Whenever I told anyone I was taking the Beer MBA tour in Germany, I’d get the same response… “Isn’t every tour of Germany a Beer Tour?” Well.. no. It’s true that beer is hardly a scarce resource, but there is a HUGE difference between hanging out in a Biergarten enjoying a Maß, and hiking down the stairs to a subterranean beer Keller, and tasting a brew right out of the lagering tanks. Ron Smith’s MBA Beer Tour was much more than a bar-hop. There were thoughtful and interesting presentations on the history and techniques of making beer in Germany, including what makes each beer special and the differences in beers.
And sure, there was a LOT of beer drinking. Because, after all… this is a beer tour.
Our Guide Ron Smith
The Beer MBA Tour of Germany was created, and is led by a self-professed “beer geek” Ron Smith. Ron doesn’t just love beer. He KNOWS beer. Not only has he been brewing beer himself for over 25 years, he’s won several medals, including a Gold Medal in the National Homebrewers Competition, the largest beer competition in the world. Based in Indiana, he’s also been teaching a number of college level courses in Beer Styles and Brewery Operations. But even more impressive, Ron is one of only 150 people holding a Masters ranking in the Beer Judge Certification Program. He’s an internationally known and well respected judge at beer competitions. And he’s the perfect guide for a tour about beer.
Let’s just say, when Ron talks about beer… he knows what he’s saying. You learn details and nuances that go much deeper than “wow, this tastes good”… you know WHY this tastes good.
Learn more about upcoming Beer MBA Tours, and sign up here–>
Beer MBA Tour Germany
I realize that I’m one of the few Germans who is not much of a Beer drinker, but I guess in a way, that makes me the person who can look at the tour objectively. Over the 10 days on this Beer Tour, I can honestly say I really enjoyed myself. Because it’s about more than just beer, this was a tour of Bavarian culture with a lot of tasty beverages.
The Beer MBA Tour Germany is not just for beer lovers, others will enjoy themselves too. Looking at the tour timetable, I was delighted to see a substantial amount of “free time” built into the program. This doesn’t mean you are left dangling; it means that between breweries and beer gardens, there is time for sightseeing and the obligatory shopping trip.
Beer MBA first stop… Munich
Tapping the Keg at Ayinger
The tour started in Munich. Our accommodations, a 4 Star Hotel, just a block from the Altstadt. You can’t get more central than that! The tour kicked off with a bang… well… a keg tapping at Ayinger brewing, along with a delicious Bavarian lunch. Our group came from across the country and was small enough to be comfortable around a large table. The Maß we were served was just a hint at what we would enjoy over the next 10 days.
Spaten Franziskaner Brewery Tour
Our first brewery tour that afternoon was a short train ride away (and can I just mention how much I LOVED that we took public transportation instead of hopping on and off a tour bus all day!). The Spaten Franziskaner brewery is home to Spaten, Franziskaner and Lowenbrau. The sheer SIZE of all the vats… the number of bottles… it was quite impressive. And then came the tasting. Have you ever gone to a tasting where they make an enormous deal out of pouring you a splash of wine or beer? This wasn’t like that. It was a full glass… All together we “sampled” 6 (or was it 7, things got hazy) full beers. Oh my.
Dinner at the Augustiner Keller Bier Garten helped tamp all that down….
Augustiner Keller Bier Garten
Munich on Bikes
Some of my favorite moments came on the second day of our tour. We were up and going by 8:45 for a fabulous bike tour of Munich with Mike’s Bikes. Kevin (our fearless guide) took us on an easy cycling tour of parts of the Altstadt and the English Garden where we saw the surfers, whizzed by the nudists, and ended up at the Chinese Tower Beer Garden where we had a delicious lunch (and beer) before heading back.
Hopfen Hacker Brewery
That afternoon there was a special visit to a small craft brewer in Munich, Hopfen Hacker. It was interesting to compare the craft brews at this tiny brewery to Spaten, the day before. We met some locals in the fountain, and enjoyed real Bavarian hospitality when they invited us to join them. We rounded out the day at the Schneider Weiße Brauhaus with a beer and food pairing. Each course better than the last… and each beer fit perfectly to it.
Dinner at Schneider Weiße
An Early Rainy Start in Munich
Day three started early for the more adventurous members of our group. Each year, the Kocherball (Cooks Ball) takes place on this Sunday in the English Garden. THOUSANDS of people show up starting at 4 AM (you read that right) to watch the sun rise and enjoy themselves. I’m sorry to say that 4 am wasn’t going to happen for me… and at 7 am, it was raining… so I missed the party. (I hear it was fun though! Since the lazy among us had the morning off, I did some wandering through Munich. It’s been years since I’ve seen the city, and it was nice to wander into a few buildings (no shopping though… it was Sunday).
