The top 10 brewers in Europe: industry insiders vote

15 August, 2014

Three Scandinavian producers made the top 10 European brewers in our poll of industry experts and opinion-formers. The traditional European powerhouses of Belgium and Germany still got a look- in, but the impact of the craft brewing revolution has reached as far as Iceland, Spain and Italy, as the list of those that didn’t make the top 10 shows. In addition to the emergence of Denmark and Norway, Italy has reaffirmed its case as the microbrewing scene to keep an eye on, with the country’s vote split between five of its up-and-coming producers.

1. Mikkerler

Founder Mikkel Bjorg Bjergsø’s past as a science teacher prompted one of our experts to dub Mikkerler “the Breaking Bad of the beer world”. He’s become used to such comparisons, having previously been described as a rock ’n’ roll and gypsy brewer for his maverick disregard for brewing convention and love of collaborations. The big breakthrough was Beer Geek Breakfast, a coffee- laced oatmeal stout whose name both singled out a target audience and helped define a generation of new beer enthusiasts.

COUNTRY: Denmark


ONE VOTER SAYS: "Stands head and shoulders above other European craft breweries and helps set the agenda for cutting-edge brews." Pete Brown, beer writer

2. De Molen

The top 10’s only Dutch entry started life as a homebrew operation in Menno Olivier’s kitchen. The range stands out for its willingness to plunder ideas from all the best aspects of the beer world and put a distinctive spin on them. The monochrome labels make the beers look like they’ve been lying abandoned in a cellar since the 19th century, and cut to the chase by spelling out the ingredients and what Menno and his team did with them. As one expert pointed out, this is brewing and drinking without silliness or pretence.

COUNTRY: Netherlands


ONE VOTER SAYS: "Kickstarted the Dutch brewing boom. Bold approach and willingness to experiment have inspired a nation." Ron Pattinson, beer writer, European Beer Guide

3. De La Senne

Ask most people to tell you what they know about Belgian beer and they may well mention ancient breweries and strong ales. De La Senne flies in the face of stereotypes, having settled into its Brussels home just four years ago and pursuing a philosophy of producing full-flavoured beers – the house style is balanced bitterness – that don’t have a brain-numbing abv. Its Irish-inspired Stouterik and the generously hopped blond beer Taras Boulba are both at an accessible 4.5%, giving them mainstream potential as well as geek appeal.

COUNTRY: Belgium


ONE VOTER SAYS: "Consistency and quality shine through with a passion for creating highly drinkable beers which are worth seeking out." Ian Garrett, beer writer

4. Duvel

In these days of brewing experiments and limited editions, there are brands with a shorter lifespan than the time it takes to produce a single batch of Duvel. The beer has a secondary in-bottle fermentation before it leaves the brewery cellars, with a subsequent six-week cool-temperature maturation taking the whole process up to 90 days. It’s worth the wait for a refined, hoppy beer that is often, and rightly, hailed as a classic. The Tripel Hop series presents short runs with a third guest hop variety added to the two at Duvel’s core.

COUNTRY: Belgium


ONE VOTER SAYS: "Duvel has a strong brand awareness which is associated with quality, plus innovation such as the Tripel Hop series." Colin Arthur, Rugby Tap, Rugby

5. Cantillon

If you ever need to convince a non-believer that not all beer is the same, reach for a bottle of gueuze. Cantillon is the master of the style, blending three ages of wild yeast lambic beers and giving it fizz after a year lying Champagne- style in a cellar undergoing secondary fermentation. While the mass market craves consistency, part of the beauty of gueuze is that no two batches are the same. Visitors to the cobweb-strewn brewery are asked not to kill spiders as they prevent other insects getting into the beer.

COUNTRY: Belgium


ONE VOTER SAYS: "A traditional family brewery, using stale hops and wild yeasts, ageing sour beers in wood. What’s not to love?" Steve Williams, beer writer, Beer Justice

6. Schneider

As the also-rans list shows, the German vote in our poll was heavily split, so it was perhaps no surprise that the only top 10 place for the country went to a brewery whose devotion to wheat beer runs counter to the Reinheitsgebot regulations that have long dictated ingredient use. When commercial brewers could only use malt, hops and water, wheat beer production was a privilege of nobility. The modern Schneider was born when the family bought the rights from King Ludwig II in 1872 and they have been refining it to this day.

