The Three Best Vacation Beers I’ve Ever Had

My most recent post for TODAY.com is about the Big River Brewing Company at the Boardwalk Hotel in Disney World.  I was down there last week with the family, and Big River was a life saver – a lush desert island of craft beer in an otherwise barren sea of industrial light lagers.

While I was there, I had one of those magical beer moments that etch themselves into your mind forever.  It got me to thinking about other special beer moments from vacations gone by, and I was surprised that I could only come up with a couple.  I guess they are more rare than I anticipated.

Here are the three I could come up with, from most recent to most distant:

3. Steamboat Pale Ale at Big River Brewing Company at Walt Disney World.  As I said, this one just happened, and it mostly had to do with hop withdrawal. Our trip to Disney World was all about the mouse and nothing else.  We stayed on Disney property, relied on Disney transportation to get from place to place, and bought a seven day pass to all of the parks.  We were trapped in the bubble.  Mostly that’s a cool thing, especially with young kids, but it sucks for a beer geek.  The best stuff I could find was Sam Adams Boston Lager and Summer Ale, both of which are nice, but neither of which are a hop bomb.  After four days or so with no crafty beers, I had no idea how much I was craving hops until I had my first sip of that that Steamboat Pale Ale.  My body tingled with delight, both from the cold beer on a very hot day and from the hop flavor dancing into the happy place in my brain.  It was marvelous.   As I said over on TODAY.com, I could taste it in my toes. I’ll remember that moment for a long time.

2. Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy in the Wisconsin Dells. This happened a few years ago, when my wife and kids and I were visiting my parents out in Milwaukee.  We decided to spend the weekend up in the Wisconsin Dells, which has been a northern summertime escape for generations of folks from Milwaukee and Chicago.  We were having a lot of fun with water parks, duck boat tours and poking around the funky little shops in the downtown strip, but by the end of the day the 90 degree heat had me tired and parched.  We stopped into a restaurant for dinner, choosing to sit on the patio next to the river.  Our table had a little tent card on it pimping Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy.  It looked pretty refreshing, so I ordered one without giving it much thought.  I had never had a shandy before, and I was blown away when I took a long pull on the beer and was rewarded with a huge gush of lemony goodness.  This half-beer and half-lemonade was exactly what I needed, and I’ve been a fan of this stuff ever since.  I know Leinie’s isn’t exactly craft beer, but I don’t give a damn.  When I’m mowing my lawn, I’m dreaming of a Summer Shandy.  I even tried to make my own a few times, which is always a disaster.  Leave it to the pros, kids!

1. German Pilsner in Dusseldorf, Germany.  This one happened in the early 90’s, probably late spring of ’93.  My dad decided to bring me along on a business trip to Germany, and we moved around from Hamburg, Dusseldorf, and Koln.  I never really had many beers with my dad before that trip, and I NEVER had an honest to goodness German pilsner.  I can still remember that warm late afternoon in the Altstadt (German for “old town”) section of Dusseldorf, my dad and I sitting on a low wall outside of a tavern, gazing down on the cobblestones and watching all the German girls go by (at least that’s what I was doing).  It was a wonderful moment, and possibly the best setting ever to have your first real pilsner.  I was back in the Altstadt last year on business, but this time it was all about the Dusseldorf Altbiers, those dark and malty wonders.  Too bad I didn’t know enough back then to introduce my dad to one – they’re magical in their own right.

I’ve had many beers on vacation, and many of them have been excellent.  But few have made that special connection that makes you remember that particular glass full of beer with crystal clarity.  It might sound hokey, but I cherish moments like these.  If beer geeks kept scrapbooks, these moments would get a two page spread.

How about you?  Are there any magical beer moments you can recall while traveling?  As always, let us know below!

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Author:Jim Galligan

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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42 Comments on “The Three Best Vacation Beers I’ve Ever Had”

  1. jf1smith
    May 3, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    While in FL seeing my folks, visiting the taproom at Cigar City with my 23 yr old daughter and working our way through the selections. Not a clinker amongst them.

    • May 3, 2012 at 10:42 am #

      Sounds like a good time. I hope my kids are beer geeks (ahem, after their 21st birthdays, of course).

  2. May 3, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    I feel like vacation beers give you the exception to the beer snobbery rule. You’re in a different living situation, country, or state of mind. Sometimes it’s more about the experience than the beer. With that being said, I will probably forever enjoy Imperial from my week spent in Costa Rica. It is definitely a beer I would poopoo in a different situation, but it was exactly what I needed while being there.

    • May 3, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      I agree with your take on the snobbery rule, and I think it also applies to food. I’ll eat stuff when I’m out of the country that I would NEVER touch back home! In Germany I say “blood sausage, yes please!” At home I’d accuse someone of trying to serve me cooked clots!

  3. Peter
    May 3, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Caybrew’s Ironshore Bock from Grand Cayman

    • May 3, 2012 at 10:46 am #

      Did it look like the picture on the top of the post?

