Two perks of hosting television shows about traveling and drinking are that you get to, well… travel and drink! With “Three Sheets” (on MOJO, FLN, Travel Channel and Spike), “Drinking Made Easy” (on HDNet, now AXS.TV), and “Have Fork, Will Travel” (on Food Network), I have traveled to over 60 countries, to shoot over 120 episodes of television. Regardless of the show’s subject matter, be it food or drink, I have enjoyed local beers in all of those countries. The most popular questions that I’m asked about my experiences are: “What’s your favorite city to drink in?” and “What’s your favorite beer?” So, at the risk of alienating every reader, as no one is bound to agree with all of my choices, I decided to rank the 25 best beer cities of the world!
This was no easy assignment. Many cities have proud brewing traditions dating back centuries, while others are barely a few decades old. Also, as this is a list of the top beer cities, not countries, some locations that would be on the top 10 beer countries list, they have no specific city on this top 25 beer cities list. Sorry, Austria!
In the US, there are just over 1,900 breweries. There are nearly 10,000 worldwide. With 195 countries recognized by the US, and only 24 without a brewery, picking 25 cities within those remaining 171 countries was a challenge. Several countries with multiple breweries don’t even have a city on this list, including Liechtenstein (3), New Zealand (87), Denmark (135), Switzerland (335) and China (500).
This is a list of cities that are passionate about beer. They have been considered for their beer culture, beer history, and contributions to the world of beer. Some have rich traditions in beer, some are just coming into their own, but one thing is unanimous; these are beer cities.
Each day a new city will be added to the list
until we reach the top beer city in the world!
Click the city name to read more!
Just sneaking in at the bottom of this list, with a population of 37 million, Tokyo is the largest city in the world. But, they didn’t make this list based on the sheer and insurmountable amount of beer they consume. Tokyo has a wealth of beer halls, beer gardens, a beer museum, and is home to some familiar macro-breweries. However, if you want a beer and all of the stores are closed, you’re in luck, because beer is available from vending machines, which sit right out on the street (no ID required). The beer is available in both can and draft form (yes, you can get a freshly poured beer by a machine).
The craft beer scene is also taking off in Tokyo. Prior to 1994, breweries could not obtain a license unless they were producing over 2,000,000 liters annually. When this ruling was amended, it opened the doors to micro-breweries that are beginning to sprout up around the city. Beer flows like water in Tokyo. It’s consumed more than sake, whiskey, and cognac combined. There may not be the rich history compared to some European cities, and their craft beer scene may not hold a candle to some cities in the US, but make no mistake about it, in Tokyo they are passionate about beer.
While most tourists have downed their fill of lager beers along Mexico’s vast coast line, the country’s beer capital is far from the ocean. Mexico City, the largest metropolis in North America, brews the world’s sixth best selling beer, Corona. But drinking beer in Mexico does not always involve a lime, or even a beer brand that you’ve heard of. There are several other brands that are produced in Mexico that rarely cross the border.
Although brewed beverages have a long history in Mexico, predating the Spanish Conquistadors’ little visit, beer has only had a real presence since the middle of the 19th century. The largest impact comes from Cervecería Modelo, which began brewing Corona and Modelo in Mexico City in 1925. In 1933, the US became one of their biggest accounts, although Prohibition (and smuggling of beer across the border) may have given the Mexican beer industry a boost prior to that.
Today, the Mexico City beer scene is dominated by large companies and consumed in massive amounts. Craft beers in Mexico City have begun to spring up, although much of their product does better in the US than in Mexico.
Moscow is the largest city in the biggest country in the world. It’s one of the most expensive cities to travel through, containing more billionaires than any other city. It’s the birthplace of vodka, and most people think of this national spirit when Moscow is mentioned. But what about beer?
Moscow has enough pubs, nightclubs, and breweries to suit the needs of its near 12 million residents, who drink more beer than spirits. Moscow is home to 21 breweries, as well as the Moscow Beer Festival. As craft beer and ales are nudging into the territory of lagers and macro brews around the world, such is also the case in Moscow. There is an ‘underground’ beer scene with microbreweries and home brews that you can’t find through normal tourist channels. While vodka may be the czar of Moscow, beer could easily stage a coup.
