Browsing Posts in Beers of the World

craft beer Mexico

Last weekend I tasted a few wonderfully aromatic pale ales, German style Heifweizens, a Belgian-style whit beer, a couple red ales, and one of the best stouts I’ve had in years. All made within a few hours’ drive from where I was standing. There was only one unusual aspect of this tasting session: it was in Mexico.

In the not-too-distant past, finding a craft beer, brewpub, or micro-brewery anywhere in Latin America was next to impossible. If you were to drive south from Texas or Arizona, you wouldn’t be able to find something with an abundance of hops until you got to Santiago or Buenos Aires, down in the Southern Cone of South America.

microwbrew mexicoThe situation is still pretty bleak most of that stretch, a non-stop stream of monopoly producers’ yellow fizzy lagers, but a few cracks are starting to appear. In Mexico though, long the Latin American country with the best mass-market beers, there’s a full-fledged craft beer revolution going on. Last weekend there was an event in the medium-sized city where I live that would have been unthinkable just three years ago: a Mexican craft beer festival. For real!

After spending the past eight months choosing between what the giant Mexican beer producers put out, I was in heaven. Goodbye 4.5% Corona and Indio, hello full-bodied Gambusino and Brü. Gambusino is actually the home town hero where I live in Guanajuato, the first craft brewer to make a real dent in the marketplace, so I have had a few of their beers in between the usual suspects since I moved back. Microbrews are still a novel concept with bars and restaurants though. When I first moved here there was exactly one place I could order something different—then “imported” by an owner with a car who would load up on Minerva or Cucapa cases in Guadalajra or Mexico City. Now there are a smattering more serving good beer where I live, plus a full-fledged store (called “The Beer Store”) with a great selection from all over.

Guaajuato beer festival

Pent-up demand for craft brews.

Fortunately for us in Guanajuato, Gambusino has one of the best pale ales you’ll find in the country right now. (If you order one, be advised it’s pronounced “pah-lay ah-lay” here. And while we’re at it, If you need to go online while you’re drinking it, Wi-Fi often ends up as “Wee-Fee.”)

beer festI was extremely impressed with the quality of what I drank at this festival. I tasted more than a dozen different beers and there was only one dud in the bunch. That’s a better percentage than I’ve managed at similar festivals in Nashville and Tampa. Even the Las Mulas guys who were so new they didn’t have business cards, a website or a Facebook page were making surprisingly good beer. Nearly everyone had great packaging too: these beers may be expensive compared to their mass-market counterparts, but they sure look good sitting on a table in front of you.

My top choice was, surprisingly to me, a blonde ale made by 7 Barrios of San Luis Potosi. It was pretty much a perfect beer and appeal beyond the hop-heads. I bought a glass of their strong red ale too (7.5% alcohol) and it was also delicious.

clandestina beerThe stout from Embajador, a Guanajuato company I’d never heard of previously, was complex, robust, and just plain yummy. My other favorites were from Genuine Black (Zacatecas) Clandestina (Leon) and Puro Veneno (Mexico State), but I would gladly stock my fridge with what’s coming out from any of the companies that were attending.

This won’t likely be an everyday thing though: labor is cheaper in Mexico, but the ingredients, transportation, and equipment are not. So ordering a microbrew in a bar or restaurant in Mexico will usually cost you 35 to 45 pesos ($3-$4). Figure on $2 or so per bottle in a store. This is double what you’ll pay for a Pacifico, almost double what it costs for the best mass market brands: Bohemia and Negra Modela. But what you’re getting for the price is at a whole different level than the norm.

This is a point in time much like you saw in the USA 25 years ago, when Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Anchor Steam, and others were just getting off the ground. Support these guys and someday the Mexico selection will follow the same path. And hey kids—you only need to be 18 to order a beer here. (Or really just look like you are…)

traveling prices in Turkey

As I wrote a few posts back in the midst of a return to Turkey, this country is not a cheap destination anymore. It’s in my book still as an honorable mention because it’s a fair value for mid-range travelers, but it will probably disappear from that category too next time around. Overall, prices are ticking closer and closer to those in Western Europe and with their economy booming (while Europe’s languishes), there’s little chance this trend will reverse.

