RateBeer Forums

The Beer Tour from Hell

#1

I advise you to avoid ‘Belgian Beer Me’, ‘Bamburg Beer Me’ and any other tour run by Stu Stewart.

Those tours probably used to be a great way to go. Their website says tours are 12 to 16 people on average with no more than 24 people. 12 to 16 sounded pretty reasonable, so my wife and I signed up. It turned out that our tour had 38 people… so that’s one maximum tour PLUS one average tour combined into one giant tour. By the time we were notified that it had become the cattle-car tour that we always wanted to avoid, we were locked in due to purchasing airline tickets, booking AirBnB, etc, Bonus points for a tour guide who lied to us about the tour before we even met him. He also told our vegetarian friend that he could accommodate her. Another lie. She could usually get vegetarian meals when she worked it out with the restaurant, but next to nothing was being handled by the tour.

None of the breweries we visited could accommodate 38 people,so the group always had to be split up and one half of the group had to wait. Meals could take two to three hours because the kitchens in the quaint little places we visited were absolutely inundated. Even in the cafeteria scenarios, you’re looking at a half hour wait to get your food if you’re the last one in line. Be prepared to spend a good amount of your vacation waiting for something good to happen if you take this tour. It became more than a little annoying to listen to our Stu Stewart tell us that we all had to “be team players” despite the bad conditions when he was the one who screwed the team.

If you’re in a small tour, you get a chance to make friends with your tour mates, and it’s nicer to spend time with someone you’ve made a connection with. That’s just plain impossible with 38 people on the tour. You can make friends with some, but at the end of two weeks, half of your tour mates will be pretty close to being strangers. This problem was exacerbated by ‘Team Alabama’. One of the reasons the tour was so large is that ‘Belgian Beer Me’ had decided to make room for a large family group. Those folks were on their own private tour. Sure, they had to share the bus with the rest of us, but you could always spot them at a large table. They were the one who turned their backs on the rest of us. FUN!

‘Belgian Beer Me’ was probably great back in the day. But greed and other factors have made it a tour to avoid. If I had any idea how crappy this tour had become I never would have booked it. The language on the website and change a bit but even today it says " Tours typically range between 6 to 24 people with 14 being the average. This is a comfortable size to gain access to interesting and intimate restaurants, not overwhelm breweries during our visits and to keep tours reasonably priced." As I was sad to find out, this was total bullshit.

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#2

The first red flag was the fact that it was an organised tour.

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#5

Wow, that sounds horrible. I generally avoid organized tours like the plague, for many of these reasons

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#6

Thank you. I was just looking at these tours the other day. I know my way around Belgium and Germany, but wanted to leave the driving to someone else…I’ll look at other options.

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#7

Steveoj,

The title of the post above should be “The Beer Tour From Hell Yeah!” It was an awesome tour. I’m the tour producer and leader of this tour and I want to assure you that the allegations above are simply either untrue or greatly exaggerated in an attempt to extort a refund. This is a very isolated incident. I think it’s clear by the way the poster attacks an innocent and very nice family on the tour just for being a family is a red flag about the the type of person we are dealing with here. He cannot deny this and makes no attempt to defend his actions. I take great pride in producing great beer tours and providing customer satisfaction, and have been for more than 10 year. No one else on this tour complained to me about anything. All the other feedback I received was very complimentary. I invite you to read our reviews by satisfied customers on the Belgian Beer Me! website and on our Facebook pages. More than 30% of our travelers are returning ones, some with as many as 8-13 tours each, so we must be doing something right. In addition to not having to drive yourself, taking one of our tours provides insider access, education, experienced tour leaders, fun, great food, nice hotels and stress-free travel. I invite you to join us on a tour and to base your decision on your own intuition and that of dozens of satisfied travelers. belgianbeerme.com/satisfied-customers. facebook.com/beertours.belgium/.--Stu Stuart, Belgian Beer Me! Tours
IMG_4485 Below is my Jan. 12 response letter to Bitbucket and his wife. It will provide many details surrounding this post that you will find helpful in better understanding the big picture. I also point out that of the 38 people, one was a coach driver and 3 were tour leaders. So, there were 34 travelers, which made it a 10:1 traveler-to-tour leader ratio. Savvy travelers will see we make every effort to provide transparency, customer satisfaction and will not be swayed by a one-man smear campaign. Thank you for taking time to read my reply to the poster.

Diane & Bob,

Diane, thank you again for taking the tour. I know you were under the weather for at least part of the tour, but you were a trooper. I know how difficult travel can be when you’re not feeling well. Please know that my responses below are directed at Bob and not you.