In the afternoon, we all regrouped and headed by train to Ayinger Brewing. There wasn’t much going on in the typically Bavarian town and we had the Brewery pretty much to ourselves. That meant the guide had plenty of time to show us around… and pour lots of samples.
Ayinger Brewery… Old and New Vats
After the tour we had a short walk through town to the Kastanienhof. The afternoon’s rain cleared, so we sat outside in a lovely garden and enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal… and HUGE dessert… before taking the train back to Munich.
Dinner at the Kastanienhof in Ayinger
Off to Kloster Andechs!
Monday morning left us with free time until the afternoon… which meant explore and shop! Having our Hotel in the heart of Munich made visiting the Frauenkirche, Michael’s Kirche (where King Ludwig’s tomb lies), and the Viktuelianmarkt so much easier!
After lunch we gathered and took a train to Kloster Andechs, around an hour south of Munich near the Ammersee. From the train we caught the hourly bus up the hill and then hiked up the final 100 yards (why are all Monasteries on hills?) but the view was worth it!
Kloster Andechs is a still functioning Monastery with a distillery, butcher/Metzger, and brewery on site. The Rococo church is FABULOUS! And the view from the Bier Garten… priceless. We all had a lovely afternoon exploring, eating and drinking.
In the Beer Garden at Kloster Andechs
The day was capped off by a visit to lake Ammersee. The water in the Ammersee is cool and refreshing, the perfect antidote to a warm day. Sitting on the dock, beer in hand, watching the sun set over the lake is an experience I will never forget.
Bike ride around the Schwansee
The last day in Munich was all about King Ludwig II. Rather than manage trains and tickets ourselves the group joined up with Mike’s bikes. This special tour put us on an air conditioned bus to Schwanngau where we jumped on bikes and rode through the valley below Neuschwanstein. Anyone who wanted to could swim in the lake… the rest could wander the nature preserve admiring the views. After a delicious lunch, we headed up the mountain to see the castle. (Some tougher people hiked… the rest of us took our chances in the “Mr Toad’s Wild Ride shuttle”).
Joining the tour meant we didn’t have to stand in an endless line for tickets to get in to Neuschwanstein. (Read more about that here). There was time to walk across the Marienbrücke, take Instagram worthy photos all around the castle, shop for those all-important souvenirs, and have an ice cream cone.
Munich Marienplatz by Night
We were all a bit weary when we arrived back in Munich at 7pm, and it was nice to have an evening “off” to relax and pack. Because our hotel was around the corner from the Hofbrauhaus, my guy and I went in for a nightcap. (There was no way I could visit Munich again without having been to the Hofbrauhaus! I catch enough teasing about being a Northern German).
Wednesday morning we waved goodbye to Munich and headed north. Our first stop Kelhein, home to the Weltenburg Monastery and Brewery. A heat wave rolled in across Germany, and we were all grateful for the shade offered by the Monastery’s Biergarten, and for the cool beer. Weltenburg is still a working Monastery, with 7 Monks living on site, and claims to be the oldest operating brewery in Germany with records dating back to 1050 AD. Today they brew 4 different beer… Weißbier, Helles, Dunkel Bock, and the 1050, which is based on the original recipe.
Samples of beer at Kloster Weltenburg are not small…
While the beer was amazing (my guy even bought a small keg as a souvenir!) the Rococo church, designed by the famous Asam brothers is breathtaking. Beautiful carvings and images cover the walls and ceilings. The overall theme is the spread of Christianity around the globe, and you will even see a painting of Christopher Columbus’s ship the Santa Maria bringing the church to the “New World”.
We somewhat reluctantly left the Monastery’s cool lagering cellars and continued on to Bamberg. Just a note- the buses between city stays are the only time that we rode private buses on the tour.
Private Room at Sclenkerla Brew Pub
After checking in to the famous Hotel Messerschmidt (yes, of that Messerschmidt family, there were even propellers on the walls!), we walked the few blocks and over the brindge into the Altstadt. Dinner was at the famous Schlenkerla Brew Pub. Unbelievably, Schlenkerla has been in operation since 1405! And has been in the hands of only two families. The current owner Matthias Trum greeted us at the door with the next generation… and we were welcomed in like family. Our meal in a private room came with glasses of the famous Schlenkerla smoked beer.
