All posts by Kevin Holsapple

The author of Prime Passages is Kevin Holsapple. Currently living in northern New Mexico, Kevin has traveled extensively over the years and aspires to do alot more of that in the coming years. Now semi-retired, Kevin's working life included management of a destination tourism activity, community development work, advising and training small businesses, operating recreational tours, and even operating a beer hall.

Accursed Mountains and the Lake of Happiness

Location of hikes
Location of hikes

Accursed Mountains and the Lake of Happiness hikes are two more beautiful excursions into remote areas of northeastern Montenegro.   Both hikes are in the highlands of Prokletije National Park, the southernmost and highest part of the Dinaric Alps,  Like all of the hikes in the series, the starting point each day was a base in a rural location high up in the mountains.

[This post is part five of a six part story about hiking and beer culture travels in Montenegro.  Click here to view an index of the articles published to date.  Subscribe or follow on Facebook to receive additional installments]

All of these hikes in Montenegro could be challenging in my book — I was humbled more than once by yet another long, steep, uphill jaunt.   At the same time, they all offered different environments, viewscapes, and charms.  These are all located in very remote places, so they are, with few exceptions, the kind of beer hikes where the beer waits chilling for you at the end of the hike at basecamp.   In these rural areas, Nicsicko seems to be the dominant beer brand.

You may click on any gallery image to see it in a larger format and to open a slideshow viewer that lets you scroll through larger versions of all images.

Prokletije (Accursed Mountains) Hike

Prokletije Hike Route – click on image for an interactive map

Prokletije National Park encompasses a mountainous area of northeast Montenegro.  Prokletije can be translated as “Accursed Mountains” and are a sub-range of the Dinarica Alps that straddles the borders of Montenegro, Albania, and Kosovo.  The “accursed” label doesn’t refer to any curse or hex as far as I can tell — it is probably more about the terrain being so wild and difficult to travel through.   These mountains are gorgeous and spectacularly scenic.

Although there are many hikes in the Prokletije, this one involves a 2300 foot (700m) ascent to a summit called Volusnica which tops out at 6165 feet (1879m).  The hike begins in the Grebaje Valley (Dolina Grebjaje) at Karanfil Katun, a small settlement with an impressive view to the Karanfil Peaks.  The trail ascends immediately and passes through thick beech forest before reaching a huge bowl of alpine pasture surrounded by Volusnica, Talijanka (2056m), and Popadija (2057m) peaks on a curving ridgeline above.    The path cuts through the bowl and climbs steeply to the summit of Volusnica.  From there you have spectacular views of the Karanfili peaks and into Albania.  I continued around the trail on the ridgeline for a while before dropping back into the bowl and forest below for the hike back to the settlement and a well-deserved beer.

Hridsko Lake Hike

Hadrisko Lake Hike Route – click on image for an interactive map

In  Montenegrin, a “hrid” is a craggy rock so I have to stay that Hridsko Jezero (lake) is appropriately named.  This lake is also known as The Lake of Happiness and Fairy Lake.  Legend has it that this lake was made by the Gods for use by fairies – its remoteness provided a place for the fairies to bathe away from the eyes of mortal men.   According to local lore, taking a dip in the cold waters will give you health and happiness in your marriage.  Supposedly, you can toss a coin or piece of jewelry into the lake and make a wish — I didn’t litter, but I did wish for a cold beer after the hike and my wish came true.

The hike begins at Bajrovic Katun and steadily climbs a photogenic path through mostly dense pine and spruce forest with lush vegetation on the forest floor.  The glacial lake is not huge (1000 feet long and 500 feet wide) and I walked to the other side for a view back to the Bogićevića massif.  We had a great sunset on the return trip and a big meal with “real” Czech Budweiser to cap the day.

Read more stories about hiking, beers, and travel in Montenegro

Facebooktwittermail

More Hikes and Beers in Montenegro

Location of hikes
Location of hikes

A hike to the summit of Crna Glava and  a route known as Katun Road were two more great opportunities for hikes and beers in Montenegro.  Crna Glava (‘black head”) at 7,018 feet (2,139 m) is the highest summit in the Bjelasica range, most of which resides in the Biogradska Gora national park.  Katun Road is a collection of more than 100 miles (160 km)) of hiking and mountain biking routes that pass through more than thirty highlands “katuns” – more about that later.   Our base for these hikes was a pleasant and interesting rural household near Lubnice which I’ll write about as well.

[This post is part four of a six part story about hiking and beer culture travels in Montenegro.  Click here to view an index of the articles published to date.  Subscribe or follow on Facebook to receive additional installments]

All of these hikes in Montenegro could be challenging in my book — I was humbled more than once by yet another long, steep, uphill jaunt.   At the same time, they all offered different environments, viewscapes, and charms.  These are all located in very remote places, so they are, with few exceptions, the kind of beer hikes where the beer waits chilling for you at the end of the hike at basecamp.   In these rural areas, Nicsicko seems to be the dominant beer brand.

You may click on any gallery image to see it in a larger format and to open a slideshow viewer that lets you scroll through larger versions of all images.

Crna Glava Hike

Crna Glava loop hike
Crna Glava loop hike route – click on image for an interactive map

A winding, rugged drive from Lubnice to Senića Katun brought us to the start of this loop hike.  The climb up to a high ridge begins immediately.  Following the ridge up leads to Crna Glava from which there are expansive views in every direction.  The terrain features huge meadows with wild blueberries everywhere – they were good and ripe in late August.  We frequently saw people in small groups combing the mountainside to collect them.  A team of wildlife biologists we encountered was doing fieldwork cataloging natural resources related to Montenegro’s attempts to join the European Union.  There are several glacial lakes along the way — we passed two of them — Lake Ursulovačko and Lake Pešića.  Lake Pešića was near the end of the hike and is a popular swimming hole.

