A Special Father Remembered

Sometimes being Beer Santa isn’t about beer at all.  Sometimes it’s about a daughter’s love for her father she never knew.  And sometimes it’s about a sister’s anger toward that same father because he left two little girls and their mother to fight in a war that would take his life.

Flash forward to this past winter when a couple from Northern California signed up for one of my beers tours.  I got an email from Barry asking how one could go about visiting the Ardennes Mountain region after the tour.  He wanted to take his wife to find the grave of her father, who was killed in WWII.

Sandy was only about one when her father departed to fight Hitler and her sister only about a year older.  Neither had ever been to visit their father’s grave.  There were only stories, which have been handed down about how and where he died and where he now is at rest.

I was in tears reading the email.  I offered to take them down there in a rental car in the days after our tour.  I happened to know the location of the cemetery as it’s one I’ve visited in the past.   I don’t know how all this will play out on this emotional journey, but all I know is I have to do this.

Flash forward again to after we complete the Legendary Zythos Beer Festival Tour.  We roll through the gentle rolling green hills of the northern Ardennes and arrive at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial.  It’s an overcast day and the coldest day of the week.  I’ve got all my layers on.  There is an administrative office there I have seen in the past.  We check in with the director, Bobby Bell, who turns out has prepared a file about Sandy’s late father, Verdun Roberts.  Sandy had contacted the cemetery to verify some information earlier, not knowing they would prepare a file or be standing by to welcome her should she ever visit one day.  We didn’t have an appointment.  Didn’t know we should have one.  We were just prepared to see the grave.

The perfectly manicured Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium.

The perfectly manicured Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium.

Bobby went over what few details where known of her father’s death.  It had occurred shortly after the Battle of the Bulge in February of 1945, while his division was fighting back German forces south of Trier, Germany.  Without requesting her father’s file in Washington. D.C., that’s about all we know.

We walk down the hill from the office through the thousands of white crosses to a row just about in the middle and a little to the north and there it is.  Bobby takes some sand he explains came from Omaha Beach in France, and carefully rubs it into the letter, wipes it with a sponge, then displays them.  Sandy takes some pictures, then understandably breaks down.  We all do, like a tidal wave of emotion.  Her for her father and me for a man I never knew.  We all talk for a while about the significance of the moment, then leave Sandy alone, with her father, to reflect and to speak with him.

Sandy Marshall at the grave of her father for the first time.

Sandy Marshall at the grave of her father for the first time.

Today is also Sandy’s 71st birthday.  Wow.  Read into that what you will.

I was grateful to have played a role in this reunion and to be part of the visit.  Words cannot begin to explain.  Many lives were lost and forever altered because of WWII.  There are thousands of stories.  This is one.

Barry and Sandy Marshall.

Barry and Sandy Marshall.

Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.
— John F. Kennedy

“This seems like the kind of place people might have stopped by after a beheading.”

Today, I introduce you to my friend, whose formal name is Tripel van de Garre, aka, de Garre, the house tripel of de Garre, a quaint, intimate alley beer café in medieval Bruges.  De Garre is Dutch for, The Alley.  This luscious beer is brewed by Brewery Van Steenberge, located about 45 minutes east of here in the burgh of Ertvelde.  It’s a good ambassador for the tripel style, which is one of my favorites, and the one that seduced me into my lust for Belgian beer.  It’s blond in color, well balanced, just slightly yeast forward and ruins you for the rest.  It tastes sublime from start-to-finish and leaves you wanting more.  But at 11.5%, for most people, two glasses is enough.

Part of what makes de Garre so special is its presentation, poured with the proper 3” head in it’s special pregnant tulip glass, served on a doily, on a small oval tray with a side of cheese cubes skewered with toothpicks as a warning to other would-be cheese cubes who might come here.  And of course, the label is always served facing the seductee and always with classical music in the background.

The beer is rarely seen outside of the confines of this pleasant café.  I saw it one time van ‘t vat (on draft) at a popular bottle shop with a tasting bar in Seattle.  That’s it.  So, if you have some special connections, it’s possible it will surface elsewhere, but don’t count on it.

The atmosphere at the de Garre is what really makes the tripel experience, so to have it out of context would never be the same.  The café, with it’s timbered, stucco and exposed brick walls, and hand-hewed massive dark beams exude history.  So when you drink this beer in these hallowed halls, you are drinking history.   This seems like the kind of place people might have stopped by after a beheading.

