4. The United Kingdom
After The Love Guru, we’re not normally down with agreeing with Mike Myers. But, well, by in large, in the UK, if it’s not Scottish...
We kid, we kid, though Scottish breweries like Orkney and Harviestoun have certainly helped light a fire under the English side of things, and BrewDog has done a great job of working as ambassadors of beer experimentation. The UK has long been teased for pulling warm pints of mediocre ale, and that’s certainly still a thing. But there’s also been a huge boom, with London breweries like Five Points, Fourpure, and Brew By Numbers stepping up the city’s profile, Mad Hatter proving Liverpool’s got more to offer than mop-topped geriatrics, and the likes of Wild Beer, Moor, and Old Chimneys dominating the countryside. Which is to say, the proper pint is getting a hell of a lot more proper now that its contents are better.
3. The Netherlands
In terms of beers that influenced the world, it’s hard to argue against the global dominance of Dutch behemoths Heineken and Amstel, or the iconic resealable bottles of Grolsch. But while the worldwide powerhouses tend to overshadow the little guys, the tradition of beer is ingrained in the Dutch culture as much as using red lights to illuminate certain districts.
It’s the land where the seasons are marked as much by changing weather as they are by the releases of strong lentebier, summer witbier, and autumnal bokbier, giving the Dutch quarterly reasons to throw down, Oktoberfest-style. Trappist breweries Brouwerij de Koningshoeven and Abdij Maria Toevlucht hold their own against their brothers in Belgium, while craft brewers are bringing new traditions to the Old World flavor. This is a country where, in the Middle Ages, beer was consumed due to lack of clean drinking water. These days, it’s consumed because it’s some of the best stuff in the world. Sometimes, necessity spawns amazing things.
To say that Germany's brewing traditions run deep is an understatement on par with suggesting that Germany/Hasselhoff jokes are just a tiny bit cliched. Anyone with a passing familiarity with German beer culture has heard about the Reinheitsgebot (or German Beer Purity Law), which held breweries to a high standard for generations, albeit while also placing them in a somewhat rigid environment creatively. That said, ignore the old-guard German brewers at your own peril, because a life without Ayinger is a sadder life, indeed.
However, with so much institutional talent and knowledge to fall back on, it's no surprise that the country's newer, more envelope-pushing breweries are doing so with aplomb as well. Vagabund is helping revitalize a once-desolate brewing scene in Berlin, and CREW Republic is shaking things up in Munich, right there in the shadow of Germany's original brewing titans.
Look, when beer is your religion -- well, more accurately, when your religious elite makes your beer -- you know things are going to be amazing. The brewing tradition in Belgium has produced not only the best beer in Europe, but also arguably the best beer in the world, the kinds of ales, sours, triples, dubbels, farmhouses, reds, saisons, and blondes that beer nerds lose their firkin minds over. Belgium is now, and has been, the gold standard of beer-making. They’re also really proud to be friends with some dude named Brett.
Beer is in the very lifeblood of Belgium (along with lace... so much lace!), with breweries run by Trappists in addition to master brewers who literally grew up on the grounds and were bred to become the new generation of a multi-generation family legacy. From Brussels to Bruges to Ghent, the sheer volume of breweries that dot the countryside -- from huge names like Leffe and Chimay to Steenbrugge, Affligem, and Rodenbach, which are among the nearly 200 in the tiny country -- is staggering. Table beers are poured with breakfast. Beer bars are just a part of the ancient architecture. Hell, the national symbol is a statue of a little boy peeing in a fountain... probably because he’s privy to the best beer in the world, and that stuff goes through you pretty fast.
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Executive Editor Matt Lynch was tempted to push Ireland higher, but had to be true to his palate. Watch him catch crap from his family: @MLynchChi.
Andy Kryza is a senior editor at Thrillist who just experienced an extreme struggle between his Scottish and Polish pride. Follow him to kielbasa and mash: @apkryza.