechanics and design.
Many bars edge the square, each spill out onto the cobblestones with seating and canopies. Here, you can sit outside and take in the tourists and, often, displays of folk dancing and music, while savoring a pilsner in the land that first created the golden brew.
Oregon, USA Known as “Beervana” to American craft beer aficionados, Oregon offers compelling reasons to cross the state in search of suds. The state also offers spectacular outdoor recreation from the Pacific Ocean on the west to Hells Canyon on the east, and up and down the Cascade Mountains in the center.
Meanwhile, the 50-plus breweries in the city of Portland beckon travelers to explore the metropolitan area, from Bridgeport, Oregon’s oldest surviving brewery in the now-hip Pearl District to relative newcomer Green Dragon Bistro and Pub. Between pints, check out the many outdoor parks and gardens, including the Lan Su Chinese Garden and Portland Japanese Garden. In June more than 9,500 roses bloom in the International Rose Test Gardens, backing up the moniker “The City of Roses.”
New York City, USA New York was once a vibrant brewing city. Before Prohibition there were about nearly 50 breweries just in the borough of Brooklyn, which boasted a larger German community and “Brewers’ Row.” All that changed as “tastes great/less filling” became the mantra for American beer drinkers and pale lagers rose to dominance.
Today, the brewing scene is back, thanks in large part to Brooklyn Brewery, which moved to its location in the neighborhood of Williamsburg in 1996. The granddaddy of New York City brewery tours, Brooklyn Brewery opens its doors to visitors every day of the week. Make reservations Monday–Thursday for the more intimate “Small Batch” tours.
Micro-brewery tasting rooms dot the boroughs and guided tours like those offered by Urban Oyster and other groups can be great ways to sample many diverse brews in one afternoon, or check out the New York Brewer’s Guild for special events. With easy public transit and cab service, New York City just might be the best place in the United States for a brewery crawl.