Behind the beer – LU students enjoy European travel course
By Tayler Otten
Editor’s Note: Junior Tayler Otten, a student enrolled in the May travel course Beer: The Science and Story Behind Fermentation, agreed to write this story chronicling the journey of the travel group.
Students enrolled in Beer: The Science and Story Behind Fermentation travel course recently arrived back from a trip to Germany and Belgium. After finishing a course that revolved around brewing their own beer, students immersed themselves in the brewing practices overseas.
The 12-day trip covered a lot of ground, but each location provided a new and exciting learning experience for all involved.
Students were provided a welcome dinner at the Hofbrauhaus. The booming atmosphere paired nicely with the authentic German cuisine. Students chose from a feast-style meal of pork knuckles, chicken, spaetzle and potato dumplings. With a live band playing polka in the background and a beer in hand, students experienced their first night in Germany as a group.
On their second day, students visited the world’s oldest brewery, Weihenstephan. A guided tour of the grounds taught students about the monk-run brewery’s brewing process, documented as early as the year 1040. The grounds not only housed a monastery, but also two college campuses, both technical schools of food sciences from which students are able to work cooperatively at the brewery. After the tour, LU students finally had the chance to taste their first samples of trappist beer.
Students visited their second brewery on the same day: Erdinger. The tour consisted of details on Germany’s purity laws (breweries can only use four ingredients: hops, barley, water and yeast) as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the brewery’s bottling and packaging process. The tour culminated in an unlimited tasting of some of Erdinger’s finest beers.
Students traveled to Bamberg for the trip’s second stop, where they were treated to yet another group dinner. This time, the dinner’s location, Schlenkerla, featured a German curiosity: Smokebeer. Schlenkerla is well-known for its peculiar beer option since they brew it themselves. True to its name, the beer’s malt is first smoked by a wood fire and then barrel-aged to perfection. Locals often claim the people who do not appreciate the beer’s smoked ham flavor do not taste it after the second glass.
Several students chose to fill their free day in Bamberg with a hike uphill to perhaps the city’s most beautiful sight: Turm und Palas Altenburg. The castle was not only a sight in itself, but also provided the perfect height to view the vast nature and cityscape of Bamberg.
Students were given time to explore the city of Brugge on their own. Many decided to walk around and take in the sites the city had to offer, getting lost in the architecture and views. Although this city was without a brewery tour, it was certainly no less important in the students’ eyes.
Students spent the majority of the day traveling between Brugge and Ypres, making a couple of group stops along the way. The first stop consisted of a tour of a hop farm, Belhop. The farm tour allowed students to experience a new side of the beer-making process. While most of their information about brewing came from sterilized factories and breweries, the farm allowed students to see the beer’s dirtier, natural beginning. They trekked through a field of hops, learned about the growing and harvesting process from the farm’s owner and sampled a beer crafted from the very same hops they had seen in the field. The experience gave a new meaning to “farm to table.”
The second stop of the day was lunch. However, the mealtime destination wasn’t just for food, it was also for a glass of beer that cannot be bought from anywhere else but In de Vrede. The Westvleteren beer is brewed by monks and seldomly sold. Although students were unable to tour the brewery due to the privacy of the monastery, the simplicity of trying the beer and being in the presence of such rarity was enjoyable enough.
The trip from Ypres to Ghent was yet another day filled with travel, but the stops along the way made the train rides worth it. The first stop was a small, two-man brewery called Alvinne. This brewery, and its owner, did not disappoint. Since Belgium is not restricted by Germany’s purity laws, breweries there are able to put different ingredients into their beers. Alvinne’s owner and brewmaster, Glenn, took that freedom to create a variety of sour beers for his customers. Glenn created an unforgettable experience for the students, telling his story as he poured beer after beer.
The second stop consisted of yet another brewery: Liefman. This brewery tour took students on a journey of the brewery’s history and brewing process. Students learned about the chemistry behind each Liefman’s beer and how each beer was bottled and shipped all over the world. The star of the show for many students was the tasting at the end, specifically of Liefman’s specialty cherry beer. A cross between wine and beer, the drink had a refreshing and classy finish.
The last stop of the trip was Brussels. Students went on their final brewery tour at Huyghe Brewery, also known as Delirium. A thorough history lesson of the brewery revealed that the brewery’s infamous “Delirium” name and pink elephant label came from an old adage in which travelers drank the beer and said that too many would put them in a delirium (make them hallucinate). The pink elephants were a sign of those hallucinations.
The trip was memorable for all who traveled, including student Melissa Kassens, who enjoyed the interactions with others the most.
“Learning from the smaller brewers in their breweries was a highlight,” Kassens said, “because you got to hear their passion and stories behind why they craft beer and where that love of beer came from.”
Student Olivia Kasper was enthralled by the variety in what she tasted while in Germany and Belgium.
She enjoyed “the many different types of beer, how they all taste differently, [and] how no two are the same.”
Student Savannah Miranda reflected on her trip and provided future students looking to take the travel course with some tips and tricks for how to survive the long treks.
“I would suggest taking a backpack,” Savannah said, “because trying to take a suitcase up and down stairs and trying to fit everything on the train and buses was a lot.”
The course and trip were run by Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry Jered McGivern and Associate Professor of Writing Jodie Mortag. Side-by-side, the professors worked to create a memorable learning experience for their students.
“My goal was to introduce students to some of the scientific processes used in brewing and to develop an appreciation for the mixture of science and art that goes into the brewing process,” McGivern said.
With the countless brewery tours and beer tastings, there is no doubt that the students on the travel course learned more about beer than they could have imagined.