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What country makes the best beers?

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.

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  1. 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: Josh

        Man schreibt es, Reinheitsgebot.

    1. 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'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. 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. 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

            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

              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

                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

                  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

                    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

                      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

                        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

                          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

                          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

                            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. 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

                        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

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

                          1. re: MVNYC

                            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.