The world's best drinking cultures

Germans drink to enjoy themselves, and you can't help but be swept up in it. And have you seen the size of the beers?
Germans drink to enjoy themselves, and you can't help but be swept up in it. And have you seen the size of the beers? Photo: Reuters

It's about quality, not quantity. Moldova was just named the "world's drunkest country", for example, but that doesn't mean you'd want to go there for a drink.

To have a good drinking culture, a country needs more than just the ability to get as loaded as an Aussie cricketer on a long-haul flight. There needs to be a sense of occasion, a sense of fun. It shouldn't be drinking sorrows away, it should be toasting good times.

It should also include good food. As every good drinker knows, eating is definitely not cheating. And if you can combine your boozing with some top-class bar snacks, then why not go for it?

Throw in some good music, drinking venues with a bit of character, and friendly people to share your drinks with, and you've got the makings of a great drinking culture. Here are the countries that have nailed it.

Japan
Having some of the world's best beer doesn't hurt, but there's more to it than that. Visit an izakaya and you'll know what I'm talking about. There, you sit around sipping sake, slurping beer, and eating the Japanese version of tapas: little plates of gyoza, sashimi, edamame, fried vegetables… Everyone has their specialty. And then you can roll down to the local karaoke joint!

Spain
Barcelona. There, finished. If you can't find somewhere you enjoy drinking in that city, then you may have lost the will to booze altogether. Throw in the pintxos bars of the Basque region, the wines from Rioja, and the free tapas that gets plonked in front of you unbidden at almost every bar in the country, and you've got one great place for a tipple.

Germany
The people in the Munich beer gardens know it. The people in the Berlin bars and nightclubs know it. The students in the dingy bars in Cologne know it. Germans drink to enjoy themselves, and you can't help but be swept up in it. And have you seen the size of their beers? This is a country that takes its ale seriously.

Argentina
Best thing about Argentina? The timetable. Night owls rejoice, because this is a country that parties all night. In fact, things don't even kick off until well into the evening, when the malbec is broken out and the partying begins. Stumble home before 8am and you've had a quiet one.

Ireland
Okay, maybe quantity has a little to do with it, because the Irish have such a sheer passion for the drink that you're fighting a losing battle to ignore it. Best places to go are the country pubs, where you can get a good pint of Guinness and listen to the locals who've brought their musical instruments along with them. You'll make friends, guaranteed.

Belgium
Belgium gets the nod for its citizens' pure appreciation of beer. How often can you walk into a pub and have the choice of 400 tap beers? That leaves some serious experimenting to do. And where else can you rely on the local monastery to produce the best beer you've ever tasted? That's like God shouting you a round.  

Thailand
Thais seem to approach drinking in the same way they approach most things in life: with a gentle, happy ease. It's more a case of share a tallie over a few cubes of ice with friends than try to get yourself blotto. You'll see this happening in every open-air restaurant in the country, friends laughing and joking over a few brews. I could do without the whisky though.

USA
The bars are good, and the Yanks really know how to do a house party, but what makes the States great is the live music scene. Head to New York, or Portland, or LA, or San Francisco, or Seattle, or Nashville, or Austin, or New Orleans, and you'll be guaranteed to be able to catch a great band any night of the week. It's a scene that's sadly impossible to recreate over here.

Brazil
Brazil's all about one thing: having fun. People don't drink to get drunk, they drink to have a good time, and that means dancing your arse off. Westerners like me need a few fortifying caipirinhas before hitting the dancefloor with all those rump-shaking latinas, but it's worth every bit of potential embarrassment. Before long it's 5am and you've barely had time to get to the bar.

Which country do you think has the world's best drinking culture?

Hope you're enjoying the Backpacker blog – there will be a new one published every Tuesday and Wednesday on the Fairfax Media websites. To contact me with any topic suggestions or personal abuse, visit my website, follow me on Twitter, or email me on bengroundwater@gmail.com.     

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