So America, Belgium, Germany and England Have the Beer Olympics – Who Gets the Gold?

I’ll admit I’m a little nationalistic when it comes to craft beer.  Our country might have its share of problems, but I think we brew some amazing beer in America, perhaps the best in the world.

This got me to thinking what would happen if Britain threw a party (lets say one where everyone wore spandex shorts and used a lot of chalk dust) and invited its pals America, Belgium and Germany to bring the full line of beers offered by three breweries from within their borders.  Who would show up with the best selection of beer and win the gold?  We’re talking a single winner-takes-all tasting here, and not splitting the beers up into 95 categories.  This ain’t the World Beer Cup.

Now before we get started, I have to say that while I’m rabidly interested in beers from America, my level of enthusiasm for beers from the other countries ranges from a love for Belgian beers, to respect for German brewers, to little interest in what England is up to. This is very much like my knowledge of the athletes in the Olympics – I know the most about who is representing the USA, and after that, you gotta be a superstar for me to be aware you exist.

Here’s where I think our competitors net out:

No Medal: Britain.  As far as I know, Britain is paralyzed by tradition and brews few truly interesting and exceptional beers.  They have no radical new moves to blow the judges minds on the uneven bars, they’re simply going through the motions.  Of course you have the lads from BrewDog peeing on the leg of CAMRA and fighting like hell to stir up a craft beer revolution in the UK, but after that, there’s…umm…Newcastle?  A bunch of ciders?  I actually don’t know, but I’ll chalk my ignorance of their beers up to the fact that England doesn’t brew anything worthy of my attention.  It’s a lot easier for my ego than admitting I’m intellectually lazy.  Anyway, they may have laid the foundation for many of the beer styles brewed (with gusto!) in ‘Murica, but if I’m the judge, Britain goes home empty-handed in this competition.

Bronze: Germany. Much like Britain, Germany’s brewing is largely mired in the past, but they have better dental work than the English, and this judge likes a nice smile.  Having been to Germany a few times and enjoying the beers there, I have to say that Deutschland brews some wonderful stuff, but their conservative nature is costing them style points in this competition.  The Reinheitsgebot is basically the missionary sex position of brewing, and that ain’t getting you a gold medal around here.  Hmm…I think I’ve strayed from the theme here, but I like it!

Silver: Belgium.  I could drink Belgian beers for the rest of my life and be a happy man.  Their combination of deep tradition, complexity of flavor, and brewing beers that pack a wallop make Belgium a perennial powerhouse when it comes to which countries brew the best beers.  Unfortunately, a lack of variety (at least for beers imported into the States) is holding them back in this competition.  At the end of the day, variety is the spice of life, and brewing a handful of excellent styles (even with interesting variations) isn’t enough to win it all.

Gold: America. [Cue The Star Spangled Banner, as performed by Jimi Hendrix]  You could’ve guessed at this outcome based upon the first sentence of this post – I’m in the bag for American beers.  Not only do our brewers make exceptional beers, they are bound by no tradition, except the restless American spirit that keeps them pushing the boundaries and exploring new territory.  The results are creative, delicious and unique beers that have one foot in the brewing traditions established by the other countries in this competition, and the other foot hoisted above their head as they gyrate wildly on the balance beam to the delight of the crowd.  American brewers nail both the technical aspects of brewing world-class beer and the flair required to stand above the rest.  For that they get the gold – God bless the USA!! [Fireworks, Sam Calagione holding a bouquet of roses and crying].

So that’s how I see these four countries stacking up.  The truth is they’re all winners here, and each has contributed to the history and tradition of the World’s Greatest Beverage for centuries.  These are the superstars of beer, both aging (Britain would be Kathleen Turner), timeless (Germany and Belgium are like Cher and Meryl Streep) and young and sassy (America is like Justin Bieber).  I gotta admit, I don’t like how this analogy wound up, but you get the point.  Everyone’s awesome, now line up and say “good game…good, game…good game…”

Who do you give the medals to?  Let us know below!




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29 Comments on “So America, Belgium, Germany and England Have the Beer Olympics – Who Gets the Gold?”

  1. johnking82
    July 11, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Bronze medal- England
    Silver medal- Belgium
    Gold medal- ‘Murica!

    Pearl necklace: Cher

    • July 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

      Ha ha – map of Hawaii!

    • July 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Nah, Jim’s right on this one. However, if we include a tour of pubs featuring real ale in casks, Britain could make a case for the bronze.

      • July 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

        Yeah, I didn’t take local beer culture into account. I think I’d enjoy hanging in pubs more than listening to endless polkas in a biergarten.