COUNTRY: Germany


ONE VOTER SAYS: "Schneider focuses on wheat beers in numerous styles, with excellent packaging that includes luxurious bottles." Evan Rail, beer writer

7. Budvar

The Czech brand is the big-name lager that it’s OK to like. The brewery’s long-running legal wrangle with Anheuser-Busch/ AB-Inbev over the rights to the Budweiser prefix to the abbreviated name we’ve used here, have helped to make it a champion light beer of Camra types down the years. The baton of credibility is being passed down to a modern generation of beer connoisseurs. The original, 100 day-brewed, clean lager remains the anchor beer and one of the most- loved classics of the past half-century.

COUNTRY: Czech Republic


ONE VOTER SAYS: "Widespread availability connects Budvar with dull, mass-market lagers, but dull it isn’t. It’s a classic." Jeff Pickthall, beer writer

8. To Øl

Tobias Emil Jensen and Tore Gynther began making beer with their old maths teacher – none other than Mikkel Bjorg Bjergsø of Mikkerler fame. They struck out on their own in 2010, taking on Mikkerler’s original “gypsy brewer” model, making their own brews at various other producers’ sites rather than having to build their own. There’s more than a whiff of Brewdog about their ideology. Brews have included Mine Is Bigger Than Yours barley wine and Brown Paper Bag, a hefty pilsner – you’ve guessed – in a brown paper bag.

COUNTRY: Denmark


ONE VOTER SAYS: "It produces exciting collaborations with other breweries, which push the boundaries of modern brewing." Zeph King, Real Ale, Twickenham

9. Nøgne Ø

Nøgne Ø is something of a veteran of Scandinavian microbrewing, having been established as long ago as 2002. It takes UK Maris Otter malt and several American hop varieties that all start with the letter C to produce bottle-conditioned ales that put a Nøgne Ø stamp on some of the best beer styles from around the globe, and that conform to its motto to be “the uncompromising brewery”. The name means “naked island” and comes from the playwright Henrik Ibsen’s description of the rocky outcrops that dot the sea off Norway’s southern coast.



ONE VOTER SAYS: "When it lands on a style, it goes for it big time, but without resorting to cheap gimmicks." Jim Helsby, York Beer & Wine Shop, York

10. Timmermans

Timmermans claims to be the oldest lambic brewery in the world, and who are we to argue with a company that began making beer on the same Brussels site that it occupies today back in 1702, the year that Queen Anne came to the throne in England? Lambic is among the oldest, most natural and magical of beer styles, relying on airborne yeasts in the brewery environs rather than the modern industry norm of a cultivated strain that’s pitched in – and Timmermans is arguably its finest exponent.

COUNTRY: Belgium


ONE VOTER SAYS: "Has been brewing for more than 300 years, making unique and fascinating beers with great style and flavour." Barry Howarth, Lancaster Wine Co

What we did

We polled 240 buyers, independents, writers and bloggers to find their favourite European brewers based on quality and image. They were asked for a top three with a points value given for each place, then we added up the points. Votes were received for 49 producers in all. In addition to the top 10 they were: Bevog, Stiegl (both Austria); Affligem, Boon, Chouffe, Dupont, Lefebvre, Orval, Rochefort, Rodenburg, St Feullien, Van Honsebrouck, Westmalle, Westvleteren (all Belgium); Brewers & Union (Belgium and Germany); Urquell (Czech Republic); Hornbeer (Denmark); La Goutte d’Or, Christophe Noyon, St Sylvestre (all France); Augustiner, Drei Kronen, Hacker-Pschorr, Hopf, Kaltenberg, Paulaner, Schlenkerla, Sion (all Germany); Einstock (Iceland); Baladin, Birrificio Italiano, Brewfist, Del Borgo, Lambrate (all Italy); Lervig (Norway); Estrella Damm, La Socarrada (both Spain); Brekeriet, Omnipollo (both Sweden).

Bookmark this

Site Search


English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

Click for more »
Upcoming events


Is blended Scotch overshadowed by single malt in retailers?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Don't know