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Vienna, Day 1: Beer, Bier, Pivo, Sor …

September 15th, 2017 · No Comments · Budapest, France, Prague, tourism, Travel

If you hope to dine like a local, in central Europe, you start by accepting one condition:

You must order a beer with your meal.

Or else you are an even bigger poseur than most of the rest of the tourists visiting the region.

Which has led me to drink beer for nine consecutive days now. That includes a couple of days with more than one bottle, and total consumption on the high side of a quart.

And I don’t particularly like beer.

Thing is, most everyone around here does.

We have been wading through the epicenter of world beer consumption.

We started our mitteleuropa tour in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, a country known as the leading per capita consumer of beer. Talking the whole, wide world here, per figures assembled by the Japanese brewer Kirin.

Czechs guzzled 142.6 liters of pivo (Czech for “beer”), per man, woman and child, in 2014, according to Kirin.

And how much is 142.6 liters? It is 37.7 U.S. gallons.

Or, to look at it from the other end, 142.6 liters is 301 U.S. pints — and consuming a pint of any liquid is not to be scoffed at.

The average “big” beer is half a liter. Having two of those is enough to make most people tipsy, and if you are going to make it through 301 pints over the course of a year you probably need to knock one off six days out of seven.

Back to the Czechs in a moment.

No. 2 in world beer consumption is the Seychelles, which seems odd till you recall that the Indian Ocean island nation is on the equator, and is always warm, and gets a lot of tourists from beer-drinking nations.

Nos. 3 and 4 in the world?

We are right back to central Europe.

Austria is No. 3 in beer-swilling, at 104.8 liters per person and Germany is just behind, at 104.7 liters.

The other country we visited during this trip is Hungary, which is not as crazy about beer (sor, they call it) as are the Czechs, Austrians and Germans.

But the Magyars hold their own, at 63.3 liters per person, which is 31st in the world, and ahead of the Canadians, Mexicans and New Zealanders, for example.

(The U.S. is 17th in the world, at 75.8 liters per person, putting the Yanks ahead of Australia and the United Kingdom, which I have trouble believing is accurate.)

So, back to the Czechs. And the Austrians and Germans.

A factor in beer consumption also likely is that beer is inexpensive in this region –nearly always cheaper than a similar amount of Coke.

In Prague, beers on tap were $1.78 a pint. It was $2.28 in Hungary. In both cases, well below the $3.89 cost of a pint of Bud in the US. Austria is $4.78 per pint, on tap, which still has to be far less than the typical U.S. micro-brewer would charge.

The beer-consumption stats are per capita, remember, so for every Czech infant who can’t toss back his or her own beers, some other champ is drinking an extra 301 pints a year. Which means 602 pints a year, or nearly two a day — which is more than a quart of beer six days out of seven.

For every beer refuse-nik in Germany and Austria, or for infants, etc., some other hero is drinking an extra 221 pints per year.

So. Why do I feel obligated to drink beer?

It so clearly is part of the culture and part of the mid-level dining experience, and most tourists like to believe they are fitting in, somehow, and around here, drinking beer is a start to fitting in.

Also, it seems awkward to order anything else. Wine seems a bit sissy. Asking for tap water seems to be something only cranks do, around here. And then do you really want some sweet juice-based something? No, I just order a beer.

When I get back to France, I may go months without drinking a beer.

And whatever wine I have, instead, will not come close to the volume of suds I have been sucking up since arriving in the Homeland of Beer.




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