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France – The biggest brewery is Kronenbourg which is known for the stereotypically French adverts featuring Eric Cantona. While Kronenbourg is one of the better tasting commercial lagers we don’t need to discuss it any further. The second biggest is Brasserie du Mont Blanc set up in 1999 in the region of savoy in the Western Alps. They have produced a number of award-winning beers including La Blanche their wheat beer and La Rousse which is a creamy amber at 7.2%. France has really embraced craft beer over the last few years and microbreweries are popping up all around the country. Most of these are based on Belgian or American styles but quite a few are sticking to traditional French brewing styles and creating their own Bier de Garde. To find out more about the French beer scene check out my recent blog about The French Beer Revolution.
Romania – They love their beer in Romania. So much so it is classed as food which makes it cheaper as it avoids tariffs and restrictions placed upon alcohol. The biggest company in Romania is Ursus Breweries who have four breweries across the country. One in three Romanians drink an Ursus branded beer so they really dominate the market. Their flagship lager is also called Ursus. Reviews suggest it is a pale golden colour and tastes of cereal and sweet malt. They also do a Stejar (translated as oak) which is described as “a strong beer for men of hardwood”. It’s a 7% amber and apparently very malty and sweet and not very nice. So much for a beer that “promotes determination, boldness, initiative and character strength”. There are however quite a few microbreweries creeping on to the beer scene including Zaganu which was one of the first back in 2013. They brew four beers including a blonde, brune and IPA, however their fourth beer sounds very good indeed. Rosie is a unpasturised red ale at 7% with a strong fruity taste.
Albania – Birra Malto is the biggest brewery in Albania and their main lager is called Birra Tirana which is the name of their capital city (yes I didn’t know that either). Birra Tirana accounts for around 30% of all beer sales in Albania and it seems hard pressed finding any alternatives. I have found an interesting brewery called Brauhaus who are brewing German style beers in the centre of Tirana. Their beers include a Helles, Weissbeir and a Wiener Marzen. There is also a restaurant and bar on site. Surely worth a visit if you’re in Tirana.
Switzerland – There are more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the world. Fact. You may be surprised by this like I was but I suppose Switzerland is quite a rich country and very small so it make sense. Almost three-quarters of beer produced are by Heineken and Carlsberg who own popular brands such as Calanda and Hurlimann. Microbreweries differ considerably from East to West. The East is German speaking so they mainly produce unfiltered pale lagers to suit the Germans. Whereas the French speaking in the west haven’t got a beer identity so they are getting inspiration from Belgium, the US and the UK. With over 630 breweries the Swiss are doing very well indeed and there’s simply too many to choose from. For more information here is a very informative article on the current Swiss beer scene.
Who will qualify? France are big favourites for the tournament and with such a burgeoning craft beer scene they will win the group. Switzerland will fancy themselves to finish second as they have lots of resources and the most breweries per capita in the world. Romania are an outside bet and you can never write off “the men of hardwood”.