Lubnice Farm Stay

Kljajica Family
Kljajica Family

There is an ongoing effort in these remote mountains to provide economic opportunity to residents by their providing services to tourists.  Throughout the hiking itinerary, accommodations tended to be at small, family-run establishments.  We were well-fed and well-taken-care-of at all of these places.

The Lubnice experience was particularly interesting as we stayed at Kuća Kljajića — a traditional farmhouse built in 1918 that has been renovated to be an accommodation.  The  Kljajić family lives next door and multiple generations were involved in hosting us.  The hostess, Maja served up ample platters of homemade traditional foods that we ate outdoors in an open-sided cabana.   Most, if not all the food comes from their farm.  Her husband, Milan is a beekeeper so there was always ample honey on the table.  Milan is also an accomplished rakija maker and we were treated to several varieties made from different fruits from their orchard and berries from the farm.  We brought our own beer, but Maja served a variety of interesting drinks including fresh wild blueberry juice and traditional mountain tea from wild herbs.

Katun Road Hike

Katun Road Hike Route
Katun Road Hike Route – click on image for an interactive map

I heard more than one explanation of what a “Katun” is as I researched the trip and traveled through many Katuns during the week of hiking.  My take-away was that Katuns are mountain farming settlements.  Traditionally, they were inhabited seasonally as farmers would bring cattle and sheep up into the highlands to graze for the summers.  The traditional use has evolved a bit and some of the Katuns now feature small hospitality businesses providing lodging, food, and refreshments (yes … some may even have beer!).  A solid effort has been put into developing these businesses for rural economic development by the Regional Development Agency for Bjelasica, Komovi and Prokletije and their website Katun Roads provides a wealth of information for visitors.

The Katun Road hike we took is part of a much larger system of routes although I never found a map to fully understand this.  There is a map link on the Katun Roads website that isn’t working as I write this, but maybe the link will get fixed so I am including it.  Our hike wound upward through lush forest along a logging road before emerging into the open at Katun Kaludarske Kape.  From there, the route loops up over a  6250 foot (1900 m) summit called Usovište that offers a spectacular panorama.

Read more stories about hiking, beers, and travel in Montenegro

Facebooktwittermail

Hajla Beer Hiking Adventure

Hajla route
Hajla route – click on image for interactive route map

My Hajla Beer Hiking Adventure began when we pulled into the northern resort town of Rožaje near the Serb and Kosovo borders.  We were a group of seven — myself, two couples from Paris (Marie Lynn, Oliver,
Veronique, and Patrick), a Brit on vacation (Alison, who happens to be the British ambassador to Montenegro), and our mountain guide who doubled as our driver.

Our mountain guide was a man named Radonja Srdanovic who seemed to know every twist and turn on most of the routes we took during the week.  He did an admirable job of getting us around in the mountains and improvising as needed whether due to weather or tired legs.  Radonja’s knowledge of mountain traditions, medicinal plants and mushrooms meant that we were always learning something along the way.  The Hajla hike was one he was not familiar with, so we also had a local guide, Ensar Zejnelagic.

TAM 110 Troop Carrier
TAM 110 Troop Carrier

We were expecting to transfer into 4-wheel drive vehicles at Rožaje for the drive to a mountain lodge we would stay at that night, but I think that everyone was a bit surprised when we pulled up beside an open, vintage Yugoslav Army troop carrier and started heaving our bags up into it.  We all climbed aboard and jolted onto the road heading toward the forest.  It was late afternoon and the brisk air had us diving into bags for jackets and warmer duds.  Twenty minutes up the road there was a loud bang, and we pulled onto a siding.

Ensar with the failed drive shaft
Ensar with the failed drive shaft

The bang had been the death of the front drive shaft.  Our driver improvised and decided he could remove the shaft and continue with just the rear wheel drive.  It took some time to remove the shaft so we decided to (what else?) relax … and have a beer.  Patrick, one of the French, put some Pink Floyd on his phone and we were well into the adventure by then.

Oliver, Marie Lynn, and Patrick relax with a beer
Ensar, Arif, Radonija, and Veronique
Ensar, Arif, Radonija, and Veronique

By the time we got back onto the road, dusk was beginning to set in.  We were driving on a jeep road climbing through the forest dodging the frequent branches that were sweeping over the sides and top of the vehicle.  After thirty or forty minutes of driving in the dark, we came to a halt having gotten stuck in a deep puddle that the two remaining drive wheels were unable to handle.  Our driver and his crew once again went into improvisation mode and pulled out snow chains.  With great persistence, they finally got the chains to stay on the wheels and pulled us through the puddle.  Following another 40 minutes of less eventful driving we pulled up at GROPE – a mountain lodge of the Mountaineering and Ski Club ‘Hajla’ Rozaje.

Our driver, Feka Kurtagic, is also a leader of the mountaineering and ski club and would also be our host at the lodge.  The club earns some money by bringing groups like ours to use the lodge.  Feka was an excellent host and he and his helper Arif Bektasevic immediately began opening the lodge and preparing a late dinner.  Everyone was ready for a good night’s sleep in advance of the next day’s hike.

You may click on any gallery image to see it in a larger format and to open a slideshow viewer that lets you scroll through larger versions of all images.

