International Beer Day is on Friday 2 August and is the perfect opportunity for a tipple or two. To celebrate, I look at the typical drinks associated with some of the most popular holiday destinations - hopefully to inspire you to take a trip to enjoy the drinks in these places yourself.
Clearly International Beer Day does not carry the same political resonance as International Women’s Day or World Holocaust Day, but we shouldn’t underestimate the social importance of beer and other beverages. After all, in many countries across the world the pub or bar is an integral part of our community, and the creation of the drinks we enjoy inside these establishments is not only a vast industry, but also often a labour of love. Brewers and winemakers alike spend their working lives in search of the perfect blend and, just as clothing fashions change, so do drinking habits.
No sooner have the artisans who bring us our glorious glasses of the amber nectar nailed the perfect recipe than the tide changes subtly and we want more hops, less hops, darker beer, lighter ale, higher alcohol content or lower alcohol content. So we are a fickle bunch and it’s beholden on the drinks industry to put a smile on our faces when we raise our tankards, goblets and tumblers.
So now we have established that International Beer Day marks something a little more important than it first seems, you might be asking just what exactly is it?
It first came to life in California in 2007 but has since developed into something which is celebrated in more than 80 nations. The three declared purposes are to celebrate brewers and people who serve beer, to share beer with your friends and to try beers from different places for the first time.
To be honest it doesn’t sound bad does it? Effectively it’s a rather neat excuse to try some different drinks and be nice to people, and it always happens on the first Friday of August so you should be in a good mood already.
For this article, however, I thought I would widen the remit beyond beer to include some iconic drinks which are inextricably linked to their home nations.
Jamaica - Montego Bay
The Caribbean is loaded with beautiful beaches, dramatic scenery, glorious sunshine and, of course, opportunities for sundowners in exotic locations. And the island of Jamaica is simply teeming with perfect spots to enjoy an evening libation as the sun sets on another balmy day in paradise. At 4,240 square miles, it’s the fourth largest island nation in the Caribbean and this, combined with a population of 2.9 million people, means it is no mere drop in the ocean.
Perhaps the most famous person to come from this traditionally athletic nation in recent years is Usain Bolt. And in the pantheon of famous Jamaicans Bolt is joined by legendary reggae artist Bob Marley. Sport and music are dominant themes on the island, but so is tourism, relaxation and enjoying a drink.
One obvious destination on Jamaica is Montego Bay up on the north coast. The capital of Saint James Parish is very much holiday central with beaches like Doctor’s Cave and Walter Fletcher, golf courses, an amusement park and sublime snorkelling and diving.
It’s also a great party town and if you are in the Caribbean then it has to be rum doesn’t it? It’s the basis for some of the most famous cocktails you will find in these tropical climes. And whether you like a classic Daiquiri, a minty Mojito or a Dark and Stormy, you will find a great selection of rum on Jamaica. The biggest name in the business is Mount Gay, but this is made in Barbados, so you may want to seek out something a little more local, such as the 12-year-old rare blend from the Appleton Estate, or the rum from Worthy Park which has been aged in sherry casks.
And if rum is not quite your thing then you can always sit back with a cool Red Stripe, the Jamaican beer which was first brewed in 1928 and is now almost as synonymous with the region as Bolt or Marley.
Mexico - Puerto Vallarta
The Pacific Coast paradise of Puerto Vallarta (or just Vallarta) is one of the most popular and beautiful vacation destinations in Mexico. The area stretches the entire length of Banderas Bay and is framed by the towering Sierra Madre Mountains.
If you want a classic beach holiday then you have definitely come to the right place because there is plenty of sun, sand, and surf. If sunbathing all day is your dream, then you can laze from dusk till dawn if you wish, but there’s no shortage of other activities. You can enjoy snorkelling in this welcoming stretch of the mighty Pacific, and Vallarta and the surrounding area also offer ancient archaeological sites, vibrant festivals, botanical gardens, museums dedicated to pre-Hispanic indigenous people, and colourful Catholic cathedrals.
As evening arrives head to the Zona Romántica- a trendy area packed with lively bars and restaurants where you will also find quaint courtyard cafés and contemporary galleries alongside boutique hotels on charming cobbled streets.
When it comes to choosing a drink, it’s hard to look beyond tequila. This is Mexico after all and Vallarta is pretty much in the original heartland of tequila production. This drink is made from the blue agave plant and has a distinctive flavour all of its own which you might consider an acquired taste. Most of us probably immediately think of the Tequila Slammer (with lemonade or ginger ale) or just straight shots of tequila preceded by a lick of salt and followed by sucking a slice of lemon and lime. The salt reduces the burn of the tequila and the citrus fruit enhances the flavour.
Perhaps you’ve had a few bad experiences with this sort of drink in the past but still want to try tequila? Then why not just have a Tequila Sunrise? This famous cocktail is made with tequila, orange juice and grenadine syrup, and then served, unmixed, in a tall glass.
