The best cities in Europe for craft beer lovers
Though the USA is credited with kicking off the craft beer movement in the 1980s, there are so many great breweries and craft beer bars all over Europe. As homebrewing became easier and more popular in the early 2000s, anyone with some savings and a love for beer could open a brewery. European countries who weren’t known for their beer, like Spain and Portugal, began developing their own independent brews, and Sweden’s breweries grew from 30 to 300 between 2007 and 2017. Good craft beer can be found everywhere, but check out the bars and craft breweries in these cities to taste some of the best beer in Europe.
Not far from the German and Czech borders, Wroc?aw has always been one of the best cities in Poland for imported pilsners and German beers. It could have remained a pretty unremarkable city for Polish beer if it weren’t for Browar Stu Mostów (100 Bridges Brewery) opening in 2012. Stu Mostów is fast becoming Poland’s biggest and most popular brewery, but has firmly based its heart and headquarters in Wroc?aw, a charming city with a fair few bridges. Warsztat Piwowarski is another great Wroc?aw-based brewery that has followed in Stu Mostów’s footsteps.
Within the last 10 years, bars that serve purely local craft beer have popped up everywhere in Wroc?aw. Some of the best are Kontynuacja (around 25 Polish beers on draft at any one time), Ale Browar and 4Hops to name just a few.
Spain may be better known for tapas and Rioja wine, but Barcelona also boasts one of the best craft beers in Europe. Steve Huxley, a brewer from Liverpool, brought young people with a passion for brewing together around 20 years ago and created a few amateur brewing projects in the Poble Sec neighbourhood of Barcelona. Sadly, Huxley passed away in 2015, but even he might be astounded by the sheer number of craft beer (or cervesa artesana) bars that have opened in the last couple of years.
Any beer lover would be spoilt for choice in Barcelona, but there are one or two good places to start. Edge Brewing opened in 2013 by two American craft beer aficionados and was rated the best new brewery in the world by RateBeer a year later, so they’re doing okay for themselves. Barcelona Beer Company is another good local choice, and they make their beer using the water from Montseny Natural Park a few kilometres away. Must-visit bars include Garage Beer Co., BierCaB and Kælderkold.
Although traditionally famous for their cider, no other UK city can compare to Bristol when it comes to craft beer. Over the last 20 years, Bristol has been reborn from the ashes of its industrial heritage to become an enterprising city full of independent businesses, artists and artisanal cafes, and (you guessed it) craft breweries. Plus, the Bristol Craft Beer Festival is one of the biggest festivals of its kind in the country.
Some of the most well-respected (and friendliest) brewers come from Bristol breweries Lost and Grounded and Arbor Ales. Top bars in Bristol stocking local craft beer include The Three Tuns, Small Bar and The Beer Emporium.
When Sweden joined the EU in 1995, their laws forbidding beer above 5.6% alcohol to be sold was null and void. Swedish beer lovers could finally enjoy formerly illegal beers from around the world, so the craft beer movement couldn’t have been better timed for beer-drinking Swedes. Malmö, in particular, has experienced a surge in craft breweries and bars, possibly because it’s only a 40-minute drive from Denmark’s capital city Copenhagen, another hotspot for craft beer.
Popular Malmö breweries such as the Malmö Brewing Co. and South Plains Brewing Company have an American feel with a clean, Scandinavian twist (read: hipster). Their beers can be found at the Malmö Brewing Co. Taproom and Beer Ditch bars.
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Maastricht claims the title ‘beer capital of the Netherlands’, but that’s probably because it has a lot of established breweries with 100-year-old beers that you can drink in dated, dark pubs. Utrecht is the hip, young graduate to Maastricht’s ageing legend.
De Leckere opened in 1997 and was probably the first official brewery in Utrecht. Their beers are 100% organic and their brews are named after Utrecht landmarks. Its huge popularity and success may have had something to do with many other breweries like Maximus Brewery and Oproer Brewery opening (and staying open) in such a small city. Head to De Drie Dorstige Herten and Beers and Barrels to taste local brews.
The first capital city on this list, because honestly, nowhere else in Denmark does craft beer as much justice as Copenhagen. The city is widely known as a vibrant and young place and like many cities with a young population, craft breweries are in abundance.
Plus, craft beer giant Mikkeller is to Denmark what BrewDog is to Scotland, so many independent Copenhagen craft beer companies have attempted follow in their footsteps. The most notable are Brus and Nørrebro Bryghus, and you can find their brews at craft beer bars Søernes Ølbar, Kølsters Tolv Haner and WarPigs.
You can’t talk about the best beer in Europe without mentioning Germany at least once. However, thanks to Germany’s uber strict purity laws which allow brewers only four ingredients per beer (which is essentially the four main ingredients in beer: water, yeast, malt and hops) it’s been a difficult journey.
The Bavarian city may be known for Oktoberfest, which is sponsored by many multinational beer companies, but Munich is also doing lots to bring modern craft beer to the locals with craft breweries like Crew Republic Brewery, which you can find at the simply named Tap House craft beer bar.
It blows my mind that Switzerland has more breweries per capita than any other country in the world. Switzerland has been secretly knocking back craft beers for years while many of us were none the wiser.
Zurich outnumbers any other Swiss city in terms of craft breweries and bars, so it’s a good place to start if you’re looking for the best beer in Europe. Storm & Anchor and Dr. Brauwolf are fantastic craft breweries, and you should definitely check out The International, The Alehouse and BIERlab for the best craft beer bars in the city.
Like the Netherlands, Belgium has very old brewing traditions that include Trappist monks and transporting barrels of beer by floating them along rivers. So, while Brussels and Bruges are still representing long-established brewing methods, Antwerp is quietly becoming the craft beer capital of Belgium.
Antwerp’s chill perspective towards craft brewing lies in its many brewpubs. Brouwerij & Eetkaffee is literally like walking into a huge, modern brewery that just happens to have a bar. Other brewpubs worth visiting are ‘t Pakhuis and Het Zand.
The craft beer revolution is refusing to leave any city behind and that includes Serbia’s capital, Belgrade. The beer in Serbia, pre-craft beer boom, was mainly uninspiring light lager, so it’s not surprising the Serbians caught onto craft beer fast.
Belgrade’s signature breweries include Dogma Brewery & Tap Room and Kabinet (noted as being Belgrade’s first craft brewery opening in 2014) which you can find at the Samo Pivo bar (literally translating to ‘only beer’), as well as Gunners Pub. The Black Turtle is where you’ll find the most beer-loving locals on any night of the week.
Thanks for joining me on my craft beer whizz around Europe! Where’s your favourite city to grab a craft brew? Let us know in the comments!
Rebecca Sharp is a freelance content creator and blogger based in the UK. Her blog, Almost Ginger, combines her two passions of film and travel by featuring filming locations, film festivals and wanderlust-inspiring films.