Minimum wage is only about $500 a month and pensions aren’t much higher, but there are plenty in the sizable middle class making a few thousand more than that each month. Taxes are not outrageous, but fuel costs are, so transportation is no bargain. The conservative government loves sin taxes, to the point that 2/3 of what you spend on booze or beer does not go to the manufacturer or retailer. Even once-cheap raki, the national drink of choice, is pricey. Real estate prices are rising rapidly, which affects store rentals and hotel costs.

Ankara hotel

What the government ministers are driving in Ankara.

Turkey is an amazing destination though, so it still feels like a special experience worth paying for, even if you are sharing that experience with more and more people each year. The cruise ship traffic is up 108 percent year over year, for instance, which nearly always has a negative effect on both prices and crowds. Most of that traffic is in Istanbul, with perhaps a stop off to check out Ephesus, so in this big country it’s not hard to get away from the crowds. Hotel costs are especially high in Istanbul, where 50 100+ room hotels are under construction or about to break ground.

I was just in Istanbul and Ankara on this last trip, so prices here are based on what you find in the two biggest cities. You can expect many of them to go down as you get into the countryside. All prices have been converted into U.S. dollars at the rate of 1.7 Turkish Lira per $.

Eating in Turkey pricesFood & Drink Prices in Turkey
In-season fruits & vegetables at markets: $1.30 – $2 per kilo
Simit (kind of like a sesame bagel with a bigger hole) – 60 cents
5 small pastries from a simit dealer: $1
Large baguette: 60 cents
200 grams of baklava: – $2 – $3.50
Doner kebab sandwich: $2.50 – $5
Cigar kofte (ground lamb) – $1 per stick
Glass of strong tea – $1 – $1.30
Cappuccino – $2 – $3.50
Bottle of Turkish wine in a store: $5.50 to $15 for most, but some up to $35.
Liter bottle of raki in a store: $25 and up
Large Efes beer in a store/bar: $2-$2.50 / $4-$6
100 grams of peanuts or hazelnuts – 80 cents
100 grams of shelled pistachios – $1.50
Meal in a basic Turkish restaurant – $6 – $10
Meal in a fancy Turkish restaurant – about what you pay in the U.S., NYC prices at gourmet/hotel ones
Kilo of tea – $8
Ice cream novelty: 50 cents to $1.40

local market shopping Turkey

Hotel & Hostel Prices
Dorm room bed in a hostel: $22 – $35
Basic double room with bath – $45 – $70
3/4- star hotel on Hotwire: $95 – $165

Transportation Costs in Turkey
Taxi from airport to Istanbul center: $24 – $29
Airport bus to Taksim: $6.50
Metro/tram combo from airport: $2 – $3
Metro/tram local fare: $1.20 per trip (with Istanbulkart)
Istanbul ferry ride: 80 cents – $1.50
Ankara city bus ride: $1
Taxi ride in Ankara: $2 – $18
Long-distance bus ride: around $3 per hour of travel
Istanbul to Cappadocia by overnight bus: $38
High-speed train from Ankara to Konya (1.5 hours at 300 kms per hour): $17 – $23
Istanbul to Izmir by fast ferry & train combo: $39
Internal flights: $75 – $200 one-way

Admission and Activity Charges

traveling TurkeyTop-tier sites in Istanbul: $15
Second level sites: $9
Bosphorus tour by boat: $15
Small museums: $3 – $5
Mosques: free

By the way, cellular charges here are a good deal. To compare to what you pay at home, for about $15 – $18 a month you can get 500 minutes, 1000 text messages, and 1GB of data.

So what’s the strategy here? How can you avoid spending a fortune?
– Choose your restaurants carefully in the cities and cook sometimes if you can (produce is a bargain).
– Eat lots of nuts and fruit, which are abundant all year.
– Pick and choose which sites will get you excited and skip the others.
– Explore Istanbul by ferry as the rides are cheap, including to the Princes Islands.
– Turkey is not just Istanbul (unless you’re on a cruise). Take a bus to cheaper lands.
– Figure out the public transportation routes and methods. Taxis are expensive.
– Save your hard partying for elsewhere, a country where taxes aren’t 2/3 of the cost.