        But then again, Germany has better food…

        • July 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

          Okay Jim, you’ve thrown down the gauntlet. I’m gonna play Devi’s Advocate. How do you know Germany has better food than England, Scotland, Wales, et al. (they’re all countries in a union called Great Britain, by-the-by, Britain and England not being interchangeable terms) if you haven’t been there? I’ve had some really great food and beer in England–the real ale was to die for. I understand that’s changed quite a bit for the worse but still, I’d be willing to bet you could still find some real keepers. And how ’bout leann fraoich–the Scot’s heather ale? Betcha that one would wet yer whistle.

          Also, what about about Canada, Czechoslavkia, Ireland, Serbia, the Netherlands, Japan, etc.,eatc? You might find some world-shakers in those countries? I know you like some of the Japanese craft beers. Have you ever tried an authentic Czech Pilsner?

        • July 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

          Because I know everything, that’s why. You know that! 🙂

  2. July 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    If we’re talking the X Games, you’re absolutely right.

    To make this similar to today’s Olympics, a complete, yet truly engaging and fun, waste of time, we would need to have the events’ list for which the countries are competing. Then, we would add up the medal totals and…declare USA the winner! But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

    • July 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

      From a medals standpoint you’d be correct. Medal-wins per nation at this year’s World Beer Cup looked like this:

      America – 208
      Germany – 23
      Belgium – 8
      England – 2

      • July 11, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

        Okay, but a couple of those were only because of the Russian judges. 🙂

  3. July 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    My thoughts are pertty much summed up by Jim on this one. About time he got something right, but you know what they say about the monkeys and typewriters…

    • July 11, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

      And broken clocks, just with a greater frequency. 🙂

  4. Diss Content
    July 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    I’ve got to rub down the goose bumps just long enough to salute you Jim. I’m an unapologetic nationalist who when cut…. bleeds red, white and blue; yessir. Nice write up.

    Our national structure was built upon kyping the very best things from other countries, and making them our own. The British legal system, German autobahn and Belgian waffles to name but a few. Even when the rest of the planet has cast away their weights and measures in favor of the Metric System; America stayed true and cool, still using acres, barrels, yards and pints.

    Why? Because we aren’t about to change our football fields or music.

    “Good morning America how are you?

    Don’t ya know me I’m your native son.

    I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans.

    I’ll be gone 804.672 kilometers before the day is done.”

    No way. That goes for ‘Eight Miles High’, ’25 Miles’ and ‘Big Ten Inch’ also, if anyone is keeping track.

    So I would award (cue Freebird; but jump to the “Lawd hep me, I can’t change-ange-ange-ange” ) America the gold, but in recognition of all the influences, techniques and recipes would give the silver to Belgium and bronze to England.

    • July 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

      I forgot to add in the “melting pot” thing into the piece. Had that thought as well, that America is a mash up of great stuff from other places, and our beer reflects that well.

  5. July 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    I would have to imagine that there are just as many small craft type breweries producing top notch beer that is pushing the boundaries and exciting the tastebuds as there are here in America. Like you said these places (except maybe england lol) have rich beer history and i would be surprised if with that history their entire beer culture bound themselves to the limitations of their past. You look at countries with rich art cultures (Im comparing brewing to art because it is) and they are often the same countries pushing the envelope.
    Im not disagreeing with your placement of America at the top because i believe that myself, but im curious just how much of the Beer world we are not seeing. How many of our small breweries in America actually have beer that makes it out of the States and into these countries? I dont know the answer to this but i would have to assume that the same is true for the rest of these countries. We have a hard enough time just trying to discover new beers in our own country. Is there a World Beer sensus or Beer Genome Project? It would be awesome to see a show where a group of people set out on a journey to discover and shed light on these uncharted worlds of beer.

    • July 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      “It would be awesome to see a show where a group of people set out on a journey to discover and shed light on these uncharted worlds of beer.” That’s EXACTLY the show Don and I DIDN’T get on the Discovery Channel!

      I think there’s great stuff happening all over the globe, especially when you factor in homebrewing. I bet there’s carboys bubbling around the globe that’d blow your mind.

  6. July 11, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    I agree that (chanting) U S A! would win the Gold, but as far as the other medals, it’s all a matter of personal taste and exposure.

    I would, from experience, put Germany well ahead in Silver contention. All you have to do is have a beer in the smaller breweries that are more ubiquitous town to town than nearly anywhere else in the world to realize just what can be done with a limited number of ingredients. Rather than stifle creativity, it actually increases it by the sheer fact of coming up with something new by altering the combinations, amounts, and varieties of those ingredients.

