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The Best Un-American Beers to Drink on This Most American of Holidays

They might be patriotic, but they’re not from these parts

We’re an industrious people, but until the craft beer craze of the last couple decades, our mass-produced offerings to the Beer Gods have more or less tasted like piss. Not to mention, our macro brews are far from exotic—originating from not-so-faraway places like St. Louis and Milwaukee. Luckily, it’s a big world out there. A world, too, that’s awash in better beer—if for no other reason than that better beer comes from an unfamiliar place and seemingly makes us more sophisticated when sucking it down (even though, in many cases, it’s simply another country’s version of Budweiser). It still makes us feel different and worldly, though…

Josh Schollmeyer, Founder/Editor in Chief: So here’s the thing: I’m a sucker for beer bottles. (The beer itself, not so much.) And I love that squat Red Stripe bottle the most. (The beer, too, is probably my favorite, at least as my taste in beer, which is minimal, goes.) I feel like Andre the Giant with that baby beer bottle in my hands — a straw in a bear paw. For whatever reason, I also imagine that’s how all beer was bottled in like the 1940s and 1950s, when everything was seemingly smaller than it is today. So I feel like my grandfather when throwing them back.

A close second is Delirium Tremens. But that’s more of a branding thing:

  1. I’m into the idea of leaning into how booze fucks with your head. (Cause, me, too.)
  2. If the DTs reference is too sophisticated, they go more obvious with the pink elephant on the bottle (still delightful marketing, though).
  3. To make even the more basic pink elephant iconography clever, their tap handles have been known to be pink elephant trunks.

Best of all, as a guzzler of hard spirits, they will indeed fuck you up — the first Belgian beer that truly knocked me on my ass since I thought I could drink them at a Red Stripe-like pace. (I could not.)

Ian Lecklitner, Staff Writer: I’m a fan of the Hitachino White Ale, which is a Japanese beer. It’s light and has a funny little owl on the label (which, if I’m being honest, is a big part of the appeal). While it can be tough to come by in America, if you’re lucky, you might be able to find it at your local ramen restaurant.

C. Brian Smith, Features Writer: I’ve been relegated to non-alcoholic beer since 2012 but yearn for them, especially this time of year. Beck’s NA is my go-to because it’s light, crisp and always available at Southern California liquor stores.

Tracy Moore, Staff Writer: If, like me, you grew up on shitty light domestic beers purchased by the case, you probably think you don’t need a Japanese rice beer like Sapporo in your life. You’ve got your needs met, and if the beer ain’t broke, don’t replace it with a foreign substitute. But in every way, Sapporo is as American as any can of Bud — but arguably with a much cleaner finish. It’s Japan’s most popular beer brand, which means it’s their Budweiser. Like true shitty beer, it’s made with whatever’s around, in this case, rice. And even though you typically see it on menus at sushi joints, you’d never know the difference if you paired it with a hot dog in a blind taste test. Most importantly, it passes the only American taste test for beer I’ve ever known: It’s cheap, goes down easy, and gets you drunk if you keep at it all day. So cheers to that. (And rumor has it, it’s brewed here anyway.)

Zaron Burnett, Contributing Writer: Foreign beers are slippery to judge, they each have their specific appeal. Heineken was the first foreign beer I ever tasted; I was five. I snuck a few sips of my dad’s beer. I knew it was special; I knew Heineken was an import. Like a German car. Some folks say Heineken tastes like skunk spray. Those people are being dramatic. Besides, the skunkiness is from the green glass and sunlight interacting. I mean, Heineken is peppery, sure. It’s kinda skunky in the nose, fine. It’s not my favorite foreign beer. But it’s a damn good one. And it’s perhaps the best beer to evaluate other beers of the world. Using a sliding Heineken scale, I’d say a Guinness stout resides a few spots higher on the ladder of taste. While a Bass pale ale is a spot or two lower. Now, using that same scale of reference, without hesitation, I’d say the best foreign beer is the Dutch beer, Grolsch. They’ve been bottling goodness since 1615.