Hajla Mountain Hike

The Hajla hike entailed navigating a steep route up to a high ridge that forms the border between Montenegro and Kosovo in this area.  Like every hike I made in Montenegro it was challenging and photogenic.  At the crest of the ridge, the route turns sharply and follows the border up to a summit.  The route is marked sporadically with painted rocks and signs, but I was glad we had guides who knew where they are going.  Ensar pointed out clusters of Edelweiss flowers that lined the ridgeline route at various places.

Hajla Hut Life

The GROPE lodge was a rustic but comfortable enough place to spend the nights.  It is situated in a high meadow with great daytime and sunset views.  We were well fed by Feka and his crew and he was generous with beer (when we ran out) and his rakija.  The downstairs room could almost be called a museum for all of the interesting artifacts and memorabilia on display.  Upstairs are two bunkrooms typical of mountain huts everywhere.

Read more stories about hiking, beers, and travel in Montenegro

Facebooktwittermail

Montenegro Brewery Round

What I call the Montenegro Brewery Round was a multi-day trip in the southwestern part of the country to visit as many breweries and try as many of their beers as I could.  If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you read the first installment of this series of stories about my time in Montenegro that provides an introduction to this small and charming country in the western Balkans.  Several other installments will speak to my beer hikes in the rugged mountains of the northeast.

Montenegro Brewery Round
locations of brewery and brewer visits indicated with golden beer mugs

Montenegro is not exactly known as a beer mecca — it is more noted for its wine culture and its rajika traditions.  But it is home to a big brewery that is more than one hundred years old and an emerging and enthusiastic craft beer scene.  The breweries that I found were located in three areas — in the capital city of Podgorica, in the small city of Nikšić, and in the Kotor Bay region near the Adriatic coast.

Montenegrin beer pioneer Vuko Krivokapić
Montenegrin beer pioneer Vuko Krivokapić (image from Trebjesa Brewery)

Beer culture in Montenegro dates back to the late 1800’s when King (then a Prince) Nikola purportedly became interested in introducing beer to the country.  King Nikola was well educated and had spent considerable time in western Europe and was said to have developed an appreciation of a variety of aspects of those cultures.  An enterprising character named Vuko Krivokapić received the blessing and approval of the King to build the first brewery in Montenegro in Nikšić.  The brewery was called “Onogošt” which I understand was the historical name for Nikšić.   The King also granted Vuko exemptions on taxes for the equipment and materials that needed to be imported and on the sales of the beer.  Vuko had experience working in breweries abroad.  With his family’s support, he built a brewery on his father’s estate in Nikšić and employed a Croat brewer named Fabjan Segovic who had learned his trade in Vienna. Nikšić was known for its numerous high-quality water wells and that no doubt factored into the location of the brewery.

One thing led to another in the early years and Vuko’s initiative eventually became the impetus for the founding and building (in 1908) of the Trebjesa Brewery which exists to this day.

More recently, several microbreweries and brewpubs have taken root in the country — I was able to identify and visit eight of these.  I experienced welcoming and enthusiastic people and every beer I tried I found to be quite drinkable – some were excellent.

Beer in Montenegro is inexpensive by American standards.  A half-liter draft of Nicksicko lager would typically be EUR 1.50 ($1.67) at a cafe or restaurant while a craft beer might go for up to EUR 3 ($3.34).  I found it uncommon though to find craft beer in cafes or restaurants.  Trebjesa products were the dominate offerings and a smattering of macro lagers from other European countries was common.  A common theme in my discussions with craft brewers was that distribution can be difficult.  Outlets for their beers were often the result of one-on-one relationships with cafe and restaurant owners.  A couple had their own pub or taproom and several want to add a taproom or beer garden.  It is not yet an expectation in the market that there will be craft alternatives on the menu.

Historically, beer seems to have been more a commodity products than a speciality matched to varying tastes.  Several of the brewers told me that beer festivals are playing an important role in introducing the idea that beers don’t all have to be the same.  They reported over and over that once they could get a beer skeptic to try their product, they would find that person coming back around to try more.  The Association of Kraft Brewers of Montenegro (Udruženje Kraft Pivara Crne Gore) is a forum for cooperation among the brewers and I noted a good bit of helpful collaboration between breweries is happening.

You may click on any gallery image to see it in a larger format and to open a slideshow viewer that lets you scroll through larger versions of all images.

Nikšić Breweries

The Trebjesa Brewery in Nikšić is the big guy on the block –  their lager called Nikšićko Pivo is a pervasive brand throughout and is likely what you will be served if you ask for a beer.  Unfortunately, they were not interested in my project when we contacted them for a visit so what I know about them (other than drinking many of their beers) is second-hand.  Although their beers are “industrial beers” from the world of big beer (Trebjesa was bought by Interbrew in 1997 and subsequently, Molson-Coors in 2012), I thought their flagship lager was better than the average macro lager and that their Tamno (dark) and their Nefiltrirano (unfiltered lager) were even better.  They are even marketing an IPA that I tasted but didn’t care for.  Trebjesa is small by macro-brewer standards producing about 450,000 barrels annually.

I was warmly received during my visit to the other brewery in Nikšić — Mammut Pivo.  Lead technologist and brewmaster Bojan Belkas gave us a great tour and patiently answered alot of questions.  Mammut is a sparkling microbrewery housed in the basement of the modern Hotel Onogost near the city center.  It was opened in 2017 and as I understood it, it benefits from a unique distribution model – their parent company distributes their beers in a variety of pubs and restaurants around the country.   They also sell small kegs direct to consumers via their internet site.  Mammut utilizes an 8 Bbl brewing system built by Hungarian-based ZIP Technologies.  There is a 70m water well right on the Hotel Onogost property that uses some of that famous Niksik well water to feed the brewing process.  There are six beers in their standard range – Prime (Kolsch-style), Pilsner, Mozaic (a hoppy pilsener), IPA, APA, and Stout.  Hoppy lagers like the Mozaic were a recurring theme that I like – the hops are more about flavoring than bittering.  There is plenty of expansion space there if they need it and they showed me space where they hope to place a taproom at some point in the future.

