Drayton’s Food & Drink specialist, Byron Beatty, cycles 540km from Munich to Venice, only to be charged 21 euros for a Harry’s Bar Bellini before abruptly departing in search of ‘reasonably priced’ craft ale.
Let’s begin where this story ends: Il Santo Bevitore, The Holy Drinker Bar , just off St Mark’s Square in Venice. Where I’m sitting at a corner table wearing my cycling gear, drenched in sweat, glass of Trappist brew in hand, surrounded by some of my best friends. All of us laughing and smiling.
For me, it is a perfect moment. Perfect because it’s real. The beer actually tastes better because of where we are drinking it. Everything about the experience is utterly authentic. And that, we know, is what the beverage market’s fifteen-year obsession with all things craft is about.
A couple of weeks ago I set out on, what you might call, a pelatonic pilgrimage from Munich to the Adriatic Coast, via the Austrian Alps and the Italian Dolomites. Along with five friends I cycled 540 km and, of course, supped a few beers along the way.
The first day we arrived in Munich we were staying near a Benedictine monastery in Weihenstephan, part of the district of Freising. Brauerei Weihenstephan has been located at its monastery site since at least 1040. It is said to be the world's oldest continuously operating brewery. One thousand years ago then – long before point of sale, sales promotion and packaging innovations – the monks of Weihenstephan mixed hops and barley into thirst-quenching ale. It’s not very likely they were driven by sales targets or share prices. Just the simple desire to brew something beautiful. Little did they know it but a millennium of foresight meant they had already mastered the secret of ‘keeping it real.’
All good Munich tourists do go to the famous Hofbräuhaus. So, we did exactly that.
And, yes, they have an um-pah-pah band there, to satisfy the selfie-obsessed. There’s still, however, enough of history hanging in the air to make you sense what it would have been like to sip your Hofbrau Dunkel in the days of the Weimar Republic.
Then the pedalling began. 540km of peddling. Up mountains. Through breathtaking alpine valleys. The Grossglockner High Alpine Road amongst them. Where we fought our way up the ten mile, zig-zagging 12% gradient. At one point, we even passed Italian Champion, Vincenzo Nibali and his Bahrain-Merdia Pro Cycling Team, coming the other way.
Very thirsty work, then. Which took us, on our arrival in Venice, to the world-famous Harry’s Bar. A favourite of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles. Neither of who, I suspect, looked very good in cycling shorts. Because when you have just travelled 540km a 21-euro Bellini (that’s right 21 euros!) just doesn’t cut it. Feel, even remotely, real. But a reasonably priced Chimay or La Chouffe at The Holy Drinker absolutely will.