Beer Spas: Yeast of Eden
THERE is something perversely satisfying about soaking in a tub of beer. First there is the yeasty aroma of malt and hops, followed by a warm and sticky sensation as the brown liquid envelopes your body. You think to yourself: this must be every lad's dream. Whatever comes next will surely have to involve a supermodel, an Aston Martin and a fat cigar.
But bathing in beer is much more than just a fantasy made real. During the last decade, a pack of beer spas have opened in the hills and lowlands of Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, promising health, wellness and the chance to bathe in your favorite suds.
The Chodovar brewery in Chodova Plana, in the Czech Republic (420-374-794-181;www.chodovar.cz), started offering beer spa therapies in March using the brewery's celebrated dark lager. At the Kummeroer Hof in Neuzelle, Germany (49-33-652-81-111;www.klosterbrauerei.com), customers have been slipping into beer baths tapped from the nearby Klosterbrauerei Neuzelle brewery since 1997. Spa prices start at about 42 euros ($52.50 at $1.24 to the euro). But it is in neighboring Austria that the beer spa seems to reach its alpine pinnacle.
One brewery, Starkenberg (43-5412-66201; www.bierschwimmbad.com), in Tarrenz, even fills a swimming pool with barrels and barrels of its own Pilsner. And just outside Salzburg, the Landhotel Moorhof in rustic Franking, Austria (43-6277-8188; www.moorhof.com) offers what may be the most complete beer treatment, from the spa to the dining table.
In the cellar, four couple-size wooden tubs are filled with a special brew. The Moorhof also offers milk baths, but Hedwig Bauer, who owns the hotel with her husband, Karl, believes that beer has certain advantages. "Beer is very good for the skin, because of the vitamins and the yeast," Ms. Bauer said. "It's cleansing and drying."
That may be true, but it's worth noting that the half-hour treatment, which starts at 44 euros, is also mildly intoxicating. The Moorhof's therapeutic brew is composed of a 2 percent-alcohol lager made for it by the local Schnaitl brewery, fortified with brewer's yeast, malt and two scoops of hops, all thrown into a barrel-shaped tub and topped with warm water. Bubbles rise from the bottom, stirring the mix and causing a head to form — much like a Jacuzzi or giant mug.
During the soak, a few pints of Schnaitl's beer are offered for imbibing, suggesting that the relaxation is chemically rather than therapeutically induced. After about 20 minutes, you're wrapped in a starched white sheet and led to a four-poster bed piled with toasty alfalfa hay. The curtains are drawn and you're left to have a mild sweat. Go ahead, just try to stay awake.
When you finally come to, you're invited to take a cool dip in the indoor swimming pool, provided, of course, you rinsed the green hops flakes from your body; they stick just about everywhere.
If the whole thing sounds somewhat masculine, Ms. Bauer was surprised that many of the beer bath's customers are women, a number of whom also splurge on a brewski facial — a gooey mask made from ground hops, malt, honey and cream cheese. The concoction tickles furiously when it slides down your cheeks, and it smells remarkably like breakfast.
Couples are welcome. A beer-bath weekend for two at the Moorhof costs 198 euros a person, and includes two nights at the hotel, breakfast and two four-course dinners. The menu recently featured a yeasty beer soup, beer-battered broccoli and chicken schnitzel with sour beer gravy. Dessert was beer crepes, which you can wash down with a choice of four local brews.