While I usually write about American craft beers, the Winter Olympics got me in an international mood, so I thought I try some beers from around the world instead. While there are a number of widely available, extremely popular imports — especially Mexico’s Corona, Modelo and Dos Equis — the overall import selection seems to have declined over the past few years, as craft beers have taken up much of the retail space imports used to occupy.
That said, there are still a number of places where you can find some very good — and sometimes quite unique — imports in our area, often in the single-beer sections of your local grocery store. Both Rouses and Publix usually have a number of good imports on hand, but World Market in Spanish Fort has one of the best — and often well-priced — selections of unique imports.
Most American craft brewers have taken at least some inspiration from traditional European styles in creating their brews, as they sought to create alternatives to the American lager. For example, almost every craft brewery now seems to offer to some version of a brown ale, a style that dates to 18th century England but came to fame in the interwar years with the production of Newcastle Brown Ale from Northeast England.
Those familiar with craft brown ales will find this English classic lighter and less bitter than many they’ve been accustomed to, with malt and caramel flavors and, at 4.7 percent alcohol by volume, easy drinking. Like many brewers, Newcastle has been the object of corporate consolidation, and is now owned by Heineken; its famous brown ale is not even brewed in England any more, but in Holland.
Another European style that has influenced many American craft brewers is the Belgian witbier. These wheat beers are characterized by their cloudy appearance and citrusy finishes. I tried the Hoegaarden wit, which was excellent — acidic and light, with some very subtle orange flavoring. It was much better than a number of the witbiers that I have sampled from American breweries, which often overdo the fruit, overpowering the taste of the beer.
In honor of the Winter Games, I sought out a Korean beer to try, but was unable to find one. However, I did find both Chinese and Japanese beers to sample in our area. Given that the Korean Peninsula has been occupied over the centuries by both the Chinese and the Japanese, I figured these would be useful stand-ins for the real thing.
Perhaps the best beer name ever, Lucky Buddha Enlightened Beer from Hangzhou, China’s Cheerday Brewery, is a nice, sweet lager, reminiscent of well-known European styles such as Heineken or Grolsch. It also comes in a fantastic green bottle shaped like — you guessed it — a Buddha. Japan’s Sapporo lager, on the other hand, has a darker color and is much more bitter than the Lucky Buddha — much more like an American ale. It has been brewed since the late 19th century and is the most popular Japanese beer.
So even though the Olympics are over, why not get out and explore some beers from around the globe.