Podgorica Area Breweries

Podgorica is a bigger city so it isn’t surprising that there are more breweries there.

Akademija Piva  (“Beer Academy”) is a  brewpub in the newer part of the downtown.  It is a large, attractive pub with good food.  The Akademija range includes five mainstays – Profesor Doktor (IPA), Brat Dekan (Oktoberfest), Čista Desetka (Weissbeer), Vrhunski Magistar (Pale Lager), and Vječiti Apsolvent (Dark Lager) and they have a seasonal or specialty on tap at any given time.   I ordered a flight of all six of their beers and was brought an array of very large samples (maybe 12 oz. each).  The seasonal was a summer beer that incorporated grapes to interesting effect.  IPA’s in Montenegro are generally much less hoppy than would be found in the USA – several brewers explained that this is an accommodation to local tastes.  It suited me just fine as I am one of those people who think that many IPA’s are home are severely over-hopped.  Academija was the only of the craft beers that I found (canned) in markets or bodegas, although infrequently.

Montenegro Brewing was the smallest and newest micro (nano) brewery I visited in Montenegro but their partners do not lack energy, positivity, or enthusiasm about craft beer and brewing.  The partners, Vasilije Prelevic, Marko Kuveljić, Jovan Grubač, and Momir Todorović, are four friends who all are moonlighting in the brewery business at this point.  They are located in a rural area near the town of Spuž, just west of the city.  They have refurbished a former smokehouse in a farm field near a bend in Zeta River to be their brewery and they bring their brewing water from spring 15 km away.  Their beer is organic and we talked about their interest in the possibility of an all-Montenegrin ingredient beer as a special someday.  I had a great time hanging out with these guys while they brewed into the wee hours one night – talking beer and drinking their Zora ale.  Zora is an American Pale Ale (APA) but I think they should dub it an MPA (Montenegrin Pale Ale).  Zora means sunrise and we almost made it to then.

Paun Pivo is a family business that started with a desire to build a sustainable business in Montenegro.   The family involved include a father, son, and cousin at the brewery and an uncle in Sweden who was involved in the financing.  Paun means “peacock” and I have to say I got a good laugh out of some hidden symbolism in the Paun logo (you’ll have to ask the Paun folks about that yourself).  The son (and lead brewer), Koča Paunović is an easy-going guy who I enjoyed spending a bit of time with.  The Paun range is a hoppy lager and a red lager — both of which I enjoyed.  Koča told me that he learned brewing by apprenticing at Dogma Brewery in Belgrade, Serbia.  In addition to being a brewery, Paun imports and distributes Dogma products in Montenegro.  Koča told me that he figures craft beer culture in Serbia is 7-8 years ahead of Montenegro.  He sees the Montenegrin market as slow to change, but it is changing.  He foresees the day when there could be a market for beers like New England IPA, but a key for them is to understand the current market and respond to it.  Paun is along a highway in the countryside west of Podgorica and has a space set aside where they plan to create a destination beer garden.

Budva Craft is a gypsy brewer that brews in the Podgorica area (at Paun) but whose outlets are at Budva, a resort town on the Adriatic coast.  I visited with their founder Robert Vadjon and his associate at their restaurant and beer bar in Budva called the Garden Cafe.  They produce one beer so far — a pale ale called Beerhouse  Barba Niko.  Barba Niko was a local fisherman and pub owner in the old days of Budva before it became a big tourist draw and now days evokes nostalgia for those times.  Like many of the other brewers, Robert started as a homebrewer.  He sees an IPA and maybe a lager in his brewing future and if things work out his own brewery.  For me, he was the most knowledgeable person I met about the other brewers in Montenegro and he helped me with several leads.

Pivo Podgorica, also west of the city on the road to Niksik is a brewery I became aware of late during my visit and I was really pleased to be able to fit it in on my way to the airport to fly away.  The founder, Alexander “Sasha” Durović established a successful printing business that he has largely turned over to son to pursue his love of and interest in brewing.  The brewery is co-located with printing business and has space earmarked for expansion.  They make a classic lager that I was glad to have found the previous night at a pub in the old town area.  I could tell that Sasha puts his all into his brewing and it shows up in the result — a nice, clean, balanced lager.

Kotor Bay Breweries

Mala Novska Pivara  is located in a small industrial area close to the bayfront in Herceg Novi.   Herceg Novi is a famous spa and health place at the place where Kotor Bay connects to the Adriatic.  Sinisa Kostic, one of the partners in the brewery was hard at work on a brew when we arrived — we picked up the pleasant scent of the brew well before we entered.  Sinisa told me that he had learned the craft at Downtown Brewing in Knoxville, TN in the USA.     Mala Novska currently brews its ales twice per week, a schedule limited by fermenter capacity.    All of their beer is sold in kegs to customers in the Herceg Novi area.  I tried two of their beers — Blonda is a Kolsch-style brew and I thought their porter was excellent.  Looking ahead, Sinisa is hoping to increase fermenter capacity and to figure out how to establish a captive pub or taproom.  He is also hoping for government action to decrease the excise tax burden on craft beers.

