Stereotypes: we are taught to ignore them because they represent bigotry and bias, but we all secretly suspect that there is a grain of truth in all of them. But sometimes, facts completely overturn stereotypes, perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the list of countries that consume the most alcohol by year. Come on, you know you are immediately thinking of Ireland, France, Russia, and England. Well, you might be surprised by the facts. I was very surprised by the top ten list, as created by the World Health Organization: I am sure you will be too. So, arranged by per capita yearly consumption of ethyl alcohol in any form, here we go!
What? Moldova? Wow. I know the Eastern Europeans have a reputation for drinking, but…wow. This small, unassuming country out-drinks everyone else in the world, bar none. When I think of Moldova, I think of two things. First, most Americans do not even know it exists. Second, I think of cheap, economical little red and blue cars driving around grey, cinder-block office buildings. Well, think again, because the average jolly Moldovan pours 18.22 litres of ethyl alcohol down the old gullet every year. That averages about four drinks a day, every day of the year — for every citizen. That is the equivalent of an entire bottle of wine every single day. The most-consumed Moldovan drinks? Local brandy, beer, and wine.
2. Czech Republic.
Alright, so this one is not a big shocker, although being in second place is pretty impressive. The stereotype of former Soviet block country citizens walking around grey streets with impassive faces, smoking cigarettes and guzzling vodka, is not correct. The Czech people are fun-loving and friendly, but man can they drink. The average Czech drinks 3.5 drinks a day, every day of the year. What do the Czechs like to drink? Beer of course, as well as Fernet Stock and Becherovka (local herbal liquors). Also popular are fruit brandies.
Hungary is such an interesting country. Its people, the Magyars, are somewhere between Germanic and Slavic, and their language is unrelated to almost all other European languages, except Finnish, Estonian, and a couple of others. When it comes to food, the Magyars eat heartily, with thick stews and meats to help them through the harsh Hungarian winter. So of course you would expect them to drink heartily as well. The average Hungarian citizen drinks a little over three drinks every day. They prefer Tokaji, a sweet, white wine, their local red wine, and a very strong red wine called Egri Bikavér, or bull’s blood. They also drink Unicum, an herbal liquor, fruit brandies, and beer.
Alright, I think we can see a pattern here: Eastern Europeans can drink the world under the table. Again, the stereotype of Russia and Ukraine is vodka all day, every day. But while Ukrainians do enjoy their vodka, there is more to it than that. Borshch, the national soup, is a varied mixture of many different meats and vegetables, with beet root being the common thread. Well, with such a rich, varied soup, comes rich, varied beverages. Ukrainians like to drink vodka, of course, but also beer, Crimean wine, and — get this — mead! There is also Nalyvka, a berry wine with sugar, not too dissimilar to Sangria. And how much do Ukrainians drink? The average one throws back almost 3.4 drinks a day, every day.
What, again with Eastern Europe? Geez, can those people drink! Estonia is not a country that most Americans know much about, but it is one of the important countries in the region. The staple food, along with pork, is black rye bread. Likewise, the popular national drink, Kali, is a sort of beer made from rye bread. The stereotypical vodka is drunk in Estonia, but mead and beer are drunk with every meal, and red wine is becoming more and more popular by the day. Locally-made fruit wines are also very popular. How much do Estonians drink? The average person drinks a little over 3.3 drinks every day.
This microscopic country nestled between Spain and France is usually the butt of jokes about small places, but when it comes to drinking, there is nothing small about it. Andorran culture is primarily Catalan, so Andorrans primarily drink wine. Most of their wine is red Spanish wine, and they also enjoy the famous sparkling white Spanish wine Cava. The idea of sitting in Medieval restaurants and cafés drinking great Spanish wine seems charming and alluring — the ideal life. The Andorrans agree, with the average member of this tiny principality sipping just slightly over 3.3 glasses every day.
Forget Count Dracula and misty Carpathian mountains, and think fruit brandy, because all sorts of distilled fruit liquors are all the rage in Romania. Along with beer, which is also very popular, a malted wheat and millet drink called Bragă is sold on the street. As with other countries in the region, herbal liquors are also popular. One particular, infamous Romanian resident prefers to drink the blood of young English girls, but besides the Count, blood is not on the list for everyone else. As for volume, the average Romanian drinks about 3.3 glasses per day.
It looks like Eastern and Central Europe are giving the old stereotypes a run for their money. Slovenia, a sort of crossroads for Western and Eastern Europe, is home to a cuisine of one-pot stews and dishes. While I am sure they are delicious, their relative simplicity is dwarfed by the complex drinking culture. Slovenians drink many different beverages. There is Brinjevec, a drink distilled from juniper berries — Borovničke is similar. Češnjevec is a cherry brandy that sounds wonderful, and Mošt is a countryside apple cider that is fermented. Then there is Pinjenec, a fermented milk drink. How much of these diverse yet interesting drinks does the average Slovenian enjoy per day? — about 3.2.
The word Belarus in their language means white Russian, but they do not drink them. Rather, Belarusians love their vodka first and foremost. They drink it straight and neat, but at other times, they infuse it with forest herbs or birch sap. Mead has made a recent revival from traditional Belarusian culture, and Kvass, fermented from rye bread (like the Estonian drink mentioned above) is also popular, coming in alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. But vodka definitely reigns supreme (as it does in Russia). The average Belarusian drinks about 3.25 glasses of it daily.
Coming in last, but not least, the sadly war-torn nation of Croatia still knows how to have fun. Croatia produces its own red and white wine, some of which is very good. Owing to an ancient tradition, some Croatians mix their wine with water. There are over 300 Croatian geographical winemaking regions, and the local wine is extremely popular there. Croatian beer also holds a place of importance. Third in popularity is cherry brandy. The average Croatian drinks about 3.2 glasses of alcohol daily.
So where do the stereotypically-alcoholic countries come in on the list? Ireland is 14th, just above France at 15th and then Russia, at 16th. What about merry old England? It ranks 17th. It is interesting that South Korea is 12th, beating most of Western Europe and the Americas. The USA is 57th, and China comes in at a measly 96th. The Arab countries drink the least, Yemen being the last on the list. Apparently the average Yemen citizen drinks less than one fourth of a glass a day.
Stereotypes are surprising. Sometimes they seem to ring true, but other times they are turned upside down by the facts. I have always argued that people from my native New Orleans can drink with the best of them. But when it comes to solid, steady drinking on an almost-daily basis, Eastern Europe rules the world. And this assumes daily drinking. I am sure they have their fair share of benders as well. It just goes to show you that all sorts of people know how to enjoy life all around the world. In fact, I think I will go get a beer right now.