If you want to know something about the countries playing in FIFA’s soccer World Cup, consider the beers they export to the United States.
We asked Jason Hunt, a cicerone who manages The Blind Monk in West Palm Beach, and Adam Fine, general manager of the specialty division at Brown Distributing, also in West Palm Beach, to tell us about beers from around the world.
They say many — like Brazil’s Brahma, Argentina’s Quilmes — are similar to the light lagers Americans favor. Think Budweiser and Coors.
“Pretty much all countries produce a light lager that’s not necessarily the most interesting thing that’s made in those countries,” says Hunt, who explains that a cicerone is the beer equivalent of a wine sommelier. “They’re pretty stylistically homogeneous.”
Not every country has a beer story. Iran doesn’t allow alcohol to be produced in the country. Chile has its Cristal and a few small microbreweries but is better known for its wine.
Other World Cup countries have bigger beer stories to tell. “You’ve got Germany, England and Belgium,” says Hunt, “which are the three critical Old World brewing countries.”
With Hunt and Fine as our guides, here’s a look at beers from some participating World Cup countries.
Australia: “What we see in America is Foster’s, but no one in Australia drinks it,” says Hunt. Tooheys is much more popular but hasn’t been widely available in the United States for years. At one point, Outback Steakhouse served it.
Belgium: Much of the country’s beer-making has been done inside Trappist monasteries, and monastic traditions continue today. Lambic can take years to produce and is often mixed with fruit before bottling. Lindemans makes incredible fruit lambics, including raspberry and apple.
Brazil: The host country is also home to the world’s largest beer maker, the Belgian-Brazilian mega-brewer AB InBev. It owns Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois and, of course, Brahma, Brazil’s most popular beer.
Cameroon: Hunt says the west African country has brewed since refrigeration became available with light lagers such as 33 (trois-trois) and Castel the most popular brews.
England: “England is responsible for ale brewing,” says Fine. “Sam Smith is the English brewery. If you want to look at English beer as a whole, Sam Smith has oatmeal stout, Taddy porter, brown ale, pale ale, English style IPA. These are the benchmarks of those styles.”
France: Mostly known for fine wine, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region also9 makes the strong pale ale known as bière de garde. Hunt points to Castelain as a good example of the style.
Germany: Hunt considers Germany to be “basically the inventor of lager beer,” pointing to Bitburger brewery, which has been making beer since 1817. “A lot of Latin American countries and the United States became home to German immigrant brewers who brought their technology and style to those countries, particularly during World Wars when they were fleeing their countries.” Germany also is home to the oldest brewery in the world, Weihenstephan.
Greece: Mythos, another pale lager, is one of the few Greek beers available in the United States. The wine of Greece is much more interesting.
Italy: While we’re seeing more craft beer from a brewery called Birra del Borgo, the most widely available Italian beers are Moretti and Peroni.
Japan: The country’s dry rice lagers pair perfectly with its light food styles. Sapporo Extra Dry is a good and widely available example.
Mexico: Corona is the biggest name in Mexican beer, but Fine says Modelo Especial and Negra Modelo are much more flavorful alternatives.
The Netherlands: The country’s most famous export is Heineken, which Fine says gets its distinctive skunky flavor from its green bottle. It’s caused by exposure to light. Fine says he drank it at the brewery in Amsterdam and it tasted nothing like what we know from the green bottle.
Russia: Baltika is the country’s standard export, but Hunt says the best beer with “Russia” in its name is Russian Imperial Stout, which was first brewed in England for shipping to Russia. It’s a style of beer now made around the world, including Stone Brewing Co. in California.
Spain: Estrella Damm has been making beer in Spain since 1876 and produces what many consider the best gluten-free beer called Daura.