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England – I don’t need to tell you much about England. You all know about the traditional real ale the recent renaissance and also the popularity of craft beer. Like the football team the English beer scene is very exciting. Some of my favourites are Triple Chocoholic by Saltaire Brewery which is a rich chocolately smooth stout. Also, there is Orchid a silky vanilla mild by East London Brewery. When I’m out drinking I sometimes feel like England Head Coach Roy Hodgson choosing his attacking options. Blessed with so much talent England are one of the favourites for the tournament and have a real (ale) chance of winning it or will they just bottle it (sorry) like usual.
Wales – The biggest brewery in Wales is Brains. Their most famous beer is Brains SA which is a good session bitter. Over recent years Brains have created their own core range of craft beers. These include beers such as Atlantic White which is Belgian Wit and Barry Island IPA their take on an American IPA. However the Welsh beer scene isn’t just a one man team like the football team. That’s a reference to Gareth Bale in case you were wondering. Another big player (Ashley Williams) is Tiny Rebel Brewing Company from Newport who won Champion Beer of Britain 2015 for Cwytch their red ale which is a tangy amber bitter although I prefer their other beers. Another name to look out for (Joe Allen) is Artisan Brewery based in Cardiff who produce Pipes beers including a Vienna Red Lager and a Smoked Lager.
Slovakia – I visited the capital Bratislava four years ago and found it to be one of the most charming small cities in Europe. I remember sitting outside a restaurant on a cobbled street on a sunny May lunchtime drinking a very refreshing Zlaty Bazant (Golden Pheasant) svelte lager with my bowl of gnocchi. Zlaty Bazant are quite good and also do a Tmave which is a dark and sweeter beer which was delicious sitting near the castle overlooking the Danube. There’s much more to beer in Slovakia than Zlaty Bazant though. The top ranked beer in Slovakia on Rate Beer at the moment sounds absolutely incredible. Behind The Hills Smoked Porter by Pivovar Stupavar is full-bodied dark brown colour with the sweetness of caramel, smokiness of bacon as well as strong chocolate and coffee hints. This sounds like my ideal beer. I need to go back and visit.
Russia – The land of vodka. Well actually although more vodka is drunk but beer isn’t very far behind it. Russia is the fourth largest beer market in the world. The biggest brand is Baltika who have around 35% market share (which is down 3% when I last profiled them for Brazil 2014). Baltika are one of the biggest breweries in Europe and produce just about every type of beer. In fact a lot seems to have happened in the last few years and a craft revolution is happening across major cities in Russia. Saldens in Tula have an impressive range of beers including a caramel brown ale, smoked porter and three stouts. All of these beers seem full-bodied and very frothy. I’d love to try some. There’s also Victory Art Brew in Moscow who clearly know their beer and every brew has a story behind it. For example ‘The Beer Flood Porter’ is an attempt ot recreate a porter from around the time of ‘The Beer Flood’ at Meux’s Brewery in 1814. It sounds like Russia has a very exciting beer scene which is growing all of the time.
Who will qualify? England are favourites and should win the group as they have too much quality and so many options at their disposal. All the other teams will fancy their chances. However I think Wales have some big players which should give them the edge.