Fabrika Craft Brewery is located in an ancient house on a hillside above the bayfront town of Risan — they have just completed the relocation of the brewery from a nearby spot.  This is a tidy facility that uses an Italian-made brew kit.   Fabrika produces four beers in their range — Smilin’ Goat IPA, Hoptimus Prime APA,
Portun Stout, and Bocca Pale Ale.   Fabrika partner Krsto Ćuković was a friendly, gracious host.  They operate their own taproom/beer bar in nearby Kotor that serves not only their beers but also beers from several other of the Montenegro craft brewers as they can get them.  This struck me as a pretty good idea as the craft scene develops in Montenegro – I could envision a beer bar in each of the major towns that serve beers from all of the Montenegrin breweries.

Read more stories from Montenegro

Facebooktwittermail

Montenegro: Hikes, Breweries, and more

Montenegro is located on the Adriatic Sea
Montenegro is located on the Adriatic Sea

Montenegro: Hikes, Breweries, and more ….  that is a simplified explanation of what brought me to the country of Montenegro in the heart of the western Balkans.  There is more to be said about that, though.   A couple of years ago I had come across a write-up about a long-range hiking route called the Via Dinarica that spans more than 1200 miles through the western Balkans from Slovenia to Macedonia and finding out more about it was added to my to-do list.

[This post is part one (introduction) of a six part story about hiking and beer culture travels in Montenegro.  Next installments: breweries of Montenegro and a beer hike at Hajla.  Subscribe or follow on Facebook to receive additional installments]

As I read up about it, I realized how little I knew about this area beyond some previous travel in Slovenia and northern Croatia and a vague memory of war reports from this region in the 1990’s.  The often violent progression from the communist Yugoslavia of the cold war to the various independent countries that exist there today was pretty complicated to understand.  Notably, current-day Montenegro was formed in 2006 by the dissolution of its federation with Serbia.  This was somehow accomplished peacefully in a region that seems to have had more than its fair share of ugly wars.  The population is less than 700,000.  Ethnic divisions between Montenegrins, Serbs, Bosniacs, Albanians, and other groups (no majority group) and religious divisions between Eastern Orthodox Christians (the largest group), Muslims, and Catholics figure strongly into the complexity but are only a part of it.  If you are curious about this and want to listen to a perspective about it, listen to an episode of the podcast “Sarajevo Calling” that was recommended to me.  I found it interesting to be introduced to concepts like “Yugonostalgia” and “Balkan optimism”.

Brewery, hike, and other highlight locations within Montenegro
Brewery, hike, and other highlight locations within Montenegro

The physical description of Montenegro was more of what captured my imagination: “Montenegro is a Balkan country with rugged mountains, medieval villages and a narrow strip of beaches along its Adriatic coastline. The Bay of Kotor, resembling a fjord, is dotted with coastal churches and fortified towns such as Kotor and Herceg Novi. Durmitor National Park, home to bears and wolves, encompasses limestone peaks, glacial lakes and 1,300m-deep Tara River Canyon (4300 feet).  The mountains of Montenegro include some of the most rugged terrain in Europe, averaging more than 2,000 metres (6,600 feet) in elevation.”   Although Montenegro is around the same size as Connecticut, I was told that if all the mountains were flattened out it would be the size of New Mexico.  The mountainous North is wild and remote while the coastline is great beach and seafront.

A story about my brewery visits made the national newspaper
A story about my brewery visits made the front page of the national newspaper

As for the beer culture and breweries, I didn’t know what to expect although my research had identified one large, historic brewery and a number of brewpubs and small breweries.  I knew enough to know that beer hiking wasn’t going to be a problem and it appealed to me as a fertile place for exploration off of the beaten track (for an American traveler).  Interestingly, my peculiar combination of interests struck some people I encountered as unusual enough to warrant front-page coverage in the national daily newspaper.

My hiking itinerary and logistics were arranged through an agency in Podgorica called Montenegro Eco Adventures, a company that offers both set and tailor-made experiences.  I worked with Nikola Radović, their Executive Director who helped me figure out an itinerary that made sense for the time I had to spend.  Nikola, in addition to being an interesting guy to share a beer with, also connected me up with an independent guide, Slobodan Doknic who did a great job making connections with, and getting me around to some of the breweries.  Nikola told me that based on our experience he is looking into offering a beer/brewery-themed itinerary to his customers.

Following are some notes and images from interesting places I visited along the way.  Details of hikes and breweries visited will be in future installments to this story.  The constant throughout my Montenegrin adventure was the hospitality and friendliness of the people I encountered along the way — it made me wish I had more time in Montenegro.

You may click on any gallery image to see it in a larger format and to open a slideshow viewer that lets you scroll through larger versions of all images.

Kotor

Kotor is an ancient town (pop. 13,000) on the Bay of Kotor dating back to Roman times. To look at it, one might think the Bay is a fjord but it is really a submerged, steep river canyon. The old port features a well preserved, walled, Venetian fortification backed by a towering mountain.  Kotor is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I found the narrow alleyways and passages to be irresistible to my camera.

Something you notice right away is that cats are everywhere.  You’ll even find cat stores a cat museum, and Cats’ Square.  People here love cats and seem to take communal responsibility for them providing food, water, and places for them to curl up and sleep.

While here, I visited breweries in nearby Herceg Novi and Risan.

Cetinje

Cetinje, an inland town of about 16,000 people is the historic capital of Montenegro.  It is the home of an important monastery and one historic building after another.  My first impression was of a comfortably sleepy place with a multitude of laidback cafes and restaurants lining the streets.  It’s many impressive former embassy buildings have been maintained and adapted to other uses (museums, libraries, etc.)  While here, I visited with a gypsy brewer in nearby Budva.

