My eight day-sojourn in Germany and Italy was as part of a press junket, the trip paid for my our hosts, Distinguished Brands International, a new, Colorado-based beer importing and marketing firm. It's probably wise to keep that in mind if I start gushing too much over the trip and the breweries visited, although I suspect you'll recognize as the story unfolds that gushing is an entirely appropriate reaction. This was one entertaining, informative, enlightening and valuable adventure. So what if it damned near killed me?
DBI was created and is headed by Jeff Coleman, one of those guys who seems to have been around the beer world forever and who knows everybody. He was president of Paulaner North America and grew it into the ninth largest beer importing firm in the United States before he and his whole team lost their jobs when Heineken USA took over Paulaner's marketing arm.
With contracts in hand, or about to be in hand, with Erdinger, one of Germany's leading wheat beer breweries; Veltins, a leading German pilsner brewery and England's Fuller, Smith & Turner, one of that nation's great independent breweries, a trip by Coleman and several of his top sales and support people to cement relationships and discuss plans was in order. In his wisdom, Coleman asked PR whiz Sheryl Barto to also add some members of the beer press to the traveling party.
Sheryl arranged similar trips for Coleman when he was head of Paulaner North America (hey, last year, her press group for an Oktoberfest trip included Our Pal Lew Bryson, and if that didn't break her spirit, nothing will) and therefore had accumulated a list of some of the nation's top beer writers. Shocking though this may be, I wasn't on it. Fortunately, my esteemed editor at Celebrator Beer News, Tom Dalldorf, was. Since he was going to be tied up at deadline time blue-penciling all of my best lines, he asked if I wanted to go in his stead. Yeah, I did.
I left from Philadelphia via British Airways (with which I was very impressed: comfortable, friendly and the best airline food I've ever eaten) at 7 pm on Thursday, September 4. We arrived at Heathrow Airport shortly before 7 am Friday, UK time...well, make that arrived "over" Heathrow. We had to circle for over an hour before we got clearance to land and I never saw so many planes in the skies in my life. Heathrow, I've been told, is the busiest passenger flight airport in the world, which was part of the problem; a deep and troublesome fog was even more so.
When we landed, I had roughly an hour to get my bag, go through security once again and catch the Lufthansa flight to Munich. That was complicated by the fact that I was in Terminal 4 and needed to get to Terminal 2, then more so by the fact that the Heathrow Express shuttle train announcement at the first stop was only for Terminal 3. Terminals 1, 2 & 3 are, however, all right together and that was the only stop (terminal 4 is newer and about a five minute train ride away). I discovered all this as the doors slammed shut and I found myself on the way to Paddington Station in London, 15 minutes either way.
After than round trip, I got back just about the time the flight to Munich was scheduled to take off. Not to worry. That flight, as well as at least three other Lufthansa flights and who knows how many from other airlines, were postponed three hours and longer due to the fog and subsequent backup. The terminal was one huge mass of humanity, probably a dozen or more lines for the Lufthansa counter alone, some as much as 100 people deep, were jammed together. A little bit of hell, it was.
I somehow got through that mess with still well over an hour to go and sought out an airport pub where I enjoyed a pint of John Smith's Extra Smooth Bitter. Luckily, I didn't stay for a second because when I walked back out into the terminal I discovered that the flight had been advance half an hour and would leave at 11:30 am.
I made my way to the proper gate, wondering how I'd make contact with anyone else on the trip. Turned out to be easy. No sooner had I found a seat in the waiting area than I heard a woman behind me explaining patiently to a guy across the aisle that she had too sent him an email two days earlier asking if he'd received his tickets via FedEx, even as he complained she hadn't. I stood, turned and introduced myself to Sheryl Barto and announced that I had definitely gotten my email and tickets, and appreciated it, a comment to which she smiled gratefully. Hey, ingratiate yourself when you can, my old daddy taught me, you never know when you'll need it.
Not long after, they called our flight and we were on the way to Germany. To find out how it went, start with this link: