CategoriesTastes

Craft Beer Around the World – My Favorites

Aegir IPA craft beer
Travel the world and get your craft beer on!

Drinking a locally brewed beer is high on my list of things to do when I travel. It’s right up there with an epic hike, eating a (sometimes revolting) regional delicacy and running a 10K. I’ve had beers all across the United States, and from 44 degrees latitude south to near the Arctic Circle.

So, where are my favorite spots? Here they are. And be assured, I tried to get away from the same ol’ same ol’ and show you at least a few places that aren’t on your map yet. Let’s go!

Australia
Let’s get this out of the way: Foster’s is not Australian for beer. During my 2009 visit, the Aussie craft beer movement was still in its infant stages. We found succor in Sydney at the Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe. I learned about Redoak from the lone grumpy Australian I met in Katoomba. Sourpuss that he was, Redoak is proof that he knew his beer. I still remember its oatmeal stout with its hint of butterscotch. I wasn’t yet a huge India Pale Ale fan yet, but I’d bet Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe has a good one. And it’s slick, elegant hangout. It would be my first destination next time I arrive in Sydney.

craft beer
Beer lovers bond at the Ant ‘n’ Bee in Tokyo.

Japan
There’s more to Japanese beer than Kirin and Saporro. Head to the Ropongi District. Evade the barkers trying to lure you into their loud, expensive nightclubs. Go down a staircase, and bask in the Ant ‘n’ Bee. During our visit, one of the waitresses radiated ecstasy from her recent visit to the American Craft Beer Festival. But she proved that Japan has its own craft beer pride. She hooked us up with a selection of regional brews, including a cask-conditioned stout, a strong ale and a harvest beer. The selection rotates – but chances are, you’ll still be able to get an order of incredible アントンビー六本木 Ant ‘n’ Bee fries to go with your brew.

New Zealand
The climate in New Zealand can grow anything edible. Including hops. Since my visit, craft beer has boiled over down there. I found Dux de Lux to be the top choice. You can find a Dux De Lux in Queenstown or Christchurch. It’s hard not to love a beer called the Black Shag Stout. But surprise! It was the Ginger Tom that stayed in my memory banks. The ginger-infused ale inspired me to put a ginger twist on my homebrewed India Pale Ale … which is currently the favorite among those I’ve forced to drink my homebrew. How’s that for a lasting impression?

Aegir Bryggeri craft beer
Just add Vikings!

Norway
In Flam, Norway, you’ll find Ægir Bryggeri. It couldn’t possibly be cooler if Vikings had chiseled it by hand from a solid block of kryptonite. There’s the architecture – based on a centuries-old stave church. There’s the dessert,  a gooey brownie with ice cream and fruit compote. But none of this means anything without great beer. The India Pale Ale will please any hop lover. The Sumbel porter is also terrific, and then you can be ready to try the seasonals. How does a Cardinal Double Chocolate Chili Stout sound? Well, it’ll be even better when you get to swill it at the Ægir microbrewery.

South Korea
Craftworks Tap House in Seoul is the total package – top-flight craft beer and awesome food. It’s a respite for those who long for a touch of Anglo-influenced cuisine. Myself? I can’t get enough bi bim bap, banchan and bulgogi. If you’re up for quesadillas and bangers ‘n’ mash, this is your place. I had the Geumgang dark ale and the Moon Bear India Pale Ale. Despite the craft beer status, they don’t have quite the alcohol percentage of North American brews. Still flavorful, still well executed, and still far better than anything else you’re likely to find in Seoul.

craft beer
Page 1 of the beer list at The Happy Gnome.

United States
I live in a big country. And its pint glass overflows with killer craft beer. Since it’s my home country and it covers so much space, I’m going to give you TWO recommendations.

Alright, let’s start with the west. North of the hurlyburly that is San Diego, you’ll find Carlsbad. It’s no sleepy little town, but it’s far more relaxed than its neighbor to the south. It’s also the home of Pizza Port (there are other locations, too). I found this by accident – a nearby seafood restaurant had a long wait for a table, and I wandered in. And discovered a wonderland of craft beer, all from Port Brewing. Port has the distinction of being the only brewery that’s whipped up a pilsener that could get me excited. And it’s SoCal, so expect hard-hitting India Pale Ales, some Belgian fun and some stouts in the cooler months. The pizza ain’t bad, either. The place is also chaotic, fun, unpretentious and friendly.

Let’s go further north. In St. Paul, Minn., look for The Happy Gnome. It doesn’t brew its own. But it has assembled a collection of regional brews that will astound. The northern Midwest makes a good show, with stuff like Dragon’s Mill from New Holland Brewing; Pahoehoe blonde ale made with coconut water; and the hefty Scotty Karate from Dark Horse Brewing. The food is also excellent (game hen, coconut-beet risotto!), with dessert being a particular standout. The Happy Gnome creme brulee was worth every calorie.

