For my third Top 10 list I thought I’d tackle something global. For many years, decades and longer, which countries were known for their beer was fairly staid, and didn’t change much at all. And for most of that time, the U.S. wouldn’t likely make the list at all. But over the last thirty years, that’s all changed, I’d argue. Many of the same players are around, including many nations with rich and long brewing traditions, but there are also many new players, who were not really known for their beer until very recently. So here are my choices for the Top 10 Brewing Nations, which I’ve based on the overall quality of their beer, along with the diversity and innovation they bring to it. Anyway, here’s List #3:
Top 10 Beer Countries
It’s hard to ignore the Czech Republic. Not only do they have the highest per-capita consumption of beer, but the Eastern European nation also contains the birthplace of pilsner. But most of what we get from there has a certain sameness to it, not that most of it isn’t of a high quality. I’ve tried some of their more obscure beers that have been hand-carried to the states and while there have been a few interesting examples that are different, not enough to make me rank them above number ten.
When you think of Italy, it’s usually their wine or food that comes to mind. Up in the northern part of Italy, near the German border, there have been some fine, largely obscure, breweries making decent lagers for many years. But in the last two decades, their craft scene throughout the country has really taken off and is, if hasn’t already, about to reach a tipping point. Using many unusual and local ingredients, Italian craft brewers are truly making some outstanding and unique beers.
Sweden is another European country that saw something spectacular going on in America and decided there was no reason they couldn’t make beer just as great. They were right. The rest of Scandinavia is doing well these days, too, but Sweden, I think leads the pack there.
While most people think of Foster’s when they contemplate beer down under, it’s not even a popular brand there. And while there are plenty of bland Foster’s-like beers to disdain, there is also much to love that’s flying under the radar. They have a long craft tradition that’s nearly as old as our own, though very little of it reaches us, sad to say.
Scotland, much like their neighbor to the south, has a long tradition of fine ales. Like England, their story lately has been one of mergers and closures, but with a growing craft scene that includes such rising stars as Brew Dog and Harviestoun Brewery, though the latter has been purchased by Caledonian. Plus, Traquair House is still there. As long as that’s true, Scotland will remain in my heart, or at least my liver.
Like America, Canada suffers from having a few bland macro beers that everyone identifies with the country’s beer. But there is a wonderful array of small craft brewers toiling away in more obscurity than they should be in a more just world. Unibroue alone makes me love Canadian beer, though there are plenty of examples of it being beyond Molson, Labatt’s and Moosehead.
When you read the next selection, this may seem contradictory, but being immersed in Germany’s beer culture is a wonderful experience. Their styles are perfectly suited to the national cuisine so that when you’re there it’s hard to imagine the beer being any better. That seems especially true in the small town breweries, many of which, while struggling, are still around. Many of those beers are hard or impossible to find outside Germany, which is a tragedy. And it’s wonderful to see how seriously the Germans take their brewing heritage. You don’t see that as strongly in many places.
This was a tough one, but I have a soft spot for ales. I certainly love a fine pilsner and can appreciate many types of lagers, I love the flowery flavors of a warm, especially cask-conditioned, ale. Ales were, o course, some of the first beers I enjoyed that were beyond the bland lagers that I grew up with and were some of the first craft beers I enjoyed, too. And while England’s beer scene is on the ropes these days, many new small craft brewers are emerging there, as well, riding to the rescue, as it were. Many of my favorite styles are all ales that began in England’s rich traditions.
A decade ago, this would have been my number one. Belgium certainly used to hold the title for most styles brewed in a single country. I suspect there’s still pretty close, given that so may of their beers are completely unique and different from one another. It’s often hard to even pin down the style of a Belgian beer, not that there’s really any point to trying. But the sheer number of truly world-class wonderful beers makes Belgium my favorite brewing nation outside my home.
There was a time, not so long ago, when this idea would have been laughable. But not anymore. I may be a little biased, but there is now more diversity in American beer than any other country in the world. It may be a small part of the total sold, but craft beer in terms of its quality is now second to none. Where once U.S. brewers followed other nations’ brewing traditions, we are now setting the pace, with several burgeoning brewing renaissances taking place around the world who are looking to us for inspiration. Craft beer is one of the things Americans can genuinely still be proud of.
Note: This was a tough one to rank for the bottom five. Some countries I considered, but ultimately left off the top ten include The Netherlands, Ireland, Austria and Japan. All of those are making progress but still do suffer from a lack of innovation and diversity, at least for now. Each have examples that that is starting to change. It’s possible that any of those could have been substituted for my choice for number ten but I had to make a decision in the end. As for Scandinavia, Denmark and Norway are also doing quite well, I just felt that Sweden had the edge on them, at least for now.
Also, if you have any ideas for future Top 10 lists you’d like to see, drop me a line.