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What country makes the best beers?

Jim Dorsch Aug 28, 2006 12:13 PM

Certainly great beer can come from anywhere. But just for fun, I'll postulate that the best beers, or at least the most creative brewers, can be found in countries in which brewers have the most freedom, or the least tradition.

There are some wonderful beers in Germany, for example, but the stylistic range is limited by tradition, and even by law in some cases if I understand corrrectly. Ireland has some great ones, but they're mostly traditional stouts and Irish reds. Contrast this to the Belgian or US brewer whose only limit is his/her imagination. The numbers of unique and new beers is phenomenal in these countries, and for me, they're often the best.

  1. m
    madtowner Aug 28, 2006 01:07 PM

    Ahh, this is so true, Germany makes some great beers, but are totally governed by the Reheinsgebot..(tell me if I spelled this wrong).: )
    I think the US and Belgium really do have great freedom in creating new and exiting beers, but since I don't know too much about other countries laws etc, it's hard to totally say what other countries have tried and sold worldwide, and If I haven't tasted it, how do I know right?

    3 Replies
    1. re: madtowner
      Josh Aug 28, 2006 06:01 PM

      Reinheisgebot

      1. re: Josh
        c
        ChewFun Aug 28, 2006 08:51 PM

        Man schreibt es, Reinheitsgebot.

        1. re: ChewFun
          Josh Aug 28, 2006 08:55 PM

          Ach du lieber!

    2. c
      ChewFun Aug 28, 2006 01:09 PM

      It's easy to answer this question. (Germany - range and depth of styles and supreme freshness), Belgium (in a class by itself), Czech Republic (they have the best, simplest beers - Lagers, Pilsners, etc. and they drink more per capita than even Bavarians), and England (A good ales or bitter is a wonderful thing). The U.S. makes some really good beers but they don't rate in my top list.

      1. Scheider Klosterweiss and Hasenbraeu Hefenweizen Dunkel - Augsburg
      2. U Fleku - Prague
      3. Budvar
      4. Just about any Belgian duppel

      1 Reply
      1. re: ChewFun
        i
        Idyllwild Mar 24, 2014 11:09 AM

        I'm not sure I understand how German beers have 'supreme freshness.' All beer is fresh when it's brewed. Many German lagers are intentionally aged before release, so they are by design less fresh than many other beers upon release.

      2. l
        LStaff Aug 28, 2006 02:19 PM

        Since I'm going through a hophead phase, I am picking the US as the best brewers. If you would have asked me in my hefeweizen/rauchbier/noble hop lager phase or my Belgian strong ale phase and the answer could well have been different. ;-)

        1. Josh Aug 28, 2006 06:05 PM

          Gotta agree with Jim on this one, though I would add France to the list now that I have been drinking some incredible bieres de gardes.

          I do love a good German lager, but let's be honest here - the variation in flavor among German beers just isn't that great.

          I like Belgium and France for the interesting rustic styles they produce, and I like American craft brewers for experimental and hoppy beers.

          Anti-American beer bias at this point is just uninformed posturing.

          10 Replies
          1. re: Josh
            Jim Dorsch Aug 28, 2006 09:44 PM

            Good thought on northern France and their fine bieres de garde.

            I think the German beers taste so wonderful on their home turf, I expect due to freshness. Lately we've been able to get German-style beers from the Penn Brewery in Pittsburgh, very well made and fresh. All things equal, the local beer gets the nod.

            1. re: Josh
              honkman Aug 29, 2006 01:21 AM

              Sorry, but to claim the variations in flavor among German beers is just ins't great is just uninformed posturing. Just because you don't know the many, many breweries in Germany with very distinct beers doesn't mean they don't exist. And just to be experimental like many american breweries doesn't mean they are automatically good. The problem with the american beer market is that there are very few excellent beer breweries between many average one that it is hard to find them whereas in Germany, Belgium, Czech there are few lousy ones between many excellent breweries.

              1. re: honkman
                Josh Aug 29, 2006 02:06 AM

                I think you must have misunderstood my comments. I'm not saying German beers don't have good flavor. I just recently bought a bunch of great ones at Holiday Wine Cellars, in fact. Some really delicious beers there, it's just a shame you have to look so hard to find them.