Austria - The Alps
It really doesn’t matter what time of year you visit the Austrian Alps, it’s always breathtakingly beautiful here. If you fly into Innsbruck you will experience one of Europe’s best airport approaches as the pilot guides his plane through the mountains and into the valley of the River Inn far below. When you land you will find an enchanting city with a small town vibe. Or you might fly into Salzburg, the famous birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And just in case you were in any doubt about the city’s provenance they have quite rightly named the airport after him.
If skiing is your thing then the likes of St Anton am Arlberg and Saalbach are the party capitals of the Austrian Alps, but if you want a more sedate snowbound experience there are hundreds of smaller resorts dotted around these wonderful mountains. And most of these resorts quite easily convert themselves into suitable spring and summer holiday destinations with hiking and mountain biking high on the agenda.
When it comes to enjoying a drink you will find the Austrians are really quite enthusiastic. Classic local beers include Stiegl and Zipfer and they both wash down very easily after any form of exercise in the mountains. You will find Schnapps in almost every flavour under the sun, but a particular favourite is the hazelnut variety. Just don’t forget how strong it is!
Perhaps you may not know the Austrians make and enjoy one of the most refreshing white wines, Grüner Veltliner. It’s a versatile grape and the wine is usually dry with spicy, peppery notes. It is often full-bodied and with age can take on flavours similar to white Burgundies. It’s not uncommon to see locals enjoying a stylish crystal goblet of Grüner Veltliner at any time of the day, and if you haven’t tried it before then you should give it a go.
It is with good reason that the Germans are famous for beer and sausage. Whether you go to Hamburg or Hanover, or Berlin or Munich, you will be greeted with a myriad of opportunities for a wurst of any variety (the curry version comes somewhere top of the list) along with purely brewed local German beer. The German Beer Purity Laws were adopted in Bavaria in 1516 and they are a little too lengthy to explain in full detail here, but in short, they limit the ingredients to be used in the brewing of beer to water, barley and hops. Yeast wasn’t around when they were written but it is also allowed. Of course there are all sorts of exceptions, but the sheer existence of a 500-year-old law to protect the purity of the product tells you how serious the Germans are about their beer. And whether you want wheat, pale, dark or even unfiltered, there is a beer for you in this great nation.
Famous breweries include Paulaner in Munich, Krombacher in Kreuztal and Beck’s in Bremen, but best of all are the likes of Erdinger from Erding and Bitburger from Bitburg. When it comes to naming your beer you can’t get much more simple than that can you?
The truth is you will find beautiful beer wherever you tread in Germany, but it would be remiss of us not to give Munich a special mention. The capital of Bavaria is the home of the world famous Oktoberfest, but you should visit any time to enjoy beer and pretzels in the outdoor Viktualienmarkt which is a wonderful food and drink venue in the middle of the city. And if you want the real experience you must go to the famous Hofbräuhaus, where you will be served foaming steins of beer and plates of pork knuckle as the Oompah Band fills the air with the sound of Bavarian merry making.
Yes of course, the Germans make wine, and this is also the country which brought Jägermeister to the world, but really, just have a beer. You won’t regret it. And because of the Purity Laws you are unlikely to suffer a thumping hangover after a night on the German beer.
Spain - Málaga
Fly down to southern Spain for some guaranteed warmth and the textbook holiday experience on the Costa del Sol. Málaga itself is the biggest city on this stretch of the coast and it’s the sixth largest city in the whole of Spain with a population of more than 500,000. With its wonderful Mediterranean climate it’s just perfect for beaches, watersports, hiking, shopping, museums and long dinners on warm evenings. And of course some simple sangria or refreshing Andalucian beer, such as Cruzcampo or Alhambra, to enhance your evening.
If the big city is not your thing, there are plenty of other options in the region to suit all tastes. Nearby Marbella with Puerto Banús Marina is something of a Mecca for the image conscious so it’s just the place for people watching. There are plenty of other more low-key villages along the coastline if you are looking for somewhere quiet for a fresh seafood meal.
But this is Andalucia; so travelling a few miles inland will quickly take you into a different world of tapas, flamenco and fiestas. The two great historical cities of Granada, with the magnificent Alhambra Fortress, and Seville beckon for culture vultures and gastronomes alike.
But what to drink in this holiday hotspot? Sangria is one of the most popular tipples in this part of the world, and goes well with a table full of tapas, but it isn't the only option. If you can suspend memories of your granny sipping a sherry for a few days then it would almost be a sin not to indulge in the spiritual home of the most famous of the fortified wines. Perhaps a trip to Jerez de la Frontera, one of southern Spain’s most beautiful smaller cities, will help re-educate your sherry drinking palate?
It has somehow retained an unspoilt air and you will simply love strolling its whitewashed streets. The surrounding countryside is the only place on earth where sherry is made from palomino grapes that grow in the loose, chalky soil. Take a tour of the bodegas (cellars) of the city’s most famous brand, Tio Pepe, and you will learn everything you need to know about the production and enjoyment of this versatile drink. And then you may realise that perhaps granny was on to something after all…
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