In today's world, with wars being waged over ideology, with both international and domestic relations strained till we're all red in the face, it's pleasant to think of something that can bring us all together under one big tent, to create a true community of brothers.
I'm talking, of course, about beer.
Beer is the glue that binds men the world over -- except devout Muslims and certain strict Christian denominations, but I'll drink tea with them in another column. For most of the rest of us, from Tennessee and Toronto to Thailand and Tallinn, the beautiful brew is a veritable United Nations of goodwill.
Like travel in general, seeking out and sampling good beer from different countries is an enriching, educational experience, and since ships often visit several countries on one itinerary, a cruise can be a veritable pub crawl for the dedicated beer connoisseur.
In this article I'll discuss brewery tours and local brews in some of the better beer ports on Alaskan, Canadian, European, and Caribbean itineraries. In a future Frommer's Cruise Newsletter I'll show how the cruise lines rate in terms of onboard selection, onboard beer bars, best-selling brew, and "beer amenities" such as free snacks and tasting sessions. Stay tuned.
Brewery Tours in the Cruise Ports
Some people enjoy going to wineries for a polite, civilized tasting, but give me a nice brewery tour any day, with an on-site bar for free samples after. Many cruise lines offer tours of the following breweries, often in conjunction with other local attractions or active options such as bicycle tours. Most of the breweries also offer regular tours for visitors dropping by on their own, but check before you go.
In Juneau, Alaska, the Alaska Brewing Company (907/780-5866; www.alaskanbeer.com) offers low-key tours, and their logo-wear is even pretty hip. The brewery started small in 1986 when Geoff and Marcy Larson had the idea of bringing a local gold-rush-era brew back to life. It worked, and now Alaskan Amber, Pale Ale, Stout, ESB, Winter Ale, and Summer Ale are found everywhere in Alaska, and are mighty tasty too. Try a taste of their Alaskan Smoked Porter. The combination of the smoked alder-wood flavor and the yeast added to the mix results in a beer that ages over time, like wine, becoming mellower with the years. As the brewery notes, "As it ages, the smoke becomes more of a subtle background note. Around the third and fourth years the beer's other flavors such as sherry, currant, raisin, and toffee-like nuances come forward. The fifth year sees the reemergence of the smoky character to the forefront." In a word, yum.
In the small town of Haines, Alaska, the tiny Haines Brewing Company (907/766-3823) is a stop on the Taste of Haines tour, which also visits a smoked-salmon shop to sample and learn how the stuff is prepared. Brews produced include Dalton Trail Pale Ale, Eldred Rock Amber, IPA, Lookout Stout, Scotch Ale, Holiday Spice Ale, and Birch Boy Summer Ale, the latter made with newly picked spruce tips from the Chilkat River Valley.
Small-ship cruises in the Pacific Northwest allow beer-lovers to visit the Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River, Oregon (541/386-2247; www.fullsailbrewing.com). Located right on the Columbia River, with an outdoor deck where you can grab lunch of dinner in summer, the brewery produces the award-winning Full Sail Amber, Pale Ale, and Rip Curl copper ale, as well as seasonal brews like Halfpipe Porter (winter), Switchback Ale (spring/summer), Wassail Ale (don't open till Christmas), and Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale. A number of different beers are on tap for visitors.
On the other side of the continent, Alexander Keith's Nova Scotia Brewery in Halifax (902/455-1474; www.keiths.ca) is a marvel. When I was there in 2002, I saw a simple sign that said "Brewery Tour," with an arrow pointing left. When I followed it, I found myself on the most amazing brewery tour I've ever taken. Unlike the typical walk-through of a modern plant with a few historical exhibits, Keith's has restored significant portions of its plant to the way they looked when Mr. Keith established his business in 1820. Costumed actors take you through grain storehouses, historic brewing displays, and residential rooms en route to the 19th-century barroom for a sip (or two, or three) of Keith's brew.
Nearby, in Saint John, New Brunswick, cruise passengers can join a tour that visits the city's highlights, including the Moosehead Brewery (www.moosehead.ca), the oldest independent brewing operation in Canada. It's your only chance to get into the place, since tours are offered exclusively to people booking through the cruise lines. Also included are a drive around the St. John area, time at the Old City Market, a visit to the famous Reversing Falls, and finally a stop at O'Leary's Pub.