                I'm saying that the variety of flavors I've found in German beer isn't as vast as the variety I've experienced with beers from countries like Belgium or the USA.

                German beers are allowed by law to have four ingredients: hops, yeast, water, and grain (wheat or barley). So already you have some severe limitations in terms of how much variety will be possible. Furthermore, lager yeasts require cold temperatures. This reduces the number of esters that will be produced, which is where ales get their fruity overtones.

                It's a simple matter of mathematics to see that the range of flavors that can be produced from an expanded palette of ingredients will be greater than one produced from a palette of four.

                Also, I don't think anyone is saying that experimental beer is automatically good. On the other hand, if you check out the results from World Beer Cup you'll see a large number of American craft brewers taking home gold medals. I would disagree vehemently that there are very few excellent breweries in the US.

                We've got Allagash, Stone, AleSmith, Port Brewing, Deschutes, Rogue, Avery, Victory, Smuttynose, Bells, Dogfish Head, Bear Republic, Russian River, Sierra Nevada, Anchor, Alpine, Brooklyn Brewery, Ballast Point, Lagunitas, and those are just the ones I've tried.

                Anti-American beer bias is indeed uninformed. It might have been true 20 years ago, but it's ridiculous now.

                1. re: Josh
                  honkman Aug 29, 2006 06:41 AM

                  I guess it comes down to what someone would define as a beer. For me a beer shouldn't include any unusual flavors.(And to be honest I tried many with unusual flavors and I still have to find one which improves the flavor of beer). That's doesn't mine that those drinks can't taste good but they are not beers for me anymore. Also it is hard to discuss different tastes but from your list of breweries I tried Stone, Port Brewing, Russian River and Sierra Nevada and none of their beers was above average. I often miss a certain strength in taste (hard to describe) with most american beers. They often taste too weak and their amount of alcohol is quite low. And I still have to find a drinkable Hefeweizen or Doppelbock from an american brewerie. Any suggestions ?

                  1. re: honkman
                    Josh Aug 29, 2006 07:05 AM

                    Wow. Your post is seriously mind-boggling to me.

                    For starters, low alcohol? Stone's IPA is 7%. Their Ruination is 9%. Their Imperial Stout comes in at 11%. Russian River Pliny the Elder is also 9%. Pizza Port makes a number of high-alcohol brews.

                    I also am completely baffled how you can describe Russian River beer as average. This is the same guy who makes brettanomyces-fermented Belgian golden ale aged in Chardonnay barrels, and one of the better double IPAs out there (Pliny the Elder).

                    I guess we just come from very different backgrounds with beer.

                    "Unusual" is in the mouth of the drinker. Belgian witbier is a traditional Belgian style of beer with orange peel and coriander added. Just because it's not part of the reinheitsgebot doesn't make it invalid. Beer is an incredibly ancient beverage, and prior to the German's laws, it was seasoned with all kinds of things.

                    Some homebrewers make these ancient recipes, like gruit, which is beer without hops, seasoned with herbs like marsh rosemary, sweet gale, and yarrow. I didn't particularly care for it, but nothing puts the lie to the idea of beer only being made from the same 4 ingredients faster than seeing all the antiquated styles of it that exist.

                    How can it be said that sour beer, like lambic, is "unusual" when it's been made for hundreds of years? How can you say the same for trappist ales, also made for hundreds of years?

                    I don't want to come off as insulting, so forgive me if my tone seems that way. But your expectation of finding an American version of Bavarian hefeweizen or doppelbock tells me that your're barking up the wrong tree.

                    I've yet to have a non-German version of a traditional German style that tastes anywhere near as good. But I know from talking to a lot of craft brewers that they just don't find those styles all that interesting to make. The strength of American craft brewing isn't to be found in German styles - it's more in the arena of Belgian and English style ales.

                    1. re: honkman
                      Jim Dorsch Aug 29, 2006 11:31 AM

                      I'm afraid you're in the minority with your opinion of Stone, Port, et al. While their beers may not be to your taste, these breweries are widely recognized to be making top-notch products.

                      Similarly, while you may not consider something with unusual flavors to be beer and you may not prefer it, by common definition it is.

