It was not long ago that I didn’t really like beer all that much. To me it just was not something I would seek out; that is, until a few summers ago in Southern Italy. It was a typical summer’s day in that region: hot and humid. We had been out and about and I was really thirsty. I met our friends at a little bar along the beach, and before I could stop him my friend ordered me a birra piccola (tiny beer). What came was a glass of Peroni on tap. It was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted. Since then I have been hooked, but not on just any beer. It has to be a great beer.
When Lifehack asked me to write an article on beers, I jumped at it. I love when I can cross business with beer drinking! Let’s start our little foray into the international beer world by stating that although almost every country has a large selection of local beers, I tried to focus on ones you can get at the local beverage store. After all, what good is knowing how great a beer in Italy is if it never leaves that country and you never go?
Brother Thelonius Belgian Style Abbey Ale
Where do I start? There are so many micro breweries here and so many amazingly delicious beers that US beers are a whole article unto themselves. However, if I were to pick out a great beer from my home country I would have to say that I personally love Brother Thelonious from the North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg, California. Named for jazz musician Thelonius Monk, this beer is a fitting tribute to a master. This is not so much a beer as a soup. And as it trickles over your tongue, it changes and evolves. I find it very compelling.
Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock
I am a bit biased toward Gordon Biersch because my brother went to grade school with Danny Gordon, the man who created this beer-loving empire. Nonetheless, Gordon Biersch has a ton of fabulous beers to choose from. The blonde bock is fabulous because although it is a big and highly alcoholic beer, as bocks generally are, it has a rich and creamy texture. Danny and his partner only use the finest German hops, yeast and barley. They brew in strict accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, which is the German purity law of 1516.
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
Available around the holiday season, which coincides with the first harvest of hops, Celebration Ale is famous for its citrus and pine aromas, making it perfect for holiday entertaining.
Sierra Nevada Stout
Sierra Nevada is a great brewery, cranking out great beer after great beer. Their stout is full bodied, rich and delicious. For those unfamiliar with stout beer, this is a good start.
Fat Tire Amber Ale
This ale is from the New Belgium Brewing Company and scores high in the Beer Advocate Ratings. The name Fat Tire comes from the co-founder’s bicycle trip through Belgium from brewery to brewery. Fat Tire is a great ale and that sounds like one hell of a bicycle trip!
This is just great beer! I have it every time I go to Italy. A Peroni in front of you while you contemplate the deep blue Mediterranean and wait for your homemade pasta dish to arrive at your table is the best experience I can ever imagine.
Another great Italian beer. Like Peroni, it is light, crisp and refreshing, with enough body to make it memorable but not heavy.
I know I will take a total drubbing for this one but I like Corona! OK, if you are a beer snob you can hate me for it. The fact is that I like pretty much most Mexican beers. Mexico is now the leading importer of beer to America. (Thanks, Corona!) It recently beat out Holland and their Heineken.
This is a bit more ‘beery’ than Corona. To me, Corona is more for thirst quenching on the beach. Dos Equis is a great complement to a meal of Pollo Mole.
Another great, refreshingly crisp and yummy beer!
I can’t think of Brussels, where I used to live, without thinking of Stella Artois and I can’t think of Stella Artois without thinking of Marlon Brando in a Streetcar Named Desire. In any case, Stella Artois is a relatively light Pilsner beer (the variety is named after the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic). Stella, like many Pilsners, is crisp and flavorful but not a meal like some beers.
Seef is an interesting beer. Upon first sip, it tastes more like an unsweetened ginger ale with a kick. It took a little getting used to but the aromatic finish grows on you. I ended up really liking it!
It had never occurred to me that Croatia had a beer market and yet while gazing in my fridge to see which beer to write about next, it caught my eye. I tried it. It is OK, very light compared to the more muscled beers I was drinking. All in all, given a choice between this and a beer like Staropramen, I would have to choose the latter. It just has a lot more to it.
Traquair House Ale
This beer finds a delightful middle ground between the heaviness of Guinness and a lighter ale or Pilsner. Traquair is dark, with a creamy foam. On first sip, there is so much going on around the various parts of your tongue that you have to take several sips to figure it all out. When you do, you will love it. It is like espresso, a bit of an acquired taste that doesn’t take long at all to acquire.
I recently visited Prague and Urquell is ubiquitious! There is just something about drinking an Urquell in Prague. Sitting in an outdoor restaurant, the roasted meats and potatoes, the people walking by, the historical center with its art and architecture, and the crisp, delicious taste of Urquell working its magic makes you feel like all is right in this best of all possible worlds.
For someone used to lighter beers, this one was a delightful change. It is a bit heavier and more alcoholic than I am used to. Staropramen means “old spring” in Czech. This beer paired great with my brats and roasted potatoes and yams! Of all the beers I tasted (research is thirsty work) this was one of my all-time favorites.
OK, I have to admit that Guinness is not my favorite beer. But my husband loves it and so do many of my friends, so I attribute my lack of desire for Guinness to a beer palate that has not yet fully developed. I included it here for them.
