Culinary Journeys

The world's best beer-brewing countries

Maureen O'Hare, CNNUpdated 6th December 2016
(CNN) — You can drink in the amber glow of the pyramids, admire the cool, refreshing Iguazu Falls or climb the foamy white tops of the Canadian Rockies.
But there's no cultural experience quite as invigorating as a chilled glass of beer, if last's week addition of Belgian beer culture to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list is anything to go by.
CNN's Erin McLaughlin visits a brewery that's building a $4.5 million beer pipeline under the Belgian city of Bruges.
"Making and appreciating beer is part of the living heritage of a range of communities throughout Belgium," says UNESCO.
In a nation of just 11 million people, almost 1,500 beers are produced there using different fermentation methods, from sour lambics to malty dubbels.
2016's been a landmark year for Belgian brews.
In September the world's first beer pipeline opened in Bruges, itself a UNESCO World Heritage site, connecting the Halve Maan brewery in the city's historic center with a suburban bottling plant.
But how do the world's other great beer nations stack up? We asked the experts about what's brewing worldwide.

The UNESCO favorite: Belgium

"There is absolutely no doubt that Belgian beer has had a huge influence on the rest of the world's brewing scene," says British award-winning beer and food writer Melissa Cole.
"Everything from the matching glasses to the care and reverence with which it's poured, to the fact that they have extremely unique styles which can only be brewed in those areas."
The Belgians closely protect their industry and treat their produce with respect; beer-makers around the world have clearly taken note.
Roger Protz, British beer writer and editor of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide, puts the unique character and rich diversity of Belgium's beer culture down to the country's position at the heart of western Europe.
"What we used to call the Low Countries, which are now Belgium and the Netherlands, have been invaded over the centuries by so many people," he says.
"It was part of the Spanish Empire at one time, the Germans have invaded, the French have invaded. They've all brought with them their distinctive beer cultures."
Five to try: De Koninck, Palm, Brussels Beer Project, Chimay, Leffe

The elder statesman: UK

The Prospect of Whitby, London
Centuries of tradition: The Prospect of Whitby is one of London's oldest pubs.
Maureen O'Hare/CNN
"The UK has contributed more to the world brewing scene really than any other country," says Cole, with many of its classic methods being picked up and adapted elsewhere.
Much of that has to do with Britain's colonial legacy.
Today's fashionable IPAs -- India Pale Ales -- originated in the UK in the 19th century. The beer's high hop content was intended to preserve the beer for the long sea journey from Britain to India.
"The Americans have picked up on IPA and they're producing some fantastic examples of it," says Protz.
So much so that many UK brewers are now producing American-style IPAs.
"The Belgians are brewing IPA, the French are brewing IPA, the Dutch are brewing IPA, just about every place in the world is now brewing IPA."
And while Guinness will forever be associated with Ireland, Protz points out "stout originated in London. We exported stout to Ireland -- they picked up from that in the 18th century."
Five to try: Kernel, Wild Card, Five Points, Fuller's, Shepherd Neame

The climate king: The US

"You have to take your hat off to the Americans for reinvigorating the world's love for artisan beer," says Cole. "Americans are really carving the path."
She cites pioneers such as Ken Grossman who, motivated by his love of English and German-style beers, founded Sierra Nevada Brewing Company back in 1980.
But the hot, sunny US climate gives American-style IPAs a fruity punch that's lacking in the UK.
"In the Pacific northwest, in Washington state and Oregon, which is where most American hops are grown, you get big, fat, green hops full of wonderful citrusy character," explains Protz.
In the colder, wetter UK, the flavor is "spicy and peppery" and "rather more restrained," although, Protz adds, it's "nevertheless delicious."
The Belgian influence is also apparent in the US.
"There's a big craze in America for what they call sour beers," adds Protz, "which is based upon one of the many, many Belgian styles. Properly called lambic beer in Belgium, [it's] made by wild fermentation, using yeast in the atmosphere rather than brewers' yeast."
Five to try: Sierra Nevada, Anchor, Lagunitas, Sam Adams, Goose Island

The monolith: Germany

Reinheitsgebot, Germany's beer purity law, celebrated its 500th anniversary this year. It still governs what can go into the nation's brews.
From yoga to wrestling, these practices are now recognized for enriching cultural diversity and creativity.
While it ensures the drink's high quality and stops the addition of chemical nasties, it means that fashionable flavorings such as rye, herbs, spices, coffee or fruit are verboten.
"Germany is really the one big immovable obstacle!" laughs Protz.
"I think Germany is changing, certainly in Berlin. Younger brewers are saying, 'we're not putting up with this,' and are openly challenging the government."
In terms of experimentation in artisan beer, says Protz, "I think Germany will be the last bastion to fall!"
Five to try: Schneider Weisse, Früh, Weihenstephan, Ayinger, Augustiner-Bräu

The New World upstarts: Australia and New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand are shaking off their reputation for bland, fizzy lagers and, just as they did with the coffee boom, are now showing the Europeans how it's done.
"New Zealand's craft beer scene is really taking off down there," says Cole. "There's some truly astonishing beers being produced, Australia the same."
Five to try: Malt Shovel, Feral, Bootleg (Australia), Epic, Tuatara

The one to watch: China

China may be the world's biggest beer market but, up to now, their homegrown efforts haven't been making an impact on the global stage.
But, with the nation now growing its own hops, Protz predicts that "they're going to move away from the rather bland lagers that they have been brewing for a long time.
"I know there are a couple of IPAs being brewed in Hong Kong, for example, which probably relates to the old British connection. I think Asia is going to change a lot in the next few years."
Five to try: Great Leap, Jing-A, Boxing Cat, Bad Monkey, Hong Kong Beer Co.