                      1. re: honkman
                        c
                        ChewFun Aug 29, 2006 12:51 PM

                        Widmer makes a great Hefeweizen. Unfortunately, when I get it served in a bar, they insist on giving me a slice of lemon (which, if I'm not very much mistaken, only goes with a Weizen and not a Hefeweizen). I just need to get a good American unfiltered dark Hefeweizen.

                        As to odd beer styles, it doesn't get odder than Rauchbier from Bamberg. I've had Schlenkerla (in a bottle in the U.S. - so not really fresh), but it tastes like hickory smoked bacon. It wasn't well received when I brought it to a party years ago.

                        1. re: honkman
                          MVNYC Aug 29, 2006 06:06 PM

                          If you have tried Stone or Russian River I am shocked that you would miss strength in taste. If you do not like highly hopped beers then maybe they are not from you, but both breweries produce big bold high alcohol ales

                          As for hefeweizens, most american breweries fall short. The only one i have found to be above average is port brewing's hefe. Very tasty

                          Also i find Widmer to be mediocre to poor at best.

                        2. re: Josh
                          e
                          erikka Aug 29, 2006 12:52 PM

                          I agree--I think the US has really made huge strides in the quality of it's beers, and I think we've definitely taken the lead in IPAs. I think mass-produced American beers still suck (as do mass produced beers elsewhere), but I have had some really excellent micros that are as good if not better than those made abroad. If you're someone who only likes trappists ales, well...then you'd probably disagree.

                          ps: had the Lagunitas #10 saison last week -- good stuff.

                          1. re: erikka
                            honkman Aug 29, 2006 04:16 PM

                            As a reply to Josh (there wasn't any reply button on your post). For me something with orange peels and coriander isn't beer anymore and this is not based on the Reinheitsgebot but my expection on the taste of beer. But I agree with the replies that by official definition it is still beer. Perhaps I am just a "fundamentalist" when it comes to beer :).

                    2. b
                      brentk Aug 28, 2006 08:01 PM

                      This is like asking which country has the best cuisine.

                      Its all a matter of personal preference.

                      What I find is that there are distinct styles associated with the big three traditional brewing powers (Britain, Germany and Belgium) and that the American craft brewers (along with the occasional brewer from Canada or Japan) are absorbing the various elements of each of these styles and, in some instances, pushing the envelope in exciting new directions.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: brentk
                        Josh Aug 28, 2006 08:20 PM

                        One of the craft breweries in San Diego also maintains a homebrew store, and their affiliated homebrew club produced what they called an IPL - India Pale Lager. Bottom-fermented, but generously hopped. A truly awesome hybrid of styles that I wish I could buy somewhere.

                        1. re: Josh
                          MVNYC Aug 28, 2006 10:44 PM

                          Which place is this? That sounds like something i would like to try.

                          1. re: MVNYC
                            Josh Aug 28, 2006 10:51 PM

                            Ballast Point. They now have two locations, one out by Poway (I think) where they have their bottling line, and one down the hill from USD, in the back of Home Brew Mart. That's a worthy destination, actually, as they have 50-cent tasters in back of the Ballast Point beers, plus usually one or two experimental offerings.

                            I sometimes think Ballast Point doesn't get their just due, really. Stone has great marketing, and AleSmith really makes flash beers, but Ballast Point makes consistently tasty, drinkable ales. They also make the only witbier of any of the local guys (and it's good, too).

                            One of my favorites they made though, was called Hout Ont Moet - it was a blackberry ale aged in oak barrels. Very delicious, without beeing sweet.

                      2. c
                        ChewFun Aug 28, 2006 08:50 PM

                        The biggest element, I think, is freshness. When you have a great beer and it's fresh, it makes a world of difference.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ChewFun
                          Josh Aug 28, 2006 08:56 PM

                          Some beers age really well though. Lambics, f'rinstance.

                        2. MVNYC Aug 28, 2006 10:47 PM

                          Lets not forget Canada, The Unibroue brewery out of Quebec produces phenomenol stuff. The 2004 Special edition beer may have been the best beer i have ever had in my life.