Skadar Lake

I had a wonderful stay in the Skadar Lake region near Virpazar at a working vineyard and winery called Mond (“moon” I think).  Skadar Lake is huge (140 sq. miles) and straddles the Albanian border.  The lake is both a national park and a big bird sanctuary.   The proliferation of lily pads in parts of the lake is unforgettable.

The family that owns and works Mond could not have been more welcoming.  Jelena welcomed me right off with homemade cake and a cold beer in the ancient stone farmhouse.  They have built comfortable rooms on top of the old stone structure.  Dinner was served in a classic outdoor setting that is incredibly scenic.  The wine was a very pleasant variety called Vranac.  After dinner, her husband Ivo shared many varieties of his own rakijas (rakija is a traditional and ubiquitous drink in Montenegro — a strong brandy made of grapes, plums, apples… everything that’s fruit basically) and stories in his own brand of English.

Nikšić

During my overnight visit, I found Nikšić to be a thoroughly pleasant small city (pop. 60,000).   It seems to be usually described as an industrial city, I found the center to be attractive and It had the most vibrant local (as opposed to touristic) street life of anywhere I experienced in Montenegro.  On the Sunday evening that I was there, the streets in the center were loaded with people of all ages who were strolling, dining, enjoying street food, or hanging out in cafes.  I could have spent more time here.

There are two breweries located in Nikšić.

Podgorica

Podgorica (pop.150,000) is the capital of Montegro and its largest city.  It was a pleasant place to be for my short stay there.  Like the other places I spent time in towns and cities, there are nice parks with plenty of public art and a walkable cafe district.  I visited four breweries in the Podgorica area.

North to the Mountains

There was only one way north into the mountains when it came time to do some hiking there.  A two-lane highway called the E45 meandered up into the Morača River canyon.  There are no “freeways” in Montenegro although one is under construction by the Chinese that is bridging canyons and tunneling under mountains.

Well into the canyon is the Serbian Orthodox Morača Monastery.   Founded in 1252, it is one of the most famous medieval monuments of Montenegro.

Read more stories about hiking, beers, and travel in Montenegro

Facebooktwittermail

Burlington Bike & Beers

Biking and Beers Along the Burlington Bike Path

Burlington Biking Route
Biking route – click on image for interactive route map

Burlington, Vermont is a pleasant small college town (University of Vermont) situated along the eastern shore of Lake Champlain.  It is the principal city of Vermont even though its population is only about 40,000  people.   The place has a number of notables.  Burlington “felt the Bern” long before the rest of the country as former Burlington mayor and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hails from here — Bernie Weisse, a “slightly sour and forward-thinking ale” by Zero Gravity Brewing commemorates the connection.  Burlington is also the birthplace of Ted Bundy (I didn’t see any beers cleverly named for him).  Ben & Jerry started their notable ice cream careers here in the late 1970’s although they have moved down the lakeshore since.

Lake Champlain stretches for 125 miles North to South and is 12 miles across at its widest — only the five Great Lakes are bigger in the USA.  Legend has it that the deep lake harbors a Loch Ness-like monster whose sightings stretch back to the 1600’s and Samuel de Champlain for whom the lake is named.  The monster is described as a “water-dinosaur-looking creature with a serpentine neck, small head, long tail, humped back, and flippered limbs” and is called “Champ” by the locals.  Sounds fishy to me.

Magic Hat #9 Not Quite Pale Ale
Magic Hat #9 Not Quite Pale Ale

The Burlington Bike Path is a rail-trail that uses about 14 miles of the former route of the Central Vermont Railway which ran along the Lake Champlain shoreline between Montreal and New London, CT.   This segment was called the Island Line as, up until about 1960, it served several islands to the north of Burlington across a long causeway.  There was a swing bridge in the northern part of the causeway that has been demolished — a bike ferry service now makes up for the missing bridge.  Most of the route features picturesque lake views and park-like stretches.  For my ride, I improvised a route through a short stretch on city streets through the South part in order to connect up to Magic Hat Brewery which was my furthest south destination — ugly but it did the job.

World's Tallest Filing Cabinet
World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet

Curiosities along the way included the Burlington Earth Clock, a stonehenge-like sundial and my favorite, the world’s tallest filing cabinet.  The cabinet is 38 drawers high — said to be a drawer for the bureaucratic paperwork from each year of a 38 year battle to get a roadway built from downtown Burlington to Interstate 89 to the south.  The roadway was never built.

The route is very walkable (runnable) as well as being bikeable.  There are seven breweries along the route including Magic Hat to the south; Switchback, Queen City, and Zero Gravity south of the downtown; Foam and Vermont Pub & Brewery downtown; and Simple Roots north of the downtown.

You may click on any gallery image to see it in a larger format and to open a slideshow viewer that lets you scroll through larger versions of all images.

Lakeside Biking

Beers Along the Way

For more stories about biking for beers, CLICK THIS LINK.

Facebooktwittermail

What is Beer Hiking?

Albstadt HikeWhen I tell people about my blogging hobby, it’s not uncommon to hear the response, “What is beer hiking?”  For me, hiking is about so much more than exercise – or a walk in the woods – or getting from point A to point B. It’s really more about the sum of all of the sensory experiences along the way – sights, smells, sounds, textures can all be savored in small bits and connected to the memory of a hike. Newness or familiarity can be another aspect of the memory – a novel experience tends to be memorable although the familiar can also generate a comfortable, warm memory.

