We’ve always planned our own vacations and traveled alone. What are the benefits of taking an organized group beer tour?
With Belgian Beer Me! tours you will enjoy worry-free travel and see more and do more in a shorter time than you ever could on your own. You'll benefit from our experience, knowledge and research and get more value for your money. Also, many breweries require a minimum number of people to book a tour. No stress, plus great beer, plus great food, plus great scenery, plus great history, plus great architecture, plus great shopping and great people all make for the tour of a lifetime!
But can’t we just read a book, rent a car and drive around and visit breweries on our own?
You do not want to drink and drive in Belgium. Repeat: You do not want to drink and drive in Belgium. We all know someone has gotten a DUI in the United States, how embarrassing, expensive and life changing in a bad way it can be. Well, multiply that in Belgium. Random DUI checkpoints are common and laws are strictly enforced. The alcohol driving limit is .05%, which is lower than the U.S. and U.K. Also, being designated driver in beer paradise would be brutal. Take a tour, leave the driving to us that way everyone is safe and has fun. You’ll thank us later. Also, many breweries require a minimum number of people to schedule a tour. Often times, two people is not enough. And, with BBM! you’ll gain access through our inside connections and relationships to places you cannot access on your own and places you likely would never even know to go.
How far in advance should we sign up?
It’s never too early to register. If you are considering a BBM! tour, sign up now. Unfortunately, there has been a rash of people waiting too long, then the tours suddenly fill, and they get politely turned away or have to take their second choice of BBM! tours. To guarantee your seats and avoid disappointment, please sign up early. We want to keep everyone happy and on the road to fine beer!
If I take the Farmhouse Ale Tour or the Trappist Tour, will other styles be available, too?
Yes, and while our tours have themes, be assured you'll experience a fine cross section of many, many Belgian beer styles and Belgian culture on each tour.
Do you offer custom tours for private groups?
Yes. We require a minimum of six travelers and can create a tour to fit your calendar and wish list of breweries. This is, however, a more costly route to go and makes up a very small portion of what we do. It is much easier and cost-effective to sign up for existing tours, plus you’ll enjoy the camaraderie of meeting new people who may become friends for life. We encourage you to consider one of our many great and established tours. If money is no object, and you still would like private tour, please email or call and we’ll see what we can do.
Do you offer a professional brewer discounts?
BBM! offers reduced tour rates to qualified professional brewers as an incentive to travel to Belgium, increase their brewing knowledge and produce Belgian-inspired ales in the United States. Email Stu for details.
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What is the fitness level needed to go on a beer tour?
These tours are not for everyone. They are very active tours. All these tours require at least a moderate fitness level. It is essential you are mobile and agile enough to be able to climb steps, walk across cobblestones, walk fast enough to keep up with a group. You don’t want to be the one slowing people down. You also don’t want to be the one who always rolls their eyes when you learned we need to walk 30 minutes to get to dinner. You should be able to walk for an hour at a time and on your feet for two hours at a time. You should be able to carry/roll your own luggage, sometimes up hills to a hotel, then a couple flights of stairs and to be able to lift it over your head and into a luggage bin on a train for example. Wear shoes that are already broken in. Never bring new, unproven, shoes on a vacation.
What kind of people take your beer tours? Is it a bunch of old people or young hooligan bachelor party guys?
BBM! tours vary from group to group, but mostly are couples, followed by fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, anniversary couples, honeymoon couples and some solo travelers. Ages range from low 20s to very active octogenarians. Average age is likely 30-65. It’s always more affordable and advantageous to share a room with someone you know.
I’m traveling with my dad. Should we share a room or get single rooms?
Well, have either of you slept in the same room in recent years? Do either of you snore? There’s almost nothing worse than not getting sleep on a beer tour if your roommate snores. It’s worth the extra money to get a good night’s sleep. Otherwise, yes you could share a room with your dad.
If I’m traveling solo, can you pair me with a roommate to avoid a single supplement?