Across the water, beer lovers won't know where to start in Dublin, Ireland, but the Guinness Brewery's Guinness Storehouse (01/408-4800; www.guinness.com) is as good a place as any. Guinness has been headquartered at its famous St. James's Gate Brewery since 1759, but today tours of the brewery itself are no longer offered. Instead, visitors can explore a nearby 19th-century building that houses an audiovisual presentation showing how the famous stout is made, plus bar where visitors can sample a glass. Two related galleries and a restaurant are also on site.
In Amsterdam, the Heineken Experience (020/523-9666; www.heinekenexperience.com) is a high-energy self-guided multimedia tour of the former Heineken brewing facilities, which date from 1867. Before the brewing moved to other facilities in 1988, this place produced more than 26 million gallons annually. The million-glass fermentation tanks are still there, along with the multistory malt silos and all manner of vintage brewing equipment and implements. You "meet" Dr. Elion, the 19th-century chemist who isolated Heineken "A" yeast, which gives the beer its taste. In one amusing attraction, you stand on a moving floor, facing a large video screen, and get to see and feel what it's like to be a bottle of beer careening on a conveyor belt through a modern Heineken bottling plant. Best of all, in another touchy-feely presentation, you "sit" aboard an old brewery dray-wagon, "pulled" by a pair of big Shire horses on the video screen in front of you, that shakes, rattles, and rolls on a mini-tour of Amsterdam.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, the Carlberg Brewery (33-27-13-14; www.carlsberg.com) offers tours of Gamle Carlsberg, the old part of the Carlsberg brewery, established in 1847. Following a route through the production plant, visitors are introduced to Carlsberg's history, beer production at Gamle Carlsberg and at the modern brewery, the history of the plant's architecture, employee history, and research by the Carlsberg Laboratory. The tour finishes in the stables, part of which are home to a dozen of the Jutland horses which have long been associated with Carlsberg and its beer wagons. Another part of the stable houses a bar where you can have a glass or two.
In Prague, the Pilsner Breweries (420/19-706-2888; www.pilsner-urquell.com) pump out brands like Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus, the most widely consumed beer in the Czech Republic. The one-hour tour of the refurbished brewhouse includes a 15-minute film and visits to the fermentation cellars and brewing rooms. One block away, the Pivovarsk´ muzeum U Fleku (U Fleku Beer Museum, 420/224-934-019-20; www.ufleku.cz) is a former 15th-century malthouse with displays of brewery machinery, tools, tanks, and other historical mementos of beer production in Prague.
Other brewery tours offered in Europe include visits to the Rostock Brewery (www.rostocker.de) in Warnemunde, Germany, and the Mack Brewery (www.mack.no) in Tromso, Norway -- the northernmost brewery in the world.
In the Caribbean, tours are offered at several regional brewers, including the Banks Brewery in Barbados (www.banksbeer.com), the Carib Brewery in Trinidad (www.caribbeer.com), and the Belikin Brewery in Belize.
Favorite Caribbean Beers
Though the Caribbean isn't a hotbed of brewery tours, the region does boast a whole case of local brews. Here are some favorites, by island:
Antigua: Wadadli (from the island's Carib name)
Bahamas: The local beer is Kalik. Bahamian Hammerhead, another brand, is brewed on Grand Bahama Island.
Cozumel, Mexico: The best local beer is Sol, the perfect antidote to the usually steamy Yucatan weather. Other favorites are no surprise, including Corona, Dos Equis, and Presidente.
Curaçao: Amstel, brewed locally with desalinated seawater (hmm...)
Grand Cayman: Stingray
Jamaica: What else? Red Stripe
Key West: Hog's Breath
Puerto Rico: Medalla
St. Kitts: Carib
St. Lucia: Piton, one of my regional favorites
St. Martin/Sint Maarten: Red White and Blue, a favorite on both the French and Dutch sides of the island
St. Thomas (USVIs): Carib and Blackbeard's (the latter brewed on St. Thomas)
St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Hairoun
- Trinidad: Stag