      • Pete
        May 3, 2012 at 11:14 am #

        Nope, Darker but similar background.

        • May 3, 2012 at 11:37 am #

          Those Caymans are known for their bocks. :)

  4. May 3, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Many years ago I was on a trip w/ the wife visiting various restoration villages in NY and New England. We were in VT at the time and since it was noon we stopped at the nearest local restaurant/pub, which had a very nice little patio overlooking a glen with a fast-flowing stream–quite picturesque. While perusing the menu, I noticed that they were featuring an ale from a small local brewery–this was before the days of craft brewing craze btw–so I ordered one to quench my thirst while waiting for my meal. Just one taste, that’s all it took. I turned to my wife and said “I don’t know what the food will be like, and I don’t care. This is the best beer I’ve ever had and I’m gonna have at least one more.” (Which I did.) I wish I could remember the town, the name of the restaurant or the brewery/beer, but it all escapes me now. But this is the experience that introduced me to both American craft beers in general and beers brewed in VT in particular–a signal occasion!

    • May 3, 2012 at 11:37 am #

      That’s a good one! Reminds me when I had my first sip of a Chimay Red. They world opened up to me.

  5. May 3, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    I’ve had light lagers in Asia that tasted great just because of the atmosphere. I would probably never order a Tiger or San Miguel at home, but they are wonderful when it’s hot and humid. I’m heading to Vietnam in October, and I’m going to make a point of trying the Holy Grail of cheap beer: Bia Hoi http://www.priceoftravel.com/238/cheapest-beer-in-the-world/ 16 cents a glass is tough to beat!

    • May 3, 2012 at 11:39 am #

      I’m jealous- Vietnam is supposed to be a wonderful place to visit. As far as the beers go, drinking an Abita still takes me back to vacations in New Orleans, so sometimes it’s nice to taste cheap beers from nice trips – flavor memory is a powerful thing.

    • May 4, 2012 at 11:36 am #

      Alex, you owe it to yourself to stop in Okinawa sometime and try an Orion. That was the cheap beer to drink on Oki when I was there–every bottle was a surprise. Sam Magoo (aka Sam Miguel) was considered to be premium compared to Orion.

  6. May 3, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    I actually mentioned a beer like this in a recent post about breweries that are no longer around. The one I talked about was an IPA at a brewpub in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. After days of being around the in-laws and getting the crappiest that Canada had to offer in that area, that IPA was a taste of heaven.

    • May 3, 2012 at 11:40 am #

      Nothing sadder than a beer you remember fondly no longer being brewed. It’s like finding out that girl you had a huge crush on in high school got really old and fat. There’s no going back!!

    • May 3, 2012 at 11:42 am #

      >Crappiest Canadian beers that is to say.

      I also forgot to say that you’re right about the German beers Jim. I was 17 and in Bavaria the last time we went; this was eons before the craft beer revolution and it went a long way to making me appreciate the good beers out there now.

  7. May 3, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    I find it hard to describe any beer, while had on vacation, not to be enjoyable.

    • May 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      But how many are truly memorable? That’s what this post is all about.

      Also, you haven’t had a warm Bud while watching a lame and expensive Luau at the Polynesian Resort. That might change your tune!

      • May 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

        On my vacation, it typically ends up I have too many and can’t remember much.

  8. May 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Jim, there actually are craft beers at Disney World (besides Kent Waugh’s awesome creations at Big River). You just have to know where to find them. Of course, there’s an app for that. :-) Check out this review I wrote of the Beers and Ears Walt Disney World Beer Finder app. http://www.roadtripsforbeer.com/2012/02/your-visit-to-disney-world-can-be-a-road-trip-for-beer/

  9. May 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    This question is actually pretty easy to answer…

    Last summer during our summer vacation in Maine, I had my first taste of Maine Beer Company’s Peeper Pale Ale while washing down a fantastic pizza at When Pigs Fly Pizzeria in Kittery. That first one on draught led me to buy a couple bottles to drink while in Maine, which then led me to buy several bottles to share with friends when I got home. Great stuff! Pity I couldn’t have some lobster to go with it when I got back to South Jersey.

    • May 3, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

      I know we both love Maine G. I could also add the Andrew’s Pale Ale I had in the Camden area as another ‘vacation’ beer that I loved, or even Sebago’s IPA for that matter.

      • May 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

        Thanks for the tip Will! I’ll look for them during this summer’s trip. Now that I know where there’s a decent beer store (Vic & Whit’s in Saco), they will hopefully be easy to find.

        As far as Sebago goes, we ate at their brewpub in downtown Portland. While their wheat beer was pretty good, we found the food to be mediocre at best, i.e. I had an overcooked burger with an overcooked egg (shoulda been oozing!) on top. On the plus side, it was our only ho-hum meal the whole week.

  10. May 3, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy is the worst beer I have ever tasted. I live in England and thought is was crazy that shandy’s existed (actual bitter or lager mixed with sprite, seven-up or as it is known over here, lemonade) but they are also not repulsive. This was until I tried the Leinenkugel’s. This not only needs to be removed from store shelves but also needs to be removed from the memory of all people. Wait, scratch that, we need to remember it so that we do not ever repeat it.

