Brewed to Perfection

Beer – it’s the great equaliser. Every country has its own varieties; some world-famous and others hard to find even at the source. This week, we take a trip around the world to nine different countries with beers that are enjoyed all over the planet. From pale lagers to crisp ciders, these are the brews of the world.   -- Ashwin


GERMANY
 
History: The city of Köln in Germany might be most famous for its football club and cathedral, but this regional brew is one of its other major draws. The terms of its preparation, structure and composition are determined by members of the Cologne Brewery Association. The term first came into play in 1918, describing the beer of the Sünner brewery developed from white beer. Despite failing to catch on in the early 20th century, it picked up until the Second World War reduced several of Köln’s specialty breweries to rubble. Following the end of the war, several of them began to return to their crafting. As of 2005, peak output had reached 240 million litres per year.
 
Taste: Kölsch is fairly clear and has a yellow hue similar to straw and hay, with a significant hops flavour that doesn’t border anywhere near extreme. It’s considerably less bitter than traditional pale lager, which is brewed and consumed across much of the rest of Germany. Because Kölsch is warm-fermented at temperatures ranging from 13-21°C before being treated at a colder temperature, it shares traits and attributes with other beers from northern Europe, particularly those of western Germany and the Netherlands.
 
Pairing: A light yet wholesome beer that doesn’t impede on other flavours, Kölsch goes incredibly well with salads that include cheese, avocado, and a variety of greens and raw vegetables. Dressing is no issue, as vinaigrettes aren’t disturbed by the pairing. Fish susceptible to being overpowered aren’t likely to enjoy a better pairing, especially if served with ingredients that complement the fruity textures in Kölsch, such as mushrooms and tomatoes. It’s also a fantastic choice for breakfast and brunch, and goes particularly well with fluffy omelettes, smoked salmon or ham, and Swiss cheese.

BELGIUM
 
History: Belgium is famous for being home to many things: the European Union, NATO, Godiva, and thousands of breweries that have their origins in the abbeys of monks. Beer from this small, influential European powerhouse comes in a variety of flavours ranging from wholesome and forceful to light and easygoing. Pink Killer is without doubt one of the most original varieties to come out of the country. A wheat beer with heavy fruit notes, it has a distinct pink colour (hence the name) that has been carefully constructed by Brasserie de Silly. Though not as famous or well-loved as other Belgian varieties, Pink Killer is worth mentioning for its novelty.
 
Taste: There are two schools of thought when it comes to the taste of Pink Killer. The first is that it’s perfect for hot summer days when you want something refreshing, sweet yet with a slight tinge of alcohol. Others believe that it’s a cheap excuse for a grapefruit soda shandy; that it smells and tastes too much of bubblegum and cotton candy, and not enough of fruit and wheat. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, there’s one thing that everyone agrees on: Pink Killer is one of a kind. Its lack of alcohol pungency makes it perfect for new or light drinkers, and is perfectly suited for daytime consumption.
 
Pairing: There aren’t many foods that go with Pink Killer. Despite being a wheat beer by chemical composition, its fruity and saccharine flavour tends to take the punch out of most other foods. If you aren’t fond of sugary flavours or have a tongue particularly sensitive to artificial sweeteners, the aftertaste of Pink Killer may sour your mood (and your meal). For those who have no such issues, the best options are spicy foods without overwhelming chilli notes. Mediterranean and Levantine foods such as tapas and meze are the best bets.


ITALY
 
History: Peroni Brewery was founded in the Lombardy region of Italy, an hour’s drive from Milan, the cultural capital of the region and one of the world’s most important cities. In 1864, it moved to Italy’s other major city of Rome, six years prior to its elevation to the nation’s capital. Its most famous variant is Nastro Azzurro, a 5.1% ABV lager that was the 13th best-selling beer in Europe as of 2010. Following the unification of Italy, Peroni adopted a strategy to match industry trends. By 1990, it was a world-famous name exporting its products to a number of countries around the world. SABMiller purchased the company in 2003, re-launching it through an Italian boutique in London.
 
Taste: The commercial description of Nastro Azzurro calls it a beer “brewed from the finest, spring-planted barley malts with a unique, balanced taste and delicate aroma arising from hops of the most exclusive varieties”. It has a pale yellow appearance with blanched head that dissolved rapidly with no noticeable lacing. For a lager, its flavour it relatively bland, though a sweet malt taste stands out thanks to heavy carbonation, offering a crisp finish. Nonetheless, its success is primarily down to marketing, with most connoisseurs agreeing that Nastro Azzurro rates between average and above average.
 
