Beer is brewed, in varying degrees of quality, in countries across the globe. It brings colleagues together when they close the working week with a cold one at the pub, friends together as they support their favourite sports teams, throw a steak on the backyard barbeque, or celebrate milestones in their lives, and leads aficionados in search of the perfect beer to follow their tastebuds around the world.
Beer buff or not, here are our suggestions for great brews in some unexpected places.
Belgium has great beer. It’s a known fact and not a particularly surprising one at that.
From the spontaneously fermented and unblended lambic beers, brewed during cooler months and left out in open vats to collect wild yeasts, to the thirst-quenching white beers favoured in the summer and flavoured with herb mixtures containing coriander and bitter orange peel, the character, taste, and variety of Belgian brews makes the country a utopia for beer connoisseurs.
The Holy Grail of Belgian ale and one which is nearly impossible to purchase is of the Trappist variety: Westvleteren. Trappist doesn’t refer to the style of beer but instead to by whom it is made – Trappist monks, in this case since 1838 at the Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren.
Of the three varieties produced at the abbey, their dark, robust Westvleteren 12 (10.2% alc./vol) has several times been named the best in world. This accolade has seen demand increase but production remains low and steady. The position of Westvleteren’s Trappist monks is summed up by Mark Bode of the abbey’s claustrum, “We make the beer to live but we do not live for beer.”
The Abbey of Saint Sixtus is located near the village of Westvleteren in the Belgian province of West Flanders. Belgium is in the GMT+1 time zone and its currency is the Euro. Don’t pack your bags unless you’ve called ahead for an appointment – you won’t be able to collect any beer otherwise.
The address of the abbey is Donkerstraat 12, Vleteren, and as public transport is limited it’s best to travel by car. It’s just over a one and half hour drive from the Belgian capital, Brussels, and its location in the countryside means that you’ll pass several quaint farms and follow country roads through cornfields to reach the abbey.
As the Abbey of Saint Sixtus and the Westvleteren brewery are not open to visitors, spend your afternoon enjoying part of or the entire Westvleteren walking route. There are also several war cemeteries in the area.
The website of the Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren offers further information about the brewery and the monastic life.
The pristine wilderness surrounding the tiny Canadian community of Tofino, located on Vancouver Island, attracts lovers of all things outdoors. Its position on the Clayoquat Sound, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, means there are unlimited opportunities for fishing, whale watching, and sea kayaking. Dry land also offers adventure: eco-tours are popular and Tofino is also well-known for its long, beautiful beaches and impressive rainforests.
In the middle of this natural beauty is the Tofino Brewing Company, located at 681 Industrial Way. Its open plan design means that from the moment you walk in the door you’re thrust directly into their brewing process.
The Tofino Brewing Company opened in April 2011 and is now happily brewing its own Tuff Session Ale, Hoppin’ Cretin IPA, and Reign In Blonde on a year-round basis, as well as the summer seasonal Fogust Wheat Ale and the winter seasonal Dawn Patrol Coffee Porter.
When faced with such great beer the decision of what to take home is bound to be a difficult one. Fear not as the friendly staff behind the beer counter will happily let you sample what’s on offer. When you settle on your favourite (and they can all be your favourite) then fill up a growler or two and enjoy their fine brew at home in the company of good friends.
Tofino is on Vancouver Island, part of the Canadian province of British Columbia, and the Pacific Time zone is GMT-7. Colourful Canadian dollars are the currency here and its proximity to the Pacific Ocean results in a rather moderate climate. The winter months are a great time to watch storms roll in and waves crash onto the beaches.
The nearest international airport is located in Victoria (YYJ) which is located just over 300 kilometres southeast of Tofino. When travelling by car, follow Highway 4 as far west as you possibly can and watch out for the brewery’s signs just before you enter Tofino.
The Eagle Aerie Gallery, owned by Canadian artist Roy Henry Vickers, is a stunning exhibition of Canadian art. It’s located at 350 Campbell Street in Tofino and admission is free. The gallery is open seven days a week from 10am until 5pm.
To find out more about the beer, the growlers, and how they promote sustainability, check the website of the Tofino Brewing Company.
Many things spring to mind when you think of Iceland: tempestuous volcanoes, gushing geysers, and fishermen casting their nets into the rough seas of the Atlantic Ocean, but beer is not really one of them. What many don’t realise is that this island nation struggled under prohibition – yes, beer was banned – from 1915 until 1989.
In the years since much has been done to bring locally produced beer to those who are of the 20-year old legal drinking age. One brewery, Ölvisholt Brugghús, located in the fertile rolling hills northeast of Selfoss, comes from humble roots. Having long been a sheep and dairy farm, agriculture has fallen by the wayside and the focus is now only on beer.
Ölvisholt Brugghús, located at Ölvisholti Flóahreppi, 801 Selfoss, brews four different varieties of beer: Lava – a smoked Imperial Stout, Móri – a red ale, Skjálfti – a premium lager, and Fósturlandsins Freyja – a wheat ale. Each has their own interesting story but it’s Skjálfti, a complex, aromatic lager, that perhaps best embodies Iceland.
Skjálfti is the Icelandic word for earthquake – fitting as Ölvisholt Brugghús is located on the divide between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The Skjálfti beer is named for a massive earthquake in the year 2000 that severely damaged the Ölvisholt farm. Eerily, just two days prior to the brewery’s opening in 2008, it experienced another earthquake.
Who doesn’t love beer with a good story behind it?
Selfoss is along the south coast of Iceland and can be reached by following Highway 1 west from the capital, Reykjavik. Iceland is in the GMT time zone and its currency is the Icelandic króna. Winters are cold and snowy but are your best chance to see the Northern Lights.
The nearest international airport is located in Keflavik (KEF), southwest of Reykjavik. The easiest way to travel around Iceland and to reach Ölvisholt Brugghús is by renting a car.
When driving north of Selfoss you’ll reach the Golden Circle, an aptly named circuit which covers Iceland’s best known features and touches on the country’s long history.
The website of Ölvisholt Brugghús will give you more information on the backstory of each of their beers.