Around the world in 10 great beers
If "beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder," (thanks Kinky Friedman) then these suds are a shortcut to falling even more in love with the world.
1. Laos, Beerlao
The acclaim afforded Beerlao can seem overplayed if you’ve never been to Laos. Certainly it is a refreshing, palatable (and cheap) brew and it is often considered better than other southeast Asian lagers such as Chang, Angkor and Bintang.
What makes it special, however, is its cultural significance.
Landlocked Laos hasn’t had a lot to crow about having been bombed mercilessly during the Vietnam War and then being left in the economic doldrums as the rest of the region boomed, but its national beer is a source of great pride as well as vital foreign income through its export.
Goes well with: Spicy Papaya salad (tam mak hung) and a sunset over the Mekong River in Vientiane.
2. Ireland, Guinness
OK, so it’s about as clichéd as wearing a stupid hat and a fake beard on St. Patrick’s Day, but there really is no better place to get acquainted with the dark stuff than in the land of its birth.
The widely held view that Guinness doesn’t travel well has been backed up both by scientists -- a recent survey by the Institute of Food Technologists found that the majority of their testers preferred the home-grown version -- and by Barack Obama, who used a recent trip to his ancestral home in Moneygall to bolster his Oirish credentials.
It could be something to do with the water or it could just be the general conviviality of an Irish hostelry, but it would take a brave man to disagree in this case.
Goes well with: A good fiddle band and deadly (great) craic (conversation).
3. United States (California), 21st Amendment Back in Black IPA
Thanks to its healthy microbrew scene U.S. beers have largely escaped the long but insipid shadow cast by some of the country’s bigger brands. Indeed, this punchy effort by acclaimed San Francisco brewery/restaurant is about as far removed from Coors Light as Justin Bieber is from masculinity.
Billing itself as a "declaration of independence from the tyranny of the expected," it’s a far cry from your traditional IPA. A winning combination of aromatic hops and rich roasted barley, the beer has won a host of awards to justify its hyperbolic slogan.
Goes well with: Peak period AC/DC and entertainingly boisterous Americans.
4. Belgium, Chimay Red Top
Silence is golden in the case of this, perhaps the finest of Belgium’s many great beers. The tight-lipped Trappist monks of Forges-de-Chimay in the south of the country may not be the guys you want to brighten up a dull party, but talk can be cheap and at least they have ploughed all that pent-up energy into creating something worthwhile.
Fruity and strong and deep in the body, the beer is testament to the care and mental fortitude that has gone into its creation. Other Belgian brews such as Leffe and Hoegaarden may be more famous but this is the one you shouldn’t miss.
Goes well with: Other monastic products such as bread and cheese.
5. Germany, Aventinus
Germany’s reputation as a heaven for beer-lovers is based on sound evidence. From crisp, clean pilsners to aromatic wheat beers, the Teutonic knack of coming up with the goods has been the root cause of many a lederhosen-clad paunch.
There’s manna to be found all over the country but if anywhere could claim to be the nerve center of this alchemy it would be Bavaria. This strong dark wheat beer is one of the region’s best.
Full-bodied yet smoothly rounded it has been giving drinkers both at home and abroad great pleasure for more than a century.
Goes well with: Sausages, lots of sausages.
6. Japan, Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout
Like many things in Japan there’s a touch of otherness about many of its ales. By fusing traditional European beer-making technology with traditional Japanese brewing techniques, the country’s brewers are coming out with work that is as punchy as the most violent manga comics.
This one, from the Kiuchi Brewery, is a prime example. In theory it is a stout but its creamy, coffee-tinged character is a consequence of some major quirks.
The recipe is apparently based on Russian Imperial Stout while the beer is matured in the casks used to make shochu.
Goes well with: An after-dinner mint.
7. Scotland, Brewdog 5 A.M. Saint
Few brewers puncture the cosy and heavily bearded image of British beer with more glee than Brewdog. Taking a pugnacious attitude towards branding and brewing -- they are responsible for The End of History, at 55 percent ABV one of the strongest beers in the world -- the Scottish company has added some style to a scene previously most associated with portly gentlemen in Arran sweaters.
There’s a fair bit of substance as well as this acclaimed ale proves. Ruby-red, it is unmistakably smooth but its zesty citrus flavors are as loud and ebullient as its makers.
Goes well with: A long afternoon in a Highland beer garden.
8. New Zealand, 8 Wired HopWired IPA
Known for its wines, rugby and majestic Tolkein-evoking scenery, New Zealand is now beginning to garner some serious praise for its beers.
Forward thinking companies such as 8 Wired are taking an imaginative approach to the beer-making process, and this new generation of brewers are giving the country’s reputation for beer a shot in the arm similar to that administered to the Kiwi tourism industry by Peter Jackson’s "Ring Trilogy."
This IPA is arguably the current star product with hints of passion fruit, lime and orange proving that a humble beer can be just as complex as the finest bottle of New World vino.
Goes well with: A post match celebration after yet another All Blacks victory.
9. Czech Republic, Krušovice Lager
Part of the holy trinity of European beer countries (the others being Germany and Belgium), the Czech Republic is replete with exemplary brewers, Krušovice being one of the best. Established in 1517, the company has a history as regal as the award-winning beers it produces.
Emperor Rudolf II bought the brewery in 1581 after developing a taste for its products and the royal stamp ensured that it was never short of high quality raw materials.
Typical of Czech lagers for its sharpness and slight bitterness, the brewery’s prize pilsner is as magisterial now as it was when it was when the Emperor was wetting his whistle all those years ago.
Goes well with: Refuge from all the tourists on a hot summer’s day in Prague.
10. Brazil, Bohemia
The reputation of Brazilians as being among the world’s most body conscious doesn’t stop them from quaffing enough beer to fill Rio’s giant Maracana Stadium a thousand times over every evening.
The quality is so-so, with the fact that bottles are generally big, cheap and freezing cold taking precedence over nuances of taste.
The notable exception is Bohemia’s Pilsen. The crisp and zesty Czech-style beer is produced by the country’s oldest brewery and stands out against its tame competition like Pele in his prime would in a pub league.
Goes well with: A view over the favelas from an elevated perch in Rio’s Santa Teresa area.