Grand Rapids, Michigan has less than a million people in the city and outlying areas, but has more breweries than the greater New York City area, which has upwards of 20 million people. However, it was more than the number of breweries that edged the Big Apple off this list. While this may not be the highest ranked American city on this list, Grand Rapids is certainly a city that is passionate about their beer.
While Portland (Oregon) and Asheville (North Carolina) were busy fighting each other for the title of “Beer City, USA” through an internet poll, Grand Rapids came in an made their presence known by creating an awkward tie for the 2012 title. The poll is based on 40,000 votes, and does not take much criteria into account, other than the passion (and voting) of the people who believe a certain city should be number one. But the title was enough for residents to shout it from the mountain tops, and is surely a title that everyone in the city is aware of.
While they are already home to 14 breweries, and one of the top beer bars in the country (HopCat), it will be interesting to see what happens with their beer culture over the next few years. They had already established themselves as a hot bead for hop heads, before this year. Prior to the “Beer City, USA” voting, local breweries and bars had already received national acclaim. But as with another small city on this list, their spark of recognition can lead to a fire of passion that only makes the beer scene stronger.
Lithuania ranks sixth in annual beer consumption per capita. Today, most Lithuanian breweries offer standard European lagers. But 500 years ago, Lithuania was Paganism’s last holdout against Christianity. The Pagans had several gods that looked over the production of beer, including: Gambrinum, the god of beer; Ragutis, the god of brewers (and fermentation); and Austeja, the goddess of hops (and all flowers… and bees).
In Vilnius, its capital city, there is a stone near the main square that is a symbol of Ragutis. Vilnius has several brew pubs, plenty of beer bars, and a 12-person bicycle that can take you around the city, while you’re drinking beer. These bicycles are rare in the US, because in order to legally take a beer on a bike, open containers must be allowed.
This place loves their beer. Recently, staff at the Carlsberg Brewery in Lithuania voted to walk out over pay and working conditions, but a Lithuanian court stopped them, declaring the production of beer as “vitally essential”, which put it in the same category as medicine and water.
Long known as a city that appreciates bears and bulls as much as beers, Chicago’s beer culture is ever present. Formerly one of the capitals of macro brews, winds of change have blown into the city. Goose Island has been the locals’ craft beer choice for years, but that reign has recently been challenged. Micro-breweries have been popping up, communities of beer lovers have grown, and Lagunitas (a quickly-growing brewery from the west coast) is expanding to the windy city.
Although it’s not quite a beer-centric city, like Boston, nor does it have the massive selection of Portland, Oregon, it’s still a star is on the rise. Chicago is just the kind of city that could give everyone else a run for their money.
There’s no doubt about it, the King of Scotland is scotch. But don’t expect that every time you walk into a pub along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, that everyone is downing scotch and eating haggis. In fact, you’ll see more people tipping pints of ale than drams of scotch in most Edinburgh watering holes. By volume, more beer is consumed in Edinburgh than scotch (an easy stat for my cause considering whisky is taken by the ounce and beer by the Imperial pint).
Beer has been brewed in Scotland for about 5,000 years. It significantly predates whisky, and actually gave way to Scotch (which is basically distilled beer). Edinburgh currently has 10 breweries including Heineken UK. The city is also home to the Scottish Real Ale Festival and hundreds of pubs. Plus, the Imperial pint is larger than a US pint, so you get more bang for your pound!
Sydney is a beer-lover’s city with a burgeoning craft beer scene, but as far as cities with people who are passionate about beer, Melbourne edges out their brothers to the north. Although both cities have a beer festival, Melbourne was first to make it an annual event. Both cities have about the same number of small breweries and brew pubs, but Melbourne squeaks ahead based on sheer enthusiasm.
Beer in Melbourne is ever present. There are a bevy of pubs, beer gardens, and bars where you can get the local favorites. Carlton, Victoria Bitter and Melbourne Bitter are regulars, but new brands are pushing their way in as a result of a newly acquired appreciation for craft beers. And, contrary to what you may have heard, there aren’t too many shrimps going on the bar-b’s and Foster’s is not “Australian for beer”.