I find that adding a beer into the mix, whether during or after the hike adds yet another layer of sensory experience that isn’t naturally there on a hike.   Beer adds its own set of sights, smells, texture, and tastes.  Often a beer hike also increases prospects for interesting cultural experiences.  That might mean tasting the local style of brew, listening to the music, observing local characters and local customs, and talking both with travelers and locals over a beer.

For me, a beer hike can take many different forms.  There is the simple ‘enjoy a beer after the hike’.  Another form is the ‘carry beer with on the hike and stop in a beautiful place to enjoy it” approach.  Another approach is to research and complete hikes where there are breweries or other interesting beer-drinking venues along the route.  This last approach (my personal favorite) can either be out in the wild or countryside, or it can take the form of an ‘urban beer hike’ or walk.

There really aren’t any rules other than to be safe and have fun.  There is considerable opportunity for creativity in planning the route or hike … and beer always tastes better to me in conjunction with a beer hike.

The best beer in the world is the one you have after a nice hike

Stories and images about beer hikes are a prominent part of Prime Passages and I’m also doing some beer bike rides from time-to-time.  Have a look at some of the stories here.  Hopefully, they’ll inspire you to invent your own beer hikes.   If you do and you want to share your beer hiking experiences with others, there is a public Facebook group called Lovers of Beer, Hiking, and Travel that exists for just that purpose.

With all of that said, beer hiking can certainly be a different thing for different people, though.  So I queried some fellow beer hikers for their perspectives (below) and I hope that readers will contribute their own perspectives as well by commenting on this post.

Beerwanderer

Rich Carbonara, the Beerwanderer is an American ex-pat living in the Munich area.  He leads hikes in Bavaria and is the author of the soon-to-be-published book, Beer Hiking Bavaria.

Rich CarbonaraHow do you define “beer hiking”?

Beer hiking is any combination of the two you can come up with but for me, it’s using your feet to get to breweries you can’t really get to any other way (well, if you don’t have a car, can’t drive in the country you’re living in, or know better than to drink and drive).

What would you say is the best beer hike you’ve ever experienced and what, in your mind, made it the best?

The best beer hike is always the next one, the one you haven’t done yet. For sure design and relative ease, it’s tough to beat the Fünf Seidla Steig in central Bavaria.

Melinda Collings

Melinda authors Crafted Adventure – a blog featuring beer, adventure, and community.

How do you define “beer hiking”?

A beer hike is anytime you get outside hiking and bring along a beer. Pretty simple, right? It can be a mile or ten, as long as you take a few minutes to sit back enjoying nature with a cold beverage in hand!

What would you say is the best beer hike you’ve ever experienced and what, in your mind, made it the best?

The best beer hike I’ve experienced was Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Not only did we have a beautiful view, but I got to share the experience of a friend’s first beer hike! That’s what really makes a beer hike, sharing with friends.

Beers at the Bottom

Brandon Fralic and Rachel Wood author Beers At The Bottom – a blog exploring the natural relationship between the craft beer community and outdoor recreation.  Based in western Washington state, they have written and published a book called Beer Hiking Pacific Northwest.

Brandon and RachelHow do you define “beer hiking”?

Simply a day of hiking that ends at a brewery. When pairing trails and breweries we take it a step further, seeking out breweries that have a link to the outdoors community and surrounding environment. Take Kulshan Brewing in our hometown of Bellingham, WA, for example. Named after the local volcano (Koma Kulshan, or Mount Baker) Kulshan Brewing incorporates outdoorsy elements into its taprooms and beer names. We’re quite lucky that so many breweries in the PNW have an outdoor focus, creating taproom spaces that often feel like an extension of the trail. You feel comfortable raising a pint there — even in your grubby hiking clothes!

What would you say is the best beer hike you’ve ever experienced and what, in your mind, made it the best?

There are far too many to pick just one, so we featured 50 favorites in our guidebook, Beer Hiking Pacific Northwest. We’ll give you a fave from each region. In British Columbia, we enjoyed spending 3 days on the Sunshine Coast Trail, ending our time with a beer from Townsite Brewing in Powell River. In Oregon, we loved the untamed coastline of Cape Perpetua, and finishing the day off with wild farmhouse ales from Yachats Brewing. And we are absolutely spoiled here in Washington for beer hikes. One of our local favorites is pairing the hike to Winchester Mountain Lookout (or just about any trail along Mount Baker Highway) with beers and pizza at The North Fork Brewery. Order the nitro ESB or one of their excellent sours!

Tempest in a Tankard

Franz Hofer authors Tempest in a Tankard – a blog featuring stories about beer and beer culture.  Based in central Oklahoma, Franz is currently working on a book entitled Beerscapes of Germany: Where Tradition Meets Innovation.

Franz HoferHow do you define “beer hiking”?

For folks who haven’t heard yet, beer hiking is a thing. But what is this thing we call beer hiking? On the surface of it, you combine beer with hiking. Pretty simple. But it’s actually more than just tossing a few cans of beer into your rucksack and hitting the trail. Rather, beer hiking encourages hikers and walkers to explore the beer or beer establishments of a particular place as part of the journey. For some, that might mean going on a road trip, finding a trail in relative proximity to a brewery or taproom, and tucking into a few pints at the end of the excursion. For others, beer hiking involves searching out trails where there’s a brewery (or two), either along the way, or at the end of the hike.

What would you say is the best beer hike you’ve ever experienced and what, in your mind, made it the best?