Siem Reap Angkor

Until Burma reaches a point of real reform and starts getting the promised foreign investment coming in, Cambodia will hold the crown as the best travel value in Southeast Asia. What you get for your money is unbelievable sometimes, yet you don’t have to go way off the beaten path to find the bargains.

In Cambodia you can travel in a manner that feels way above your budget. If you spend $30 on a room it’ll come with air-con, maid service, a great breakfast, TV, fridge, and maybe even a pool. If you spend $5 on a meal it’ll be in a pretty nice restaurant and probably include a beer or two. If you have to break down and take a tuk-tuk or taxi across town, that’ll set you back two or three dollars. So naturally, if you’re used to doing everything on a shoestring and want to keep that going, you can really make your budget last by hanging out here for a month.

Without the vast distances you have to navigate in Indonesia or even Vietnam, you can get to most anywhere you need to go the same day.

Here are some sample prices for Cambodia, from my mid-range family trip this past summer, from my notes, and from articles and blog posts I bookmarked before and after. Almost everything is priced in U.S. dollars here—even in the supermarkets—so you rarely use local currency.

Hotel & Hostel Prices in Cambodia

This country has gone from being critically underserved on lodging to being in the midst of a building boom, so there’s plenty to choose from in every price range. You have to negotiate on the spot to get a private room without paying the two-person rate: couples or friends traveling together get a better deal. A triple or family suite is generally just 1/3 more than a double at cheapie places, even less at nicer ones. Some hostels have free laundry, almost all have free Wi-Fi.

Hostel bed: $4 -$7, usually including Wi-Fi, sometimes breakfast
Cheap double room, fan-cooled, shared bath: $5 – $12
Cheap double room, air-con, private bath: $8 – $18
Mid-range room with hotel amenities, maid service, breakfast: $16 – $50
Deluxe room with elevator, bellhops, pool: $40 – $200

(There are very few hotels where guests pay more than $200 per night for a standard room. When I searched Siem Reap hotels on Trivago for two weeks from now I only found 8.)

Siem Reap restaurant

Food & Drink in Cambodia

This is where you really get the full benefit of local pricing. As long as you eat what’s grown in the region and don’t need a daily fix of imported items, this is a place where you can eat out three meals a day and spend less than $5 if you go where the locals go. Step up to a nicer restaurant with waiters and you can still get a meal for a few bucks. Often our family of three would completely chow down on multiple courses in Siem Reap and I’d have a few beers, my daughter would get a fruit shake. The bill would come and it would be $11 or $12.

cheap beerStreet or market stall meal: 50 cents to $1.50
Basic restaurant main dish: $1 – $3
Nicest non-hotel restaurant in town, meal for two: $35 – $60 with a bottle of wine
Draft/bottle beer: 50 cents/75 cents – $1.50/$2
Soda or coffee: 50 cents – $1.50
Fruit shake: 50 cents – $1.50
Cocktail: $1 – $4

Transportation Prices

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh by boat: $35
Same route by bus: $6 – $13 (working A/C and Wi-Fi).
Bus from Phnom Penh to the beaches: $4 – $6
Taxi from Phnom Penh to the beaches: $50 – $60 (up to 4 people)
Bus to Saigon, Vietnam: $6 – $14
Bus to Thai border from Siem Reap: $9
Taxi to/from Thai border to Siem Reap: $30 – $48 (up to 4 people)
Flight to Vietnam: $100 – $300
Tuk-tuk ride: $1 – $2 local, $10 – $16 for the day
Taxi: $1 – $4 local, $15 – $50 for the day depending on distance, negotiations. (If there’s a meter, $1 per 2kms)
Motorcycle taxi – $6 – $9 around Ankor Wat for the day.
Motorbike rental (not allowed in Siem Reap): $6 – $25 per day, weekly rates are cheaper.
Bike rentals: $1 – $3 per day

