The 13 Best Beer Countries in the World, Ranked
When Garrett Oliver says that beer is as old as civilization itself, he’s not kidding. Maybe that’s why, unlike the Olympics or World Cup, global beer supremacy is a difficult thing to quantify when borders are brought into question. If you’re looking at sheer production volume numbers, China is number one. If you’re looking at consumption per capita numbers, it’s the Czech Republic.
But if you’re looking at quality, innovation, and the overall scene, the numbers are far from the only things to consider, especially given the rapid change in the industry in the past decade. We hit the statistics logs, critical ranking publications, history books, and bars (obviously) to come up with a list of which countries are doing good beer the most proud these days.
13. IrelandSure, drinking beer in a pub is one of the first things that comes to mind when describing Irish culture. And while the country does rank number six in beer consumption per capita, Ireland’s brewery explosion is a recent development. Less than a decade ago, just five breweries controlled the market, but today that number is at 50. Newcomers like the White Hag, Galway Bay Brewery, and Trouble Brewing are forging a trail for critically adored craft beer in the Emerald Isle. In 2013, the government went a step further by enacting new laws that create incentives and offer education for aspiring brewers, which pretty much ensures that the growth trend will continue.
12. New ZealandNew Zealand’s agricultural good fortune has helped make them one of the most quickly ascendant brewing countries in the world. Already known for barley production, their citrusy indigenous hops varieties now play a huge part in their ability to compete with some of the most popular -- and, in an increasing number of cases, best -- hop-driven American brews on the market. It’s not just IPAs, though: internationally adored Kiwi microbreweries Yeastie Boys, 8 Wired, Liberty Brewing, Tuatara Brewery, and Moa Brewing have exploded in popularity for all styles of beer from saisons to stouts.
11. SwedenSweden’s beer culture has begun to explode in spite of itself: local laws prohibit the sale of retail beer above 3.5% ABV outside of state-controlled shops, meaning local craft breweries have limited places to stock their brews within the country. Seemingly in defiance, new breweries are still popping up and garnering international attention, including Nya Carnegiebryggeriet, a sister brewery opened in partnership with Brooklyn Brewery. Plus, the country’s world-class beer bars, which are host to some of the most diverse international draft lists out there (the country’s second only to Canada in American beer imports), help Swedes round out their boozing.
10. ItalyThanks to its location deep within wine country, political backlogs, and the wine industry’s incredible lobbying power over the government, brewers have had little to no support in incentivizing beer culture. Even so, things have taken a sharp turn upwards in the past decade and a half with a veritable boom of microbreweries. Locally and internationally acclaimed brewers such as del Ducato, LoverBeer, and del Borgo are ushering in an era of change with complex, innovative approaches to traditional styles, unhindered by a base brewing tradition. You can expect Italy’s full beer potential to come to fruition in the coming years, but, even today, it’s top notch.
9. NorwayA large part of beer culture is appreciating beers from elsewhere, and Norway’s beer bars have an uncanny ability to curate some of the best lists on the planet. This has helped to spur a craft movement of its own in the country, with breweries like Nogne Ø paving the way for young upstarts. RateBeer included Fjell Bryggeri and Lindheim Ølkompani as two of the best new breweries in the world for 2015, tying them with the USA for tops on the list.
8. NetherlandsThe Netherlands’ international beer reputation is based mainly on Heineken (and subsidiary brewery Amstel), but there’s plenty of things going on under the trunk these days: Holland is home to two of the world’s 10 designated Trappist breweries (the only others are in Belgium, Austria, and the USA), and it’s home to a thriving beer culture with world-class bars and taprooms around the country. Microbreweries Brouwerij Emelisse and Brouwerij de Molen are the most critically adored little guys in Holland these days, and are routinely included in top global beer lists.
7. CanadaFor years, beer tradition in Canada did little to step outside of pale lagers pumped out en masse by macrobrewers. But, much like their neighbors to the South, Canada gained an initial wave of craft breweries in the early ’80s that carried through to today. Quebec can lay claim to some of the earliest and most vocal international acclaim for its Belgian-inspired beers: almost half of the top-rated beers in the country come from the province, including Unibroue, Dieu du Ciel, and McAuslan. Couple this with a smattering of world-class beer bars from coast to coast and burgeoning microbreweries, such as Toronto’s Bellwoods and BC’s Parallel 49, and you’ve got a beer culture that can compete on the global scale.
6. JapanAs a country known for its attention to detail in production, it should come as no surprise that great beer in Japan is far from an afterthought. Known domestically as ji-biru (“local beer”) or kurafuto bia (“craft beer”), microbreweries have been taking off since the mid-'90s when government restrictions on brewing minimums were relaxed. Since then, there has been no limit to the styles of beer tackled, ranging from Belgian witbiers to hoppy IPAs to coffee stouts from breweries like Kiuchi Brewery (who makes Hitachino Nest Beer) and Echigo Biru. Japanese microbreweries are also perennial winners at the International Brewing Awards, and, in the past few years, exports have increased dramatically thanks to popularity and increased production, making it easier to get your hands on a bottle (especially on the West Coast).
5. DenmarkWhile Denmark’s beer styles haven’t been as popular outside its borders as powerhouses like Belgium’s or Germany’s, they have a solid lineup of traditional seasonal specialties, while the tidal wave of new microbreweries emulate international styles with aplomb. The far-and-away darling of the craft beer scene there is Mikkeller, whose very presence has done plenty to elevate Denmark in the eyes of the international community and has ushered in a revitalized era of production and brewery openings. Along with other popular small breweries such as To Øl, it’s common to see Denmark represented on bottle and draft lists in the best beer bars around the world and on top beer-rating lists.
4. GermanyGermany ranks in the top five countries in the world for volume of beer production and ranks number three for beer consumption per capita. Even with numbers aside, it’s practically against the law to make bad beer: the Reinheitsgebot (or German Beer Purity Law) has kept many breweries’ recipes the same for centuries. Mainstays like Ayinger still provide beers that are considered gold standards for their styles, and historic breweries, like Riegele, who exemplify popular domestic styles, keep local specialties alive despite lack of interest outside the country.
Even with the stringent tie to tradition, revolutionary small breweries have been popping up: some, like Freigeist (translated as “free spirit”), highlight “endangered” German styles, while some young upstarts in Berlin, like Vagabund Brauerei, are doing international styles in what was once a beer wasteland of a city.