You don’t have to travel far to realise that pale lagers are the beer of choice for the majority of the world. In fact, beers like Foster’s, Carling, Coors and Budweiser account for over 90% of all beer consumed worldwide, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives out there.
The UK and Belgium have long been known for shunning lager in favour of ale and the USA’s craft beer culture is well-documented, with more than 2000 small breweries churning out original ales across the country. Happily, craft beer is refusing to stay niche and this gastronomic trend is gradually making its way across the globe.
Although two mega-breweries rule in Australia, the micro guys are hitting back. Their 2% market share might sound minute, but it’s gradually growing despite a decrease in overall beer consumption. Small breweries and brewpubs abound in major centres like Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney, but perhaps the best regions for ale-loving gastronomes are the country’s wine regions, most notably Margaret River and the Yarra Valley. Expect to find hoppy American-style beers, delicate Belgian witbiers perfect for dousing the scorching summer heat, and plenty of experimentation, with speciality brews featuring everything from juniper berries or coffee to piping hot rocks.
Margaret River: Cheeky Monkey Brewery (www.cheekymonkeybrewery.com.au) – range includes Travelling Monk Red Ale, Hatseller Kiwi Pilsner, Old Reliable Pale Ale, Hagenbeck Belgian IPA. Also available: apple cider and pear cider; food served.
Yarra Valley: Coldstream Brewery (www.coldstream-brewery.com) – range includes Coldstream Czech Pilsner. Coldstream Original Ale, Coldstream Grand Porter, Coldstream Crisp Pale Ale. Also available: apple cider; food served.
Like Australians, Kiwis are drinking less beer than they used to, but they’re also being pickier about what they drink. Craft beer sales are up and the number of breweries has more than doubled since 2007. Both hops and barley – two of the main ingredients in beer – are grown locally and brewers worldwide are scrambling to get their hands on New Zealand’s home-grown hops. Perhaps the top place to taste local beers is in the Nelson Tasman region on the northern tip of South Island – this is the country’s hop-farming area and home to a growing brew route. Beer can be found around New Zealand, of course, with a decent dose of breweries in Christchurch and some excellent bars and pubs serving a range of local brews in Wellington.
Nelson: Sprig and Fern (www.sprigandfern.co.nz) – vast range includes Ginger Lager, Kiwi Pale Ale, IPA, Scotch Ale and Doppelbock. Also available: apple cider, berry cider, alcoholic lemonade and non-alcoholic ginger beer, limited edition beers.
Christchurch: The Twisted Hop (www.thetwistedhop.co.nz) – range includes Golding Bitter, Challenger Bitter, Twisted Ankle Dark Ale, Hopback IPA. Also available: limited edition brews.
Wellington: The Tap Haus (www.thetaphaus.co.nz) – bar with over 45 local and international draft beers; food served.
In 1994 there was a sole microbrewery in Japan. Today, thanks to legislation changes and a new-found thirst for beer, there are well over 200 scattered around the country. There’s a definite preference towards brewpubs – bars where the beer is brewed on site – many of which are clustered in the prefectures of central Honshū, particularly in and around Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. The beers are largely subtle affairs, designed to match Japan’s delicate cuisine, but some brewers are experimenting with singularly Japanese ingredients. Look out for ales featuring sweet potatoes, yuzu (an Asian citrus plant) or red rice, and beers matured in shōchū casks.
Ibaraki (near Tokyo): Kiuchi Brewery (www.kodawari.cc) – range includes Hitachino White Ale, Hitachino Pale Ale, Hitachino Weizen, Hitachino Stout, Hitachino Red Rice Ale, Hitachino Extra High Belgian Brown Ale. Also available: sake, shōchū.
Tokyo (various locations): Baird Brewing Company (www.bairdbeer.com) – range includes Wheat King Ale, Numazu Lager, Rising Sun Pale Ale and Suruga Bay Imperial IPA. Seasonal beers include the lauded Dark Sky Imperial Stout.
Osaka: Minoh Beer (www.minoh-beer.jp – Japanese only) – range includes Pilsner, Yuzu White Ale, Peach Sour Ale, Imperial Stout.
While Japan’s microbrewing scene is now well established, its neighbour across the sea is just getting started at the brew kettles. A handful of brewpubs have been churning out solid German-style beers in Seoul’s Gangnam district for a decade or so, but the repertoire has been limited to a familiar trio – Pilsner, Weissbier and Dunkel feature on virtually every menu. Things are changing though, thanks to an army of expat homebrewers whose thirst for hops first saw an increase in imports and later some diversity in locally brewed ales. Hoppy pale ales are drawing beer lovers into Itaewon tap houses while German beers continue to dominate the menus of Gangnam’s brewpubs. The odd brewery can be found in other traveller-friendly cities, including Busan, Suwon and Jeju.
Gangnam: Oktoberfest (www.oktoberfest.co.kr – Korean only) – Weissbier, Pilsner, Dunkel, Radler. Also available: German food with a Korean twist.
Seoul (Itaewon): Craftworks Taphouse and Bistro (www.craftworkstaphouse.com) – range includes Baekdusan Hefeweizen, Seorak Oatmeal Stout, Jirisan 'Moon Bear' IPA. Also available: Western bar food, branded merchandise.
South Africa has long been a beer-drinking nation, but until recently the beers in question were limited to pale lagers. The country’s first microbrewery opened in 1983, but it took over two decades for the trend to catch on. There are now close to 50 breweries scattered around the Rainbow Nation, with over half sitting in the Western Cape – the province surrounding Cape Town. Lagers and light ales abound, but bolder beers can also be found, with a range of sweet stouts and a few highly hopped ales emerging. Local ingredients also make an appearance, with brews featuring buchu (a local medicinal plant) and naartjie peel (a mandarin-like fruit). Away from the Cape, you’ll find brew routes in Johannesburg’s Cradle of Humankind region and in the hills west of Durban, while cute brewpubs sit in quaint dorps (small towns) dotted around the country.
Cape Town (Western Cape): Devil's Peak Brewing Company (www.devilspeakbrewing.co.za) – First Light Golden Ale, Silvertree Saison, Woodhead Amber Ale, The King's Blockhouse IPA.
Rustenburg (near Johannesburg): Brauhaus am Damm (www.brauhaus.co.za) – Brauhaus Pils, Farmers Draught, Brauhaus Dunkel; seasonal beers. Also available: German cuisine.
Alverstone (near Durban): The Standeaven Brewery (www.thestandeavenbrewery.co.za) – Bohemian Pilsner, Press Club Stout, African Pale Ale, Hefeweizen.
'It takes a lot of beer to make a good wine,' goes the old vintner’s saying, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the opposite can also be true. Brew routes have popped up among wineries in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but it seems that no one is better embracing both grape and grain than Italy. Not only are its breweries – largely concentrated in the north – nestled in regions better known for wine, brewers are even injecting a touch of wine into their beer. Some are ageing their brews in wine barrels, others are even combining grape must with the wort (the pre-fermented liquid that will later become beer). Italian craft breweries, which number over 400, are among the world’s most innovative, experimenting with wild yeast, millet, carob, green tea, chestnuts and even tobacco in their brews. Taste them at the breweries or in one of Rome’s superb beercentric bars.
Borgorose (Northern Italy): Birra del Borgo (www.birradelborgo.it) – a huge selection of beers including Reale American Pale Ale, Duchessa Saison, Keto Reporter Tobacco Porter and some beer-wine hybrids from their 'experimental' range.
Rome: Open Baladin Roma (www.openbaladinroma.it – Italian only) – bar offering more than 100 bottled and 40-plus draught beers from around the country.