Bamberg comes alive on summer evenings, and the bridges were full of young people enjoying the cool air coming off the river Regnitz. We really enjoyed strolling the Altstadt window shopping, and we were happy to discover, several cafes and Eis Dieles selling Ice Cream to go! Standing on a bridge, looking across the water at the Bamburg Rathaus all lit up on its own island, was a magical experience.
Beer Touring Bamberg
Weyermann Malting Factory
After all, this is a Beer Tour, and the next day we dove deep into the finer points of beer making when we visited the Weyermann Malting Factory. Because this was a more technical tour, it was entirely optional. As a bit of background. The Reinheitsgebot of 1516 states that beer may only contain 3 ingredients water, malt and hops. (Yeast as a separate entity hadn’t really been discovered yet… ). Malt is grain that has been germinated, and then dried. It’s what adds sugars and much of the flavor to beer. Much like with baking, different grains add different flavors, and drying or roasting changes the flavor yet again. The tour gave us a hint of how much science goes into the beer making process. It’s certainly come a long way from the days when monks just cooked a bunch of grain and hops together hoping for something palatable.
Schlenkerla Malt Roasting Kiln
The coolest place in Bamberg is the lagering cellar deep in the mountain at Schlenkerla’s Heller Brewery. This was a special treat, because normally the brewery is not open for tours. And yet, that afternoon, Matthias took us through the family operation… from the ovens where they roasted their own malt in a Kiln over wood (giving their beer that distinct smoky flavor)… to the big vessels where the beer is made… and (bliss) down into the cellar where the beer is lagered at a cool 8 Degrees Celsius.
Schlenkerla Lagering Cellar
To compare and contrast smoked beers, we headed up the hill to the Spezial Beer Garden, to try the OTHER smoked beer of Bamberg. It was quite gemütlich up on that hill, and the view fabulous. As for who has the better smoked beer…… I leave it to the experts.
On our Own in Bamberg
Friday we were free until the afternoon, which gave us plenty of time to explore beautiful Bamberg. There really is TOO much to see… the Dom, with its famous Ritter and the grave Pope Clement, the Residenz (the tour guide spoke German, but take my word for it, she was hilarious), and St Michael’s Monastery (while the Gardens were open, sadly, the church with its gloriously painted floral ceiling was closed to visitors for repairs).
Anna Fest in Forscheim!
A highlight of the MBA Beer Tour came that evening. We were bused out to Forscheim for Anna Fest. What is Anna Fest? The hill above Forscheim is basically a Swiss Cheese of tunnels… and Brewers use these tunnels to cold store or lager their beer.
In Beer Lagering Cellar Forscheim
During the 10 Day long festival, brewers will sell beer out of their caves! It’s hard to imagine… but picture this… You hike up path, and on both sides will be caves, and people selling beer out of the caves. There are also small beer gardens belonging to the brewers where you can sit and enjoy the beer. Music, mostly LIVE, keeps the party going. People are elbow to elbow, drinking, singing, dancing, eating and enjoying the Fest. It’s not just about beer… there are also carnival rides, food booths, candy stands and wine sellers. And it goes on for 10 days
The Carnival Part of Anna Fest
The Anna Fest party would go on until late… but it was time for us to go. My partner and I left the festival at 9 and left the tour early the next morning for another job. The MBA Beer Tour would go on for a few more days. First to Plzn for what looked like an incredible tour of Pilsner Urquell, and then on to Prague, in the Czech Republic, for 2 nights where they enjoyed the Czech Dark Lagers, visited more breweries, and more.
I can honestly say I enjoyed the MBA Beer Tour immensely! There were so many things to see and do… it was much more than just BEER (although, I now know more about beer than I thought possible!) And the friendships I made on the tour will carry on in cyberspace for years to come.
Who is the MBA Beer Tour for?
Anyone who enjoys beer and who loves Germany. This is a tour rich in history and culture. Beer and tours of breweries are front and center, which makes this a fabulous tour for home brewers and professional brewers alike. But since the trip also offers so much free time and optional excursions, even those who are less enthusiastic about the details of malt and hops will enjoy themselves. Our tour was a fantastic mix of people! There were 20 somethings and 60+ year olds, brewers and non-brewers, men and women, people who had been to Germany, and people who had never left the US. And everyone left the tour feeling satisfied that they got their money’s worth.
Learn more about upcoming Beer MBA Tours, and sign up here–> BEER MBA TOUR
Thanks again to Ron Smith, and all of my fellow Travelers!