A: Nope! Rich will be able to introduce you to each region’s beers and brewing techniques, and you can learn from the ground-up.
A: Yes! Rich will be able to engage you in any level of beer knowledge you’re interested in. More advanced discussions may not be aimed at the entire group, but can definitely take place between you and Rich, the brewers you’ll meet, and some of the other Immersion-ers on the trip.
A: Rich’s Beer Immersions are designed around learning about the beer culture of certain European regions, immersing ourselves in a city for a few days and visiting the fantastic breweries and restaurants that contribute to the identity of that city and region, and traveling on local transportation to stay close to center of the region. He hopes his beer immersions will encourage your interest in continued traveling to other beery places on the map, even if they’re not on his list of Immersions.
There are a million great regions to go to and breweries to visit across Belgium, Germany, and elsewhere, many of which Rich looks forward to building into future Beer Immersions. Also, the many rural and remote beer destinations are worth visiting on your own, but they’re more difficult to build into an itinerary that focuses on the beer and food that spring from critical masses of culture and population.
A: Rich can be your guide to communication during the Immersions. In addition to fluent English, Rich speaks decent French and German, and can read tourism-level Flemish/Dutch. Furthermore, English is spoken by an exceedingly large number of people in the regions we’ll be traveling to in Belgium and Germany, particularly in the hospitality business.
A: Generally the central train station (Antwerpen Centraal, Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel Zuid, and Köln Hauptbahnhof) or a brewery restaurant in the city center. We’ll usually set a time between 10:00 AM and noon to meet. (HAVING A SMARTPHONE WITH GOOGLE MAPS IS SUPER, SUPER HELPFUL!)
A: You’ll need to be able to show-up at the daily meeting point on time, which will require being able to read a map and/or follow signs and directions. (HAVING A SMARTPHONE WITH GOOGLE MAPS IS SUPER, SUPER HELPFUL!)
You’ll also need to be comfortable riding on trains, streetcars, and buses with the group. (Rich will be with you on each trip during the Immersion day, so he’ll handle the fares, tickets, and know which buses to get on and which stops to get off at.)
Finally, most experienced travelers I know carry a water bottle with them throughout the day to stay hydrated.
A: That’s up to you. We’ll visit 3-6 beery locations a day, including our lunch and dinner venues. Some Immersion-ers will drink a few beers at each location, while lighter drinkers might prefer to drink just one beer per location. Learning about these great beer cultures requires tasting, right? We’ll have food at lunch and dinner, obviously, as well as a coffee and pastry break during the afternoon to help us all keep our motivation and focus. It’s also smart to carry a water bottle with you to stay hydrated.
A: Beer Immersions are a blast, but they’re not just a big party. There will be a lot of opportunities to drink beer throughout an Immersion day. However, you’ll need to be able to pace yourself, because if you have a few too many early in the day, you’re not going to want to be a part of the rest of the day’s tours, sites, bus rides, and meals.
You’ll have ample opportunity to enjoy yourself, but there will be problems if you “enjoy” yourself to an extent that you are disruptive or disrespectful — to the others on the Immersion, to the artisans we’ll meet with, or to the hospitality staff serving us, or to anyone else in the beer cultures we’re trying to learn about and appreciate! Disrespectful or unsafe behavior will not be tolerated.
A: First off, this is a marathon, not a sprint, so there’s no need to drink a lot of beer at any of the sites we’ll be visiting. Each Immersion day, we’ll have a coffee and pastry break in the middle of the afternoon, for a little jolt of caffeine. No dozing off is allowed at any of the restaurants, pubs, and cafes we’ll be visiting. However, you’re welcome to take a little cat nap any time we’re on public transportation!
A: You’ll be able to order plenty of food at lunch and at dinner — typically, everyone can order their own main course, and we’ll all share a few appetizers, salads, and desserts. You’ll also be able to get a pastry during the mid-afternoon coffee and pastry break.