Pardon my delay in response to Bob’s complaints and allegations. I tried to collect more information to better understand the situation, but Bob was not very forthcoming with information to help me better understand the specifics of complaint and allegations. I had many ignored emails and phone calls. Also, that they I had to learn about the complaints and allegations via the internet, rather than to my face or email, did not inspire me to give this the priority that it may have otherwise received.

For the record, Bob was the only person to complain to me during or after the tour.

“Tours typically range between 6 to 24 people with 14 being the average.”–BBM! website

This is a fact and I have empirical data to back it up. This is not, however, a guarantee or promise. Some tours have been less than 6 people. The tour you were on was atypical and the particulars and reasons for that were detailed in my very transparent July 23 (Tour was in October) email to you.

“…I’m happy to report the Fall Lonely Monks Trappist Tour: Celebrator Beer News Edition is officially sold out with 38 passionate beer travelers from Washington, to Colorado, to California, to Minnesota to Alabama, to name several states. I know what you are thinking, isn’t this a larger tour than typical? In full disclosure and transparency it is, this is not typical, but as you will see, there were some families and groups of friends who wanted to travel together and this is how the tour developed. As a tour producer, you can never fully predict the interest level in a tour and you learn as you go. Still, compared to tour groups of 60+ with some companies, this will seem intimate. You’ll notice I’m offering two departures of this tour in October 2019 to anticipate this increased level of interest. On the other end of the spectrum, the August departure has only 6 people and in 2018 it had 14. Your departure in 2017 had 22 people.

We utilize a luxury 52- passenger coach (complete with a restroom and refrigerator), so there is still plenty of room on the coach. Brewery tours and some meals will divide the group in two, and sometimes three, so it will all seem like a typical group of 24 or less. A group this size requires more detailed planning on my part, but from the traveler’s perspective you will still have the same great experience no matter the size. What it translates for you is more fun and interesting people to meet, to eat with and drink. One of the unanticipated benefits of my beer tours is the friends you will make for life. Trust me, you will be surprised how much fun it is to be around a group of people with a passion for beer and living. I work hard to make sure this tour is a great experience for everyone. This is my guarantee to you. If you have any concerns about the size of this group, please contact me directly now.”–SS

You were politely asked to contact me if you had any concerns about the size of this tour. Had you contacted me, I would have refunded your money and compensated you for any non-refundable expenses you had incurred surrounding the tour, such as airfare and lodging. But, you did not contact and proceeded to embark upon the tour filled with anger, rage and deceit.

Or, I could have moved you to a different tour. Or, I could have brought in another guide and driver and given you a private tour with Sue (their friend), and or some others. Or, I could have referred you to a colleague to provide you with a similar beer tour of Belgium.

You had options.

I think you are more mad at yourself than me for passing on the opportunity to contact me. The ball was clearly in your court.

“What is it I hoped to achieve by public posts rather than dealing with you directly? As I’ve said before, my public posts were not directed to you. They were directed to people who had an expectation…” BZ

I addressed in my July 23 email above the plans I have in place to keep my tours to their typical sizes. There was no need to make your posts. Never has a tour of mine been as large as the one you were on and you knew it.

“Time. Vacation time is precious. I’m totally OK with spending hours at a table because I chose to spend hours at a table. I’m not OK with spending hours at a table because I trapped there due to circumstances that could easily be avoided. And let’s face it, more people equals more time, even if the kitchen isn’t overwhelmed.”–BZ

All of the group meals on the tour were within keeping of the same time schedule I have for a group of 24. And, you had access to unlimited beer before, during and after as part of the company meals with lots of different people in which to socialize. Which brings us to your next complaint.

“Socialization. As I mentioned, we have been on smaller guided tours on five continents. Almost a dozen tours ranging is size from 6 to a bit over 20. In all cases we got a chance to know everyone on the tour. Would the “Team Alabama” problem occurred on a smaller tour? Maybe…”-BZ

That you savagely attacked this innocent family on the internet was monstrous. There’s really no other word for it. If they ever see your posts, it could be very upsetting. I hope they never see them. That you did not get to know everyone on the tour is not my fault. I made it a point to move around, talk with people and eat at different tables. I seem to recall you sitting with the same two people at many meals, sometimes even a separate table and leaving some meals and group events early. I felt like I got to know everyone well and knew everyone’s first name by heart.

