Alcohol Around the World
Almost every nation on earth, barring strictly Muslim countries in which alcohol is banned, has its own distinct drinking history and culture.
The types of alcohol produced around the world can be broadly categorised by the staple crops used to produce them. In east Asia, for example, traditional alcohol drinks are rice-based, whereas in the west, grain and corn have long been the staples for the production of spirits and beer.
But these categories say little about how people drink, or to what degree drinking is considered socially acceptable – or, indeed, morally questionable - in different countries.
Alcohol In EuropeIt might be fair to say that it is the European nations, including Britain, that have the most relaxed attitude towards alcohol. In many European countries, such as France and Italy, it is almost unheard of to sit down to an evening meal without a bottle of wine. Lunches, too, will often be accompanied by some form of alcoholic beverage.
The same is also true of many Eastern European nations, where a meal might also be proceeded by a series of toasts with strong spirits, such as vodka.
In Britain, throughout the 20th century, public houses invariably became the focal point of the community. Nowadays it is common for whole families to go to the pub, but equally these are places where friends and colleagues might also meet. Britain is perhaps unique in having the widest variety – and definition – of pubs in the world. We have family pubs, “gastro” pubs, working men's pubs, theme pubs... indeed, a pub for every occasion.
Drinking In AsiaIn stark contrast to Europe, drinking in many Asian nations is a less everyday, and more formal, occurrence. Despite having pioneered some of the oldest brewing and distillation techniques in the world, habitual drinking is not central to the social life of most Asian countries.
Chinese families seldom drink alcohol together at home, as the British might do. Rather, the men of the household are more likely to drink when with colleagues, or entertaining business clients. As China develops, however, pubs and nightclubs are becoming more common, and more accepted as venues for meeting friends.
Drinking in Japan is rather more popular than in China, but in formal terms is still considered the preserve of businessmen – and lately, businesswomen.
Whilst India produces a large number of high quality beers, large-scale drinking is not common, which can perhaps be attributed to the large Muslim population of that country
Many other Asian countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, have even more restricted drinking cultures, on account of their strict Islamic laws.
The AmericasLatin American countries have their own distinctive drinking cultures. As most modern South American nations have Spanish and Portuguese origins, much of the drinking culture here is derived from that of south-western Europe, but has been given an ancient twist courtesy of the indigenous tribes of those countries. Such fusions of culture have resulted in strong spirits such as the grape liqueur Pisco, considered an ancient Inca recipe, but actually developed by the Spanish in Peru and Chile.
In north America, particularly in the USA, much of the drinking culture is derived from that of Europe. However, drinking is approached with slightly more caution in the US, with the legal age for the purchasing of alcohol at 21 years. It is also less common to find alcohol drunk with every major meal, and alcohol is not generally viewed as a family-friendly substance.
Drinking Culture Pros And ConsWhilst we celebrate, and rightly, our relaxed and informal drinking culture, it is worth remembering that those countries with a rather more formal approach to alcohol do not suffer from the same levels of urban violence and crime that Britain does.
Yet, while the French, for example, consume alcohol at much the same rate – or even greater – than the British, French cities tend not to find themselves at the mercy of drunken mobs at night.
So perhaps our struggle with the bottle is not with how much alcohol we consume, but how and why we drink.