My fellow Americans: I’ve seen what some of you pay for Europe’s finest beers. We all have our own wants, our own price points. I won’t judge you.
No, wait — yes I will.
Because some of you are nuts. Eighty bucks for a bottle of lambic? Stop it. Just stop. You’re ruining yourself; you’re ruining your kids’ future,\; and you’re ruining prices for the rest of us. So just stop.
Besides, there’s a better way.
For roughly the cost of a dozen overpriced hype-whales (give or take), you can buy a plane ticket. This magical ticket will take you all the way across the ocean to that glorified amusement park — they even have neat little trains and castles! — called Europe, the place from whence those beers came. The locals drink them too, but as a rule they refuse to pay much more than a few peanuts and a paper clip.
So my math is not great, but if you go there and drink 13 bottles, your plane ticket has paid for itself. See? You can’t afford not to go.
By the way: Have you seen the exchange rate lately? A couple of months ago, the euro was trading for $1.05, its lowest rate ever. It’s not much higher than that today — but it probably won’t last. Right now might be the best time to get the most euro-beer for your buck.
Here are five places to visit now.
Belgium. Not the cheapest place in Europe, but I mentioned lambic, so let’s talk lambic: pure, draught, freshly poured from the oak barrels where it matured for a year or two or longer. In many Pajottenland cafés, a tumbler of this tart, amber nectar runs you €2 for a 25 cl glass. Pils often costs less, but you can do better: In the Marolles neighborhood of Brussels, for example, the café Pin Pon has a light, bitter, aromatic pils-like house ale made by the local Brasserie de la Senne. It also costs €2 a glass. Across the street is the atmospheric café La Brocante, whose long list of bottled lambics at fair prices will make you swear off the online pirates forever.
Germany. Beer is a staple food here, and in groceries and drinks markets anything more than €1 per half-liter bottle is considered a rip-off. In northern Bavaria’s Franconian countryside — home to a dense concentration of small village breweries making an array of full-flavored lagers — people rarely pay more than €2 per half liter in the cozy pubs and shady beer gardens. In the front-room Zoigl pubs of the Oberpfalz — where neighbors take turns serving their home recipes made at the communal village brewhouse — €1.80 is the going rate. A few more euros gets you a plate of smoked meats or enough fresh-baked pretzel and Obatzd’n cheese spread to make a memorable meal.
Spain. Cities here have caught the cerveza artesanal bug in a big way, with the beeriest bars often presenting a mix of local brews (€3) and international “craft” (€4-€6). But for local and authentic (not to mention cheap), why not head to Asturias on the northern coast for an education on the country’s unusual, naturally tart ciders? I haven’t been there yet either, so let’s meet up. The Museo de la Sidra might be the perfect place for us to learn. A tour through the cidermaking process and its history costs €4. A 75 cl bottle in the museum shop or in the typical café costs less than €2.
Czech Republic. Czechs don’t have the euro, they have the koruna, and currently $1 gets you about 25 koruna. Even in the well-touristed city center of Prague, prices rarely exceed 45 koruna, or $1.84, for a fresh half-liter of real Czech pilsener. When I asked him for great-but-cheap beer tips, Prague-based writer Evan Rail suggested the 12º pale lager at the new Vinohradský Pivovar brewpub for 38 koruna, or about $1.55. No wonder the locals think it’s absurd when foreigners pay $4 for a half-liter on the Old Town Square, or $8 at the airport.
Lithuania. For the bucket list: One beer family that has yet to make waves internationally — but it seems inevitable, right? — are kaimiškas alus, Lithuania’s homebrewed village beers. What they might lack in consistency they make up for in terroir — often using, so the story goes, local grains and yeast borrowed from the neighbors. One place to try them is Kaimiško Alaus Baras Šnekutis, a rustic cottage-like pub just outside Vilnius. Half-liters from local micros go for €2 each. I can’t vouch for any of it, but it sounds fascinating.