Side note: Hungary almost finished 5th just for the ruin pubs in Budapest alone.
5th PLACE: CZECH REPUBLIC:
Czech Republic – The country that wins the prize for most beer consumed per capita is the Czech Republic. Pilsner is the beer of choice here, and in the interest of full disclosure I should admit up front that I am not a fan. For me, pilsner has an irony taste, but it’s one of the most popular beer styles worldwide, and its light, easy drinking profile tends to appease the masses. However, if you like Pilsner, this country is the mother land. Fortunately, other beer snobs like me will also find plenty of wonderful beer experiences in the Czech Republic. We only visited Prague and Cesky Krumlov, but we found beer-mecca Monasteries with old world atmosphere, medieval cellars with huge casks of beer, bohemian bars serving local brews, destination breweries, and some amazing beer gardens. Prague really does offer a solid mix of variety, quality and atmosphere when it comes to beer, it just wasn’t quite enough for me to move them up the list.
4th PLACE: IRELAND
Even more limited in scope than Germany, Ireland really offers up one beer to the world (sorry, Harp), but it is perhaps the greatest masterpiece of liquid euphoria man has ever devised…Guinness. For those non-believers, that still think Guinness is “heavy” or “filling”, you’re just wrong. I drink Guinness in the summer, when I know I have a long day of drinking ahead of me, with food, on its own, pretty much anytime. In fact, I think that’s one of their beloved slogans, “It’s always a good time for a Guinness”. Guinness also has far less calories than most beer, even light beer, if that matters to you. While the Guinness Nitro Cans do an exceptional job of capturing the authentic magic of Guinness and allowing you to enjoy that rich, creamy smoothness at home, you really need to try it in Ireland, in an authentic Irish pub, to fully understand. Other than our trip to Cork, which does have a few great breweries making other kinds of beer, we drank only Guinness at every stop on our Ireland trip, and it never got old. Again, if you’re looking for variety, Cork is your best bet, but Ireland has traditional, charming, romantic and nostalgic pubs in every city, town and village, and they all come fully stocked with the best beer in the world – Guinness.
I have hundreds of Irish pub photos, for more details on which ones were my favorites, keep an eye out for my travel guides to Ireland.
THIRD PLACE: GERMANY
Germany makes wheat beer better than any country makes anything. If you’re looking for a wheat beer, nowhere in the world even comes in a distant second. If I didn’t factor in variety/selection, or give bonus points for cask beer options, Germany would have easily finished #1 on this list. The best way I’ve ever heard their beer described is this: “It’s like it’s ph balanced for the human body” (credit: John Wise). It’s true, their Hefeweizens, Dunkels and other beer absorb into the body as if it were water after a workout. While German restaurants typically only offer a few beer options, and while they are usually limited to a single brewer, the beers are so delicious and easy to drink it’s as if your body needs it to survive. I’ve seen nuns drinking in the Munich square at 7:30am, and yes, of course I pointed out to Shea that the beer in Germany must truly be heavenly. Germany, especially Munich, also has the best beer gardens in the world. Experiencing a true, authentic German beer garden in Germany should be on every travelers bucket list, but especially any traveler that enjoys a good brew.
SECOND PLACE: BELGIUM
For lovers of variety when it comes to beer, Belgium should be your hands-down favorite beer country. Belgium is full of bars with beer menus that are 2-3 inches thick, and it often took us 15-20 minutes just to look through them and decide what to order. If in Belgium, Brugge is truly a beer-lovers paradise. Despite being such a small city, there are 7 or 8 incredible pubs that simply cannot be missed, some with sensational views, some with a medieval cellar atmosphere, and some with world-class beer gardens. Brugge is also one of the more reliable cities in the world to find Westvleteren, the pilgrimage worthy beer brewed by the infamously stingy Monks. While the other Trappist Breweries all export beer throughout the world, Westvleteren only sells its beer onsite and strictly limits each visitor to no more than 12 bottles. Be sure to keep an eye out for it if in Brugge, and many of the higher quality bottle shops throughout Europe now send people in order to keep a few in stock. To this day, I’ve yet to see it available anywhere in the US, other than on online marketplaces. Finally, Brugge loves beer so much they’re putting a beer pipeline in place so one of their most beloved breweries can pump beer straight from the factory to the taps throughout the city. Pound for pound, Brugge is the best beer town I’ve ever visited, and when you combine it with Brussels, Ghent and the near monopoly on Trappist Monk breweries throughout the country (The Netherlands also has one), you can see why Belgium finished strongly in second place.
FIRST PLACE: THE UNITED KINGDOM
The pubs throughout the UK have both the old-world atmosphere I love, with low, wooden beamed ceilings and charming, crooked floors, and more cask beer options than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Draft beer is great, and craft beer on draft is even better, but a true cask beer is something altogether incredible and is still hard to find in the US. What I typically find in the US sporting the “cask” label is actually a craft beer put in a cask with some other flavoring component added, and not a true ale with all the chewy, low-carbonated goodness only found by way of a proper cask. While we found wonderful beer throughout the Cotswolds and in Scotland as well, London had, by far, the largest selection, variety and availability of cask options. London also has an abundance of both Renaissance era pubs, pubs with Victorian elegance, modern pubs, and everything in between. London is my definitive favorite beer city in the world, and when you add in Edinburgh, with its Harry Potter atmosphere and hard to find, properly crafted Scottish Ales, as well as the Cotswolds, and the overwhelming number of (my) precious pubs straight out of The Lord of the Rings, and it’s easy to see why the UK is my gold medal winner.
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