Oh, hell – I changed my mind. I’m adding a third location. If you ever visit the Phoenix area, send an email my way. I’ll arrange to meet you at Papago Brewing. If you don’t like something in one of its 20-some rotating taps or in its huge refrigerated case, go drink some Budweiser or equally swilly Stella Artois. This week, I had an oak-aged Belgian quad from Sierra Nevada that blew me away. It’s in no way unusual to have something so awesome at Papago Brewing.

More on My List
There are places I didn’t visit, for one reason or another. But I will next time I’m in the area!

Boris Brewery (Jeju, South Korea)
I somehow missed Boris Brewery during my stay in the Hawaii of South Korea. Don’t make the same mistake. Word is, Brewmaster Boris knows how to make an India Pale Ale. This is a local favorite near Jeju City Hall. I like that the menu has Korean bar food. Do NOT make the mistake of going to Modern Time. That used to be Boris’ place, but it has taken a nosedive since his departure as brewmaster.

Monkey Wizard (Riwaka, NZ – near Nelson)
I must’ve looked so forlorn; both times my bus passed the Monkey Wizard (know known as Hop Federation), it was closed. How could I not want to drink craft beer at a place a called Monkey Wizard? Barley wines, Belgians, stouts … and a picturesque setting equal a great place to drink a pint. Oh, and there are magnificent hop field nearby. I can imagine that Monkey Wizard Brewery is tapped into the local hop sources. I can only guess how that impact the taste of its craft beer creations.

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CategoriesAccommodationsAdventures

48 Hours in Queenstown, New Zealand

The Remarkables live up to the name.
The Remarkables live up to the name.

If New Zealandgave birth to adrenaline sports, Queenstown is where those sports gestated. It’s flanked by the aptly named Remarkables mountain range, perched on a lake that rivals Lake Tahoe, and criss-crossed by canyons, rivers and gulleys. Here’s just a taste of what you can do in Queenstown in the summer in just two days – winter is a different animal, and very suitable for snow sports:

Activities
  • TSS Earnslaw – This steamship was built in 1912, making it younger than most of its current passengers. Okay, I’m exaggerating – but not much! Cruises can just take you for a lake excursion on Lake Wakatipu, or for a multi-course meal on the far side of the lake. Watch the steam engine crew at work, and hang out on the bridge with the captain, who will likely be rockin’ The Police while fogeys do a sing-along by the lounge piano. Sedate, but relaxing.
  • Street Luge – A cable car gives you a great view. But you’d better focus on the twisty track when bombing down in an unpowered go-cart. It can get plenty fast, but the track is more tame than I’d prefer. Still fun, though!
  • Bungee Jumping – A signature activity. You’ll have your pick of operators and sizes.
Sarah paraglides above Queenstown.

  • Paragliding – Not quite as extreme as skydiving, but you’ll get an incredible view of The Remarkables, the town and Lake Wakatipu. It takes about 10 minutes. Get there around 9 a.m. so you can book your flight before the winds change – they often stop gliding in the afternoon.
  • Hiking – The street luge course is the starting point for some awesome long hikes. Some will take you to nearby mining ghost towns!

Think Twice About …

  • The Underwater Observatory – Sure, $5 NZ is cheap. But you won’t see much from this very small space with one window.
Eating
  • Patagonia Chocolates – Awesome desserts. Try the banana split ice cream. Everything is rich and tasty.sdc10079-1
  • Fergburger – It’s a Queenstown legend. People who live 16 hours away talk about it. You’ll find some exotic meats there in addition to beef. However, Fergburger has one of the planet’s most annoying Flash Web sites, so I’ve shafted them out of a link here. Anything that automatically plays music and takes too long to load drives me crazy.
  • Dux De Lux– Best microbrewery in town, and it ranks high in the nation. Ginger Tom is a standout.
  • Aggys Shack, Fish & Chips – Locals say it only “looks dodgy,” and they’re right. This greasy place by the docks serves up fish ‘n’ chips, of course, and a raw fish concoction with coconut milk and the freshest green-lipped mussels ever. Super-cheap, too! No link – not for an annoying Web site, but for lack of one altogether!
CategoriesAdventuresTravel

New Zealand Travel Itinerary – My Ideas

New Zealand travel itinerary
Tongariro – a must for your New Zealand travel itinerary.

If you need some ideas for a New Zealand travel itinerary, I have you covered. Here are some suggestions for 14 full days in New Zealand that can help you put your own adventures together.

First off, visiting New Zealand involves a lengthy flight (unless you’re from Australia). That means spending at least two weeks is the only way to go. These ideas include some highlights from my trip and a few ideas of what I would’ve changed in my New Zealand travel itinerary with my newfound knowledge.

New Zealand travel itinerary
Our caving group, with a backdrop of glow worms.