To me, what sets the “best” beer treks apart is a combination of adventure, varied terrain and scenery, regional food, and, of course, stellar beer — the closer to the source, the better. Taken together, these elements should also provide some sort of window onto the local culture.  All of my beer treks have been memorable for some reason or other, but my favourite to date has been the granddaddy of Bavarian beer treks, the Fünf-Seidla Steig, or “five stein climb.” The number five refers to the number of breweries along this classic 18-km loop, which also gives you an idea of how much extra time you’ll need to budget in order to complete the journey in a day.

Facebooktwittermail

Montana Beer History Deluxe

For the Love of Montana Beer Culture

Steve Lozar
Steve Lozar behind his grandfather’s bar
polsonlocation
Polson, MT location in USA

Steve Lozar is a one-man repository of Montana beer culture and history.  Not only that, he has collected and built an outstanding small museum showcasing 150 years of Montana beer and brewery history in space above his family’s business in Polson, Montana.  Steve is a classic example of a Renaissance man — he is an anthropologist who teaches at the local college, a prolific collector of breweriana, a former tribal councilor of the Salish Kootenai, and a businessman still involved with his family’s screen printing business.  His family history in Montana goes way back through both his Salish Kootenai roots and his great grandfather, Josef Lozar who immigrated from Slovenia in the 1880’s.

Museum Bar
The museum bar is both a historical artifact and a family heirloom

I made an appointment to visit with Steve at his museum not quite knowing what to expect.  I had met him briefly at a beer event in Kalispell earlier in the week and he seemed genuinely enthusiastic about my coming to see him.  Entering the museum, I was blown away by an overwhelming explosion of colors and artifacts of all shapes and sizes that have been arranged in a visually interesting display.  Steve invited me to the museum bar where he poured us some beers.  He explained that the bar, tables, chairs, and some other architectural artifacts had been salvaged from his family’s saloon in Helena at the time that the building was being demolished.  The bar had to to be painstakingly reassembled — some parts of it were in splinters when he was able to recover it.  It is looking good and is quite functional nowadays.

old brewery
Library of Congress image

Steve grew up with beer culture as his family, from the time of his great-grandfather, was involved in the saloon business and with the now-defunct Kessler Brewery in Helena.  Steve likens the saloons of those days to the classic idea of the public house — places where people of all classes would rub elbows and talk about the news and issues of the day.  Pre-prohibition, there were as many as a couple of hundred breweries in Montana.  A big activity throughout the state was mining and the miners came from places with well-established beer cultures like Ireland and central-Europe.  Every town and camp of any size would have at least one brewery as transportation wasn’t that well developed yet to allow for broad distribution.  Prohibition pretty killed the industry (no breweries from that time survived) until the fairly recent emergence of craft breweries.  Nowadays Montana is once again approaching a hundred breweries in the state.

itsthewater
“It’s the Water”
High Life
turn-of-the-century High Life bottle from Capital Brewing in Helena
Pabst
The “B” on the hop flower commemorates the Best family

HighlanderSteve has some great stories to tell that he connects up with various artifacts as illustrations.  Some of them mingle Montana history with that of well-known brewers from far away like Olympia, Miller High Life, and Pabst or with national institutions like the New York Yankees.  Did you know that Olympia’s famous tagline, “it’s the water”, originated in Montana in 1906 and was eventually “migrated” to Washington state when the brewer relocated there?  Or that the “High Life” brand originated in Montana as a brand of Capital Brewing in Helena? The Kalispell Malting & Brewing Co. was operated by a member of the Best family  (Pabst in Milwaukee was operated by the Pabst and Best families), and PBR was once bottled in Troy, MT in some kind of tax avoidance scheme of the day.  Also, the distnctive font of the Highlander Beer logo (a Missoula beer)  connects to Ne York Yankee lore — the Yankees were once known as the New York Highlanders and their owner (a brewer himself) agreed to let the Garden City Brewery in Missoula use the Highlander marking once he renamed the team to the Yankees.  The Yankees continued to use the font though.

Steve’s interest in breweriana connects to his interested in commercial art and design.  That has always been (and continues to be) an aspect of the brewery business and how beer is marketed.  Steve showed me all kinds of posters and old-school swag that use creative and interesting artwork and design.  Bottle openers, hand fans, sewing kits, ashtrays, serving trays, matchbooks, ice picks, playing cards, lint brushes — you name it.  Steve showed me his favorite — a cardboard whistle that was intended to be used to summon your next beer — I could use one of those if anyone would pay attention.

Growler
vintage growler

Another interesting story Steve related was about the growler.  He said that what we call growlers today were known simply as beer jugs back in the day.  A true growler is really a copper beer vessel used by brewery workers.  As the story goes,  breweries all had a coppersmith on their staff who could do copper work and solder together pipe fittings and the like.  When a new worker at the brewery proved their competence, the coppersmith would make and present them with a growler – a copper mug.  Workers who had earned their growler were allowed to fill it with beer once per hour during their time at work as a nice fringe benefit of their job.  I asked Steve what he knew about what beer must have tasted like back in the 1800’s.  He said that early Montana brewers were emulating the styles they brought from their countries of origin.  The Central-Europeans were making lagers and the Irish ales and stouts.  Supplies of hops could be uncertain so there was a good bit of experimentation.  Things like pine needles barks, and mosses would be substituted when hops couldn’t be had.  So I guess that answer is that it is hard to know what the taste was like way back when but it might have been unusual.  Steve says that part of his collection includes old recipes and that he has selectively worked with brewers to try some out.

Steve welcomes visitors but requests that an appointment be made in advance.  You can contact him at 406 270 7695 or steve.lozar [ at ] cskt [ dot ] org

You may click on any gallery image to see it in a larger format and to open a slideshow viewer that lets you scroll through larger versions of all images.

Swag and Advertising Artifacts