    I would grudgingly give the Bloody Belgian Bastards (as Monty Python would say) the Bronze over a sentimentally favorite England. For my taste, Belgian beers are just way overrated. I like a lot of Belgian Beers (we spend way too much time at the Cheeky Monk who serves them up almost exclusively), but find them lacking in what I would call ‘beeriness.’

    • July 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

      Hmm…I didn’t consider “beeriness” when I was composing my thoughts, but if it was a factor, then I’d agree with your rankings.

      I love local German beers. Last time I was in Dusseldorf I couldn’t get enough of the local altbier.

  7. July 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    While I agree with you on Gold and Silver, I disagree with Bronze. With the Reinheitsgebot, I don\’t think that Germany even qualifies.

    To even solidify my point more, I recently read a travel article that talked about all the great developments that have been going on in English Craft Beer – sounds like it\’s in its infancy, but has a following!

    • July 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

      I dunno, Angela. This “New York Times” you’re linking to sounds like one of those big city tabloids to me. 🙂

      But to your point, I think England will be the first of the three non-gold-medal-winners to break with tradition and get a vibrant scene going. Just look at punk rock – those Brits love to shake it up!

      • Don
        July 11, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

        yeah, and Andy Capp..he was a rebel!

    • chibigodzilla
      July 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

      Reinheitsgebot gets dumped on a lot by some beer drinkers, and I for one don’t see why. Sure, the big (as far a production) German beers are fairly homogenous, but so are the top (production again) American beers.

      If you look at the top ten rated beers on Beer Advocate there are 3 that I can tell would clearly be illegal under current German beer laws (Reinheitsgebot was implemented before yeast was well understood, and as such only allowed barely, hops & water. Modern brewing law allows yeast, and for ales other grains and fermentables can be added) due to the addition of spices, but the rest likely (I don’t know their exact recipes) all comply.

      • July 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

        I don’t think Reinheitsgebot is evil or anything, just no longer necessary for sure. It make for solid beers, but it’s like handcuffs for creative brewers.

  8. July 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    Belgium takes silver because of their native yeast, which is hardly the doing of their brewers. Sure, they jack ’em up with candi sugar, but England has been kicking out ESBs with sugar for centuries.

    I agree that America takes the gold, absolutely, but I can’t in good conscience turn down a cask of Real English Ale for any reason.

  9. July 11, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

    While I agree with your assessment of the USA winning, I am not sure I agree with your thoughts on Belgian for Silver, in particular to not exporting the interesting stuff. I doubt the USA exports much craft beer. Cool blog post though and a definite idea for my upcoming Opening Ceremonies Party.

  10. July 17, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    You definitely need to go to Belgium to understand it’s true greatness (To The Wandering Gourmand). You would certainly scoff at someone who lives in Germany and says American beer isn’t that great.. because they probably only get the crappy exports. Beer culture is amazing in Belgium. Silver for sure, possible even gold. One more thing to the author.. it’s not “Belgium beer”, it’s “Belgian beer”. you wouldn’t say America Beer or Canada Beer.

    • July 17, 2012 at 11:27 am #

      Oops – good catch. I’m going to have to fire that proofreader!

  11. August 1, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    The moment you said the “lack of variety” is a negative of Belgian beers, I pretty much phased out. That’s like saying there’s a lack of people in China …

    Never visited, have you?

    But I forgive you. It’s tough to really appreciate Belgian beers if all you have to go by is the second rate we put up for export – the rest we’ll gladly drink ourselves. 😛

  12. August 7, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    We started brewing them in the spring of 2011, and we just bottled it recently. It’s a disproportionate blend of the six beers… Dave and I made the blend ourselves, so he came up here one day a while back. We sat down and tasted through all the beers first, and created the base blend, started tweaking it here and there, and got it to a point where we were happy with it.

  13. August 31, 2014 at 2:42 am #

    American living in London responding here – I totally agree with no medal for England. The beer here is good – excellent in some cases -and there’s a TON of it (in terms of brands/brewers), but there is shockingly little variety, at least when compared to the US or Belgium.

    I went to a beer festival last year here, and found a traditional English brewer with a sampler of their version of a Belgian sour. It certainly wasn’t the best sour I’ve ever had, but it was decent. The brewer and was letting me drink it for free. He said no one was interested in trying it and they’d never be able to sell it in pubs because their demographic just isn’t interested in anything beyond the familiar bitter/pale ale/porter/cider.

    That said, there are a few breweries trying, and a smattering a very good craft beer pubs popping up (at least in London – but very doubtful in the burbs). You mentioned Brew Dog for one. Dark Star is another. There are others. But they have a pretty fierce resistance to fight through! Good for them though – I’ll certainly support them.

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