What’s the most popular beer in the world? Okay, that’s a bit of a trick question.
There’s no one top beer, but we do have a good idea of a single brew that you’ll find pretty much everywhere around the globe. In truth, a range of styles and types captures beer lovers’ hearts in every country.
Here’s the lowdown on the top worldwide beer phenom — and other tasty brews that dominate in countries all around the planet.
Earth — pale lager/pilsner
Pale lager is by far the most commonly loved beer style in the world. It’s the champ everywhere, from its homelands of Germany and the Czech Republic to China (now the world’s biggest beer market) to far-from-us places like Australia, South Africa and Brazil.
The bitterness level and strength of pale lager vary from region to region — “pilsner” is simply a name for ones that are on the bitter side. And just about every country has its own most popular versions of this brew. The Beer Store carries more than 1,000 brands, including a huge selection of Canada’s most popular pale lagers, as well as many other favourites from around the world.
Pilsner was created by a German brewer working in the Czech Republic in the 1850s. Before long, other German brewers were travelling the world, bringing this crisp, clean-tasting, refreshing formula everywhere. It was in the United States by 1876, Argentina by 1888 and China by 1903, and it just kept spreading from there.
Why did it succeed? Pale lager is smooth, tasty and food-friendly. It goes with a huge variety of flavours and dishes. Its light-bodied malt is perfect with the breading on crispy German schnitzel, and its hops notes are a yummy complement to the spices in Mexican-style nachos. It’s also a slam dunk with curry-flavoured Singapore noodles, because its refreshing crispness balances the saltiness of the dish.
So that’s how pale lager conquered the globe. But what are the world’s other most popular beers? We’ve rounded up a selection of styles that are winners in different countries. Even if our picks aren’t strictly number 1 in sales, they hold a special place in the national or regional culture. And they’re an ideal fit with local cuisine, as you’ll see from our pairing suggestions.
Baltic countries — strong porter and stout
Back in the 1700s, Russia’s Empress Catherine the Great developed a fondness for strong, dark English beer. Her courtiers played copycat (of course), which created a market for English porter all along the Baltic Sea trade route, from Denmark through the rest of Scandinavia to Estonia.
Today’s Russian stouts, imperial stouts and Baltic porters are all inspired by these hearty, historical brews. Nowadays, their roasted flavours keep people feeling toasty in a part of the world famous for its cold, dark winters.
Tasty pairing: Serve strong porter or stout with dark rye bread (a popular Baltic treat), top-notch fruit and rich cheeses fit for an empress.
Belgium — pilsner
This nation is the land of many beer styles, from Trappist and abbey ales to funky brown ales and fruity lambics. So what’s this country’s favourite beer style? (Wait for it.) It’s pilsner!
Pilsner is a foreign import in Belgium — it was invented elsewhere, after all. But who couldn’t love this refreshing brew, especially when it tastes amazing with the country’s favourite late-night snack: frites?
Tasty pairing: Grab a palate-cleansing pilsner to go with a plate of crispy fries dipped in mayo. This combo is ultra-popular in Belgium and the Netherlands — one bite and sip, and you’ll see why.
Canada — ice beer
Ice seems to be a theme in our home and native land, whether you’re talking about our national hockey obsession or our go-to beers.
German brewers have long known they can concentrate a beer’s flavours by freezing it and removing the ice crystals. But it was Canadian brewers who really popularized crisp, hoppy, medium-sweet ice lagers in the 1990s. And with our cold climate and chill personalities, shouldn’t we really be the ones to claim ice beer as our own, anyway?
Tasty pairing: A lot of foods pair well with ice beer. Go all-Canadian with good old mac and cheese; the malt goes well with sweetish cheddar, and the crisp, tart finish helps balance the richness of the sauce.
Ireland — stout
Emerald Isle, black beer. That’s the ticket! It’s probably not surprising that stout — the brew most of us associate with Ireland — is indeed really popular there. Around 30 per cent of the beer consumed throughout the country is stout (and, thanks to exports, two-thirds of all the beer produced in Ireland is stout).
Tasty pairing: Stout is ideal with both the lamb stew and oysters that Irish diners adore. And it’s so good with our homemade Hearty Irish Stew with Stout.
Japan — dry lager
Lagers — from black and malty to pale and light — rule in Japan. The lightest-flavoured of all might actually be the most popular. In 1987, Japanese brewers introduced a commercial fermentation process that converts more sugars into alcohol, which results in a uniquely thirst-quenching “dry” style of lager that’s taken the country by storm.
Tasty pairing: The clean, subtle flavours of Japanese-style dry lager work really well with sushi and tempura.
For a short time in the 1860s, an Austrian by the name of Emperor Maximilian ruled over Mexico. Why does that matter now? One, it’s good pub trivia. Two, it shaped Mexican beer as we know it. You see, German-speaking brewers followed their fella to the New World, bringing their beers with them, including the reddish-brown Vienna-style lagers that remain popular in Mexico today. Their sweet, malty base goes well with a lot of Mexican food, which often contains corn-based ingredients as well as spices, sugar or both.
Tasty pairing: Try these colourful lagers with just about any Mexican dish. Amber and red are especially delicious with simple tortilla chips and salsa, or sugary churros. Dark lager is fantastic with savoury, chocolaty mole sauce.
Sri Lanka — stout
You thought stout was only Ireland’s love language? Nope! While you might reserve these rich, dark brews for cold days here in Canada, they’re surprisingly popular in places where the climate stays hot year-round, including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, where stouts have dominated since brewing began in the island nation.
Tasty pairing: Explore stout’s versatility by trying it alongside a powerfully flavoured, well-spiced Sri Lankan roti.
United Kingdom — pale ale
The U.K. has a rich brewing tradition focused on ales. So when lager took over as the most popular beer style back in the 1970s, traditionalists responded in a very British way: They formed ale appreciation clubs — whose members met at pubs, of course.
Since then, ales have won back a lot of fans. A 2020 survey showed that IPA, pale ale (all varieties) and bitter are the number 2, 3 and 4 most popular beer styles.
Tasty pairing: The sweet maltiness of pale ales pairs well with pastry and crispy coatings. Think fish and chips, and classic meat pies.
United States — India pale ale (IPA)
IPA got its name because it was originally brewed in the United Kingdom for export to India. Today, this big, bold, flavourful style is huge in the U.S., everywhere from California to Vermont. Americans like to do things big, and this enticingly bitter beer is no exception.
Tasty pairing: IPAs are great with hearty, fried, salty American-style bar food. Try one with spicy chicken wings.