As the world’s oldest alcohol, and third most popular drink after water and tea, beer has had many incarnations, lots of interpretations and today, is one of the largest grossing industries in the world.
The first recipes and references to beer have been found as far back as ancient Iran and early ancient Egypt, and it is widely believed that beer has been produced in some way of another, ever since humankind worked out how to domesticate the cereal crop.
Simply put, as soon as there was bread, wheat and barley, there was beer. Used as foodstuff as well as a means to decontaminate our drinking water, medieval Europe was the first period where mead (which was more a muggy, meaty beer) was frequently drunk by both adults and children.
Partly due to the contamination of a town’s standard water supply, mead remained popular until breweries decided to focus on the quality and distribution of beer on a larger scale, as this would be profitable.
Creating Modern Beer
Much like wine, and most other foodstuffs, each brewery’s aim was to modify the taste and quality of what each company was producing as well as attempting to offer something to the consumer which was better than its competitors.
Different methods and production techniques are always being played around with, and even today there is something wholly exciting in trying a brew made with something new or unusual.
For anyone that has attempted to try and brew beer at home, there is a lot more to it than hops, wheat, barley and yeast.
What the beer is brewed with, its containment and other infused flavours can end up creating hugely diverse finished products, but are all classified under the umbrella name we know and love so well.
Central Europe and Bavarian Beer
Starting with the main players in beer production, Central and Eastern Europe are widely known as having the best traditional beers in the world.
German beer is one of the oldest incarnations of beer, which we still drink today. Germany and the Czech Republic both brew and produce using the Reinheitsgebot, or Bavarian Purity Law, which outlines that only hops, water and barley are to be used to brew certain barley-malt beer, and that top-fermentation is used to create their famous wheat beer.
Germany and the Czech Republic produce and export the second highest amount of beer in the world, and with Austria coming in third, the Bavarian Purity Law looks to be a proven sign of high quality in beer and larger sold all over the world.
German beers are generally categorised into three main types: Weizenbier, Roggenbier and Berliner Weisse, which are standard wheat beer, dark rye beer and pale, sour beer which is mainly produced in Berlin.
The first two are very much standard Bavarian session beers, especially as most people’s experience with both Weizenbier and Roggenbier is when they’re served two pint steins at their local Christmas market.
Berliner Weisse is slightly different, as it is very sour and dry, tasting closer to a higher proof IPA rather than a beer. It is usually served with a fruit syrup top making it a favourite of those who prefer to drink something light, refreshing and with a fruit twist if you are not in favour of very dry beer.
Berliner Weisse closely resembles most Czech beer, although the latter is generally milder and far less sour. Famous for Pilsner Urquell and Budweiser Budvar, Czech beer is in my opinion, some the best beer in the world. Czech beer is generally very light and with a lower alcohol percentage and almost always brewed as a Pilsner larger.
Categories of beer are divided and sold in four groups: Lehke, Vycepni, Lezak and Special, translating to light, tap or draft, lager beer and special high percentage beer.
The split almost solely refers to each beer’s alcohol percentage, however, as standard, Czech beers are light, pale in colour, and have lots of very small bubbles which gives the added creamy texture synonymous with all good Bavarian Weisse Biers.
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Jumping east, Asian beers are seen as tighter, raucously effervescent and exotically infused with adventurous flavours.
Left over from their colonial ties, British and Dutch Indian beer built their reputation on using mostly European production techniques, however, areas like China have steadily grown since then, and now China has become the world’s number one producer and exporter of beer in the world.
With its world famous brewery, gorgeous bottles and distinctive labelling, Tsingtao beer is a perfect example of what makes Chinese beer popular.
Light, but amber in colour, Tsingtao is very bubbly, has a lower APV than its European equivalents and is expertly filtered giving it an extremely silky and pure flavour.
As with many of their exported goods, China capitalised early on glamourizing its beer. Using brightly coloured labels and comically fun bottle shapes, it has become something of a novelty, which, along with the fact that they make hugely drinkable beer, has helped China remain the highest exporters of beers and larger since 2001.
Mass Marketed American Beers
On the other side of the world, American beer has built a solid reputation for widely marketable beer, lager and IPA which, when compared with its European counterparts, looks and tastes like a completely different animal.
Whereas Europe concentrated on creating unusual and unique flavours, Americas exports in majority, consist of slick and highly-filtered beer and lager.
Made for export and with their widely accessible and marketable taste and branding, companies like Bud, Lone Star, Coors and Miller are bought and enjoyed in the furthest corners of the world.
The Rise of Craft Beer and Independent Breweries
In contrast to these international breweries, over the last three decades America has also created and helped popularise the craft beer industry.
Made by smaller companies with locally sourced ingredients, craft beer companies like the Boston Beer company, D.G Yuengling and Son and Sierra Nevada became successful at the turn of the 21st Century by focusing on both quality, and the uniquely different flavours and tastes which larger companies are simply unable to mass produce.
All the rest of the world had to do was follow in suit and the craft beer industry became a worldwide billion-dollar industry.
Flavoured with fruits, herb and spices, made with organic ingredients and created to help support local economies and wholesalers, craft beer has become more than just a fad and is enjoyed by all connoisseurs and beer novices alike.
The increased popularity of locally sustained and produced craft beer has also become popular across Europe, Scandinavia and Australia.
Appearing to come full circle, independent breweries are also being given more chance to distribute to a wider range of audiences, which in turn helps to support the craft beer industry.
Notable regions with phenomenal craft beer include, Southern Italy, London, Boston, Chicago, Scotland, Brisbane, Melbourne, and smaller cities like Berlin and Köln.
Depending on whether you want to drink something solid and safe or try something unique and unusual these are the areas where you have a huge choice in traditional and craft beer.
I have been online since it all began, with blogging and creating websites. Drinking wine, and writing about them, are one of my passions. Remember to drink responsibly 🙂