If there is one thing in our world that brings people of every creed together, it’s beer. Well, I guess it might not bring Mormons or Muslims or Buddhists into the fold, but as Frank Zappa said,
You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of football team or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need beer.
Beer is said to be as old as civilization itself, so no matter what country you visit, there is always a brew you can drink that is unique to the culture. However, there has been a slight paradigm shift in the realm of suds as craft beer has taken the entire world by storm.
Connoisseurs want something different than Budweiser swill; they want richer flavors, better ingredients, and a variety of IPAs, lagers, creams, darks, and blondes. A pint is okay, but a paddle with choice and new tastes for the pallet is preferred.
What country produces the best craft beer? It’s not as easy to crown a craft beer champion as it is to hand out Olympic medals; many factors have to be considered before saying country X is the best. Sure we could easily go to Google and look up what area of the world produces the most beer or what country consumes the most per capita. But, in my mind, that’s not a valid way to find a champ.
Stats will never tell the whole story. Innovation, culture, awards, and critical rankings from official publications should come into play, as well. With all of that in mind, I’m here to set the odds on which country will produce the best craft brew next year.
Then, over the next 12 or so months, I’ll take on the arduous task of sampling the best that each country has to offer and decide on a winner. Yes, the outcome will be based on my subjective tastes, but trust me, I have the experience to tackle this inenviable mission.
Thank me later. For now, raise your stein and say, “Prost!” because no matter the cultural differences we have around the globe, we – well, most of us – will always have beer.
Odds on Which Country Will Produce the Best Craft Beer in 2017
With beers like Rochefort, Chimay, Tilquin or Brasserie Dupont to name a tasty few, Belgium is the global leader in not only craft beer, but beer in general. In some ways, you can call this country the Mecca of Suds. (But given Islam’s stance on alcohol, maybe you shouldn’t.) Beer is so important that the De Halve Maan brewery is going to have the world’s first underground beer pipeline in Bruges.
The Belgian breweries hold dear their traditional Trappist brewing methods which have been passed down through centuries. At the same time, companies like De La Senne, Hof ten Dormaal, and many others have evolved and incorporated modern techniques and ingredients to the traditional brewing mix.
You just can’t ignore the beer that continues to flow out of Belgium or the country’s vibrant beer culture. The rest of the world is just emulating and trying to catch up to the monks.
United States: 4/1
The Americans are always the butt of beer jokes. But when you look past the watered-down Budweiser and Coors Light, there are actual breweries within ‘Murica that are producing high-end craft beer. According to stats, there are 1.5 breweries opening in the US per day! There is a massive beer culture throughout the country and, outside of Belgium, the US of A’s brews dominate global rankings and awards.
Although overall beer consumption is down in the US, craft beer consumption is on the rise. You just have to go to Oregon, Colorado, or California to see that it’s a way of life for many. Brewing beer in the states has become an art form and companies like Stone, New Belgium, and Bells, to name a few, are leading the way with tasty craft brews.
United Kingdom: 8/1
There was a time when the UK was considered the world leader in beer, but that was centuries ago when knights would chop your head off in a good ol’ fashion tavern fight.
Thanks to some ridiculous and archaic laws, the entire region fell behind. Yet, throughout the centuries, their methods of kegging practices were emulated worldwide.
Times are now a’changing; legislation has allowed more breweries to set up shop and that’s revitalized the country’s beer culture. The stats don’t lie: the United Kingdom has the highest number of breweries in the world per capita.
Companies like Wild Beer Co, Beavertown, Northern Monk, and The Kernel are just a few examples of craft beer done right. Gone are the bland pale lagers. Instead, the entire kingdom has seen a huge resurgence in tasty and innovative brews.
How did Germany fall down the list? Why isn’t it next to Belgium? This list is scheiße!
Let’s face it. Germany deserves some liebe. They are ranked top-five in the world for volume of beer produced and third for beer consumption per capita.
With great independent beer companies like Vagabund, Crew Republic, and Eschenbräu (a few of my personal faves), you can’t ignore what Germany means to beer. They have a freakin’ holiday dedicated to it!
Yet German law prohibits, and even tramples on, creative brewing. The Reinheitsgebot, or “Beer Purity Order,” limits the ingredients and brewing methods a brewer can utilize. So, for now, Germany remains in the top-five for traditional and tasty brews, but still lacks some diversity in the craft beer realm.