At the end of the 18th century, Philadelphia was the capital of the US. While that only lasted 10 years before it moved to Washington, DC, the city’s dominance as the East Coast’s “beer capital” prevailed for another hundred years. In 1920, Prohibition cast a dark cloud over Philly’s reign and the 100+ breweries in the City of Brotherly Love. The oldest brewery in the country, Yeungling, which is located a ways outside the city but adored by Philadelphians regardless, turned themselves into an ice cream factory to wait out Prohibition.
Since 1933, like most US beer cities, Philadelphia has still not recovered to its brewing heyday. But, lately, it’s been getting back on track. The city has always had beer fans, but recently, they’ve begun to put their money where their mouth is, and more breweries have been popping up. Some, like Yards, have helped pave the way, and pay tribute to the city’s glory days with beers created from our forefather’s recipes. The city has a Beer Week, eight breweries in the metro area, and many pubs like McGillin’s Olde Ale House that offer a wide selection of local and regional brews. Want to be number one on this list, get Pat Croce involved!
Though Amsterdam may be more associated with other recreational activities, beer is a larger component of the culture and lifestyle. Several beers founded in Amsterdam are recognizable the world over, including Amstel and Heineken. Grolsch, another Dutch beer, is also a local favorite. Amsterdam locals also appreciate imports from their neighbor, Belgium and are even getting into American craft brews.
In the summer, terraces and boats along the canals are filled with people enjoying pils (beers) in the warm air. In the colder months, they drink in many of the city’s pubs. If you want to smoke your cake and eat it too, you can even find a beer infused with marijuana, which tastes like a hippie-in-a-glass and is more fun to talk about than drink. I know, I tried it.
Canada tried prohibition… it lasted a year. Canadians love their beer, especially in Montreal, the second largest city in Canada. The city’s beer culture can feel more European than North American (French being the official language contributes to this). They have a number of craft breweries and brew pubs, along with many beer bars that instantly transport you to different parts of Europe.
Montreal is the birthplace of Molson, founded in 1786, and is the oldest brewery in North America. But these city folk don’t just appreciate a good lager. Many breweries and brew pubs around the city offer up local Belgian-style beers, which run the gamete from blondes and saisons, to maple infused. They have an annual beer festival that is growing every year and, to top it all off, their sister city in Israel is called Beersheba!
The state of Washington has the second most breweries of any state (currently around 130). Seattle, its largest city, is the most influential in regards to beer production and consumption. Seattle has been passionate about their beer for decades and the state’s craft beer explosion has only bolstered Seattle’s place on this list. There are more than two dozen breweries and brew pubs in the metro area, and countless home brewers just waiting to throw their latest batch into the ring.
They have a local beer week, numerous ale houses, and retailers where you can find obscure brews from all over the world, never having to drink the same thing twice. To bolster their local pride, most of Seattle’s bars and restaurants include local choices on their menu, continuing to strengthen the Seattle beer scene.
If you’ve been to Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City) in recent years, you’d expect to see it on this list. Not only is good beer in Saigon (and other Vietnamese cities) easier to find than good water, it’s cheaper. A dollar in most US cities is barely enough for a tip, but here it’ll buy you a round.
It doesn’t take too much effort to find a beer in Saigon. Walk out to the street (dodging a sea of scooters), close your eyes, spin, and point. When you re-open your eyes, you’ll likely be aimed in the direction of a “bia hoi” (fresh beer) bar. The beer comes from several “German-style” breweries in the city, making mostly pilsners.
Other beers are imported from abroad, but most of the locals drink bai hoi. It’s delivered fresh daily, and distributed throughout the city in jugs of every shape and type. Scooters made for one person, can carry as many as five people AND a plastic milk jug full of beer (I’ve seen it with my own eyes).
There may not be the myriad of choices of local beer styles that you find in other cities, but drinking beer is a growing part of the city’s culture, occurring at all hours of the day. There are beer bars of all shapes and sizes, from halls to holes. With some simple planning, and a few bucks, you can even get fresh bia hoi delivered to your doorstep every morning.
Check out Zane’s visit to Saigon on Three Sheets
At the end of the 19th century, Milwaukee was the top beer producing city in the world. Its proximity to grain farms and location on Lake Michigan positioned Milwaukee to not only make beer for themselves, but to ship to nearby Chicago and the rest of the country as well. No city’s economy and identity was hurt more than Milwaukee when Prohibition took effect in 1920.
