My Top Five of 2009

Our friend and fellow beer traveler
Matt Venzke reflects on his 2009 beer experiences

So I’ve wiggled my way into a spot as a guest blogger on the grooviest beer travel page in the world!  I am SO cool.   But now I have to answer to a task-master of an assignment editor (Chris).

Recently, he told me he would blog about their Top 10 new beer destinations of the year and suggested I contribute to the theme.  Since original ideas aren’t my forte, and because I want to suck up, I whole-heartedly jumped on the idea.

But I struggled to come up with TEN destinations of my own to highlight.  For one thing, I didn’t just get back from Australia.  In fact, I spent almost half the year in a part of the world in which beer drinking isn’t exactly a national pastime. Ultimately, it’s clear I’m only HALF as prolific as the incredibly cool Canham-Nelson duo, at best.

So, with those factors in mind, I thought it most appropriate that I offer my top FIVE beer destinations of 2009.  After much deliberation, here they are:

5 – Brauhaus, Abu Dhabi
In May, I finished my latest 376-day adventure in the Middle East.   I’ve spent a lot of time in the region in the past, and in some countries, alcohol is illegal altogether.  But even in such “dire straits” you can still expand your ex-beer-ience.  During a previous 4-month stretch in Kuwait, I hunted down and sampled 19 different non-alcoholic beers. It helped me keep my palate tuned, offered a welcome break to bottled water, and reminded me that it’s not all about the alcohol.   But thankfully, on my latest gig, I could at least occasionally sample some real beer – usually a can of Stella Artois or rare bottle of Warsteiner.  But my buds and I found a real oasis in the desert at Brauhaus, an authentic German restaurant with 6-8 quality lagers and weizens on draft.  This place helped me stay sane.  You can find an oasis in any beer desert.  (Runner-up: Hofbräuhaus, Dubai).

Back in beer world

4 – The Cone Bar, Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport
In many years of beer drinking, I don’t think I’ve ever savored a beer more than the three glasses of DeKoninck I had on the way home from my year away via Amsterdam.  The Cone Bar was one of the few places in Schipol that served something other than Heineken.  In addition to the lovely DeKoninck, they also had a Dutch witbier on draft. Visit quality beer stops at your travel way-points and encourage them to offer more than the usual, because nothing helps soothe the pains of travel like a good beer.

(Runner-up: Sweetwater Drafthouse in Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport).

Blue Mountain Brewery

3 – Virginia’s “Brew Ridge Trail”
Having spent several years living in Virginia, I can’t say that the Commonwealth has ever threatened to get anywhere near the top of the list of top beer states.  But Virginia has great potential as a beer destination, and during a short visit home this year, Michelle and I discovered more than great scenery in the beautiful, scenic, mountainous, northwest corner of Virginia.  Along with the incredible views of Shenandoah National Park, we enjoyed Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company, Blue Mountain Brewery and Starr Hill Brewery – all quality brewers worthy of the trip in and of themselves.  Support your local breweries!

(Runner-up: St. George Brewing Company, Hampton, Virginia – our former “local” continues to produce quality brews (their Stout and Porter are world-class) in the “beer desert” of southeastern Virginia.)

The crew at Ol' Factory Cafe

2 – The Monterey Beer Festival
Michelle and I really enjoyed our trip west to join Chris and Merideth as they hosted this great festival, definitely a highlight of our year in beer.   As a bonus, Chris was kind enough to cart us around to a handful of breweries we hadn’t yet visited

(highlight: Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz). Nothing beats drinking beer with good friends.

1 – Belmont Party Supply, Dayton, Ohio
My beer geekdom started 15 years ago.  In that time, I’ve lived in 6 states and in Europe, and traveled all over the place, so I’ve been privileged to experience a lot of beer in a lot of places.  But the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that no matter where you are, sometimes the best ex-beer-ience is enjoying a good bottle of beer in your own living room.  Luckily I’ve found a decent retailer everywhere I’ve lived.  But Belmont is a standout; not only because of an incredible lineup, but most notably because they have one of the best selections of singles I’ve ever seen!  A good local retailer is key to your beer happiness!

(Runner-up: Bon Vivant Market, Smithfield, Virginia – my top choice in my former home, and one of my top three retailers of all time.)

I’m looking forward to another great year in beer in 2010, and hope you are too!