The café, established in 1984, is hard to find on your own, it’s down a narrow “alley,” what most of us would just call a narrow 4’ wide gap between medieval buildings, traditionally built as fire escapes.  There is no sign at the entrance to the alley, you just have to know it is down there.  It’s funny to watch people intrepidly and gingery push cautiously down the alley on their first time here.  Once inside, there is the choice of the intimate main floor seating area or the mezzanine level above which provides a nice perch in which to people watch the consumers below.  

Writing and drinking; kids don't try this at home.

And just this year, they have developed the attic on the third floor into more seating area, increasing their capacity by about 45 seats.  This is good news, because on more than one occasion, I have been turned away due to lack of room.

Keep in mind when visiting, they close early, often by midnight, with last call falling randomly and usually, between 11 and 11:30.  So to avoid disappointment, and it can be very disappointing, don’t wait too late to go.

But my favorite part of the de Garre experience is the playing of Ravel’s Bolero at closing time.  As the music naturally gets louder as it goes on, newcomers wonder what’s up.  Alumni of de Garre know all too well that Bolero means the evening is coming to a ritualistic close.  Time to finish your beer, take a moment to soak in the rustic atmosphere, reflect upon another incredible day in Belgium, then depart.  Goodnight, de Garre, until we meet again.

De Garre

1 de Garre

Bruges, Belgium

* Can be closed toward the end of January and June and other random days.

Rolf Nelson: 'A Man's Man'

Rolf Nelson at the Göller Brewery stammtisch.

Having limited foreign-language skills sometimes has its unexpected advantages when travelling.

In fall of 2010, I found myself visiting some small breweries around Bamberg, Germany.  This day, I was in the village of Drosendorf at the Göller Brewery, the only one in this forgiving little burg.  I was trying to speak with the bartender about how many beers they offered and which one was which.  And, I was making marginal progress with my limited German-language skills, when an English voice belted out the answers for which I was looking, “They have a Helles and a Pils!”  This unsolicited information came thundering from a white-haired gentleman likely in his 70s, sitting by himself at the stammtisch.

The stammtisch is the table reserved for a select group of regular customers found in most German taprooms.  The man, recognizing my clearly-American accent, introduces himself as Rolf Nelson and invites me to sit at the table and have a beer, which I of course did.  When someone invites you to sit at a stammtisch, you don’t say no.  You make time, even if you don’t have it.  Even if it is some seemingly strange old guy with a weird accent yelling at you.

Rolf Nelson and Stu Stuart at Kundmüller Brewery.

Turns out Rolf was a retired U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major from the nearby Warner Barracks Army base in Bamberg.  He and his wife had built a house in the village back in the 60s when his neighborhood was just a cow pasture.  Ralph was born in the United States to Norwegian immigrant parents, but spent his formative years in Norway since he was a child.  Rolf’s accent was hard to put a finger on: Part Norwegian, part German and part raw unbridled emotion.  When Rolf told a story it was full of passion, grit and expletives, mostly “Gawd Damn” this, or “Gawd Damn” that.

Göller was Rolf’s home brewery, because he could walk to it in about 15 minutes from his nearby home, which he did most days at noon for his daily beer.  I happened to be there one day when Rolf was enjoying his daily ritual.

Rolf essentially tells me his life story about having dual citizenship,  his career in the U.S. Army, being in Vietnam,  getting married, having two grown daughters and how his wife bought this piece of cow pasture one time while he was deployed.  As it turns out, Rolf say, “It was the Gawd-damn-best-thing she could have done” because the house had appreciated so much in value, more than they could possibly have imagined during this Cold-War era.  His wife, I learn is in a nursing home and he faithfully goes to visit her each day.

So, over a beer and an hour conversation, Rolf and I become friends and each time I would visit Bamberg in the upcoming years, I would always see Rolf and have a beer with him.  I got to see their lovely home and manicured rose gardens surrounding the pristine-looking house.  I basically had a fascinating window into the world of Rolf, who I had met ever-so-randomly.

John Smoller, Ross Sellens, Jeff Evans & Rolf Nelson at Höhn Brewery beer garden.