Japan has a deep tradition creating fine beer and their attention to detail in production is second to none. Most people will know mass-produced brews like Kirin, Sapporo, and Asahi, but after the government became more relaxed on brewing restrictions in 1994, craft beer (ji-biru) has grown as a part of the Japanese beer scene.
Japanese brewers put a lot of time and care into their ingredients because they come from an ancient craft sake tradition that takes pride in the artistic side of brewing. Kiushi’s Hitachino Red Rice Ale goes well with ramen or even sushi. But you can also find a good number of hoppy IPAs, coffee stouts, and even Belgian witbiers.
Although Japan got a late start in the craft beer craze, its microbreweries are making a lot of noise around the world at different competitions like the International Brewing Awards and World Beer Cup, where it recently won a whopping nine medals.
With an increase in production and exports across the board, we are starting to see Japanese brews become regular staples at beer stores across North America.
Canada has always been known to have great beer, but things got a bit stagnant with the number of pale lagers that were being pumped out by macro-brewers.
From coast-to-coast, Canada has beer culture to the rim, and with provinces like Quebec leading the way with some fantastic brews like Unibroue, McAuslan, and more, the country is being internationally recognized as one of the fastest growing craft brewing regions in the world. Keep an eye out for breweries like Four Winds in British Columbia, or Bellwoods from Ontario, and pour yourself a glass eh.
Denmark may not be on top of everyone’s craft beer list, but maybe it should be, since it’s home of the multi award-winning Nørrebro Bryghus. Denmark is also the domicile of beer heavyweights like Carlsberg and Tuborg, and has a deep history of creating world famous beers. Have you tried anything from Mikkeller or Three Floyds? Those microbreweries alone should put Denmark high on any best of list.
Unfortunately, we’re not getting a lot of those great brews I mentioned above here in North America … yet. But the rise of craft brewing is seeing continual growth in Denmark, and the capital, Copenhagen, is quickly becoming an epicenter of craft beer tourism.
Like Belgium, the Netherlands is home to a couple of Trappist breweries where beer is traditionally and authentically brewed in monasteries. One of those Trappist breweries, Bierbrouwerij de Koningshoeven (say that ten times fast), recently created one of the best-tasting blonde ales at this year’s World Beer Cup and picked up a gold medal for its efforts.
Sure, the Netherlands also boasts Heineken, but there is far more going on with microbreweries like Brouwerij Emelisse, Brouwerij de Molen, and Hertog Jan Brouwerij. Add a vibrant beer culture to the mix and the Netherlands are a beer country on the rise.
Norway is on the map for their beer bars that are full of taps pouring international brew from all over. That love of beer has created a craft beer bonanza, and now the country is starting to produce some of the world’s best up-and-coming mikrobryggeris.
Norway has traditionally been known to make rich beer with high alcohol content, but things are changing; while 98-percent of beers still seem to be pale lagers, you’re starting to see more flavors being introduced like spicy dark beers that are popular around Christmas time.
Microbreweries like Fjell Bryggeri and Lindheim Ølkompani have been recognized as two of the best craft breweries in the world. Currently, Norway has just over 40 microbreweries and counting. Many of them began as home-brewing operations, like the popular Lindesnes Brygghus.
It was only 15 years ago that a microbrewery in Italy would be next to impossible to find. For years, the country’s beer reputation was built upon brands like Peroni and Moretti, beers which are mass-produced and shipped around the world.
One area where Italy has always been a leader is in the wine world. Oenology in Italy is fairly unregulated, and that’s spilled over into a burgeoning craft beer industry, which is apt to experiment.
Italian producers are currently creating some outstanding IPAs and beers with seasonal fruits. Breweries have also been playing with grape skin-derived wild yeast and have experimented with ageing beers in old wine barrels for some nice edge and body.
What makes Italy’s beer scene so fun is the varying tastes and recipes from region to region. Brands like Almost ’22 (from Abruzzo) and Birrificio Brùton (Tuscany) are just a couple of the microbreweries that have have put Italy on the craft beer radar. The culture as a whole is growing but it still has some ground to cover before it becomes as popular as wine.
Photo Credit: Paul Joseph [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.