Goede dag, may I please have a Grolsch.” That’s just a fun word to roll around your mouth. Best part of the deal is that the beer’s flavor lives up to the promise of its name. Unlike, say, Tsingtao. A Grolsch has got more body, more flavor than a Heineken, but it’s not much heavier. It has the mouthfeel of a pilsner, but that crisp and bitter hoppy hit of a pale ale. It’s blonde in color, Germanic in style, and it’s good ice cold or left to sweat a bit in the afternoon sun. It’s probably best kellar kalte, as they say in German. Or cellar cold, as we Americans might put it. That means it’s cool to the hand but not so cold that the beer’s flavors don’t have a chance to spread across your tongue.

Plus, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve got mad love for those flip-top bottles. Each bottle has what they call de beugel; it’s this cool porcelain ceramic stopper (well, the new ones are plastic) with a rubber gasket ring and a swing arm to seal the flip-top shut. The beer itself is akin to a Stella Artois, only much better. They feel like a summer evening in Amsterdam.

Oliver Bateman, Contributing Writer: I’ve only ever had an alcoholic drink once in my life, and it was a Lindeman’s Framboise that I won as a prize at a bar trivia contest. I was tempted to give it away, but I drank it and was impressed by how much it tasted like a fruit soda. My trivia teammates informed me that Framboise mixed with Hoegaarden offers incredible “mouth feel,” but this remains unconfirmed.

Erin Taj, Art Director: Gulden Draak Belgian Ale is heavy, strong and flavorful — the three things I look for when drinking beer. Because let’s be real: If the ABV is lower than 6 percent, it’s juice. On the flip side, if it’s strong but tastes like garbage, it’s impossible to justify ordering. Like, at that point, just order a shot or a glass of wine. It also has a cool-ass bottle — a golden, foil-stamped dragon on a white background with red Olde English style type. Metal.

Eddie Kim, Features Writer: I drank my first-ever saison seven years ago in the living room of my college apartment, after a trip to Costco that resulted in us hauling away several large bottles of “fancy” imported beer. None of us could even define what a saison was, but we had read (on Google, while standing in the aisle) that Saison Dupont was the granddaddy of the style. Unlike some of those other strong dark beers we bought, Dupont was brilliantly easy to drink: Crisp and fizzy, with a tart aroma and flavors of pear and spice and baked sourdough that I couldn’t stop sipping. I felt cultured, but not like an asshole, because this was — and is! — a beer that anyone could love.

Cooper Fleishman, New York Bureau Chief: I love to celebrate America by drinking this sweet, watery beer mass-produced by an international Belgian-Brazilian corporation called AB InBev. This swill can only claim a connection to our country by playing up its long-ago history of American production and by slapping jingoistic slogans like FREEDOM on the cans and boxes. I’m talking, of course, about Budweiser, whose new Freedom Reserve line is allegedly (and mistakenly) inspired by George Washington’s own homemade beer recipe. Despite its branding, Anheuser-Busch — which says it commands half the U.S. beer market — may actually be the least American beer possible. But then again, nothing is more American than spiting the hipster-IPA-producing craft breweries that are actually reviving local U.S. economies, and instead, paying $17 at Walmart for a 20-case of tall boys with the damn flags on the cans.

Haley Hamilton, Booze Correspondent: My dirty little secret as a bartender is that I’m not much of a beer drinker. Best way to know I’ve had too much to drink and need to go home? Catch me with a Highlife in my hands. That being said, I truly appreciate the craft and flavors of a strong Belgian ale, like the St. Bernardus Abt. 12. It’s super well-balanced, not too hoppy, not too sweet, and more smooth and creamy than bubbly. That it’s 10 percent ABV probably doesn’t hurt.

Miles Klee, Staff Writer: Stella. Just fucking Stella. I know it’s trash and only for soccer hooligans, but I can crush eight or ten at a barbecue or polish off a 20-ounce glass in the airport bar for $15 before my flight leaves. It’s gotta be Stella. What a shitty dumb awesome beer.

