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Beer Wasteland

April, 2001

By Bobby Bush

Spain, France and Italy are known for wine, not beer. Historically, this phenomenon was the result of geography rather than personal tastes. Grapes faired better in the hilly, moderate warm climate of the Mediterranean countries. The northern climes of Germany, Belgium and northern France were not suitable for grape growth, but barley and hops, however, found a ready home there.

Unfortunately, beerologcally speaking, this particular cruise set sale from Barcelona, Spain with several stops along the coast and final disembarkation in Civitavecchia, Italy. Though Iíd done my due internet diligence - in fact, I searched hard for a brewery or beer of note - it appeared that a bleak beer cruise was in store. My homework revealed a grand total of 48 breweries in France, 14 in Spain and 13 in Italy. Mama mia! Most are light lagers. Dark beer, I knew, would be hard to come by.

My first plan was to bring the mountain to Mohammed. I packed beer in my luggage, but only had room for a six pack of Deschutes Obsidian Stout. Like a single canteen on a long desert trek, I rationed it carefully, one bottle a day.

Stateside our standard Italian imports are Peroni and Morreti, almost identical fizzy lagers. Shipboard it was only Peroni, Bass Ale, bottled Guinness Stout and a few odd South American canned beers. The Peroni brand was Nastro Azzurro, which means blue ribbon in Italian. Founded in 1846, Peroni is the countryís largest brewer. Depending on the ship bar, and the willingness of the bartender to dig deep into the cooler, there were cans of Quilmes Beer from Santiago, Chile (Quilmes breweries are also found in Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina, where Quilmes claims to be the countryís favorite beer); Lowenbrau Munchner Hell from Germany; Brahma Chopp from Brazil and Argentinaís Cerveza Isenbeck. At least there was some difference in these bubbly yellow brews. Unfortunately, the biggest difference was the artwork on the can.

In Cannes, France, we found Heineken and Kronenbourg 1664 from Holland and Germany, respectively. In Palma de Mallorca, Spain there was San Miguel, a Philippine beer brewed in Spain. Each port town brought a new search for beer, something other than the obvious. Even German-brewed Erdinger Weisbier, a Bavarian-style wheat beer, a style that is not among my favorites, went down smooth. Just outside the Vatican, street vendors sold Pelforth Brune, a brown, sweet Belgian style beer with a lagery mouthfeel, and Ceres Strong Export Ale (7.7% abv) from. Long live the Pope! Donít tell anyone, but I did taste a few different wines along the way. Not enough to sway my preference. Anyway, they make raisins out of grapes, donít they?

Safely back in Atlanta (somehow that vision shouldnít include safety), I supped on a Samuel Adams Lager. Reddish-brown, not golden. Medium bodied, not thin and watery. Flavorful from all-malt, not bland with corn extractís funky taste. Sam Adams is not my beer of choice. But on this particular change-of-planes pause, it tasted mighty good.

I must admit that this Mediterranean cruise was an interesting, educational, historical trip, that Iíd love to take again (with three cases of good olí Made in the US of A microbrewed beer). Cheers!

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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