Carrie Nation, from the Temperance League (the group that initiated Prohibition) is quoted as saying, “If there is any place that is Hell on earth, it is Milwaukee”. Also, opinions during WWI didn’t help the breweries with German names like Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller. In 1918 there were nearly 2,000 saloons in Milwaukee and tens of thousands of people who made their livelihood from the production and sale of beer. By 1921, that was history.
Wisconsin has been rebounding since 1933, and as a state is currently in the top ten for breweries per capita. While today there are only a handful of breweries in operation in Milwaukee (including Miller), they make a lot of beer, and the city is ranked third in the US for beer consumption. That’s beer love!
There are a wealth of beer festivals, especially when the weather is warm. From employing Laverne & Shirley to naming their baseball team “The Brewers”, Milwaukee will always be synonymous with beer the world over.
As one of the most densely populated cities on the planet, the South Koreans will drink beer anywhere, anytime. The good thing is that “anywhere and anytime” is exactly where and when it’s available. When they ran out of places to build or convert buildings into pubs, they started erecting them in outdoor parking lots. It’s not uncommon for a beer bar to be nothing more than a tent with simple lighting, food to nibble on, and beer. Some tents, however, are elaborate enough to have heating, a full kitchen, and accommodate hundreds of people.
If tents are not your thing, there are beer bars, beer halls, and microbreweries aplenty. Hite-Jinro and OB are the national brands that are available almost anywhere beer is sold. Regulations have made it difficult for small breweries to sell off-site, but those laws have loosened up since 2011. Expect craft brewing to grow quickly in Seoul.
Most beer is sold in large bottles with small cups and it’s customary to never leave someone else’s cup empty. These factors lead to a good time, but good luck keeping track of how much you drank!
See Zane visit Seoul on Three Sheets
Having a pint in a pub is just as much a part of the English lifestyle as much as caring about the goings on of the Royal Family. The city is home to some of the oldest pubs in the world, where beer has always been present. Finding a pub in London with ale on draft is easier than finding a a red phone booth. There are dozens of breweries in London too. At the turn of the millennia, there were not as many options for local beer, but in the last decade that has changed. But it’s not all about large companies like it has been in recent years.
The craft brewing scene has gotten a nice boost from CAMRA, a growing group of revolutionaries pushing their Campaign for Real Ales (beers that have not been filtered or pasteurized), who celebrate and educate along the way. Although they appreciate their imports as well, there is a growing beer community and some sizable beer festivals which have garnered more interest in local beers. In the city where Shakespeare would once write and drink, then write about drinking, the only thing that’s changed is the quill.
Bostonians are as crazy about their beer as they are about their sports. But they’re as separated as Mets and Yankee fans when it comes to the local favorites, Samuel Adams and Harpoon Brewery.
The first brewery in Massachusetts went up as soon as the pilgrims ran aground. They were originally headed to Virginia, but landed in Massachusetts when they ran out of beer. Water could contain deadly bacteria that alcohol killed, so they drank beer instead. Years later, the Boston Tea party (Boston’s last party involving tea) started at a tavern meeting.
Boston is home to the largest craft brewery (Sam Adams), a number of microbreweries, and has the highest beer consumption rate per capita in the United States. Anything that was talked about over tea a few centuries back is now talked about “ova’ a bea” (that’s my Boston accent). There are a wealth of beer bars, and brew pubs, and one of the world’s best selections of beer at Sunset Grill & Tap. Of course, thanks to TV syndication, and a working replica of the set, Boston will always live on as the home of Sam and the gang from “Cheers!”
Colorado has been called the “Napa of Beers”. Although there are less than a dozen breweries in the Denver metropolitan area, there are several dozen in the surrounding hills and over 120 in the state. Every fall, Denver is the Mecca for beer lovers as brewers and drinkers from all over the country attend the annual Great American Beer Festival; which is the largest and most prestigious beer festival in the country.
Both Fort Collins and Boulder are about an hour outside Denver. They’re home to some important local breweries (like New Belgium) that have been doing some great things for the craft beer scene and bolster Denver’s place on this list. If Philly can claim Yuengling, then Boulder can certainly be considered “greater Denver”.