We’ll be heading to restaurants and pubs that range from country-quaint to urban bistro. The food will all be delicious and made with love, ranging from country rustic to more elevated artistry.
A: The short answer: European Beer Immersions cater to omnivores, plain and simple. European beer culture is the focus of Rich’s Beer Immersions, and the restaurants and cities that specialize in great beer tend to serve classic European food, which means a lot of meat and dairy (and not a lot of substitutions). There’s lots of fish and shellfish, but usually cooked with cream or butter. Vegetarians can fare well, as long as they don’t tire of limited options: cheese, breads/pastas, and cooked vegetables and mushrooms. Unfortunately, vegans and dairy-free folks will have a hard time at most of the restaurants. And if you’re paleo or gluten-intolerant, you probably don’t drink beer in the first place! (Being from San Francisco, California, I have respect for pretty much every diet imaginable. I personally follow the Mark Bittman vegan-before-6:00 diet — but not when I’m hitting the beer trail in Europe.)
A: There are 4 GREAT reasons to traveling by public transportation — just remember “I.L.A.B”!
- Immerse Yourself! Notice the cityscape and the nearby countryside, people-watch, overhear conversations in different languages, and be appreciated by locals for visiting their corner of the country.
- Local Frame of Mind: Lets us appreciate the more local elements that make up a region and its culture. Rather than zooming across the country to check famous “white whale” breweries off a list, I prefer to explore and appreciate all the hidden gems that weave together into a region’s distinct beer community.
- Affordable: Keeps Rich’s Beer Immersions more affordable, by not having to charge for an expensive private van and hired driver.
- Better for the Environment: Nuff said.
Let’s be honest — public transportation has its ups and downs. Sometimes it can be slow, delayed, or less than optimal. However, if you’re used to PT in the United States, I can promise that Europe has it figured out in comparison. It’s faster, cleaner, and a much more important part of the political and social network of European communities.
A: In general, Europeans dress more sharply than many Americans. Casual t-shirts, athletic wear, torn jeans, dirty sneakers, shorts, etc. are not commonly worn in northern Europe. You’re welcome to wear these, but know that they may be a little out of place. (And, of course, some locals wear chic t-shirts, designer torn jeans, stylish sneakers, etc.)
Some of the restaurants we visit will be urban bistros and brasseries that demand some “respectful” attire — no jackets and ties necessary, but sneakers will be out of place.
Also, please bring a raincoat and/or umbrella, as well as some water-resistant shoes. Expect that it’ll rain some of the time during the Immersion while we’re getting from Point A to Point B.
A: In Northern Europe, the weather forecast can include bright sunshine or rain on any given day. Bring sunscreen and sunglasses, as well as prepare for rain. I hope we won’t be trudging around in downpours, but sometimes the greater goal of tracking down great beer experiences will require a 10-15 minute walk in the rain. Please be prepared with a raincoat and/or umbrella, as well as some water-resistant shoes. Walking will take place almost entirely on paved surfaces.
A: These are my personal travel hacks. Feel free to heed or ignore them, but they’re what work for me and fellow beer travelers I know.
- clothing that is generally nicer than “American brewery casual”
- layers for adjusting between cooler evenings, sunny biergarten afternoons, chilly breweries, and passing rain showers
- no umbrella — it’s constantly in the way when navigating urban markets, narrow sidewalks, and busy trams
- smartphone with data plan, Google Maps, and plenty of room available for photos and videos! (If you have an old *unlocked* phone, you can charge it up and buy a new SIM card once you get to Europe — I’ve never done this, but it’s a cheap and popular alternative to forking out cash to your US provider. Make sure the phone is unlocked, though.)