At your request, we will make every effort to pair you with someone of the same sex, however, keep the above paragraph in mind. Also, if your roommate gets sick, you could be sleeping just several feet away from someone coughing and sneezing all night. Rooms in Europe can be smaller than those in the United States. Sometimes the rooms have only twin beds right next to each other. Here again, it can be worth the extra money to have your own room, privacy, bathroom and get a guaranteed good night's sleep. In the event we cannot pair you with a roommate, you are still subject to the single supplement fee.
What if I do not like my room or something is wrong with it?
Let your tour leader or the front desk know right away and we’ll try to locate you to a better room. For example, if the room smells like cigarette smoke, don’t think it will go away or you will get used to it. Let’s get you to a different room right away. Nice hotels and good rooms are a hallmark of BBM! tours.
We see you have a professional stand-up comedy background, will there be stand-up comedy on the tour?
If only it were that easy. No, unfortunately, but there will be plenty of situational comedy that happens organically as the tour unfolds. As the group gets to know each other and shares common experiences comedy naturally occurs. This is the best and funniest type of comedy. It's intimate and makes sense to everyone in the group. You can't write this stuff. I'm a student of comedy, have studied it, performed it and taught it for decades. Stand-up comedy is a fragile and delicate creature that only works in the right setting: Stage, microphone, darkly lit room, people sitting close to the stage, people coming with the anticipated experience, having a vested interest, the suspending of disbelief and a host of other contributing variables not typically aware to the unsuspecting audience member. Stand-up is a bit of a black art as Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out. Stand-up out of context in broad daylight seems weird, out of place and rarely works like it should. Also, stand-up comedians when not on stage are usually just normal people. They're not always "on." If they are, they can be very annoying...I've worked with some of these guys. Stand-up comedians also, generally, don't like being asked to perform on cue like a pet monkey. They find it a little offensive and off putting. "Oh, you're a fireman? Put out a fire for me!" Don't worry, though, we have plenty of fun on tour and laugh a lot, it's just not from a script. Having said all that, if I'm ever performing a scheduled stand-up show in a club near you or stand-up comedy event, I invite you to come on out and watch the magic. My style of comedy can be described as general observational, mixed with audience interaction and improv. I always like to say your act is just something you bring with you to the show. When stand-up comedy works and the audience is on the comedy bus, getting every joke, tracking concepts and having fun, it's a beautiful thing.
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Do you do beer tours where customers travel, eat and sleep on canal barges?
Simply put, no. They are too expensive, too slow and too small. If you always have to get back to a barge each evening, it limits your ability to see and do more. And, if you have to eat most of your meals on the barge, you are tethered to one group of people and one cook for the entire tour. We’ve found our customers enjoy other modes of transportation, a variety in dining experiences and nicer lodging more than what a barge can offer.
But don’t you just have to unpack only once on a barge? Yes, but then you are stuck in that tiny room, with a tiny bed, with a tiny bath, tiny shower and tiny sink for the entire tour. There's a reason the rooms on a canal boat are called "cabins." It’s important to be comfortable and get a good night’s sleep on a beer tour.
Is it true men and women share the same restrooms in Europe?
Generally not, but sometimes restrooms share a common sink area, or sometimes women have to walk past a row of urinals to get to the women’s WC (water closet), so don’t let this surprise you. Privacy standards are different in Europe. It’s not uncommon to have a woman attendant cleaning a men’s restroom while men are present. You will also see public urinals on some city streets. There’s nothing indecent or perverted about it, they just are not hung up on the privacy/puritanical standards that many Americans have come to know. Be flexible, roll with it and surprise yourself. It’s not a big deal.
Is it true you have to pay to use a public restroom?
Often times, yes. Sometimes even in a fine restaurant in which you are spending hundreds of Euros. Restrooms are usually staffed by someone’s grandma. She will make change if you need it. It generally costs about 40 Euro cents. We know this is how it is, adapt, accept it and pay. Often times restrooms are much cleaner because grandma is there working it. Insider tip: Use the free restroom on the train before you get off.