In the years to come, I would bring my beer tours to meet him at his house, Göller or we would take him on the road with us visiting breweries.  He loved meeting the people in the group.  He especially liked Dr. Ross Sellens from Australia, who has come and continues to come on  more of my beer tours than anyone.  He also really liked big John Smoller from Denver, who is also a U.S. Army veteran formerly stationed in Germany.  He and Rolf hit if off right away.  John describes Rolf as “A real man’s man.”  

On a visit with Rolf in Fall of 2011, Ross and I learned Rolf had lost his wife since we had last visited.  While we could tell Rolf missed her dearly, we could also tell he felt she was in a better place now and no longer in any pain or discomfort.  It was touching as he shared with us this sad news.

In spring of 2012, Rolf had lunch and beers with us at a Hohn Brewery in nearby Memmelsdorf.  He wore his American flag imagery shirt and a U. S. flag hat.  He had a blast  meeting everyone, telling stories and having beers with them.  And, the beer travelers enjoyed meeting Rolf and hearing his passionate stories about his life.  Some for example, involved fishing with hand grenades, dynamite and claymore mines during the Vietnam War.  People really enjoyed Rolf.  Sometimes, beer tours can be too self-contained and you only meet people in the immediate group.  Meeting a friendly and colorful local, such as Rolf, is always a treat.

In October of 2012, Rolf travelled with my tour group to a Kundmüller Brewery in nearby Weiher, to have lunch and beers.  In all his years of living in the area, he had never been to this brewery.  He truly enjoyed the visit and going some place, practically in his backyard, for which he had never been.  In all fairness, with more than 300 breweries in this region, this is going to happen.

Through the years, I would send Rolf photos of our visits and his visits with the beer tour groups.  He loved getting them.  Then when I would visit, he would get them all out for us to see again.

In spring of 2013, I called Rolf from the United States to give him the heads-up we were coming to visit him again and I must have misdialed the number because I got a message that read, “Invalid number.”  So I dialed again with the same results.  Then again.  Same thing.  “That’s odd,” I thought.

So, when I got to Bamberg, I tried again thinking I was dialing something wrong.  I got the same message, “Invalid number.”  So I asked the hotel front desk receptionist, Viola, to try.  She got the same thing.

I thought, “Well, we can just call the taproom at Göller Brewery and they will know what happened to Rolf.”  My first thought, was he may have died.  Then I quickly got more optimistic and thought maybe he went into a nursing home or went to live with one of his daughters.  Viola called Göller and they were closed that day.  No luck.

A few days went by and I saw Viola as I walked through the hotel lobby.  She asked if I was able to get ahold of my friend, Rolf.  I had been so busy with the current beer tour I had not had a chance.  So, Viola offered to call the brewery again.  This time she got an answer.  She eloquently stated  in perfect German my dilemma to the brewery.  She talked to them for about a minute.  From what I could gather, and from the non-plussed look on her face, it sounded like he may be in a nursing home.  Then she softly hung up the phone and said, “I’m sorry your friend has died.”

My heart sank.  

My initial inclination, unfortunately, turned out to be correct. “Gawd Damn it!”, I thought as my mind clicked into Rolf’s way of speaking.  “You son-of-a-bitch, just checked out on us when we weren’t here!”  Viola could tell by the look on my face and my eyes slowly tearing, that I had lost a dear friend.  “I’m sorry for your loss,” she  said quietly.  They told her he had died in January of 2013.  He was 75.  I thanked Viola for her persistence and help finding out what happened to Rolf and shuffled off to my room.

Little did we know in that fall of 2012 when we left Rolf off at his home and he waved goodbye to us from the front porch, surrounded by his rose gardens, that would be the last time any of us would see him.  All my beer travelers, who met Rolf, and myself will miss him on this and future visits to Bamberg.  He was part of our history here and one of the most interesting and colorful people of a handful of memorable characters I have met in my beer travels.

I think about how if my German had been better that day I was at Göller brewery in the fall of 2010, I would never had met Rolf and we would have never had him as a friend.

Coming to Bamberg won’t be the same without Rolf.  Godspeed, my friend; Godspeed, our friend.

To view more images of Rolf, visit the  Essential Rolf Nelson Album on the Bamberg Beer Me! Facebook page.

Beer Travel with Rick Steves

Rick Steves enjoying a beer at an undisclosed location. 