Other Traveler Prices:

CambodiaAngkor Wat region admission: $20 one day, $40 three days, $60 one week
One-hour massage: $5 – $8
One-hour four-hand massage: $10 – $15
Manicure/pedicure: $3 – $5
Laundry service: $1 – $2 per kilo
Local tours: $15 – $35 per person
Mobile phone Sim card: starts at $5
(Illegal) MP3 albums/movies: $1/$2

If you want to move to Cambodia to live for a while, you can’t buy property without partnering up with a local, but you can get a 99-year lease, which works for most people. International Living says you can rent a 2BR beach house in Sihanoukville for as little as $150 a month and get by there on $525 a month total in living expenses.

Related post with pics: What $50 a night gets you for a hotel in Southeast Asia

In many respects, Bulgaria is the best travel deal in Europe. Many of the prices I’ve cited below are the cheapest you’ll find on the continent (for any place visited by travelers anyway).

Get a liter of family wine for less than $2.

Some of that advantage is offset by the language barrier and alphabet though, so it can be better to pay a bit more and have some guidance than to learn enough Bulgarian to do it completely independently. If nothing else, bring a good phrase book.

This is primarily a rural country with small towns and villages. The second-largest city after Sofia has fewer than half a million people and it drops off fast after that. Come for nature, adventure, skiing, history, and hearty food at bargain prices. This is a great country for hiking, with hut-to-hut options at reasonable prices. Skiing is half the price of the Alps, but with some very high mountains to swoosh down.

You can read a nice feature story I wrote after my trip through the country in late April here: From Red to Green in Bulgaria.

Exchange rate at the time of this post was close to 1.5 lev to the U.S. dollar and 2 to the euro. Easy math, but I did it for you below into dollars.

Hotel & Hostel Prices in Bulgaria

Where foreigners go, there are plenty of cheap places to stay to choose from. Off the beaten path though, you may end up with a homestay or simple guesthouse. This is a place where two/three people traveling together can up their comfort level significantly: a private room for two/three is generally just double/triple the cost of a hostel bed. Internet is usually included, often breakfast is as well.


View from $10 per person Deshka Guesthouse

Hostel bed or private double in a cheap hotel:  $9-$16 per person.

Basic room at a monastery: $20 – $24 double

Guesthouse room near a national park: $15 – $30 double

Mid-range (3-star equivalent) independent hotel – $35 – $60 double

International chain hotel: (mostly in Sofia)  $70 – $160 double

Search cheap Bulgaria hotels on HostelWorld or Hostelbookers

Food & Drink Prices in Bulgaria

Bulgaria pricesSome of the cheapest beer in Europe, tasty food grown near where you’re eating it, and a wide array of firewater for bargain prices. You won’t spend a lot of money to eat well or have your own private party when traveling through Bulgaria. What’s not to like? Well if you’re a vegan or a tea-totaler, a lot. Everything is served with cheese or yogurt and alcohol is cheaper than soda.

Otherwise, there’s plenty to look forward to here. Portion sizes are as huge as in the U.S. and it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a second plate to split an order.

Street food and sandwiches:  50 cents – $2.

Typical restaurant meal: $4 – $10 for several courses.

I wish I could have this $1.75 sandwich again…

Typical menu prices for food: soups/salads $1.50 – $3, mains $2 – $6, desserts 50 cents to $1.50.

Beer: 50 – 80 cents a liter in stores, $1 – $2.50 in a bar/restaurant for a liter depending on decor.

Wine: $1.40 – $2.50 a liter for homemade or a house wine glass in a restaurant, $4 – $8 in a restaurant for a typical bottle, $8 – $14 for the best. Bottle in stores $3 – 8 average.

Liquor: As little as 75¢ for a shot of raki (firewater distilled from grapes or plums) in a bar, but generally $1 – $2. Local vodka $2, imports $3 – $9.

Non-alcoholic drinks: herbal tea & water cheapest (40-80 cents), coffee $1 or so, soda usually more than beer or raki.