Pairing: A good choice with travellers on holiday in the Mediterranean, Nastro Azzurro goes with the foods you would expect of a commercial lager: chips, crisps, salted peanuts and pretzels, and other pub fare. Because of its Italian nature, it also goes commendably well with the country’s own food. Seafood such as squid and scampi are fantastic choices, though you can’t go wrong with spaghetti Bolognese or pieces of thinly-sliced Parma ham. Just keep away from the more flavoursome Italian dishes such as lasagne and fettuccine alfredo, both of which are among the dishes that require a more assertive beer.

Argentina
 
History: With a 75% market share in its home nation, Cerveza Quilmes truly is Argentina’s favourite beer. Founded in the late 1800s just outside Buenos Aires by German immigrant Otto Bemberg, the company grew quite rapidly through to the 1920s, by which time it was the capital’s beverage of choice. Over the years since then, it’s developed into a national symbol of sorts on par with Diego Maradona and chinchilla fur. Even the can and logo are the light blue and white used in Argentina’s flag and the national football team’s home kit. Funnily enough, it’s now 91% owned by a Brazilian company, AmBev.
 
Taste: As an adjunct lager, Quilmes is made from corn and rice rather than barley. It has notes of grass and wheat lager in the aroma, looks almost golden and has white foam. High in carbonation, sweet in taste bordering malted honey, and a crisp aftertaste make it a fantastic choice for those with deep and shallow pockets alike. Unlike other commercial lagers, Quilmes is enjoyed by those who consume it by choice rather than out of compulsion. Argentine expatriates are particularly fond of this beverage, both on its own merits and as a reminder of their home.
 
Pairing: Quilmes goes well with the food of Argentina’s pub culture: crisps, chips, cheese, olives and cured meats. It’s also a wonderful accompaniment to traditional cuisine such as steak, grilled meats and sausages, and sandwiches. Other good choices are street food such as the ubiquitous empanadas and milanesas, breaded and fried meat patties that go into sandwiches or with mashed potatoes. If all else fails, pair Quilmes with your favourite drinking snack. An industrial lager such as this is highly adaptable to most flavours.


England
 
History: England has a beer heritage that goes back centuries, but one of its more recent developments is India pale ale, which was designed to last on the ship rides from English ports to the Indian subcontinent. Despite the end of the British Raj, IPA has survived the test of time to become one of the world’s favourite beer variants. Fuller’s is a family-owned brewery in Chiswick, in the west of London near Fulham and Charing Cross. Three of the brand’s beers have also been named ‘Champion Beer of Britain’: London Pride, ESB and Chiswick Bitter.
 
Taste: A clear amber colour with a medium-white soapy head, Fuller’s IPA is medium-bodied ale without much carbonation. Sweetly bitter is the first sip, while a subtly sweet aftertaste comes on within seconds, leaving you wanting another swig. Citrus notes are complemented by an outdoorsy aroma that evokes memories of hay, grass and farmland – as English a picture as you’ll ever find. Some people report a toffee or caramel taste, though this is most likely down to the food you choose to pair it with. Fuller’s IPA is versatile and highly drinkable.
 
Pairing: Of course, there’s only one contender for the best pairing with IPA: Punjabi cuisine! You can’t go wrong with a curry and crisp, buttered naan. In fact, Fuller’s is so low in carbonation that you can have it with any sort of dish: tomato-based, creamy, sweet, spicy, seafood, mutton, beef, chicken, dry, gravy, or even just appetizers. Kebabs are also a wonderful option; just avoid creamier variants so that the sweetness of the ale is not overpowered by the sweetness of the meat.


Ireland
 
History: Guinness might be the most iconic beer (or thing) to come out of the Republic of Ireland, but there’s a special brew that’s incredible in its own right. Magners is a fantastic Irish cider that has a rich heritage of association with football teams (they sponsor Celtic, who represent the Irish community of Scotland). Known as Bulmers within the country for copyright, trademark and historic reasons, it has four variants: original, light, pear and berry. It’s also unique for a beer, as most marketing and advertising campaigns show Magners as being served over ice.
 
Taste: The original Magners is an apple cider made from 17 varieties of the fruit. As a commercially produced drink with a standard recipes and preparation methods, bottles of the same variant are generally consistent in flavour and appearance. The original recipe has a fruity character reminiscent of wine due to similar fermentation methods. The light variant is considerably less bubbly and probably best avoided, while the pear and berry (strawberry, raspberry and blackcurrant) flavours offer refreshing and flavourful alternatives to the classics. All are perfect for beer cocktails.

Pairing: Sweet as cider is, Magners doesn’t leave a saccharine aftertaste that many of its competitors do, which makes it easier to pair with food. The original and light variants are best had with either pub fare or wholesome seafood dishes; any choice should include potatoes, the Irish staple. The pear variety is not unlike a sparkling white wine, which makes it a fantastic partner for cured or barbequed meat. The berry-flavoured cider is the sweetest of the lot, so pair it with something with chocolate as the dominant flavour.