Taste of travel part 2: Cheers to brewery tours

When traveling, I try to taste as many local delicacies (I use that word loosely) as possible to get a real taste for a place and its culture.

Last week, I blogged here about trying iconic Scottish soft drink Irn‪ in its original form. It wasn’t for me, but I had to taste it to find out.

The frothy craft beer and distillery movements across the country and globally make it easier to find local products — made with locally grown hops, berries, flowers, and more. It’s all about supply and demand. For every $100, Americans spend $1 on alcoholic beverages, according to government data.

Travel mixed with beverage tours — whether it’s beer, wine or liquor — have become popular across the country and worldwide. Many breweries — big or small, mainstream or craft — offer free tours and samples. 

day-1-kitsch-at-lakefront-brewery
You only get to see this at Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, Wis., if you visit. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Here’s a flight of breweries to consider:

Old and new: Milwaukee is a city rich in beer history (Blatz, Miller, Pabst and Schmitz), but it’s also big in craft beer. (See photo above and at top.) Read my article about some of Milwaukee’s craft breweries that was published in The Dallas Morning News.

Boulevard Brewing Co
The guided tour at Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, Mo., lasts an hour. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Fun learning: Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, Mo., is a bit unusual in that it starts its free 1-hour tour with a small sample of its original pale ale. It also does an excellent education job: exhibits tell you about the history of beer in Mesopotamia as well as its owns product, which dates to 1989. My tour guide, Kelsi Pile, noted that 75 percent of Boulevard beer is sold locally. She also mentioned that Boulevard made 19 beers before it was bought by Belgian-owned Duvel Moortgat Brewery in 2013; now it brews 41 varieties. Boulevard also has a large beer hall, gift shop and hosts events, such as trivia and bingo nights.

Boulevard beer hall
The beer hall at Boulevard Brewing is reminiscent of the ones in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)


Brewery Goliath: Coors beer has been around since 1873. I’ve been on a tour of the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colo., which claims to be the world’s largest single-site brewery. On its 30-minute tour, you’ll learn how Coors beer is brewed and packaged and then try free beer samples in its “Hospitality Lounge.”

Go overseas: For a taste of something different, head to Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, Belgium. This small, family owned brewery has made Lambic, Gueuze, Faro and Kriek beer using the same tools and brewing process since 1900. If you like the sour beer trend, then you’ll love Cantillon. Lambic beer is fermented using wild yeasts and bacteria native to the Zenne valley. Gueuze, a blend of lambics produced during different years, has a slightly acidic, fruity taste. Kriek is a blend of lambics and sour cherries. Cantillon also blends lambics with grapes, raspberries, apricots, hops, elderberry flowers and rhubarb. Tours are not free, but include a tasting.

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Taste of travel: Irn-Bru reduces sugar and loses some local cred

What would fictional Scottish copper John Rebus think of the reformulated Scottish soda Irn-Bru — known as the “other national drink” of Scotland — with less sugar? Och!

The British government just slapped a new tax on sugar to help fight rising obesity rates. The United Kingdom — just like the United States — has a big obesity problem.

In Scotland, not everyone is happy with the change to its sugar-laden national treasure.

On a visit last fall to Scotland, I tried Irn-Bru (pronounced ‘Iron Brew’) under the original recipe. It tasted just like bubble gum, but it also was too sweet for me. My traveling companion, however, loved it.

The taste of travel

Trying local foods and drinks of other cities and countries is a one of the great joys of travel. It’s part of the experience of learning about different cultures and how people live. Many people plan trips around wine tasting, beer tours or top French restaurants.

In addition to Irn-Bru, I’ve drank fresh coconut milk from a coconut in Hawaii, tea made from plants grown on a nearby hillside in Taiwan and a hot ginger-lemon concoction that cured my ills in New Zealand.

Visitors to the United States may want to try a Slurpee, Dr Pepper soda or eggnog. They also may find that chili in Cincinnati is very different than in Texas.

In March, the maker of Irn-Bru cut sugar in the drink by more than half (to 4.7 grams per 100 milliliters) to avoid the new tax and a price hike. The reduction of sugar and the addition of the sweetener Aspartame lowered the calories in each can of soda — to about 65 from just below 140.

The UK’s obesity rates have soared so that it’s now the most overweight nation in Western Europe, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). About 27 percent of UK adults are obese.

The legend of Irn-Bru

Americans may not be too familiar with Irn-Bru, which dates to at least 1901, even though it’s exported to the United States.

Barr's Irn Bru on Falkirk Town Heritage Trail
The Town Heritage Trail in Falkirk, Scotland, features this plaque. Falkirk is the birthplace of A.G. Barr, the maker of Irn-Bru. (Mark Begbie, Wikimedia Commons)
In Scotland, Irn-Bru is so popular that it’s called the “other national drink,” after Scotch, and it frequently pops up in popular Scottish writer Ian Rankin’s crime series featuring Detective Inspector John Rebus. In the books, Rebus swears Irn-Bru is the best cure for a hangover and drinks copious amounts of it.

In addition to its unique taste and high sugar content, Irn-Bru stands out for its bright orange color, its vibrant orange-and-blue labels and oft-controversial advertisements. (See my photo at top.)

Scottish Irn-Bru fans reportedly are scouring shops for the full-sugar version and stockpiling it. Some fans have made their outrage public: Ryan Allen of Ayr, Scotland, started the Hands Off Our Irn-Bru campaign, a petition to save the traditional recipe and Stephen McLeod of Glasgow started the Save Real Irn-Bru campaign to protect the nation’s iconic drink.

Will people warm to the new recipe? Perhaps.

For me, I probably should make another trip to Scotland for a taste comparison — for reporting purposes.