Beer countries: The brews that embody their homelands

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Drinks: Beers, Drinks

There isn’t really such a thing as terroir in beer, but that doesn’t stop brewers from capturing the essence of what their country is all about. Adrian Tierney-Jones goes in search of brews that sum up their national character


Beers that matter – that bring in the thoughtful drinker and give a buzz to a business – have a story. It might be the hops, the theatre of the serve, its food-pairing potential, or simply the innate sense of refreshment that infects the beer.

But as the global beer revolution continues is there perhaps another story to be told? One of how a beer mirrors the country or region where it’s made.

After all, wine and whisky tell that story – who hasn’t had a dram of a peaty, smoky Islay and been transported to the windswept isles north of Scotland?

So maybe it’s time to recognise that beer can also capture a place’s essence. Here are five countries with beers that really tell that story.

 

Australia

National buzzwords:
adventurous, creative, vivacious

Back in the 1980s, certain Australian beer brands were advertised with a swagger and a sense of Australian mateship; comical perhaps, but reflecting a rather clichéd view of Oz. Let’s call it Walkabout in a glass. Now, the beers that arrive in the UK from Down Under still suggest a world of sunshine, surf and adventure, but there’s also a sense of creativity and eloquence that perhaps more accurately mirrors the new Australian soul.

Take Stone & Wood for instance, whose crisp and refreshing beers are an ideal accompaniment to the carefree life led in the brewery’s home community of Byron Bay. There’s also a sense of sunshine and laidback life in Western Australian brand Little Creatures’ beers, brightly coloured creations of malt and hops that dazzle like the midday Aussie sun.

Then there’s Pirate Life, which seems to be catching the Australian mindset of adventure and creativity. In its short two-year life, it’s managed to find fans all over the beer world. The beers are hoppy and full of verve and vivacity, and given that AB-InBev recently purchased the Adelaide-based craft brewery, I suspect we are going to be seeing a lot more of this Australian character at the bar going forward.

According to Sean Robertson, who heads up sales and marketing for the brewery in Europe, its beers represent the country’s character by being ‘robust and adventurous, and travelling great distances to achieve its goals’.

‘It stays in the face of its drinkers with consistent high-quality beers in a wide range of styles,’ he says. ‘The bestseller is Pirate Life Pale Ale. Its mood is one of being a workhorse, full of backbone and industrious in its flavourful character.’

Australian fare
Pirate Life Imperial IPA, 8.8%

A thunderous beer with juicy, citrusy and resiny notes on the palate, and a daunting declaration of Pirate Life’s intentions.

£68/16x500ml, Pirate Life, 07788 286 690

Stone & Wood Pacific Ale, 4.4%

Zesty and citrusy, with plenty of tropical fruit, and a dry and fruity finish that suggests surf is indeed up.

£27.78/15x330ml, Beer Hawk, 01423 525750

Stone & Wood Pacific Ale, 4.4%

Zesty and citrusy, with plenty of tropical fruit, and a dry and fruity finish that suggests surf is indeed up.

£27.78/15x330ml, Beer Hawk, 01423 525750

 

Belgium

National buzzwords:
off-centre, gastronomic

There’s something deliciously off-centre about Belgium. Several years back, it didn’t have an elected government for over 500 days, but the country coped.

The jokes are always about a lack of famous Belgians, while the author Harry Pearson warmly celebrates the surrealist nature of Belgian life in A Tall Man in a Low Land – where else do you get a statue of a urinating naked child attracting tourists?

There is also a serious – and seriously overlooked – gastronomic side to the country. Anyone discovering its beers for the first time will be amazed by the beers with fruit in them, the beers aged for up to two years and blended with younger versions, the beers brewed by monks, and the potent gold-hued beers served up in goblets. Duvel is perhaps one of the most representative of Belgian beers, a smooth-talking 8.5% beer that speaks for the soul of the Belgian gastronome.

‘Belgium’s beer culture was recently recognised by UNESCO as part of the intangible cultural heritage of the country,’ says Natalya Watson, marketing manager at Duvel Moortgat UK, ‘and we like to think Duvel played a part in that.

‘Its Belgian-ness is inherent in its character. It’s often one of the first Belgian beers people encounter in the UK, and it encapsulates many key traits people have come to associate with Belgian styles – the stumpy bottle, the process of bottle-conditioning, and a high-alcohol content.’

Low Country beers aim high

Boon Oude Geuze Mariage Parfait, 8%

Elegant geuze with a champagne-like sprightliness; it has such endless gastronomic possibilities and is a joy in its own right, in many ways like Belgium itself.

£25.80/15x375ml, Beer Hawk, 01423 525750

Saison Dupont, 6.5%

Every craft brewery has a saison, but this is the original. It’s peppery, flinty, lightly citrusy and dry, and spicy in the finish.

£75.90/15x750ml, Beer Hawk, 01423 525750

 

Denmark

National buzzwords:
relaxed, quirky, ironic

For many, Denmark equals Carlsberg, and a relaxed, almost zen-like way of living, which is best experienced by spending a night in Copenhagen. Bars such as Warpigs, Fermentoren and several Mikkeller outlets all seem to echo both the seriousness and the surrealistic nature of Danish beer – think of that Carlsberg advert with Mads Mikkelsen doing some improbable cycling – there’s loud music, a mock seriousness, but also a joyful sense of what can really be achieved when beer is as good as, say, Warpigs’ juicy, lush IPA Lazurite.

