IF beer is proof that God loves us, as the saying goes, then He must love us very much indeed. These are boom times for brewers, meaning ever-eager punters have a bewildering choice at the bar. There are more breweries in Britain today than at any time since the 1930s — and it is proving the same around the world. Wherever you go, there is likely to be a local alternative to the same old brands you see in the supermarket.
And with the German beer celebration that is Oktoberfest just around the corner, there’s no better time to celebrate the brewer’s craft. Britain and the US are producing ever more styles of beer, Belgium and Germany have an astonishing variety — and don’t think Australia is missing out.
To guide you through the hoppy maze, here are 10 of the best beers from around the world and where to drink them. Cheers!
Meantime India Pale Ale (7.4 per cent), London
The Meantime Brewery in Greenwich started with the simple belief that bottled beers could equal or even surpass cask, or “real” ale. Sixteen years on it has proved its point.
India Pale Ale was Britain’s gift to the world and has seen many variations over the years. Meantime’s IPA is a slice of history, heavily hopped to mimic the real deal.
The result is a strong brew, ideal for drinking with curry. Try it at Meantime’s own pub, the Greenwich Union on Royal Hill. Or take a tour of the brewery itself on Blackwall Lane. See meantimebrewing.com.
Dark Star Espresso (4.2 per cent), West Sussex
The Dark Star brewery is in the middle of nowhere — or, as the firm puts it on its website, “the middle of somewhere”.
Like a rural cousin of Meantime, the brewery in Horsham features a core range of bottled and draught beers, from its traditional bitter (5%) to hoppy pale ales and blondes.
There is a shop on site and you can take a brewery tour. But as Dark Star admits its HQ is quite hard to get to, you may prefer to visit the brewery’s original home at the Evening Star pub in Brighton. Try the Espresso Ale — rest assured you won’t have had anything like it before. See darkstarbrewing.co.uk.
Crew Republic Session IPA (3.2 per cent), Germany
Munich’s Oktoberfest is like Glastonbury for beer. It’s massive and there is a warm and very fuzzy group-hug atmosphere, all for the love of ale.
But it is also crowded and full of drunken tourists, so choose your brews carefully and soak up the atmosphere with a relatively clear head.
Crew Republic’s Session IPA will help you do that. It is a festival-style beer, lower in alcohol content — so yes you can drink more.
Crew sticks strictly to Bavaria’s beer purity law: the only ingredients allowed are water, hops, malt and yeast. See crewrepublic.de.
Galibier L’Alpine Blonde (4.8 per cent), France
A beer that is also a pun? We’ll drink to that. Galibier was born at 1450m in the Alps, nominally in the Valloire region but more specifically on the route of the Col du Galibier, one of the most fearsome climbs of the Tour de France.
The region is heaven for cyclists (and skiers) and now beer drinkers.
Brasserie Galibier has been brewing three core beers for the past few years: Alpine Blonde an amber IPA (6%) and a Belgian-style wheat beer (5%). Hold out, though, for its new winter lager, a much stronger, fuller flavoured brew than your typical French blonde.
For more details, see biere-galibier.com.
Chimay Red (7 per cent), Belgium
Those monks know what they’re doing. Not only do we have to thank them for champagne (only they had the patience for double fermentation) but they know their beer too.
And in tiny Belgium, which probably has more varieties per capita than anywhere on Earth, Chimay is a legend. Scourmont Abbey was established in 1850 and while the actual brewery is off-limits to the public, there is a pub/restaurant/hotel on site, The Poteaupré Inn, where you can taste all their produce.
The Chimay Red is a delight — although rather a strong one. The best news? They make cheese too! Better make a day of it.
Head to chimay.com.
Matuska Specialni Svetle (5.5 per cent), Czech Republic
Did the Czechs invent lager? The first ever Pilsner blond was brewed in the Czech Republic city of Plzen more than 800 years ago, so they have a fair claim.
They are a little short on craft breweries — the local lagers are so good perhaps they don’t need them. But Matuska, halfway between Prague and Plzen, is a small producer of IPAs, weissbeers, American-style ales and more.
Specialni Svetle is their take on the classic Czech pilsner — a mild, malty lager best served cold. Try it in Matuska’s home town of Broumy.
New Belgium Fat Tire Ale (5.2 per cent), Colorado
Europe may have given beer to the world but the US is decades ahead when it comes to microbreweries. The choice is simply astounding, state by state.
The New Belgium brewery in Colorado has something for everyone. The delightful Fat Tire is an amber ale that fuses fruity hops with a biscuity, malty taste.
The Wynkoop brewpub in Denver is a good place to try any number of beers (wynkoop.com) — or head north to New Belgium’s home at Fort Collins. They run brewery tours daily. See newbelgium.com.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6 per cent), California
A way off California’s tourist trail, far from the beaches of LA or the splendour of Highway 1, is one of the original American craft brewers.
The Sierra Nevada brewery in Chico was started by beer-loving students from the nearby California State University. They’ve been in business since the early 80s and their pale ale has been a mainstay since.
It revolutionised American brewing — a strong, hoppy ale that flew in the face of the mainstream. For that, we should be thankful.
Learn the story and taste the good stuff on their brewery tour. Head to sierranevada.com.
Hitachino Nest Classic Ale (7.5 per cent), Japan
Our knowledge of Japanese beer stops at Asahi, so we called in the experts for a take on some truly exotic ales.
Meantime Brewery’s Jethro Holman is the youngest beer sommelier in the UK — yes, that is his actual job — and for a far eastern take on an IPA, he recommended Hitachino Nest’s Japanese Classic Ale.
He said: “This is probably the best known Japanese craft beer. They are normally known for their amber ale but this the closer to an IPA so it’s good for spicy food.”
You can buy it online or if you are in the Ibaraki region, northeast of Tokyo, visit the Kiuchi Brewery. See hitachino.cc/en/brewery.
Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale (4.7 per cent), Australia
An Aussie take on an American classic, Alpha Pale Ale is like AC/DC in beer form or Elle Macpherson in a bottle.
The Western Australian hops give it a slightly different attitude to its American cousins — a more bitter taste in combination with the zesty, citrus style.
Of course, if you are going all the way to Australia, you will want to try the full Matilda Bay range.
There are 10 to collect and all of them knock Foster’s into a cocked hat. Try them at the brewery’s own pub at the Sail and Anchor in Fremantle. See matildabay.com.au.