Denver’s first craft brewery and brew pub, Wynkoop, opened its doors in 1988. One of the brewery’s founders went on to become mayor of Denver, and is currently sitting in the Governor’s seat. So, if you have a problem with Denver being so high on this list, take it up with him!
Along with its near perfect weather, San Diego has a thriving local beer community. Although most of the area’s breweries are outside the city, there are over 30 breweries in the county that have energized the West Coast beer scene. Stone Brewing (in nearby Escondido) is one of the area’s pioneers and has been very supportive of the new breweries popping up in the area.
With 270 breweries, California has more breweries than any other state. In fact, it has more than 2nd and 3rd place combined. San Diego is at the forefront of California’s craft beer movement. They even have their own super-hoppy IPA category (called the San Diego IPA); and breweries, beer bars and brew pubs are popping up everywhere.
The San Diego brewing community is a tight knit group that works hard, while keeping that “stay cool” Southern California attitude. You can find a beer festival in the area just about every weekend, which is why it’s been dubbed “Beer Beach” (by me).
Asheville may only be the 11th largest city in North Carolina, but they are making more of an impact in the world of beer than most of the largest cities in the country. With 84,000 people, this city in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains has one of the highest brewery per capita ratios in the world. With New Belgium (Ft. Collins, CO) and Sierra Nevada (Chico, CA) expanding operations to Asheville in the coming years, this beer city will only be getting bigger. With the breweries slated to open in the next few years, there will be a brewery for every 6,000 people in town by 2014.
For the past few years, Asheville has been giving Portland, Oregon a run for their money for the title of “Beer City, USA”. With the community’s passion for beer and a host of beer-related events throughout the year, it will continue to nip at Portland’s heels.
Visiting Asheville and having a “macro” beer would be like going to Mexico and ordering take-out Chinese food—it’d just defy logic.
Drinking beer in the Czech Republic began over 1,000 years ago, and today more beer is consumed (per capita) in the Czech Republic than in any other country. They drink 42 gallons per person in a year, which is 20% more than 2nd place Germany. The US isn’t even in the top 10. Pilsner (golden lager), the most consumed style of beer in the known universe, was invented in Plzen, a small city an hour’s drive from Prague.
While Prague may offer fewer choices than most cities, having one of the “local” beers is always a choice. Most bars and restaurants serve only one beer, like Pilsner Urquell or Budweiser (a beer from Budvar, which is unrelated to Budweiser here in the states). Prague is also home to U Fleku, one of the oldest beer pubs in the world, which first started serving beer in 1499.
During, and shortly after the fall of communism, beer was very inexpensive. But not any more… Today, it’s competitively priced compared to other European countries. There are countless options for beer pubs in Prague, and plenty of passion for it. And, if you’re there in May, you can catch their annual beer festival that lasts 17 days (one day longer than Munich’s)!
Portland, Oregon is the US city that is most passionate about beer. If you don’t agree, just ask someone from there. Few people (outside of Asheville or San Diego) could make much of an argument for that. The city and its outlying areas have over 50 licensed breweries, a number that has increased more rapidly in recent years. It’s the only city in the US that makes it nearly an impossible feat to visit every one of the area’s breweries in one day.
Although its title of “Beer City” is challenged each year by Asheville, Grand Rapids, and will soon have San Diego nipping at it’s heels, Portland’s reign as the US city with the richest beer culture is secure… For now. Although many of the breweries have made a name for themselves outside of the state, like Deschutes, Rogue and Widmer Brothers, there are plenty of lesser-known beers produced within the Portland metropolitan area that barely make it across town. McMenamins, which has more than two dozen eccentrically-themed breweries, are great contributors to the Portland craft beer revolution.
Not every brewery that opens in Portland makes it. Many have fallen by the wayside; some in a matter of months. In a city of 500,000 (2.3 million in the greater metropolitan area), there is a lot of competition for business. But, luckily, this is a city of beer drinkers, and a great place to drink them, so don’t expect Portland’s number of breweries to plateau any time soon.
