GULLIVER considers himself something of a connoisseur of beers from around the world. Actually, perhaps the better word is “acquaintance”. Virtually the first thing I like to do, having dumped my suitcase after a long and arduous journey, is relax and acclimatise to my new surroundings with a cold glass of the local amber nectar.
For that reason, I was fascinated by a map produced by Vinepair, showing nations’ favourite beers. Glancing round the countries filled me with nostalgia, as if I were renewing old friendships.
I can still remember the amusement when I discovered that that Skol was still going strong in Brazil, when in Britain it was a long-forgotten lager synonymous with the 1980s. Of course, it tasted somewhat more pleasant at sunset on Ipanema beach than it did in rainy west London. Other old pals included 333 in Vietnam. “Ba ba ba” (“333”) was, I am ashamed to say, about the only phrase I mastered in that country. Seeing Goldstar on the map reminded me of the shock of finding out, as a backpacker, just how expensive spirits were in Israel. After that revelation there really was nothing to drink but lager.
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What is interesting is that, despite the fact that a large chunk of the beers on the map are produced by the same handful of multinational brewers, there is no brand overlap from country to country. Each has its own distinct local brew. Although “distinct” is perhaps not the right word, either. Nearly every beer on the list is of the insipid, samey kind. Hence, they do not tell us an awful lot about the beer culture of the country because each represents the lowest common dominator. It would be a shame if visitors thought that Carling was the defining beer of Britain when it has the best real ales in the world. Likewise, Americans should be thoroughly ashamed that Bud Light is the national tipple, when its reputation for appalling beer is now wholly outdated. And, quite honestly, anyone who arrives in Belgium, probably the finest brewing nation of all, and orders a Jupiler should be deported forthwith.
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This is a less of a problem in tropical climes, where the most important attribute of a beverage is coldness and carbonation. But not always. I recall Kingfisher beer in India being close to undrinkable because it contained so much glycerine. Until, that is, I was shown how to make it palatable. At a local bar, I was taught how to turn the bottle upside down into a half-filled glass of water, and then watch as the beer turned into a lava lamp as the glycerine glooped out of the bottom. Once the bottle was about a third empty the beer became palatable, more or less. I understand that the practice of adding glycerine to beer is much less widespread in India than it once was, which is just as well. But I still can’t look at a bottle of Kingfisher without being transported back to that strange ritual in that wonderful country.