John McDermott, Staff Writer: I worked at a sushi restaurant in college, where I developed a taste for Asian beer. Singha. Sapporo. Tiger. If hard-pressed, I’d say my favorite is Asahi. But I fuck with literally all Asian beers. They all score high on the taste-drinkability index, meaning they’re enjoyable whether you’re having just one or a dozen. And the irony is that they’re modeled after American-style lagers (e.g., Budweiser).

Tierney Finster, Contributing Writer: Singha is a perfectly pale Thai lager. I like to go to Ruen Pair, the best late-night restaurant in L.A., and drink Singha while eating. Earlier this year, I saw Nick Kroll there chowing down on a strange looking beef dish and inquired as to what it was. It turned out to be Thai beef jerky, or fried chunks of sun-dried beef served with a sweet, vinegar-y dipping sauce. The texture is amazing and a Singha is the perfect way to wash it back (although a Thai iced coffee is a close second).

My other favorite non-American beer is Angkor from Cambodia, but mostly because I’m nostalgic for my first trip outside of the U.S. — two weeks in Cambodia in 2011. I stayed in Siem Reap and bought Angkor from street vendors at night. This was before I even liked beer, but Angkor’s ubiquity got me. (The beer is named after Angkor Wat, the legendary temple and true highlight of my trip.) We were experiencing Cambodia’s hot, sticky summer, and Angkor was always served over crushed ice, which I’ve never encountered anywhere else. I don’t get why this seems so weird to people, though, given the fact that everyone who drinks beer prefers it icy cold. So if you invite me over for a barbeque, you’ll definitely find me pouring whatever beer you’re serving over ice cubes.

Cat Frazier, Animator: Sol is a lot like me — laid-back, refreshing and not very memorable. It’s closer to water than Corona. But since it’s only 4.5 percent alcohol, it doesn’t get me too buzzed before the appetizers arrive. One thing that does stand out about Sol is the design of the label. After a recent redesign earlier this year, the bottles now feature bright yellow sunbursts as an homage to the vibrant murals that cover Monterrey, Mexico, where it was first brewed.

Nick Leftley, Senior Editor: My favourite (on this one occasion, editor, please leave my British “u” intact) un-American beer isn’t a specific beer, but rather, a serving suggestion. I’d guess many Americans are familiar with the idea of a shandy — traditionally, a drink that’s half beer, half lemonade. (FYI, in England, lemonade just means Sprite.) But less common is the idea of a “lager top” — a sort of sophomore shandy where only the top inch of the glass is filled with Sprite. The perfect hangover drink, that little dash of soda helps ease you back into another day’s drinking without significantly lowering the alcohol content.

I have a particular fondness for Carlsberg tops, mostly due to nostalgia. I spent the early 2000s working on-and-off in my local indie/metal/biker pub, the Castle. (Don’t look for it, it was bulldozed a few years back to make way for a block of flats, because yay gentrification!) All the regulars — an odd comingling of large, heavy men with skinheads and West Ham tattoos, and skinny, eyeliner-wearing teenage grungers — drank Carlsberg tops. Except no one called them that: In the Castle, they were only ever known as “shit bottoms.”

Let me explain. As any experienced bartender will tell you, if you try and pour an inch of Sprite into the top of a pint of lager, it’s going to explode in foam. To do it right, you pour the Sprite first. In the spirit of ardent pedantry beloved by British barflies, it was therefore known as a Carlsberg bottom. Carlsberg, however, being the cheapest and weakest beer on offer, was mostly referred to as “shit,” hence, “shit bottom.” Many was the first time bartender who would turn to me in bewilderment after a customer had grunted out a request for, “Three shit bottoms, pint of shit, two wife-beaters and a bottle of bitch piss” — the latter two being the common British name for Stella Artois and (admittedly far less commonly used) Smirnoff Ice, respectively.

Is the shit bottom the best possible example of a lager top? Absolutely not. Does it make me smile when I order one? ‘Course it fackin’ does you fackin’ cunt, what are you fackin’ lookin’ at???