What’s the best time to visit Belgium?
Don’t make a beer tour to Belgium a weather dependent decision. Go when you have time. The weather is temperate climate, warmed by the north sea. It is often similar to Seattle in temperature. Closer to the North Sea, they see maybe two dustings of snow per winter. In the south in the Ardennes with a higher elevation and farther from the North Sea, they get lots of snow and colder temps. You’re likely not going to Belgium to lie on the beach. The beer is great every month of the year. Just go!
Can you drink the water? If so, how come they won’t give you tap water at restaurants?
You can safely drink the tap water in most places we will be in Europe, however, they will almost never provide it to you in a restaurant or cafe, so don’t bother asking. Selling water is a great revenue stream and they do it with conviction. We know this is how it is, adapt, accept it and pay. Insider Tip: Buy a plastic bottle of water, then refill it as needed.
Should I buy travel insurance?
TRAVEL INSURANCE: Is advisable. BBM! doesn't "sell" travel insurance, but we "offer" it through Berkshire-Hathaway Travel Protection. In full disclosure, we are paid a very small commission on sales through this link in all but five states (OH, PA, NY, MA, and SC). Travel insurance can cover more than just getting your money back if you cancel, but also depending on the policy, medevac you back home in the unlikely event you fall ill or have an accident.
Regarding cancelations, BBM! offers one of the friendliest cancellation policies in the travel business. You will have two choices, you may apply your payment to another BBM! tour or get a refund, minus any amount we have already paid to secure hotel and coach reservations. At BBM! we understand sometimes life gets in the way and you have to postpone or cancel. Jury duty, cars break down, adult children move back in. We want you to feel secure in knowing that if you have to cancel, you won’t lose all your money. We’d much rather have you join us again, when you can. Read Terms and Conditions for more details.
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What is the tipping policy?
In restaurants and cafes the gratuity is built into the cost of food and drinks, though a small top up is appreciated. For example, if you check is €9.50, round up to make it an even €10. If your beer is €3.25 round up to €3.50. Especially if you connect with the server or bartender and they cheerfully answer all your questions, etc. They will never chase you down the street for not tipping. It is not 15-20% of the check like in the U.S. For group company meals, we typically tip €1 per person because serving groups is extra work and takes them away from other tables. Maybe more if climbing steps is involved or they put the hustle on to help us make an appointment. Americans are known amongst the good tippers, often times too good. Also, you’ll notice servers and bartenders are usually mature adults. These are not high school kids working in these establishments. That’s because servers and bartenders are treated as careers in Europe, with good living wages and benefits. These usually are not kids working their way through college or unemployed actors.
Other customary opportunities to tip include the coach driver, brewery tour guides, walking tour guides, carriage drivers and taxi drivers. A good rule of thumb for our coach driver is €2 per person per day. For the rest, just some change or rounding up works fine. If the brewery tour guide is the brewmaster or owner, tipping is not customary, expected or in good taste.
What is the tipping policy for our BBM! Tour leaders?
Tipping at the end of a tour is purely at your discretion. Our guides are well compensated. They work hard for you because they enjoy their roles and because you are a valued customer, not because they are working for a gratuity. BBM! tour leaders also do not receive kickbacks for suggesting any businesses, shops, tours, restaurants or specific beers. They just know the good places and are happy to share them with you. For BBM! tour leaders, tipping is always appreciated, but never expected.
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How and when do you buy train tickets?
Belgium has a great and easy to use rail network. There is a station below the Brussels International Airport (BRU), trains run frequently to most cities and tickets for inter-country and local trains may be purchased from the ticket counter at the station using credit cards or Euros. There is usually no cost savings by buying local tickets in advance. Simply tell the ticket agent where you are going and when. They will tell you the next train, departing platform and sell you a ticket. Note that tickets are zone and date specific, but not train specific. So, if you miss your planned train, you may just catch the next one with your same ticket.