A couple days ago I found myself sitting in a lone chair at a table in a large empty room, in a snow-covered building deep in the woods of Northern Michigan.  It looked like a scene for a possible KGB interrogation.  But no,  instead I was recording two episodes of

Travel With Rick Steves, hosted by, that’s right, Rick Steves

, who was more than 2,000 miles away at his studio in Edmonds, Washington.  I was at the public radio station in Interlochen, Michigan, which was procured by Rick’s producers for the interview.

I, as with many of you, have been a fan of Rick’s public tv show Rick Steves’ Europe, his public radio show Travel with Rick Steves and his countless travel guides and videos.  So, to have the opportunity to be interviewed by him for an hour on two of my favorite topics, beer and beer travel, was a dream come true.

The first show was about "Finding the Best Beer in the World" and the second one was "Belgian Beer Touring".  Rick interviewed me with his great sense of curiosity, some listeners called in and others posted questions by email.  I answered all the questions, made some recommendations on beers, food and books, and told some short stories to the best of my ability, but in the end, I felt like we had just touched the tip of the iceberg on all the topics.  Rick told me afterward,

“That’s the general nature of all this, but it inspires people to learn more about it.  I think that’s a good thing.”

Looking back, I thought of so many other things I could have said, questions that were not completely answered, erroneous statements that were made by callers that I did not have a chance to refute or add to with more information.  In the end, it’s like travel itself.  It’s not perfect, it is what it is and it is a journey from which you learn, and armed with this new knowledge build upon and hopefully do better the next time.

One thing is clear, Rick Steves in a busy man with lots of people vying for his time, so to be able to have an hour window into his world was a privilege, exciting and perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  My gratitude knows no bounds.  I can’t wait to hear the final production of the two episodes in their broadcast format.  I’ll post the air dates when they become available.  I hope you will tune in or download the podcasts.

So, did we find the best beers in the world during the interview?  No.  We didn’t have enough time, but we did get a little closer.  Maybe next time.

* Travel with Rick Steves

is a fun, hour-long, practical talk show with guest experts and questions from travelers. This weekly program is a lively conversation between travelers and the experts as we learn to explore our world smartly, smoothly, and thoughtfully. The show is currently broadcast on more than 200 station in North America.

Beer Festivals: One More Excuse to Visit Belgium

Thirsty festival goers enjoying the Bruges Beer Festival.

If you  really needed one more excuse to visit Belgium, I suggest for  the incredible beer festivals, built around the needs, wants and desires of beer enthusiasts.  Each year, Belgium hosts dozens of beer festivals, some more well known than others and each with its own character and personality ranging from the granddaddy of them all, the

Zythos Beer Festival (ZBF) all the way down to the Heikant Beer Festival , which is fundraiser for a scout troop.  Yes, a fundraiser for a scout troop.  Where were these guys when I was a tenderfoot?

My favorite four Belgian Beer Festivals are the

Zythos Beer Festival near Leuven, the  Christmas  Beer (Kerstbier) Festival in Essen, the Modeste Beer Festival in Antwerp and the Bruges Beer Festival, which is why I include them in four different annual tours I offer.  The beauty of attending a festival as part of a beer tour is hundreds of beers and brewers come to you in one convenient and efficient place.  This saves a lot of time, especially if you are only in Belgium for six or ten days.  It would otherwise take months, maybe even years, to get the same beer experience.

The Belgians really have the beer festival model down, which makes for typically a really great, user-friendly experience for the consumer.  Most are pay-as-you go, using tokens, which allows you to just have as many beers as you would like at a leisurely pace, as opposed to the American system, where you pay an often-times huge set fee, generally around $50-$75, then people go crazy for four hours trying to get their money’s worth, then people start breaking glasses on the floor and things can get ugly.  You generally don’t have this at the Belgian festivals and it is part of what makes them such a joy.

The sheer variety of incredible-tasting beers at Belgian Festivals is daunting, exciting and fun all at the same time.  As many times as I have been to Belgium, I am always tasting new beers I’ve never had and seeing beers I’ve never heard of.  Most of these festivals are rather intimate, too, compared to say Oktoberfest.  Also, many of the beers are only available at these festivals as seasonal beers, one-of-kinds, or because they don’t bottle or export it.  So, you have to go there to get them.  There is simply no other way.