                          Also on my list are the usual suspects, Belgium, Germany, Ceske Republike, and the US. There are excellent brewers in the US. Granted i am an admitted hophead

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: MVNYC
                            Jim Dorsch Aug 29, 2006 11:26 AM

                            Several years ago I toured Canadian breweries, and left with the impression that the Quebec breweries were doing much more interesting things than those in Ontario. I wonder if I was correct about that and whether things have changed since.

                            1. re: Jim Dorsch
                              c
                              ChewFun Aug 29, 2006 12:48 PM

                              Boreale and Cheval Blanc from Montreal are fantastic. I wish I could get Boreale Rousse down in D.C.

                              1. re: Jim Dorsch
                                e
                                erikka Aug 29, 2006 12:54 PM

                                With the exception of Unibroue (whose offerings I find uneven), Canadian beer is fairly dismal. I am open to suggestions if I am incorrect with that assertion, but most of what I've seen has been of the Sleemans/Labatt ilk.

                                1. re: erikka
                                  carswell Aug 29, 2006 01:01 PM

                                  Whaaaat? There are excellent microbreweries in Quebec. MacAuslin for one. Every time I get down on living in Montreal (typically in February), I cheer myself up by thinking about how I can pick up a six pack of St. Ambroise Extra Pale Ale at just about any corner store. And St. Ambroise Stout is a thing of dark beauty. There is also a thriving microbrew scene on the west coast and lots happening in the Atlantic Provinces and even Ontario. Judging Canadian beer on the basis of Sleeman, Labatt or Molson is like judging US beer on the basis of Budweiser or Coors.

                                  1. re: carswell
                                    e
                                    erikka Aug 29, 2006 01:16 PM

                                    Ah, I stand corrected. I've had the St. Ambroise (mixed feelings--I may have gotten an old bottle). Last time I was in Montreal I felt like I was bombarded by those three major brews you mention above, but next visit I will make an effort to seek out some of the stuff you mentioned--thanks.

                                    1. re: carswell
                                      carswell Aug 29, 2006 01:30 PM

                                      >>next visit I will make an effort to seek out some of the stuff you mentioned<<

                                      Let the Quebec/Montreal board know before you come and we'll give you the lowdown. There are some first-rate microbreweries in town that don't bottle their beer, most notably Dieu du Ciel www.dieuduciel.com

                              2. j
                                julesrules Aug 31, 2006 03:57 PM

                                I'll defend Ontario here. In Toronto it seems to me that every non-chain bar has at least one good local beer on tap. I would hate a beer-loving visitor to come here and not at least sample Mill Street Tank House Ale (for example). I won't pretend to know that our beers will beat your hometown favourites, but they are definitely worth seeking out and sampling.

                                1. l
                                  Loren3 Sep 1, 2006 07:45 PM

                                  I think it was one of the editors of Barleycorn who phrased it best years ago. Being an expert on beer, he was always asked by interviewers what's the best beer. His non-plussed reply: "The one in my hand!"

                                  1. e
                                    erikka Sep 18, 2006 06:55 PM

                                    CHOW.com article on American beer: http://www.chow.com/stories/10103

                                    1. g
                                      GunCe Mar 20, 2014 07:50 AM

                                      The short answer: Belgium.

                                      The long answer: The epicentre of beer making definately lies with Germany, Czech republic and Belgium. In these countries Monks were brewing beer already 1000 years ago. (Obviously the countries didn't exist by then, but regions such as Flanders, Brabant, Bavaria, Bohemia, Moravia and others make up roughly that region) With the spreading of the faith and Europe's colonization, the art of making beer made its way to the far reaches of the world. Tsingtao for example is the fruit of German occupation in Shangdong province. It has been already mentioned that the Reinheitsgebot limits the extend of the taste palet in German beers. It is there that Belgium manages to take the lead. America has been an excellent student with its current boom in 'Belgian style' breweries. Let us wait for a while however to declare that the student outgrew the master.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: GunCe
                                        Josh Mar 20, 2014 11:15 AM

                                        I think the USA has surpassed any other country on the brewing front, honestly. The USA is home to brewers making all styles of beer. Some of our Belgian-style beers, like Russian River's line of sours, can stand against any sour produced in Belgium.