“I see from facebook that you received a number of thank you notes regarding how much people enjoyed the tour. I wish I could say that the tour was great, but I really can’t. If we weren’t locked in due to airline tickets and AirBnB reservations that we made I would have cancelled when I found out that 38 people would be on the tour. That is the ‘cattle car’ type of tour that I’ve always wanted to avoid. I dreaded meeting you, because I knew I had to make the best of it since I was stuck on the tour, but I didn’t want to have to make nice with the liar who sucked me in by promising a tour he had no intention of delivering. I grated my teeth every time I heard that we needed to be team players to make up for the fact that you screwed us. I suspect that I have no legal recourse, but if I find out that I do, you will be looking at a lawsuit. I will go out of my way to warn to anyone even vaguely considering any of your tours that you are perfectly happy to screw your customers…” BZ

Please refer to my July 23 letter above.

That you went on the tour and pretended to me to have fun and be happy was the lie. From my memory, images and videos, you sure are a good actor.

“NO WHINERS: Whiners are not eligible for this tour. If you believe that you might be a whiner, please check with a domestic partner, guardian, or health-care professional before registering for this tour.”–BBM! Terms & Conditions. In the future, if you ever see this again on the terms and conditions for a tour you are considering, do not sign up for it. It is there to weed out potentially problematic people and to ensure those on the tour have a good time.

“I worked very hard to provide you with a great tour. I am saddened to know you did not enjoy or appreciate it. You have hurt my feelings.”–SS

One of my last memories of Diane was when she had commented on how she liked my new black and gold La Trappe had and how she wished she had bought one. I gave her the hat off my head (actually a brand new one still in the wrapper). I’ve never done this for anyone on a tour before. Despite this act of kindness and friendship, you still took it upon yourself to do what you did. I’m at a loss here.

At the end tour during our farewell beer session at Het Anker, we went around the room and many people shared their favorite memories of the tour, how much they enjoyed it and meeting everyone. I wish you would have hung out long enough to see it. It was touching, funny at times, and heartfelt. If you could have seen Diane M speak about what the tour meant to her and her husband Roy. It brought a tear to my eye. Roy and Diane M were the last two people to sign up for the tour. He was the one who arranged the insider Chimay Tour for us, which we wouldn’t have got without him. He also has cancer and this was his bucket list tour and quite possibly his last trip to Belgium. I have no regrets about making this tour larger to have accommodated them.

Based on the limited information I had surrounding your complaints and allegations, I’ve done my best to respond in a fair and reasonable fashion.

Thank you, Diane, one final time, for taking the tour.–Stu

#8

I tend to believe the original poster! There’s no way you could have an enjoyable tour with 38 people. I wouldn’t want to be in a group larger than 10 or 12. It’s very easy to overwhelm a brewery or restaurant with large groups. And most people won’t complain, they suck it up and don’t use the service anymore.

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#9

Ratman197 is correct on both counts. I talked to several of my tourmates who were similarly pissed off about being deceived on the tour size, and 10 or 12 would be just about ideal.

There was absolutely no attempt to extort any sort of refund. I contacted him via a Facebook message to tell him he was a liar and got no reply. Then I posted this original comment in this forum and others in a few other spots as warnings to potential travelers, and thought that would be the end of it. But then the tour organizer started hounding me via text and email (he had my contact info because of the tour) demanding that I delete the posts and wanting me to explain my posts in minute detail. I replied to several of his emails and texts asking for more info, but eventually I told him I would be blocking all his communication because I was tired of the BS. Does that sound like extortion? How would I get paid? Since I had blocked him my wife eventually got one more email explaining in great detail why I was an asshole, but I didn’t get a chance to read it. Probably just as well.

The return travelers he’s getting? Probably the folks from the early days who remember a good time because the description on the website was still accurate and the tours were small and intimate because greed hadn’t taken over yet.

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#10

I think it’s clear by the way the poster (REDACTED) attacks an innocent and very nice family on the tour just for being a family is a red flag about the the type of person we are dealing with here. I publicly list his name and city as a warning to other tour operators to beware in case he tries to sign up for your tour.

#11

A direct quote from one “happy” customer from your own website :

I admit we were a bit sheepish to be travelling with so many people

I think this “happy” comment from one of your customers says it all.
At least someone is willing to be honest enough to give an opinion

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#12

I think it’s clear by the way the poster attacks an innocent and very nice family on the tour just for being a family is a red flag about the the type of person we are dealing with here.

Please don’t pull comments out of context and not provide the entire quote.

“…We both want to thank you again for doing such a good job putting this tour together and leading it. Insuring that everything runs smoothly and looks effortless takes a tremendous amount of work and a diverse skill set and you did an extraordinary job putting everything together. In the past Anne and I have always put our own trips together, and we were a little nervous about what it would be like to do a group tour. However, our fears turned out to be completely unfounded and we both agree that there is no way we could have come close to duplicating your tour on our own. We are already talking about what our next tour should be.”
– John & Anne from Boston

#13

I think it’s clear by the way the poster (REDACTED) attacks an innocent and very nice family on the tour just for being a family is a red flag about the the type of person we are dealing with here. I publicly list his name and city as a warning to other tour operators to beware in case he tries to sign up for your tour.

