It hurts, obviously, to say we’re not the best. It’s hard to acknowledge that there are other countries that do things better than Australia. It’s difficult to admit we need to improve (just ask our cricket team).
But sometimes you have to put your hand up and admit it. So here goes: Australia does not have the best beer culture in the world. In fact, far from it. For a nation that’s so passionate about the consumption of a cleansing ale, our beer culture is sadly lacking.
I mean, it’s getting there. Gone are the days of inner-city pubs that offer discerning drinkers the choice between VB or Carlton Draught. Craft beer is big now. The suburb I live in has six micro-breweries. Six. One of them makes beer using wild yeasts harvested from native flowers and tree bark. It couldn’t be more hipster if it was wearing a felt hat.
If you only stayed in Australia you’d have reason to be feeling pretty good about the direction our beer culture is going. There are all sorts of interesting things out there to try (Northern Beaches brewery Nomad, for example, is doing a German-style gose made with seawater and Tasmanian pepper berry), and all sorts of interesting places in which to try them.
But still, we’re not the best. We’re playing catch-up. We’re taking cues from the wider beer-drinking world.
And at the head of the pack? The US. The home of, without doubt, some of the worst beer in the world – Michelob Ultra, Bud Light “Chelada”, and the so-called “lightest beer in the world”, Budweiser Select 55 – is also home to one of the best beer cultures in the world, and definitely the best craft beer. Weird, huh?
That’s probably hard to believe, until you get to the US and see what everyone is drinking. Craft beer. Artisanal brews such as IPAs, pale ales, stouts and more. There are 4750 craft breweries in the US, according to The Brewers Journal. That’s phenomenal. Australia has about 400.
The Pacific-Northwest has long been the epicentre of the US craft beer boom, with cities such as Portland and Seattle boasting micro-brewery after micro-brewery, tasty drink after tasty drink. The bars in these cities are filled with forests of tap handles, a sign that they take their beer seriously, that the stuff you drink at this one particular place may not be available anywhere else in the world.
Other cities across the US are getting involved, too. If you visit Denver, Colorado, or Raleigh, South Carolina, Grand Rapids, Michigan, or San Diego, California, you’ll find seriously good, unique beer, and plenty of enthusiast drinkers packing into the bars to enjoy it. Australia has a long way to go if we hope to match a culture like that.
And there are other countries doing great things with the humble brew – some traditional, some modern. You can’t mention beer without talking about Belgium, perhaps the most passionate beer-drinking nation on earth, where everyone from monks to back-garden brewers are experimenting with ales. Pubs and bars in Belgium are warm and friendly. Drinks are relatively cheap.
Germany, too, puts Australia to shame with its beer gardens and beer festivals, and the convivial atmosphere in which it is all consumed. Spend a day visiting Kloster Andechs, a monastery and brewery in the hills above Munich, drinking huge glasses of hefeweisen and taking in the scenery and the atmosphere of this 500-year-old establishment, and try telling me that Europeans don’t have things sorted out.
Switzerland also has a surprisingly great craft beer scene, with more micro-breweries than Australia. Italy, France and Spain all now boast a huge range of small-batch establishments to match their far better-known wine producers. Canada, too, has a scene that has been heavily influenced by its neighbour to the south. The focus in many of these places is the antithesis of traditional Anglo boozing culture: drink a small amount of really good stuff, rather than a huge amount of really bad stuff.
Even the UK is leaving us behind. The country has the highest number of craft breweries per capita in the world, according to The Brewers Journal (25 breweries per million people), as well as a millennia-old culture that manifests itself in warm, friendly pubs that feel more like lounge rooms that drinking dens, the sort of places where dogs curl up in front of fires and patrons eat hearty dinners and drink a few pints of ale and then wander off into the night.
There’s nothing wrong with Australia’s beer culture. In fact, it’s probably the best it’s ever been. But there are still other countries that do it better.
Which country do you think has the best beer culture? What could Australia do better?
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