For more information on beer tours, which include these beer festivals, visit

Belgianbeerme.com

.  The next one is the

Great Zythos Beer Festival Tour

in April and there are still some seats open.  Join us, won’t you?

Slide Show from Ardennes Mountain Spring Beer Tour of Belgium '11

Ardennes Mountain Spring Beer Tour of Belgium '11 Slideshow: Belgian’s trip from Brussels, Belgium to 12 cities Durbuy, Bouillon, Waterloo, Dinant, Achouffe (near Houffalize, Luxembourg), Soy (near Erezee), Rochefort, Abbaye d'Orval (near Florenvill), Chimay, Purnode (near Lisogne, Namur), Maredsous (near Annevoie-Rouillon) and Falmignoul (near Pont-a-Lesse) was created by TripAdvisor. See another Belgium slideshow. Create your own stunning free slideshow from your travel photos.

The Proud Beer Heritage of Luxembourg

What comes to mind when you think of Luxembourg?  I know, trick question, you do not think of Luxembourg. And, why would you?  It is the smallest country in the European Union with about 1000 square miles.
I am here for three nights doing some beer hunting and learning about the country.  They speak French, German and Luxembourgish, which is similar to German, but mostly they speak French.
What comes to mind for me when I think of Luxembourg are the famous cycling brothers Andy and Frank Schleck.  You may know them from a little thing called the Tour de France or Liege-Bastogne-Liege, or any number of famous cycling races.  Amazingly enough, for the two guys who put this miniscule country on the map, there is virtually no trace of them as far as souvenirs, public tributes, displays or commercialism of any sort, which is too bad.  I would have bought a hat or a shirt, or something.  I visited their nearby home village of Mondorf and discovered their home cafe, which did have some photos of them and some other momentos.  It was pretty cool, really cool.  I admire cyclists such as like the Schleck brothers.  The physical fitness level, endurance, stamina, disicpline and mental tactics they have are beyond me.  I do not know how they do what they do, but they do, and this is simply amazing.
I should mention that Mondorf is bang on the French border, so these guys are almost French.  You could probably throw a rock from their homes into France.
But, back to the reason I am here,  beer.  How do I put this...while trying to remain positive...ratebeer.com listed Mousel Zwickelbeier number one...and they were right...it is also made by AB Inbev...so this is from where you have to lower the bar of expectations.  Most of the beers here are pale lagers or what some people call Euro pils.  There are some wheat ales.  There are some Belgian, German, Mexican and Portugese imports, too.   It is what it is.  Having said that, my visit to the old taproom of the former Mousel brewery was one of the highlights of my visit.  Mousel is now brewed outside of Luxembourg City, but the Mousel Cantine remains with its wood panelled walls and carved wood details, murals, nostalgic photos, classic oak bar, and stunning old-world atmosphere.  The food and service are excellent, too.  I had mushroom pasta and ling cod for lunch.  If you visit only one place in Luxembourg, make it the Mousel cantine for a meal and a heavy  ceramic stein of Zwickelbeier, which is an unfiltered lager, that has some flavor to it beyond the common pils found here.
The rest of the old Mousel brewery grounds and buildings have been turned into a Disney Land of thumpin, bumpin, techno beat night clubs.  One is called the Big Brauweri and still has the giant steam machines and other gadgets anchored forever in place in the floors of the old building.  People just dance, eat and drink around it all.  This equipment survived two World Wars, it can withstand someone hurling on it.  Wed., Fri. and Sat. are the big party nights.  I do not know how Thursday fell out of favor.
I tried a bunch of other local beers, too--Bofferding, Ourdaller, Simon Regal, Battin Gambrinus,  Diekirch Grand Cru and Christmas beer.  The latter three, all AB Inbev products.  Nothing jumps out at me.
I also visited a brewpub in Bascharage, rhymes with cah garage, called Brasserie Meyer.  They brew Beierhaascht beers.  A helles, dunkel and an amber.  All clean, distinct and brewed to their German styles.  The place reminds me of an American brewpub in atmosphere, except the building also houses a hotel and an incredible butcher shop.  If I had only had a refrigerator...or a barbeque.  Except for some tastey hunters sausage, I did not eat there, but  food looked superb.  This town is also home the the giant Bofferding brewery, which only takes large groups with reservations, so, I did not get to visit their taproom.
It is hard to do this Euro melting pot of Luxembourg justice in a short blog, but it is worth a visit with its history, architecture, scenery, fortresses, fine cuisine and, proud, historic, but limited beer culture.  I based out of the Youth Hostel in Luxembourg City, which is really more of a hotel than what most Americans think of when thinking of youth hostels.  European hostels have retooled themselves to appeal to adult travelers and its working.  This is one of the best I have visited, complete with a really nice restaurant and very helpful staff.  I highly recommend it and other hostels, too.  Luxembourg is very user friendly.  As an example, you can ride buses anywhere in the city and country for only four Euros a day.
This morning I woke up and realized that I had left my boots, and my  only shoes with me, in the lobby the night before when I was drinking a beer, tired and working on the internet.  I came downstairs and they were gone.  A sinking feeling.  My only pair of shoes in Luxembourg gone and now I am barefoot.  How do you go shopping for new shoes, when you have no shoes?  It is a sinking, embarassing, perplexing and yet somehow a  humorous feeling.  I had to tell my innerself, “Stu, do not laugh.   This is serious...you have no shoes.  Seriously, dude, you are barefoot.”  After I asked the front desk for the second time, turns out someone had turned them and once again I was with shoes.  They just did not see them the first time they looked.  
Note to self--pay more attention to where you take off  your shoes.

