Now we present the latest and best data we could find on which beer brands are tops in 13 major beer-swilling countries.
United Kingdom Beer
Long known for its “warm beer”, the United Kingdom has mostly fancied ales instead of lagers for centuries. And it’s not actually warm, but instead purposely kept at the temperature of the cellar for maximum flavor. But lately the lagers of the world have bullied their way onto the market, and the regional ales get crushed by the big national brands in sales. The best selling brand is Carling, which used to be called Carling Black Label, and isn’t well known in most of the world. Australian brand Foster’s Lager is second, Belgian brand Stella Artois is third, and Danish brand Carlsberg is fourth. Carling itself originated in Canada, so the Brits really do like their imports.
In one of the few cases where your guess would be absolutely right, Corona is the best selling beer in Mexico and also the top selling imported beer in the United States, after having recently passed Heineken for that honor. Corona is also one of the best selling beers in the world, available in over 150 countries at this point.Tecate and Dos Equis pick up the scraps for 2nd and 3rd place in Mexico, and Tecate Light claims to be the best selling light beer in the country, although that market is still fairly small. All the Mexican beers probably greatly contribute to worldwide sales of limes, but those stats were hard to track down.
Many people still think that America’s best selling beer is Budweiser, and many also think this is a national disgrace, but it actually gets worse. Since 2001 the best selling beer in the USA has been Bud Light, pushing its fat brother down to number two on the list. With an almost 16% share of the total market, Bud Light is also the world’s best selling beer, even though it’s only sold internationally in Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Colombia and Sweden. Budweiser itself is still a clear second place in the United States (as well as the world), with Miller Lite, Coors Lite, and Corona Extra not far behind in the USA.
Some people don’t really consider stout a beer at all, but we do, and otherwise we couldn’t even mention the way Guinness dominates the market in Ireland. Domestic sales have actually been dropping a bit for the past few years, though they still account for nearly half of the total in the country. Fans of the stuff insist the lines have to be clean and the beer has to be fresh, so it always tastes better in Ireland than it does elsewhere. It’s now brewed in almost 50 different countries worldwide, and even though the company insists it’s all the same, this could help explain why it seems better in some places than in others. The best selling lager is Harp, which happens to be owned by Diageo, which is the same London-based company that owns Guinness.
Traveling through beer-obsessed Germany is a real treat as long as you like the main lager style that dominates nearly all the taps. There are around 1,300 breweries in the country, ranking second only to the United States, so you can imagine that the choices are regional and varied. Still, a few huge companies dominate the German beer market, with Krombacher lately taking the crown as the single top brand, followed by Bitburger, Warsteiner, and Becks, which is by far the most exported German beer. Their famous Reinheitsgebot purity law that used to limit the potential ingredients has kept nearly all imported beers out of the country, even long after the EU made them give that up in 1987.
Another country that as famous for beer as for almost anything else, the Netherlands continues to be dominated by the giant Heineken brewery. Beer loyalty and distribution tends to be very regional in this small country, but the main Heineken Pilsner that flows almost like water in Amsterdam and several other large cities is so ubiquitous that many places carry nothing else, and even get their supply from trucks that pump the stuff into a tank a few times a week instead of dealing with all those pesky kegs. Its nearest competitor is Amstel (not Amstel Light, which is mostly exported), but they don’t have to worry about the competition because Heineken bought that brand in 1968. Grolsch, which is sometimes known for its stay-attached bottle cap, is a distant third.
By sheer volume, it’s reported that China has recently passed the United States as the world’s largest beer market, even though in financial terms it’s only about a quarter as large. It seems those 1.3 billion people do get thirsty, and those who can afford beer reach for a Tsingtao more than any other brand. Tsingtao is also the only Chinese beer with an aggressive export campaign, so it’s the world’s favorite Chinese beer as well. Zhujiang and Ynjing are ranked number two and three, as far as we can tell.
Another country that people might not automatically assume is filled with beer guzzlers, Japan is really in love with the stuff. While sake owns about 8% of the country’s alcohol market, beer takes down almost 60%, with four huge companies dominating the scene. Asahi Super Dry appears to be on top currently, closely followed by Kirin, Sopporo, and Suntory. The country’s famous beer vending machines, which used to sell cans as big as one liter to anyone with enough money, have been phased out for fear of adding to underage drinking with just a bit too much convenience.
Canadians rarely pass up a chance to look down their noses at Americans because they feel nearly all their beer is better than the swill that most Yanks drink, and it’s true that they do have some fine suds available in the great white north, but their best selling brand is currently Labatt Blue. It’s definitely at least half a step above most of the popular American beers they like to make fun of, but those crazy Canucks don’t get off so easy because Coors Light has recently made its way up to number two, and Molson Canadian checks in third. Budweiser itself had all of them beat as recently as 2005, so there really isn’t too much to brag about.
Many people don’t immediately think of beer when they think of Brazil, but the fifth most populous country in the world with almost 200 million residents likes its lager. With almost a third of the total market, the local brand Skol (named after the toasting expression in Scandinavia) dominates, with Brahma getting about 20%, followed by Antarctica with about 14%. Lest you think the competition is cutthroat, all of them are owned by what used to be known as AmBev, which recently merged with Interbrew, to create InBev, which is the largest brewing company in the world, even if it doesn’t take over Anhauser-Busch soon.
Beer fanatics will usually tell you that a trip to Belgium is like strolling through the pearly gates. Known for a dizzying variety of quality choices, you can get a high-alcohol Trappist monk beer, and then wash that down with a white beer, which features a collection of herbs and orange peels to give it more character. But Belgium is also home of the giant InBev brewery company, and traditional lagers are still most popular. Stella Artois is by far the largest selling Belgian beer around the world, but curiously enough it only holds an 8% share in the country, crushed by Jupiler, which gets around 40% of the market. This isn’t much of a rivalry however, since InBev owns both brands anyway.
Foster’s Lager is one of the world’s best known and best selling beers, yet it can barely get arrested in Australia itself. Thanks to a genius marketing campaign and relentless promotion, the world thinks “Foster’s is Australian for beer” and yet it’s barely even available down under. The beer scene is dominated by different brands in each state, but the overall winner currently is Victoria Bitter, which is locally known as VB, is really a normal lager instead of a real bitter, and is owned by Foster’s anyway. VB is especially big in the state of Victoria (where Melbourne is), while Toohey’s is biggest in New South Wales (where Sydney is) and XXXX dominates in Queensland (where Brisbane is).
Fans of quality lager beers like to make a pilgrimage to the Czech Republic, where the original stuff was invented, and it’s nearly impossible to get anything that isn’t excellent. The country is also the world’s number one per capita beer guzzler, staying well ahead of Ireland, Germany, and Australia. This could be down to the fact that waiting until lunch to start drinking a pivo, as it’s locally known, isn’t necessary, and a pint of great beer can be obtained for under US$1 in many places. Pilsner Urquell is the most famous brand internationally, and is considered the world’s first golden beer, dating back to 1842.
The name comes from Pilsen, which is a city that is now in the Czech Republic, and Urquell, which translates to “original source.” But in the Czech Republic itself Urquell plays second fiddle to its cheaper brother called Gambrinus, which consistently outsells the international brand. Both are owned by brewing giant SAB-Miller anyway, so once again it’s not much of a rivalry.