Guinness is a big bottomed beer! If you like strong beers, you will love Guinness. It does have a smooth and velvety texture though, which is really nice. Guinness is so iconic that they have developed their own “Perfect Pour.” There is a whole technology on how to properly pour one. Study the above video well and you’ll master it.
Murphy’s Irish Stout
In a recent trip to Cork, Ireland, my husband had the opportunity to review Murphy’s side by side with Guinness. Murphy’s is designed to be less heavy than Guinness with distinct flavors of chocolate, carmel and malt. He prefers this one because he’s a chocoholic from way back. Murphy’s also edges out Guinness in the Beer Advocate ratings with 85 points to Guinness’s 80.
According to my friend Iain, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, and a devout Guinness follower, Eikhoff Braugold (which translates as “golden beer”) is heaven on earth when imbibed in the right conditions. Being a Guinness fan, Iain normally goes for the dark and heavy beers, but when he first tried this one midsummer in Lucerne, while stopping his hike next to a stream fed by crystal water from the Alps and waiting for his home-crafted sausages to finish cooking over an open fire made with sticks collected on his walk, he decided that Eikhoff Braugold chilled in the Alpine river next to him, was the best thing on Earth.
The Tsing Tao Brewery was founded in the early 1900s in China by German settlers, as were many other breweries in China at that time. Tsing Tao is a standard pilsner with an alcohol content of 4.7%.
Tsing Tao Green
For the more health conscious beer lover, you can now get your veges in your beer! Tsing Tao Green, or sometimes called Tsing Tao Spirulina Green Beer, is also now available. Now you can get tanked and healthy all at the same time!
Tiger Beer was first introduced back in 1932 and since has found a home with parent company Heineken International. According to a buddy who travels, Tiger is a pale lager with a taste that is somewhat sweet and it goes great with chili crab, a local delicacy.
Molson Premium Lager
Introduced in 1959, Molson is the signature beer of Canada. It is an easy drinking premium lager made without preservatives. This beer scored rather poorly on the Beer Advocate ratings. That said, millions of Canadians enjoy it, so there you are.
Tusker is a beer from Nairobi, Kenya, and has a colorful past. Tusker was first brewed up and served in the early 1900s. According to Wikipedia, the first batch was met with mixed reactions. Later the malt extracts that had been used were phased out and malted barley was used for brewing, which improved the taste.
The Tusker label features a happy elephant. When Tusker was in its infancy, its founder, George Hurst, was killed in an elephant hunting accident. His brother Charles then decided to name the first beer after the murderous pachyderm who deprived Mr. Hurst of his beer-sodden future years. The happy elephant on the label reminds us that messing with elephants is a bad plan and they are happiest when another great white elephant hunter bites the dust.
Asahi is the largest producer of beer in Japan, surpassing Kirin by a few percentage points. That’s mostly thanks to Asahi Super Dry, a beer described as a highly attenuated lager (attenuation is a word that describes the completeness with which the sugar has turned into alcohol) and that launched Asahi Brewery ahead in the standings and created a demand for dry beer. Asahi Ichiban is a light, crisp beer. Ichiban means “number one” in Japanese!
Second in the standing, Kirin Beer is another crisp, light Japanese beer.
According to my beer connoisseur husband, Carlsberg is somewhat equivalent to Tiger Beer. However, on further interrogation, he had to admit that there as really nothing distinctive about this beer at all. It was, however, refreshing on a hot day and it did complement the curry laksa. To my mind, if it doesn’t disappear against a strong curry, it has to be pretty OK.
In all fairness, we had this beer next to the Staropramen and it paled a bit in comparison, but that is only because Staropramen was such a stellar beer. I like this beer: it was lighter and had less bite than Staropramen, but it was good and tasty.
This is a wheat beer from Erding, Bavaria. For a surprising treat, go to the Erdinger website. Warning: a very German polka-esque beer jingle plays! It is entertaining but can take you by surprise. The Erdinger Hefe-Weizen is a good beer, but lighter than I prefer.
I have not yet opened the Krysta,l but again, this one scored high on the Beer Advocate Ratings.
OK, quit whining! I know they are not technically beers per se; however, there are times when you want a beery beverage and for whatever reason you should not be drinking alcohol. At times like those, these are the perfect substitute.
I really love O’Douls when I do not want to be impaired in any way. It tastes enough like beer to make me happy but doesn’t put me to sleep.
This is a slightly more full bodied non-alcoholic beer. It has a higher calorie content than regular O’Douls with 90 calories per bottle versus 70.
Saint Pauli Girl N.A.
This is also a nice beery beverage. It has a bit of a sweet, almost citrusy finish. If you are dieting, these non-alcoholic beers are for you. This one weighs in at 90 calories per bottle.
Sharps is another super light non-alcoholic beer. It will do in a pinch.
Of all the non-alcoholic beers, I have to say that this one is the best. Although in fairness, I normally get it served in my favorite restaurant in an iced mug, so it has an unfair advantage.
After a glorious week of beer research, I have to say that it is really tough to choose which one is my favorite. They are all so different and varied. My best recommendation to you is to go to your local beverage outlet and load up on beers from all over. The taste testing part is really fun and opening your fridge to an array of wonderful new taste opportunities is delightful!