Is Abbaye Mont des Cats in France the 8th Trappist brewery?

The new beer from Abbaye des Cats in France.  Photo by Danny Van Tricht.
Well the internet is buzzing, mostly in French, about the prospects of an eighth official Trappist brewery; this one in France.  Rather than rehash the details of this exciting prospect, I'm going to direct you to my good friend Chuck Cook (and his friend Danny Van Tricht), who thoroughly cover this news in detail...and in English in his Belgian Beer & Travel Blog.  I won't spoil the answer for you, but will tell you this is good news!  The dates for my next Trappist Tour are Oct. 15-24.  Farmhouse Ale of Belgium & France Tour dates are Oct. 10-15.  I am planning to include visits to Abbaye Mont des Cats on both tours!

Tribute to Hoegaarden's Pierre Celis

Pierre Celis, who died April 9, 2011, was a beer legend in the Belgian beer world.  The basic story is that he resurrected the style of Belgian Witbier back in the mid 1960s, naming it Hoegaarden, after the town where he lived and brewed the beer.   This is a photo of a photo of Pierre, that hangs in the taproom at the St. Bernardus Brewery in Watou, Belgium.  I took it this past fall on my Belgianbeerme.com Best Damn Farmhouse Ale Tour of Belgium & France.  I recommend reading more about Pierre in Stephen Beaumont's blog, where he so deftly covers the life of this great beer man.



Honk If You Like Goose Island/AB InBev

Sofie Belgian Style Ale by Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. is one of my favorite beers( I have many), so when I first heard the news of AB InBev buying the company for $39 million, I was taken back some.  But, I reserved judgment and soaked in all the banter on the internet as beer enthusiasts weighed in with their thoughts: Mostly people upset, feeling betrayed and that Goose Island sold out.  That, and some sycophants kissing ass on Brewemaster Greg Hall’s Facebook page.  Or, at least it looks that way with no dissenting comments.
  Whether this sale is a good thing depends on where you are standing.  From Greg Hall’s perspective, it’s great.  He has provided financial freedom for he and his family virtually forever.   And hey, that’s all part of the American dream, so you can’t knock the man.  I don’t believe there are many amongst us, who if given the chance to make this Faustian deal, would do otherwise.  So, that should be the end of the debate right there, right?  But, of course, it’s not.
  This purchase will likely have an eventual ripple effect, in the form of cost cutting, layoffs, dumbing down of recipes, the large muscle of the AB InBev taking up even more shelf space and tap handles at retail outlets.  But the largest effect, in my opinion, is the resentment felt by loyal Goose Island customers, who had what they felt was an intimate relationship with an independent brewing company, an unspoken agreement, a hometown hero they could believe in and stand behind.  That was all ripped away in what was tantamount to a “Dear John” text message.
  For those of you who know me, you know I’m also a big Kid Rock fan and at the same time use the word tantamount.  Go figure.    What makes Kid Rock so popular (or not) is different for different people, but one of the things that has made him so huge is his immense loyalty to Detroit, his home state of Michigan, and the people of  Michigan, many of whom are working class, proud, resilient and most importantly loyal-to-a-fault people.  His fans when pressed to say why they like him, inevitably bring up his loyalty to the town and state, which produced him…even if they are not from Michigan.  People in Amsterdam get this.  Kid Rock gets this.  Michigan’s Bell’s Brewing Company gets this mutual loyalty concept.  Goose Island, in my opinion, didn’t get this.  Chicagoland believed in and supported Goose Island and look what they got for it.
  I believe Goose Island will over time limp off into the sunset and join the ranks of other AB InBev acquisitions such as Red Hook, and old Chicagoland favorites such as MeisterBrau and Old Style, whose time has past.  Gone, but not forgotten.  When’s the last time you saw someone drink a Red Hook, anyway?
  Whatever happens, other craft brewers, who are in the on-deck circle to be purchased by mega corporations will be learning vicariously, taking notes and Googling the word Faustian.