Here is the entire quote from above. For the record, Ryan has done a second tour since this quote was made.

“Had such a great time on our Zythos Tour. I admit we were a bit sheepish to be traveling with so many people but each one of you was such a pleasure to meet, tour, and enjoy fantastic beer with.”

#14

Calm down and stop quoting yourself (and others), and stop going on about “extortion”. It looks rather desperate to be honest.

Did you even read what @bitbucket wrote? How exactly is he “extorting” you?

Perhaps you should just be professional and apologise to @bitbucket for his bad experience and wasted time, rather than this onslaught?

Ok, maybe your tours are great and people love them, but we all have our bad days and we all fuck up sometimes.

P.S: the customer is always right.

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#15

I appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.

#16

The need to even comment on this and “defend” yourself by attacking a customer, says everything we need to know about your way of business. Give the customer a sincere apology, and stop being a douche. You only make it worse. The customer is ALWAYS right, even when wrong…

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#17

There simply is no way for us to know who of you both is more right or wrong. So stop this petty infighting and just let it go.

And making personal data public … dude. Just don’t.

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#18

When I wrote my review of Belgian Beer Me, I was mindful of the possibility of accusations of libel by Stu Stewart, and because of that I made everything in the review fact-based. Early on, when Stu Stewart started demanding that I delete reviews, I replied that I would be happy to correct any inaccuracies he could point out. He had nothing.

What he did have was a seemingly endless stream of questions to "help him understand" why I was so unhappy. At first I thought there were two possibilities:

  1. He was trying to do something that at least vaguely resembled customer services.
  2. He was trying to build a case for the aforementioned libel.

I decided assume the best and went about answering multiple emails and texts. Eventually I decided that I was just being badgered and blocked his cell number and put his email on my plonk list. I figured this whole miserable mess was concluded. Was I ever wrong there.

Weirdly enough, there now is actual libel… coming from Stu Stewart. He accused me extortion, which is a crime. It’s annoying but shit happens on forums and it’s generally harmless in a more or less anonymous forum, so what are ya gonna do? The fun part comes when he included PID (Personally Identifiable Data) in a published format. Yes we are “published” here. Now we really do have good case for full on libel. Should I refer this to my lawyer? Yes I do have one from the time I was living in Kirkland WA, but this is probably more trouble than it’s worth to get back in contact with him.

Immediately after getting off the Belgian Beer Me tour. I briefly considered contacting my lawyer because I felt like I had a pretty good case for either breach of contract or false advertising. Possibly both. My tour mates could have been invited to form a class action. That’s still on the table and I’m getting annoyed enough to mull it over again.

As for warning other tour operators? That’s just hilarious. My wife and I travel a lot. A LOT. This year we have been to Death Valley and Joshua Tree National parks. We we soon be traveling to the Black Hills and Mt Rushmore. Later this year we’re going to Nepal and Bhutan. Next year will include Jordan, Egypt and whatever else we come up with. We use tour companies on all our foreign travel. I have absolutely no fear of being denied by any of them.

Part of the reason that I assumed the best of Stu Stewart, despite being lied to about the tour, is that beer people tend to be good folks. I know a lot of brewers, homebrewers and beer raters. Almost universally good folks. Stu proved himself to be the exception.

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#19

See, there’s something that as a European I don’t understand. You had a shitty experience and that sucks, but going through all the trouble to sue or even form a class action lawsuit… Were the points raised on the tour itself? Why complete the whole tour then? Why not settle for something else?

There’s a morbid fascination why I still read and comment on here, but please, guys, you’re not doing yourselves a big favour.

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#20

Why didn’t I complain on the tour? I made a promise to my wife to make the best of it and not ruin the tour for her or anyone else. There is a pretty good chance that this will not end in legal action, but I am cognizant of my options and the US court system would definitively settle the matter one way or the other…

Why did I complete the tour? By the time we were notified that the tour was 38 people we were pretty much locked in. Maybe if we had been notified when it got over 30 we might have had a better chance of salvaging things.

We had made a myriad of arrangements to fit the tour in with other sightseeing and a visit to our friends in the Netherlands. Some arrangements were refundable, some not so much. I suspect the tour would not refund the tour price and compensate me for my other losses. Do I want to be somewhere out in the Belgian countryside trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B and still salvage some semblance of the tour we signed up for, with a collection of other unknown resources? I didn’t go with that option, so probably not.