                                        The last exception used to be trappist ales, and now that has fallen thanks to Sierra Nevada's excellent line of trappist-style beers called Ovila. The quadrupel with plums is a fantastic trappist-style beer. And Green Flash has an excellent Orval clone with their Rayon Vert.

                                        And in addition to the plethora of well-made Belgian-style beers we also have German and English-style beers, plus all the American styles. I really can't think of another country with the same breadth of beer production as the USA.

                                        It's funny because I'm not even remotely patriotic, but when it comes to beer I do think America has everyone else beat.

                                        1. re: Josh
                                          Jim Dorsch Mar 20, 2014 01:32 PM

                                          Neither am I a flag waver, but I agree with you.

                                          As you say, US brewers produce such an incredible array of styles, I expect more than you would find anywhere else, with all due respect to some other nations.

                                      2. d
                                        dulcie54 Mar 20, 2014 01:47 PM

                                        Portland. Lol.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: dulcie54
                                          Tripeler Mar 20, 2014 07:27 PM

                                          Hair Of The Dog -- a Portland star. Great, interesting beer.

                                          1. re: Tripeler
                                            Silverjay Mar 21, 2014 06:22 AM

                                            So true!....Portland is pretty awesome. You can enjoy a variety of great beers, including their awesome IPA, at Hair of the Dog and then walk ten minutes to Cascade and drink interesting sours.

                                            1. re: Silverjay
                                              Josh Mar 21, 2014 09:01 AM

                                              San Francisco, while not having the quantity of breweries, is getting there. Several breweries opened, or got new brewmasters, in the past couple of years and now we have two sour producers, three guys making excellent IPAs and stouts, and Anchor has started releasing something they call the Zymaster series with one-offs coming out of homebrewing.

                                              1. re: Josh
                                                Silverjay Mar 21, 2014 09:48 AM

                                                Sounds like it would be tough to pick between the two...Thanks for the heads up on the Zymaster stuff. Looks like some of them are pouring around NYC. I'll keep an eye out.

                                          2. re: dulcie54
                                            Insidious Rex Mar 21, 2014 10:45 AM

                                            definitely a foreign country...

                                          3. Paprikaboy Mar 21, 2014 12:14 PM

                                            I'd say the UK. I live in a small corner of South London and my closest bar opened by a local brewery has 2 porters , a black IPA, best biter and an amber ale, and that's just from their brewery. They also sell US style IPA;s , pilsners and unfiltered lagers from London brewers. There's been a real renaissance in brewing in London and elsewhere and we have a long brewing tradition but also are not afraid to produce beer styles not historically produced in the UK.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Paprikaboy
                                              Jim Dorsch Mar 21, 2014 02:24 PM

                                              When I visit the UK, and I haven't in a long time, I marvel at the full flavor you can pack into a cask ale of modest gravity.

                                            2. c
                                              cwdonald Mar 21, 2014 02:17 PM

                                              The answer is every country makes the best beers, because the best beer is made locally...

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: cwdonald
                                                Jim Dorsch Mar 21, 2014 02:23 PM

                                                that depends on the country

                                              2. i
                                                Idyllwild Mar 24, 2014 11:02 AM

                                                The USA by a very wide margin. I love the brewing traditions of Belgium, Germany and England but US craft brewers are producing literally thousands of different excellent beers, in nearly every traditional style, and creating original beers every day.
                                                To pose a hypothetical question, if you could only drink beers from one country, what would it be? Absolutely the US, and since I'm being hypothetical, if California seceded from the US, California would be the first choice, followed by the US. I would terribly miss geuze, but Russian River and Lost Abbey brew fantastic sours as well. I'd miss some German breweries like Ayinger, but I can get a great Berliner weisse from the Bruery, an excellent schwarzbier from Port Brewing, and a great alt from Hangar 24. I'd love to try more English bitters on cask, but there are casks of fresh American pale ales, IPA's and ambers in many bars and restaurants throughout southern California.

                                                1. w
                                                  Whisper Mar 24, 2014 08:53 PM

                                                  While my favorite brewery in the world (Russian River) is in the US, without question my favorite beers overall come from Belgium.

                                                  1. c
                                                    chowyadoin99 Mar 25, 2014 07:29 PM

                                                    England.

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