Zythos & Alvinne Beer Festivals!

I'm just back from leading the Great Zythos Beer Festival Tour of Belgium.  Where to begin?  First, a great group of beer hunters, some pictured here in Bruges.  Secondly, sunny weather.  Thirdly, two great beer festivals in one great tour.  Alvinne Craft Beer Festival in Avelgem, proved to be kinder, gentler and more intimate, with many creative, eventful, one-of-a-kind beers.  Zythos was a runaway train, but fun and exciting in its own right.  Both festivals, while very different, were incredible experiences.  We also visited Duvel, Halve Maan and Westvleteren.  Thank you to everyone, who took the tour.  I hope your beer made it home safely!

Fire at Trappist Abbey Rochefort

A dramatic fire engulfed part of the abbey of Notre Dame de Saint Remy-Rochefort on Dec. 29, 2010, as the monks were enjoying their dinner.  None of the Trappist monks was injured and no beer was damaged.  The main part of the brewery and the library were saved.  The fire was started in a shed housing a generator that was being used during a power outage caused by heavy snow in the region.  The good news is that the damage, while very intense as seen in this photo, was limited and the brewery is expected to resume production soon.

In other good news, the Lonely Monks Trappist Tour Beer Tour of Belgium is still set to go Oct. 15-24, 2011, and we plan to include Rochefort.  Visit Belgianbeerme.com for details.

Introducing Bamberg Beer Me!

Seasons greetings beer hunters!

 If you are still looking for that hard-to-shop-for-the-person-who-has-everything beer enthusiast, keep in mind beer tours make the perfect stocking stuffer!

Some of you know I have been working on creating two new beer tours, this time of Bamberg, Germany. This branch of BBM! will be known appropriately as Bamberg Beer Me! Beer Tours of Bamberg.

Information, dates and prices for the tours are now posted on a new website. Detailed itineries are in the works and will be posted soon. In the meantime, here are the new tours. Merry Christmas!--Stu

Thanksgiving in Belgium? Why not!?!

When a nice family from California contacts you to design a special Thanksgiving beer tour to Belgium, as the Belgians would say, “Why not!?!”

I’ve just returned from an eight-day tour with the Loefflers of Northern California.  We spent three nights in the dreamy city of Ghent, three nights in the romantic medieval city of Bruges and one night in the unshaven city of Brussels.

Highlights included brewery tours at Van Steenberge, Bosteels and Halve Maan, a visit to Gravenstein castle and dinners at the illustrious Belga Queen in Ghent, the sublime Erasmus in Bruges and eccentric Restobiers in Brussels.  Another highlight of the tour was a surprise marriage proposal from Dustin to Charlotte...she said, "Yes!"

I have travelled with many fine groups, but I have to say what a fun bunch of nice people in which to beer travel they were.  As with any tour, we faced challenges and obstacles (Belgium up to its old tricks) that had to be overcome, but they were all done with flexibility, a smile and great beer.  A special thank you to the Loefflers for beer travelling with Belgian Beer Me! Beer Tours.  I know it will this tour will provided many fine memories for everyone in years to come.

