HOOPS ON HOPS: Beer-drinking history & culture outside the US
Today I’m covering a small snapshot of the beer world outside the United States, including some of the influencers that have helped shape beer-drinking culture here in the USA as well as around the world.
The hyper-hot craft beer industry in the United States probably makes you think that we are a top beer-drinking country. Surprisingly, according to worldatlas.com, in 2018 we were number 21 overall. Here are the top ten: 1. Czech Republic 2. Seychelles 3. Austria 4. Germany 5. Namibia 6. Poland 7. Ireland 8. Lithuania 9. Belize 10. Estonia.
Longtime “beer drinking nations,” such as Australia, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Belgium, Mexico and Canada, are way back in the stats.
This is interesting as the beer-drinking culture in Germany is pretty well known, but in Poland, not so much. Let’s take a look at a few of the Top 10 countries.
Many beer lovers don’t count Czech Republic as a top brewing nation. Well, we should. One of the top brewing regions in the world, Bohemia, is located there. Within Bohemia is the capital, Prague, and also the brewing town of Pilsen, which gave birth to the world’s most produced style of beer. The region is also home to Saaz hops, a variety heavily used in many beers. Beer drinking is king amongst the Czech people, who, as the British are known to do, drink beer in pubs and taverns. Beer is usually identified more by strength or “gravity” than style. This is because most of the beer is lager beer brewed from session or low strength (3.0-4.4% by volume) levels, such as the famous Pilsner Urquell brewed since 1842, or standard levels at about 5% or more that are served with food much more often than wine.
Most beer drinkers know that Germany is a beer-brewing powerhouse. A large number of classic world styles, (roughly 12), originated in Germany by region or city or season of the year. German beer culture starts young with 0% abv such as Kinderbier or Malzbier. These are nonalcoholic beers brewed with the usual beer ingredients but not fermented — so no alcohol. The drinking age in Germany for beer is 16. It’s quite common for families to serve beer at the dining table much younger than that. Because of the early exposure and the national pride in brewing excellence, the “forbidden fruit” attitude does not really exist.
As recently as 30 years ago, Germany sported almost 40% of the world’s breweries. This has changed dramatically with the U.S. taking over world dominance by number with over 6,500 small to large breweries. The words “beer garden” and “beer hall” are most associated with Germany but are more south-German than north. The beer gardens have a family-friendly atmosphere, and the smaller ones are pleasant and idyllic. Some large gardens in Munich can hold up to 7,000 people. The beer hall is often a bit louder, with brass bands, singing and dancing.
On to Ireland now. For most beer drinkers, a dry stout such as Guinness, Murphy’s or Beamish will come to mind. These are low-alcohol, rich and filling beers that are served all over the world. The pub culture in Ireland is a part of daily life in cities large and small. Most people who have ever enjoyed a pint of Guinness in Ireland insist it tastes better. The reason probably is because the high volume sold allows it to be unpasteurized and more fresh-tasting. I recommend trying one over there. Today, much more lager beer is enjoyed in Ireland. European lagers such as Heineken and American light lagers are king. Even the mighty Guinness, brewing since 1759, now brews an IPA, Irish Wheat, Blonde, Porter and Harp Lager.
Despite the rich history coming from these older nations, I think the American craft beer movement has influenced many countries’ brewing culture more than we could have imagined. We just don’t have the centuries of history yet to compare the data. Witness the now easy-to-find IPAs in Germany (unthinkable even 20 years ago).
Many brewers are amateur beer historians. We read about, seek out, try, and make our own versions of classic world beers. The brewing history, style and character of these beers are the inspiration. With the advances in brewing, the access to information and the general increase in beer knowledge among the public, it has never been a better time to enjoy a beer here in the USA. Remember to share a toast to the brewers and countries that paved the way.
I’d be glad to hear what you think on favorite countries and beers that have helped shape your personal beer history.
Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.