Day One: Arrive from Los Angeles at 6 a.m. local time. Drop bags off at hotel in Parnell near the downtown area. Grab a few flat whites at Ben’s. Ogle crazy foods at local Asian markets. Take a ferry to Rangitoto Island and hike to the top of the volcano. Return to hotel … check in and shower. Then off to dinner and wandering the streets of Auckland. Hindsight is 20/20 … and mine says I should’ve rented a car after the flat whites and driven the easy two hours to Rotorua, thus affording some time in the fun capitol, or extra time in Wellington. I was planning to feel far more jet-lagged, but the symptons never came.

Day 2: Bus from Auckland to Rotorua. Arrive around 2:30 p.m., check into hotel. Visit Kairua Park, walk around Lake Rotorua. Watch for the sulfury lagoon where the lake turns color. Eerie! Indian dinner at Ambiance. General hanging around the town.

New Zealand travel itinerary
Heading up Franz Josef Glacier.

Day 3: Breakfast, drive out to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. It’s an amazing but low-key addition to anyone’s New Zealand travel itinerary. After lunch, off to Agroventures. Zorbing is the highlight. Try the Schweeb, too. We followed this with driving around the countryside at dinner at Fat Dog. An extra day here would’ve been nice. Too much fun stuff to do here! I posted about our time there, with more photos.

Day 4: Drive to Tongariro National Park. Stop whenever we feel like it, especially at the Honey Hive. Continue on to Tongariro through Taupo. If you’re a hiker, get provisions in Taupo. Quick two-hour hike on Taranaki Falls Track. Dinner at Skotel. Arrange bus service for tomorrow’s hike.

Day 5: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing with a side trip up Mt Ngauruhoe. An epic journey requiring a post of its own … or two (coming soon). Drive to Waitomo, stopping in National Park at Eiven’s for a quick dinner. Then on through Te Kuiti into Waitomo. Fall DEAD ASLEEP!

New Zealand travel itinerary
Me overlooking Queenstown, The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.

Day 6:  Start with breakfast at Bosco Cafe. Then onto Rap, Raft & Rock for our Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour. Post about that coming soon. Shower, followed by dinner at The Thirsty Weta. A late snack at Curly’s Bar & Grill. Fall dead asleep … again! Read all about it in my glowworm cave post.

Day 7: On the road by 8 a.m. for the drive to Wellington. You can do it in six hours without speeding, but more stops equal more time! We made an extended stop at Paraparamu Beach. Hang out on Cuba Street, have a great Indonesian dinner at Rasa.

Day 8: A quick visit to Te Papa Museum, followed by grabbing a few Wellington Phoenix shirts (Wellington’s soccer team in the A League). Then, we catch a flight to Nelson. It’s only about 20 minutes. Arrive, check into hotel, wander the streets and have a late lunch at Falafel Gourmet.

Day 9: Bus to Abel Tasman National Park (this will get its own entry soon). Walk for a few hours. Late lunch at The Park Cafe. Brews at The Sprig and Fern. Dinner at Little India. This may sound like blasphemy, but in retrospect I’d skip Abel Tasman and head straight to Franz Josef today to make up for an extra day in Rotorua.

Day 10: Bus to Franz Josef Glacier. Stop at the Sandfly Cafe … ate a possum pie! By the way, New Zealand likes weird food. You might want to make room in your New Zealand travel itinerary for the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival. Various other stops – a very nice drive. Best 8-hour bus ride ever. Arrive, check out the town. Hang out a bit.

Day 11: Franz Josef Glacier tour. Unbelievable! That was pretty much the whole day, except for showers and cooking dinner at the backpackers’ lodge. It’s not physically that strenuous, but the experience of being on a glacier is amazing. This should be part of any outdoor-related New Zealand travel itinerary.

Day 12: Bus to Queenstown. Stop in Wanaka – beautiful town on the lake! Continue to Queenstown through the heart of NZ’s grape and fruit basket. Lots of vineyards and vintners. Scenery turns more dry and stark. Clearly more commerce and mining, despite the isolation. Arrive in Q-town … we ate some fresh green-lipped muscles at the Aggys Shack chased by gelato from Patagonia – try the banana split flavor. It’s not what you’d expect! Then, off to the cinema to see Slumdog Millionaire where it’s still in a theater!

Day 13: Parasailing and street luge, followed by a nice run around town. We followed the lake’s edge for a few miles. Then to Aggys Shack, Fish & Chips for smoked eel and some sort of raw fish concoction. Took a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw. Fun, and beautiful views. Great to see a bird’s-eye of the crew working the boilers. Finally, a a nightcap at Dux De Lux following a nice pad thai at one of the local Thai restaurants.

Day 14: Breakfast at Halo. Go to Queenstown Airport. Say good-by to Q-Town. Catch a flight in Auckland. And this brings my New Zealand travel itinerary to and end.