Fruit & vegetables – sold in season, not much imported, generally $1.40 a kilo or less for peppers, cabbage, potatoes, greens, grapes, plums, peaches, turnips, etc. Strawberries and fancy mushrooms more.

Sofia market

Dairy products – yogurt around $1 a liter, milk $1.50, cheese $4 – $6 a kilo fresh, $8 – $10 aged.

Transportation for Travelers in Bulgaria

Once you figure out how to get to where you’re going here, transportation is very cheap. With the local minimum wage being around 120 euros a month, many public transportation options are subsidized to keep them affordable to locals.

Travel Sofia

Taxi fares: 40 – 70¢ per kilometer

Local buses, metro, and streetcars: 75¢

Inter-city trains: The longest regular route is the $25 Sofia/Varna round trip in 2nd class. Sofia to Plovdiv is under $10 one way. 1st class is around 40% more.

Inter-city buses: prices are roughly the same as the train at $3 to $12 one-way, but are faster on some routes.

Admission Charges and Activities

It won’t cost you much to go sightseeing here. Only the Rila Monastery gets busloads of foreign tourists and that’s free (like all churches and monasteries here) unless you want to visit the museum or tower. I visited stunning caverns, amazing citadels, and a great ethnographic village, all for 4 lev each (<$3),

Museums & attractions: most $1.50 – $4 adult, half for kids/students.

Churches & monasteries – free

National park trails: free

Skiing: $12 – $15 rentals, $20 – $38 for walk-up all-day lift ticket.

Bike rental: $1.50 – $4 an hour, less for all day.

Other Travel Prices in Bulgaria

You can go river rafting, rock climbing, ice climbing, or cycling here on tours to suit your interests. Here’s a link with typical prices for booking adventure tours with a local expert.

If you’ve got money to invest, real estate prices here are among the best values I’ve seen anywhere in the world. I frequently saw houses for sale for under 20,000 euros and really nice places in prime areas almost never topped 100K euros in the real estate office windows. More on that later in my annual “cheapest places to live” post, coming next week.

Colorado beer

Another year, another few announcements of the giant macrobrew beer companies getting bigger. On the heels of this though, I spent a few days in Colorado, where it was startlingly clear that the U.S. beer market has become the most diverse and healthy on the planet. Who would have thought?

First the bad news from the big boys. AB InBev, already the world’s biggest beer company, just got even bigger. The company, which owns a slew of similar-tasting lagers and pilsners (including Budweiser, Stella Artois, Labatt, and St. Pauli Girl), just bought out the rest of Grupo Modelo in Mexico. Since Mexico only has two breweries, this means Anheiser-Busch essentially controls more than half the market. They’re the home of Corona, Pacifico, and other light lagers, but also the good Negra Modelo.  There are a few microbreweries in Mexico, but their products are very hard to find. The duopoly doesn’t make it easy for anyone else.

Back in April, Molson Coors bought the Czech Republic’s StarBev for $3.4 billion. That got them 20 brands you’ve probably never heard of unless you’ve been to Eastern Europe—and you probably had no idea they were part of this large conglomerate, now part of an even larger one still. In Asia, the maker of Tiger Beer is considering a big $6 billion offer to sell out to Heineken. The big keep getting bigger.

The Brighter Microbrew Story

In much of Asia and Latin America, the choice of beers is abysmal, much like it was for far too long in the United States. If your last visit to the U.S. was when I was a kid, you could be forgiven for thinking that U.S. beer is bland and devoid of body. Much of the mass-market stuff still is: Budweiser and Coors Light are more thirst quenchers than something to be enjoyed for the taste.

Thankfully, the little guys have made serious inroads over the years and it’s hard to find a sizable city that doesn’t have at least one successful microbrewery. Even in St. Louis, the home of Bud, there are a variety of good ones and Schafly keeps expanding and selling more great beer each year. When I pedaled across Missouri on the Katy Trail, I found brewpubs in towns of 30,000 people. My old home town of Nashville had Yazoo and four brewpubs. My current home of Tampa Bay has the great Cigar City Brewery and excellent brewpubs like Dunedin Brewery. A new one just opened this month after their beer took off at retail.