Most people travel in second class. There is usually no assigned seating. Just look for the large “2” on the side of the car so you don’t accidentally sit in first class. The conductor will ask you to move or he will sell you an upgrade to first class. Both classes are very similar in comfort and appearance. You may also buy a ticket on the train, if you are running late, but you must seek out the conductor and buy a ticket as soon as you see him, or they can penalize you with an additional fee when you buy your ticket on board. This deters stowaways, but really makes you mad if your intentions were honest.
Ticket kiosks take Euros and European credit cards with chips. Most kiosks and gas pumps in Europe do not accept American credit cards. Kiosks will require a giant pocket of Euros and a five-minute learning curve, usually while people stack up behind you. Take it from me, buy your train tickets from the live agent behind the counter. He takes American credit cards and can print an itinerary for you showing your train, departing platform and times.
For International rail travel in Europe, you can save a lot of money by buying your tickets at least a couple weeks in advance either at the station or online. The German railway site, bahn.com/i/view/USA/en/ or bahn.de, has the best schedule and easiest, intuitive site in which to buy and print your tickets in advance for all of Europe. Simply register, set up a password and you are in business. You can even forward your confirmation email to the front desk of your hotel and they will often times print the tickets for you. Insider Tip: These international tickets are train, zone, seat and time specific. If you miss an international train, you can try catching the next one and most conductors will honor your ticket, anyway. But, if you go to a ticket agent and try to have the ticket reissued, they likely will only try to sell you a new one and tell you your old one is expired.
Can I wear my baseball cap everywhere I go?
Common courtesy, politeness and being good ambassadors are foremost for us when traveling and representing our respective countries and BBM! With this in mind, please remove your hats when inside buildings and especially at meal tables. Wearing a hat at a table, especially in Europe, is very offensive and impolite. It builds walls between you and the local culture. Americans, take note. Thank you for your cooperation.
Why does my steak always seem raw?
In most of Europe, you need to order your steak more thoroughly cooked than you actually hope to get it. So, if you want medium by American standards, order medium well. If it's still not done to your liking, you may ask to have it cooked more. Restaurants are eager to please and want you to enjoy your meal.
Wow all these unique beer glasses are so cool. Do they mind if we keep them?
Did someone really ask me this? No, but I did have one young man steal glasses, so, yes, they do mind. Please do not steal beer glasses. They are usually for sale at a very reasonable price. You will see them for sale in beer stores and grocery stores often, too.
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Rick Steves suggests you not check a bag and place everything in a carry on so you don’t lose your luggage. Is this true?
No, maybe in 1971, but not now. In all the times I have travelled to Europe, my bag has only been delayed once (by two days). The lesson here is, pack at least two days of clothing, TSA approved toiletries, medicine, CPAPS, electronics, passport and keys in your carry on (this is worth repeating, which is why you will see it stated more than once). Everything else can go in your checked bag. You will also want a checked bag when you come home so you can bring beer back. You cannot bring beer back in your carry on bag as that much liquid is against TSA guidelines.
Rick Steves also suggest you have luggage with straps so you can carry it on your back. Do we need this?
No, maybe in 1972, but not now. What you do need is a bag with large wheels on it like found on roller blades. On our tours, you will be able to roll your bag most places. You may have steps in some places, such as railway stations and some hotels. Even then, if you go slow, you can roll them.
What size suitcases are we allowed?
For luggage, you get to bring one medium sized bag (roughly 20” x 28” x 10”) and one small carry on. Pack light and buy yourself out of a pinch if you need something. Repeat: Pack light and buy yourself out of a pinch if you need something. It’s OK to wear the same pants or sweater more than once. Make sure your bag has wheels. Don’t even think about bringing a suitcase without wheels. It bears repeating: Get large wheels like on roller blades as they go over cobblestones and through dirt better than little 4-wheel ones. I personally like Eagle Creek luggage because it is tough and has a "No Matter What" lifetime guarantee. Spend a little more on some decent luggage and you will never regret it.