    • May 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

      preach on!

    • May 4, 2012 at 10:23 am #

      I agree with everything you wrote, but still enjoy this awful stuff. Behold the power of VACATION!!!

  11. Diss Content
    May 3, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    On a trip through England in a tiny burg named Baldock (don’t judge), I was introduced to a jet black fluid called ‘Mann’s Brown Ale’. Different enough to register in my brain as being to beers, what a platypus is to mammals. That is of course assuming that a beer can lay eggs while sporting a duck bill and venomous fang.

    • May 4, 2012 at 10:24 am #

      I think Brew Dog is working on that Platypus beer you described. I can’t wait for the press conference! :(

  12. Deborah
    May 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    If I have to pick only three…

    3. Green Kings Abbot Ale at the Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds. So maybe it was 9 in the morning…how often do you get to drink a beer in England’s smallest pub?

    2. A Honey Beer while people watching from the balcony at Brutopia in Montreal during the first warm weekend of the season in the middle of Gran Prix.

    1. A Garrison’s Black Lager while in Halifax. The Black Lager was a limited edition brew in 2008 that definitely qualifies as the tastiest beer I’ve ever had.

    • May 4, 2012 at 10:29 am #

      All sound like great memories. You sound like the person to travel with!

  13. May 4, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    Two that really stick out:

    1) Modelo Especial on the first night in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, watching the sun set over the beach. Worked PERFECTLY with the chips and freshly made salsa and guacamole.

    2) My first Maui Brewing Big Swell IPA in Hawaii. I had never had this beer and wasn’t expecting much but it blew me away with how good it was. Then pretty much anything they had at Kona Brewing’s brewpub in Kona, especially the tap only stuff you can’t get outside the brewery. One of the three best brewpubs I’ve ever been to.

    • May 4, 2012 at 10:28 am #

      I was just at Disney and we went to the Luau (The Spirit of Aloha) at the Polynesian resort there. It was kind of awful, and really, really expensive. The upside was that they had free beer. The downside was that it was Bud. The result was that I had a couple while watching the show. The sad thing is they had Kona beers on the menu, but after spending upwards of $60 a person to be there, my wife would’ve eviscerated me if I paid an extra $8 a beer when there was free Bud to be had.

      Moral of the story? Stay away from lame flame dancers.

  14. May 4, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    As far as vacation beers:

    1. Banks Beer on our honeymoon in Barbados. I drank the hell out of this lager when was down there. Perfect thirst-quencher at the swim-up bar, on the beach or while watching my Tampa Bay Buccaneers get trounced on Monday Night Football, which was being shown at the local sports bar. I was so excited a few years later when they finally started shipping to the states. Let’s just say that the taste didn’t live up to my memory of it.

    2. Hazed and Infused in the Boulder Beer tasting room. The first craft brewery I toured and this was my favorite on the generous tasting sample tray. Still one of my all-time favorites. I might pick some up today.

    3. Moose Drool at the Mangy Moose in Jackson Hole, Wyoming: A fellow beer geek in Florida told me about this, and when I saw it on tap, I had to try it. It was delicious, and the bar by which I measure other American Brown Ales. Can’t get it here, but I have an alleged clone of it fermenting in my carboy right now.

    • May 4, 2012 at 10:30 am #

      Don enjoys Mose Drool out there in Idaho as well. Wait, never mind – it’s horse spit he likes. He’s a pretty weird dude…

      • May 4, 2012 at 10:33 am #

        The brewing kit I used is called “Caribou Slobber.” Maybe Don would like that one.

        • May 4, 2012 at 10:36 am #

          Well I know for a fact that he’ll make out with anything that has antlers, so you’re probably right.

    • Jim
      May 4, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

      This post as well as all the entertaining replies is making me all weepy now, thinking of great vacations gone by. After a long 10-hour flight with a missed connection thrown in, we landed at 8 pm on the Big Island of Hawaii, all tired and crusty-eyed, and we hit the open air bar at the Waikoloa Marriott for a drink. Well they had several Kona Brewery selections, and I got the Fire Rock Pale Ale, and just like everyone else, the context in which I had this cold beer was just the best. Trade winds blowing, warm humid air taking all of the travel weariness away, and having a really good pale ale from a local brewery is something I always remember…. Aloha.

  15. Steve
    July 9, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    I found the bia hoi in Hanoi pretty uninspiring. We had it at a couple of places there back in the fall and it was weak and tasteless, but my son loved it because it was cheap. The Tiger beer there (from Singapore I think) was decent but the Bia Hanoi was one of the worst beers we had while on the road. In Laos the Beer Lao was decent the the Chang in Bangkok was pretty decent, too.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bites – Where a dad at Disney gets a brew: An oasis of craft beer « Mouse Slap - May 3, 2012

    [...] Story: 3 best vacation beers I’ve ever had [...]

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