Denmark is also seen as one of the best places in the world to live, a place of contentment, where beer flows easily, in contrast to its Nordic neighbours where it is tightly controlled by official bodies. Mikkeller’s beers, even though gypsy-brewed elsewhere, have a sense of play and imagination about them – its Beer Geek Breakfast is an imperial stout made with coffee beans that have passed through the gut of a civet, while Dry & Bitter’s Dank & Juicy is a comment on the US trend for IPAs that look like fruit juice and smell like cannabis.

‘Our experience of the Danish is that they are very artistic and have a slightly zany but dry sense of humour, but that they also have insane attention to detail and can be quite serious,’ says Jonny Garrett of Cave Direct. ‘You can see all those things in To Øl’s beers. Mostly the producer starts with the name or a can design, which more often than not tends to be a visual or aural pun, and then work backwards to a delicious beer.’

There’s one other thing about Danish beers. There’s plenty of collaboration between Danish brewers and their counterparts overseas, perhaps a comment on the social collaboration that makes Denmark such a delightful place.

Let’s build a Danish beer

To Øl Snowball, 8%

A dry-hopped saison with a quenching crispness, a mouth-watering tartness and
a finish as dry as Danish humour.

POA, Cave Direct, 01622 710339

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, 10.9%

This is the Mikkeller beer that everyone wants to try. It’s a stunningly muscular, civet-influenced imperial stout, with plenty of coffee, cream and alcohol to make the evening go with a bang. And what a name!

POA, The Bottle Shop, 020 3583 2065

 

Italy

National buzzwords:
creative, foodie, barrel-loving

Italy is one of the most exciting countries in Europe to drink beer in – a bold statement given the country’s longstanding affection for the juice of the grape.

There are over 1,000 breweries producing a variety of styles and tastes, such as beers with grape must, chestnuts, spices and herbs. There are also porters, stouts,  double IPAs and beers that slumber in wine barrels and terracotta containers.

If we think of how the Italian character has influenced these brewers, think food, wine, classy cars, fashion and a stylish attitude to life. For starters, this is reflected in the packaging of Italian beer, with a lot of beers being beautifully portrayed. There is also a tendency to produce beers that sit well on the dining table, with Baladin being at the forefront of this.

‘It brews some excellent beers which reflect today’s beer world,’ says beer importer and distributor Andreas Fält. ‘But it also has something to prove, as wine is the alcoholic drink most people understandably think of when you mention Italy, so it has had to be creative.

‘First it presented beers in 75cl bottles that look like a wine bottle on the table. In the beginning, a lot of the beers were Belgian-inspired, as they were more like wines. In the last few years, we have seen more and more barrel ageing, which makes perfect sense as they have lots of barrels in the wine industry.’

La dolce vita in a glass
Birra del Borgo ReAle, 6.4%

A tribute to the English IPA, and an eminently social beer that is at home in a raucous Italian bar as it would be in a pub in Clerkenwell’s Little Italy, just like the Italian diaspora.

£33.75/15x330ml, Beer Hawk, 01423 525750
Birrificio Italiano Tipopils, 5.2%
A luminous pilsner that is bitter and aromatic, and dry in its finish; a stylish Ferrari of a beer.

POA, Del Italia, 01226 206222

 

USA

National buzzwords:
Innovative, can-do, colourful

There used to be a saying that US presidents could be born in a log cabin, such was the get-up-and-go upward mobility of American society.

Even if this saying somewhat lacks traction these days (the log cabin now being a palatial condo), anyone who has spent time with a brewer from the US will recognise the can-do mentality that underpinned the formation of their star-spangled country.

The early US craft brewers were pioneers, taking European beer styles, such as pale ale, pilsner and IPA, and making them more vivid, louder and colourful. Bold American hops led the charge, such as Cascade, and since then it’s also been about continuing to innovate and experiment.

Brewers seem to have asked themselves what beer would taste like if left in a bourbon barrel – Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout – and wondered how drinkers would react if an idea for dry-hopping first scribbled down in the pub came to fruition – Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Extra IPA. American brewers occasionally get it wrong (pastry stouts, anyone?), but we should all be very thankful for their open-minded approach to brewing.

Take Denver-based Crooked Stave. These guys are best known for a devotion to barrel ageing and Belgian-influenced sour beers, best exemplified in the dry-hopped, barrel-aged saison Vieille Artisanal, or the Belgian-inspired white beer St. Bretta.

‘The American character is about taking something from its origin and adding something new to it,’ says Andrew Morgan, from The Bottle Shop in Bermondsey, which imports the beers.  ‘This can certainly be said of US brewers producing European styles with new intentions, and Crooked Stave is an expert in giving the Belgians a new twist.’

Other American beers that mirror the soul of their country

Founders Breakfast Stout, 8.3%

A rich stout that lounges on the palate before finishing dry. Dean Martin on the stage in Vegas perhaps?

POA, Marston’s, 01902 711811

Brooklyn Local 1, 9%

A potent Belgian-style golden ale that seems to resonate with energy and vivacity.

POA, Carlsberg UK, carlsbergwedelivermore.co.uk


Illustration: David Mantelow

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