Do I need locks on my bags?
I've found that even TSA approved locks are the bane of the existence of TSA inspectors and they often throw them away. Insider Tip: After losing about 20 TSA approved locks, I have moved to a system of plastic zip ties. It keeps honest people out and gives you a way to tell if your bag has been opened. Oddly enough, I rarely have had a zip tie cut. There's something about a zip tie on a bag that says there's nothing in there worth stealing. I also never put anything valuable in my checked bags.
What if my bags get lost coming over to Europe?
Airlines are getting much better these days with luggage management. In all my travels, I have only had my luggage delayed by two days once. Insider Tip: Have two days worth of clothing in your carry on bag, along with valuables, TSA approved size toiletries, electronics, chargers, money, etc.
Is it traditional to bring along local beers from our area to give to brewers we meet?
As counter intuitive as it may seem, no. Almost every time I have brought some beer for them, they look at it, say "thanks," then set it down very non-plussed. So, I've just stop bringing it for them. Hey, they're brewers...they have a lot of beer...I get it.
Should my non-drinking spouse come with me?
This is a delicate question to answer. Three out of four times I would say "No." I have had some non-drinking spouses who were pretty self entertaining and used their time to do what they wanted while we toured around then had fun with the group at meals. I have had other non-drinking spouses compelled go everywhere and begrudgingly sit through every event, scowling, never leaving their dismayed spouse's side. It's no fun to be around someone who is not having fun. Not for them or the others around them. Maybe the better thing to do is bring your son or daughter, or a beer enthusiast friend. Only you know your spouse...or do you?
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Belgian beer Me! Info
Do you book flights for us?
No. BBM! is not a travel agency. We don’t book flights, rental cars or hotel rooms other than the ones included during the actual tour dates.
Why don’t you book flights?
We find that many travelers like to arrive into Europe before the tour starts or to stay longer. Also, many people elect to use frequent flyer miles, or just like the freedom of arranging their own flights.
Do you recommend an airline?
It depends on where you are flying from and which airlines have the best service, most direct routes, shortest flight times and most competitive prices. With so many internet sites devoted to finding airfares, including those run by airlines, searching and booking flights now is easier than ever. I personally have had good experiences with Delta/KLM flying into Amsterdam, then changing planes to Brussels. Also, oddly enough, it is usually less expensive to fly all the way to Brussels, rather than just Amsterdam.
How soon before the tour should we arrive?
This is VERY important. We suggest you arrive at least two days before the tour begins to allow for travel delays and to allow for you to adjust to the time zone and shake jet lag. Jet lag is a very real complication of sleep deprivation. You don’t want to spend the first two days of your beer tour being a zombie. It’s no fun and you’re no fun to be around if your head keeps bouncing off the table. In some rare instances, we’ve had to excuse individuals from some of the first day’s activities just so they would not accidentally hurt themselves by twisting an ankle or walking in front of a bus. Also, remember, coming from North America, you typically fly overnight, try to sleep on the plane and arrive the next day.
How far in advance should we be buy our air tickets?
Generally, but now always, the farther in advance, the better. There’s different schools of thought on this, but I find 45 days in advance is the minimum amount of time.
Can I wear eye glasses in my passport photo?
"As of November 1st, 2016, customers applying for or renewing their passport must remove glasses for their passport photo. Last year, more than 200,000 passport customers submitted poor quality photos which we couldn't accept. The #1 problem was glasses. We had to put their passport applications on hold because we couldn't clearly identify them from their photo. If the photo of you in your unexpired passport has glasses, don't worry about it. You don't have to get a new passport now. Next time you renew your passport, though, you'll have to take your glasses off."--U.S. Dept. of State.
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Pictured above are friends of BBM! Ryan and Jenny of Montgomery Distillery in front of their Caboodle room in Missoula, Montana. BBM! Founder Stu Stuart (R)