IF football is the universal game, then beer must be its companion drink. There is not a corner of the globe where the locals do not relish a kickabout. Similarly, wherever you find civilisation, you will inevitably find a brewery.
Yet – and I’m sorry, Thomas Jefferson – not all beers are created equal. Just as some countries are more accomplished at shifting an inflated pig’s bladder with their lower extremities, so too do some nations trump others in combining hops, malt, yeast and water.
So in an attempt to sort the Brazils of beverage making from the Liechtensteins of lager, your correspondent collected an ale for each of the 32 countries at this summer’s World Cup and, with three all-too-willing testers in tow, pitted the beers against each other until there was only one left that deserved to be crowned the greatest.
There are always big-name casualties in the first round, and it was no exception in the Beer World Cup, with Sagres of Portugal and South Africa’s Amstel being egded out by more distinctive, characterful rivals. They may routinely dominate the football version, but Brazil’s Brahma failed to make the cut, while the Dutch challenge died when Grolsch Weizen was not rated among the top two in Group E.
Greece’s easy-drinking Mythos narrowly missed out, Mexican dark tipple Negra Modelo bit the dust and crisp, refreshing and frankly lovely Zlaty Bazant from Slovakia could count itself extremely unfortunate to fall at the first hurdle.
Surprise hits included Monteith’s Golden Lager from New Zealand, Tusker, representing Ivory Coast, and Cameron’s 6th Sense, somewhat tenuously flying the flag for Cameroon, while Quilmes (Argentina), London Porter (England), Le Baladin Open (Italy), Colomba (France), Estrella Damm (Spain) and Schneider Weissee (Germany) ensured the heavyweights made it into the knockout stages.
Stinger, a nettle beer representing Uruguay, was sufficiently intriguing in a fresh, herby way to see off the still popular Quilmes in the first head-to-head clash, before the malty but fresh Brooklyn Lager earned the USA victory over Serbian staple Jelen Pivo, a likeable offering with a bitter finish.
Nigerian-brewed rocket fuel Guinness Foreign Extra met its match in Colomba, a refreshing, golden Corsican lager imbued with spices and herbs that taste just a little bit like a delicious version of Deep Heat, while, with utter predictability, Germany knocked out England, the fruity wheat of Schneider Weisse proving a far bigger hit than the acquired taste of nutty, liquoricey London Porter.
Cameron’s 6th Sense, a mellow, floral ale, booked Cameroon and won more fans than Italy’s imposing Le Baladin Open, which comes in a 750ml bottle and, at 7.5 per cent, does to the tastebuds what Zinedine Zidane did to Marco Matterazzi. Kiwi favourite Monteith’s Golden Lager, light and honeylike, knocked out the clean but reserved Asahi of Japan. Barcelona-brewed pilsner Estrella was narrowly preferred to the golden-tasting Ivorian entrant Tusker, and Banana Bread Beer, for Honduras, pipped the pleasant Mann’s Brown Ale, wearing its North Korea kit.
South American trumped North as Stinger unanimously beat Brooklyn, but French hopes ended when Colomba, which really is worth seeking out, came up against wheat beer colossus Schneider Weisse. Monteith’s Golden Lager continued New Zealand’s improbable march towards the trophy by seeing off Cameroon’s 6th Sense, the former being swigged hungrily by all judges, and the durable Estrella won the day against the Banana Bread Beer, whose novelty started to wane.
Germany hasn’t got its fine reputation for all things beery without knowing how to fashion a decent steiner of frothing glory, and Schneider Weisse continued to live up to its billing by putting Stinger and Uruguay to the sword. Its opponent in the final, after much swilling and deliberation, would be rank outsider Monteith’s Golden Lager, whose enticing subtlety saw off Spain and its much-loved Estrella.
In keeping with the format, it only seemed fair to hand one of the losing semi-finalists the consolation of third place, and having improved round by round Estrella took that crown for Spain, its abiding drinkability outlasting the ever-so-slightly gimmicky Stinger.
In some ways the final was an overwhelmingly Bavarian affair, with even Monteith’s being based on the malty lagers of Munich, and it was almost impossible to choose a winner between two marvellous ales. Schneider Weisse, as well as having a name every bit as superbly Germanic as Bastian Schweinsteiger, was delicious enough to atone for the hurt of repeated penalty shoot-out defeats to our Teutonic chums, yet, after extra time, it was Golden Lager that snatched the spoils, its combination of smooth malt and light, amber nuttiness doing what no Kiwi footballers are ever likely to do, and winning the World Cup for New Zealand. With thanks to www.beergenie.co.uk for providing an international panoply of brews.
THE GROUPS (and their beers)
France – Colomba
Mexico – Negra Modelo
South Africa – Amstel
Uruguay – Stinger
Argentina – Quilmes
Greece – Mythos
Nigeria – Guinness
South Korea – Hitea
England – London Porter
USA – Brooklyn Lager
Algeria – Skol
Slovenia – Union Pivo
Germany – Schneider Weissee
Ghana – Star
Australia – Little Creatures Pale Ale
Serbia – Jelen Pivo
Holland – Grolsch Weizen
Denmark – Mikkeller Jackie Brown
Japan – Asahi
Cameroon – Cameron’s 6th Sense
Italy – Le Baladin Open
Paraguay – Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
New Zealand – Monteith’s Golden Lager
Slovakia – Zlaty Bazant
Brazil – Brahma
Ivory Coast – Tusker
Portugal – Sagres
North Korea – Mann’s Brown Ale
Spain – Estrella Damm
Chile – Fire In The Hole
Switzerland – Hurlimann
Honduras – Wells Banana Bread Beer
BENDING THE RULES: WHY WE CHOSE THEM
Not all 32 of the World Cup nations export their beers to the UK so, where we were unable to lay our hands on the genuine article, some creativity was required, and our friends at www.beergenie.co.uk offered us these alternatives.
Algeria: Skol is the country’s most popular beer, apparently
Cameroon: Cameron’s 6th Sense is a cheap and convenient pun
Chile: Fire In The Hole, a spicy beer, is made with chillis
Honduras: Bananas are the main export, hence Wells Banana Bread Beer
Ivory Coast: Kenyan brew Tusker represents Les Elephants, as the Ivorians are known
North Korea: In 2000, Kim Jong Il had an Ushers brewery dismantled, shipped from Dorset to North Korea, and reassembled. This is one of Ushers’ finest
Paraguay: Dogfish Head is American but made using Paraguayan Palo Santo wood
Uruguay: The recipe for Stinger was drawn up in 1930, when Uruguay won the Cup