It was James Joyce who wrote in his book “Ulysses” that a “good puzzle would be [to] cross Dublin without passing a pub”. This riddle has been challenging Dubliners for years. Recently, a software developer found such a route, that’s cheating. Shenanigans! The point is: there are so many pubs in Dublin serving delicious frothy brew, that there’s one every way you turn.
Although they may not offer the variety of beers as, say, Brussels, they serve one of the most popular beer in the world, Guinness; and a heaping ton of it at that! The Guinness brewery was opened at Dublin’s St. James’s Gate location in 1759. Although it may be the biggest brew on the Emerald Isle, it’s not the only local beer. Dozens of Irish beers are available.
It is the Dubliner’s love for beer, their strong culture around beer, and the sheer number of beer drinking songs that have come out of Dublin that have pushed it towards the top of this list. There are about 600 “Irish” pubs in Dublin. I’ve been to many of them– even on St. Patrick’s Day. While that was a day to remember (I wish I did) and I saw a lot of green, it was never in my beer…
France has wine, Belgium has beer. Since the Middle Ages, Belgium has been perfecting the art of brewing and has developed literally thousands of different varieties and styles; such as Dubbel, Tripel, Lambic, Kreik, Trappist (and the list goes on). In the 1800’s, much of the water in Brussels was polluted, so beer, containing alcohol, which preserved the liquid and killed the bacteria, was a welcomed substitute.
Since then, beer has become a vital part of their culture and even religion. Several Belgian monasteries continue to produce beer to finance their churches and charities. But don’t envision men in robes with bald patches stirring cauldrons of wort. Even though the operations continue on holy grounds, it is done with state of the art equipment and staff who are not members of the cloth.
Of all the beer styles produced in Belgium, there is no better place to drink it than at the source. But, since that would take you all over the country, your second best bet is in Brussels. Although their two national languages are French and Dutch, many of the locals speak English. The beer bars are more like cafés, where you can get something to eat while you drink (the food in Belgium is fantastic as well). Many of the restaurants offer a house beer, as well as other Belgian options.
With many Belgian beers claiming the title of “best beer in the world”, Brussels is a great place to go hunting for it!
What other city throws a two-week kegger that brings in over six million people? Oktoberfest is the Mecca of beer festivals which serves up more than SEVEN MILLION liters of beer during the two week festival. About 30% of all beer produced by the six major Munich breweries (Löwenbräu, Hofbräuhaus, Augusinterbräu, Hacker-
During and around Oktoberfest, the city’s main focus is on the event. But for the rest of the year, there are countless venues and occasions to enjoy a frothy brew. Munich is passionate about beer all year long. When it’s warm, they serve it by the liter (half liters are also available) at a slew of outdoor beer gardens (biergartens) all around the city. Although beer gardens were invented in southern Germany, they’re not the only place to drink your frothy brew. And, the six biggest breweries’ options are not the only beer available.
In Munich, you don’t meet up for a drink, you meet up for a beer. And odds are, you’re going to have more than one.
Some fun facts about Ocktoberfest
- Most tables at Oktoberfest are reserved, some up to a year in advance.
- The Hacker-Pschorr Brewery produces a brew specifically for Oktoberfest and each year they make more than 1 million liters of it.
- Roughly 505,901 units of chicken, 40,850 kg of Fish, 69,293 units of Pork knuckles (haxen), and 119 units of Oxen are eaten at Oktoberfest.
- Oktoberfest brings in an estimated $1.2 billion, and employs about 12,000 workers
- The festival grounds on Theresienwiese covers 31 hectare, that’s 310,000 square metres.
- Oktoberfest beer is a lager or Märzenbier brewed by Munich breweries for the festival. With an alcohol level of 6 -7 % it is slightly stronger than normal German beer.
- Drunk patrons are often called “Bierleichen” (German for “beer corpses”).
*Regardless of your knowledge of beer in the world, I expect that you will undoubtably disagree with some of my choices. You may feel that I gave one city too much credit, and feel that I neglected to mention another city entirely. I can already hear someone from Cleveland, Ohio asking why Cleveland, Ohio didn’t make the list. Cleveland, like many American cities, has a burgeoning craft beer scene that locals should be proud of. But, as this is a list of 25 cities from around the world, some cuts had to be made.