If "beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder," (thanks Kinky Friedman) then these suds are a shortcut to falling even more in love with the world.
The beer that for the Lao people, is more than just a drink.1. Laos, Beerlao
The acclaim afforded Beerlao can seem overplayed if you’ve never been to Laos. Certainly it is a refreshing, palatable (and cheap) brew and it is often considered better than other southeast Asian lagers such as Chang, Angkor and Bintang.
What makes it special, however, is its cultural significance.
Landlocked Laos hasn’t had a lot to crow about having been bombed mercilessly during the Vietnam War and then being left in the economic doldrums as the rest of the region boomed, but its national beer is a source of great pride as well as vital foreign income through its export.
Goes well with: Spicy Papaya salad (tam mak hung) and a sunset over the Mekong River in Vientiane.
An acquired taste that's hard to shake.
2. Ireland, Guinness
OK, so it’s about as clichéd as wearing a stupid hat and a fake beard on St. Patrick’s Day, but there really is no better place to get acquainted with the dark stuff than in the land of its birth.
The widely held view that Guinness doesn’t travel well has been backed up both by scientists -- a recent survey by the Institute of Food Technologists found that the majority of their testers preferred the home-grown version -- and by Barack Obama, who used a recent trip to his ancestral home in Moneygall to bolster his Oirish credentials.
It could be something to do with the water or it could just be the general conviviality of an Irish hostelry, but it would take a brave man to disagree in this case.
Goes well with: A good fiddle band and deadly (great) craic (conversation).
You'll never look at a Bud again.
3. United States (California), 21st Amendment Back in Black IPA
Thanks to its healthy microbrew scene U.S. beers have largely escaped the long but insipid shadow cast by some of the country’s bigger brands. Indeed, this punchy effort by acclaimed San Francisco brewery/restaurant is about as far removed from Coors Light as Justin Bieber is from masculinity.
Billing itself as a "declaration of independence from the tyranny of the expected," it’s a far cry from your traditional IPA. A winning combination of aromatic hops and rich roasted barley, the beer has won a host of awards to justify its hyperbolic slogan.
Goes well with: Peak period AC/DC and entertainingly boisterous Americans.
Scrape, sip, repeat.
4. Belgium, Chimay Red Top
Silence is golden in the case of this, perhaps the finest of Belgium’s many great beers. The tight-lipped Trappist monks of Forges-de-Chimay in the south of the country may not be the guys you want to brighten up a dull party, but talk can be cheap and at least they have ploughed all that pent-up energy into creating something worthwhile.
Fruity and strong and deep in the body, the beer is testament to the care and mental fortitude that has gone into its creation. Other Belgian brews such as Leffe and Hoegaarden may be more famous but this is the one you shouldn’t miss.
Goes well with: Other monastic products such as bread and cheese.
Root cause of the Teutonic bulge.
5. Germany, Aventinus
Germany’s reputation as a heaven for beer-lovers is based on sound evidence. From crisp, clean pilsners to aromatic wheat beers, the Teutonic knack of coming up with the goods has been the root cause of many a lederhosen-clad paunch.
There’s manna to be found all over the country but if anywhere could claim to be the nerve center of this alchemy it would be Bavaria. This strong dark wheat beer is one of the region’s best.
Full-bodied yet smoothly rounded it has been giving drinkers both at home and abroad great pleasure for more than a century.
Goes well with: Sausages, lots of sausages.
Even Japan's beers make you double-take, then come back for more.
6. Japan, Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout
Like many things in Japan there’s a touch of otherness about many of its ales. By fusing traditional European beer-making technology with traditional Japanese brewing techniques, the country’s brewers are coming out with work that is as punchy as the most violent manga comics.
This one, from the Kiuchi Brewery, is a prime example. In theory it is a stout but its creamy, coffee-tinged character is a consequence of some major quirks.
The recipe is apparently based on Russian Imperial Stout while the beer is matured in the casks used to make shochu.
Goes well with: An after-dinner mint.