Farewell to Franconia & Bamberg

This past week I have been trying to relearn German.  I owe my high school German teacher Frau Tangert a debt of gratitude as much of what she taught me in 1980 about this country, I got to experience this past week as I immersed myself in the culture.  Some of my German speaking ability came back to me, seemingly out of nowhere, but not as much as I would have liked.  But through persistence, the kindness of strangers amd gppd beer,  I got through fine.  There is so much to say about Bamberg and Franconia.  Where to start?  Well, for one thing they have huge pillows on the beds and the only English radio station is The Eagle broadcasting from the local U.S. Military base to "America's Finest."  Driving around listening to this station gave me some insight into what it must be like to be a U.S. soldier over here.  Lots of subtle suggestions to speak with an Army chaplain before you do anything crazy to yourself or others...but first another song Niceklback.

I went 110 mph on the autobahn and I met Canadian beer writers Josh Oakes and Sunshine Kessler, who are living here for more than two months.  I thank them for sharing their beer wisdom and knowledge of Bamberg.  We went to hear live music at a brewery in the country last night and we were the youngest people there by about 20 years.  It was a great experience and a little window into the world of the locals.  I plan to post some pics of this later.   Today, we had lunch and beers at Brauerei Sonne.

Then of course there was the beer: Rauchbier and country beers.  All pure, fresh and full of character...and much of it fire brewed.  Many of these breweries have mountains of the most beautiful hardwood firewood, all harvested from the thick Bavarian forests.  They brew mostly lagers here with the exception of some wheat ales.  And, they're not afraid to drink them at 9 a.m., when many of the breweries open.  I have to admit, I had my eyes opened to how good a lager beer can be.  And, how different, subtle and full of character they can be.

More later, but for now I have to get some sleep to be ready for my last full day here.  But first, I have to finish the Drei Kronen Rauchbier I'm drinking....mmm...Did I mention I went 110 mph on the autobahn?

Bamberg, beer & bikes!

Stu with Fred Waltman at Fassla Brewery
I'm in the middle of a week in Bamberg, Germany.  As Many of you know, Bamberg is home to nine breweries, all within biking or walking distance.  Two of these breweries are famous for rauch beer, aka, smoked beer.  It's like drinking a glass of beef jerky, except better.  If you only have one day here, it's not enough.  You need at least a week.  I've tasted many fine beers since I've been here, too many to mention now.  I've also met a number great people in the vibrant beer culture, including Fred Waltman, author of the Franconia Beer Guide.  Fred is from Marina Del Ray, Cal., and happened to be here now on one of his many trips here.  I got to have some beers with Fred and his crew at Fassla Brewery.  Bike is the best and fastest way to get around here and I've been enjoying the cool crisp Franconian air in between brewery visits.   More later on this exciting beer city when I return to the U.S.

A river runs through it.
The famous Herren Pils at Keesmann Brewery



Trappist Tour in Progress...



Orval, anyone?
The Lonely Monks Trappist Tour is entering its final day. We've covered a lot of ground, visited a lot of beery places and tasted some world-class beers. I had intended on blogging along the way, but there just has not been time or access to a computer. I'll spend some time writing about both tours when I get back. In the meantime, follow Bryan Falman's Tweets ( twitter.com/beerodyssey) to see current pics and updates. We have six Trappist Abbeys down and one to go: Westvleteren! Tomorrow morning we also tour the In Flanders Field WWI Museum in Iepers, where we are spending the night tonight. Tonight we attended the famous WWI Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. The tour is drawing to a close, but these great memories with a great bunch of beer hunters will last forever! Above is also a pic of part of the group touring the brewery at Orval.
Part of the group at Orval
In Bruges


Home of the Ch'Ti in Northern France

The people of this department of Northern France refer to themselves at the, "Ch'Ti," which is how the flagship beer of Brasserie Castelaine got its name.  We had a nice tour in English by our guide, "Loic." who came all the way from Brussels to be with us.  Thanks, Loic.  Afterwards we sample some beer, then raided the gift shop to buy more beer and breweriana.

We also visited the brasseries of La Choulette, Thierez, Dubuisson, DuPont, Blaugies, Fantome and Kerkom Brewery.  We spent one night in the scenice Ardennes Mountain town of Durbuy and our final night in Leuven.  I'll share more experiences  and pics of of this great tour later.  Computer time lately has been minimal.  Breakfast this morning concluded this grand Farmhouse Ale Tour.  This group was fun and interesting.  I enjoyed spending time with them and getting to know them.  Good beer people. 

I'm  off to Brussels today to meet a new group of beer hunters to begin the Lonely Monks Trappist Tour.  I hope you are enjoying following along.  Thanks for the comments!