Lots of countries like to brag about having the best beer. But seriously, who has the worst? I don’t mean overall because, well, the Arab countries would win that by default. But of all the nations in the world, who has the worst swill? It’s not as easy an answer as you might think. Indeed, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the subsequent decline in Zhigulyovskoe has left the field wide open.
But we can start with the philosophical heirs to the USSR, their comrades in the Caribbean, Castro’s Cuba. Tourists at the resorts are sucking back Bucanero Fuerte. Now, as one of the world’s foremost connoisseurs of international swill I can tell you that’s not really a bad beer at all. But you see, that beer’s for the tourists. It costs $ a can, and most Cubans make $ a month. The math speaks for itself. Of course, they drink a rather unhealthy amount of moonshine aguardiente to stretch their booze pesos a little further, but such budgetary constraints are also made up with “people’s beer”. There are two tiers to this. The first tier includes decaying regional brands like Hatuey and Tinima, flat lagers full of diacetyl. But it gets worse. For about six cents a pour you get something that they call cerveza, and it’s a good thing they do because otherwise that swampy gruel would never be recognized as such. It comes in whatever container you provide, as an additional cost-cutting measure. There’s nothing quite like the taste of true Communism.
The second-cheapest beer on the planet goes for about fifteen cents a pour, and that’s bia hoi. Vietnam actually has a good beer culture, and bia hoi plays a big part in that. It’s fun, communal and convivial stuff. But let’s face it. Bia hoi is terrible beer. It’s watery and rancid, not worth a dong more than the they charge. And don’t even get me started on the tradition of pouring beer over ice. Yikes.
While we’re picking on overpopulated Asian countries, let’s send a shout out to India. Now, I hate Kingfisher as much as the next guy, but the real issue here is that half of this country’s swills are in fact malt liquors. Making crap is one thing, but making crap only to get people drunk and not even offering the pretension of quality is another. FFS, just stick to the imitation scotch already.
Staying in Asia, I have a special bonus prize for the most technologically advanced swill – Japan. Beer in Japan is taxed based on malt content, so the brewers there keep lowering the malt content in their beer in an effort to outswill each other. The latest – beer with maybe 50% malt and the rest made from highly treated pea proteins. It may or may not be the worst swill in the world – saving face is too important to risk exporting that stuff so I haven’t had any yet. But damned if they’re not trying to outsuck the rest of the world.
The USA gets in here for the sheer variety of swill. From “light” beer so light it makes bia hoi look like Saison Dupont to the invention of malt liquor to advertising that ties masculinity to drinking 4% abv yellow hopless seltzer water, the USA delivers all your swill needs.
Their neighbours to the north, however, do not. Canadian swill might be the most boring in the world, with uniform beers, boring labels and lame advertisements. But one area where Canadian swill is not boring is in the fantastic array of brewing flaws on display. Acetaldehyde, sulphur, higher alcohols…what a catastrophic waste of millions of dollars of high-end brewing equipment. But the biggest offense isn’t the quality, it’s the price. The major brands – some of the nastiest bile I’ve ever consumed – are priced at a premium. So total swill is literally $10-12 more per case than the nanny-state required minimum. Not $10-12 per case; $10-12 more per case. At least American crap is cheap; Canada’s swill prices are borderline criminal.
I think Harboe deserves a special mention in this column, regardless of whatever else the Danes might be doing these days.
And lastly, we have good old Deutschland. German beer is the best in the world…blah blah blah. Look, there’s a killer brewery in every dorf in Oberfranken. I understand that. But let me submit the following: Hefeweizen with orange juice added; pilsner with cola added; pilsner with cola and lemon added; weizen with cola added. This isn’t whacky stuff – the Germans drink millions of barrels of this garbage every year. It’s HUGE. These guys get their lederhosen in a knot because some guy wants to brew a witbier, but then they turn around and sell a hefeweizen mixed with Pepsi? I only wish I was joking.
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