- reusable water bottle (every time I bring a nice one, I lose it; now I usually just reuse a disposable one until I need a new one)
- small change to pay for bathrooms — I’ll be paying for this stuff for you during the Immersion day, but expect that bathrooms may not be free outside of the Immersion Day
- meds: immodium, pepto bismol, antacids, and pain reliever for aches and pains can make traveling much more pleasant and make sure you’re not panicked about where the next bathroom is, if you’re a little hungover, or if too many sour beers has kicked up some heartburn. Hope you don’t need them, but you never know!
A: I’m happy to share some hotel recommendations with you. However, I don’t want to force you to stay somewhere that isn’t to your liking. Maybe you want to stay with friends or family, or you prefer an Airbnb experience, or you want to treat yourself to a posh hotel. Whatever you want, go for it. Lodging is an element that adds a lot of cost to traveling by tour group, and I don’t want to do any of that negotiation nor do I want to up-charge my customers for my becoming a hotel agent. Feel free to ask me for some hotel recommendations, if you’d like some ideas for where to stay.
A: The historic center of town and the central train stations (Antewerpen-Centraal, Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid, Köln Hauptbahnhof) are the Immersion meeting points each day, so you could consider staying close to those. (If you stay near Antwerpen-Centraal, there are a lot of hotels in the Diamond/Diamant District, but know that it’s not very scenic unless you’re a fan of 1960s-1970s Cold War architecture.) The historic city centers tend to have a a variety of lodging, though many are overpriced or tourist traps. I’ve done well staying at Airbnbs in cities across the world. If you prefer a hotel, feel free to ask me for some hotel recommendations, if you’d like some ideas for where to stay.
A: These are your personal travel times to enjoy and do what you want.
Mornings: Take it easy! Sleep in! Stroll the streets. Have a coffee and breakfast on the central square. See a famous bridge. Just make sure to show up at that day’s Immersion meeting point on time.
Evenings: Bar crawl and pub hop to a few more great spots after dinner. See a music show. Or go to bed. (Just make sure you can show up at tomorrow’s Immersion meeting point on time!)
A: If you’ve signed up for consecutive cities’ Immersions, the travel days allow you a flexible day to check-out of your hotel, take a train to the next Immersion’s city, check-in to your hotel there, and have some more personal time to be a tourist and enjoy your trip to Europe. The travel days offer a break from the non-stop beer of the Immersions, and allow you to visit that museum you wanted to check out, or to visit that restaurant, park, monument that might not fit into a Beer Immersion day. If you prefer to stay a few more hours in Antwerp, while other folks on the Immersion want to get to Brussels that much earlier, the travel day allows for that flexibility.
A: Every traveler prioritizes different things, but these are the advantages of a Rich Higgins Beer Immersion:
- education and perspective: visits to breweries, visits with brewmasters, trip is guided by a brewmaster and Master Cicerone, beer quizzes and lessons (optional)
- my trip leadership: itineraries, organization, transportation know-how
- fun and bonding: eat and drink deliciously, while meeting and bonding with like-minded people
- cultural immersion: diving into the beer, food, transportation, and daily life of important beer cultures
- peace of mind: you’ll truly enjoy several fantastic days filled with beer and food without worrying about payment, splitting the bill, gratuities, or choosing a restaurant, or figuring out “what should we do next?”
- flexibility: you can order what food and beers you want from the restaurant menus, no set group menus with limited choices, you can mix and match Immersions to different cities to fit into your schedule, you’ll have mornings and later evenings off, you can choose your own lodging, travel days between the cities’ Immersions allow for more sightseeing
- just the right amount of programming: lots of beer and food experiences, but offset by free periods and travel days, so you can dive into beer culture without missing the rest of these great European cities!
A: In order to enjoy a Beer Immersion, you must:
- be a responsible drinker and a team player
- have good travel wits: be able to arrive at the meeting point on time, be able to stick to a schedule, be content riding buses and trains with the group
- enjoy being in breweries, restaurants, and pubs, even if it’s a beautiful day outside
- find great value in experiences involving great beer, food, culture, travel, and learning!