Beer Paradise: Colorado

Apart from Oregon, no state can challenge Colorado when it comes to the sheer number and variety of craft brewers. I was out there recently to speak at the TBEX blogger conference and did my best to sample as many as possible. I barely made a dent. According to the Colorado Brewers Guild, Colorado is “the number one state in the nation in terms of craft breweries per capita, number one in the nation in beer volume, number two in absolute number of craft breweries by state, and number two in the nation in sheer craft beer volume.” Not too shabby considering their population size.

I went on a beer road rally with some other bloggers from Denver to Keystone, but first up was a party upon arrival in Denver where we sampled brews from the likes of Great Divide at the legendary Wynkoop Brewpub and pool hall. Wynkoop bottles a wicked German-style black lager called B3K. Thankfully, Denver has a handy free shuttle in that part of downtown so we could all easily ride back to our hotels.

The beer drinking part of our tour started out at the world’s largest brewery, Coors, which I’ll get to in a minute.

First though we hit the Denver Zoo (very environmentally conscious and progressive) and picked up a six-pack holder with one can already in it. Then later when we got to Red Rocks amphitheater we met up with the guys from Oskar Blues. This is a unique company that only puts out beer in cans, making it a favorite of outdoor types packing brews for tubing, biking, or hiking. This is no plain yellow fizzy stuff though. Their Dave’s Pale Ale is rightfully well known across the country and their Deviant Dale’s IPA is a hefty 8% alcohol. I personally dug their Old Chubb Scotch Ale, but all were good.

When we got to the picture-perfect Colorado town of Idaho Springs, we stopped in at Tommyknocker Brewery to sample their brews and get an idea of how different ones paired with food. This brewer is aiming to do good “session beers,” which means ones you can drink three or four of without feeling bloated or wasted. Their summer Saison one was quite nice with lighter food and the Imperial Nut Brown was heavenly with bacon and cheese. Director of brewing Steve Indrehus provided the quote of the day though about the glamour of his job: “Brewing beer is 90% janatorial,” he said.


(Oh, and in case you were wondering, a Tommyknocker is an elf-like creature who lives in the mines. You want him to stay happy, so you leave him treats and you don’t whistle. Sometimes he steals your tools, just for fun.) Avalanche ale

Our last beer sampling was at the highest pass in the Rocky Mountains between Denver and Keystone. This was not to be a mere popping of the can though. Beers were poured into ski boot shaped shot glasses and four people downed them in unison while they were attached to the ski. Quite a sobriety test, actually. This was Breckenridge Brewery’s Avalanche Ale. Drinking that in mid-winter would seem to be asking for trouble at the top of a mountain, but this was June, so no fear of danger.

So back to that first stop, Coors. I was all ready to be snarky and dismissive, expecting to drink nothing but crappy beer from the big conglomerate. But no, even the big guys have joined the craft brewing party. Coors has a separate unit called Tenth & Blake. I sampled not one, not two, but three fantastic beers from this unlikely spot. Check out this sign from the tap room—would you have expected that?

Batch 19

You can only get the Colorado Native beer if you’re in state and it’s made from all Colorado grown ingredients, including the hops. Tasty. Next up was Batch 19, which is supposedly made the way lager beer was before prohibition. One taste of this and you go, “How did we go from that to Coors?”  It’s full-bodied, complex, downright yummy. My last sample was Killian’s Stout. This too was a surprise. Killian’s Red is clearly a mass-market beer from the first sip, but this was a different story. It was a full-bodied stout that could hold its own with a lot of ones that come out of brewpubs or cross the Atlantic. If I see this or the Batch 19 in a store, I’m buying. (A bit of trivia: that Tenth & Blake division is also responsible for keeping  Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic pure, despite its Miller/Coors ownership.)

If you like good beer, the future is bright in the USA. If you’re headed to Colorado, you’re in for a treat.