Consider the map of per capita beer consumption by county from Wikipedia:

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Zooming in on Europe, something that jumps out is that France and Italy consume much less beer than their neighbors:

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What has caused these two countries to be pretty much surrounded by other countries with higher beer consumption? I would imagine to some degree this is caused by replacing beer consumption with wine consumption, but what led to these regional differences in alcohol preferences?

  • 1
    Simple answer... Because they have wine.
    – Roman
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 19:34

6 Answers 6


You are correct that in countries like France and Italy, beer consumption is replaced by much higher wine consumption.

Why? Because they can.

It's a cultural difference that has been developed and ingrained over many centuries, back to when trade was more limited and more difficult, and Northern Europe was colder than it is today. For much of that time, the climate in Southern Europe was ideal for growing grapes and producing wine, while it was simply too cold further north. So, Southern Europe produced and drank wine, Northern Europe produced and drank beer, thus creating regional preferences that persist even to this day.

  • Interesting -- do you then have thoughts for why Spain, which shares a similar climate, has so much higher beer consumption? In the numbers from the Wikipedia article I linked, Spain has 68.4 L/year per capita consumption, while Italy has only 29 L/year.
    – josliber
    Commented Oct 10, 2015 at 2:17
  • @josilber Not off the top of my head, but I'll see what I can dig up. I've done some reading about the history of beverage in France and Italy, but don't know as much about Spain.
    – Xander
    Commented Oct 10, 2015 at 14:11
  • Just a random thought, but my understanding is that Spain is a very popular vacation spot for the rest of Europe, especially the UK and similar countries. Do the beer consumption statistics for Spain distinguish between native beer consumption and tourist consumption? Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 0:28

It is curious to note that much to the chagrin of the Lowlanders some of the earliest beer history dates from the Roman empire. These types of beers did not use hops.

The hop beers dated from 8th century and was first developed in Germany. It was not long before the new technology in brewing spread to Neighboring Belgium and a little while there after it jumped the channel to the British island.

It is was evident from a early stage in the history of brewing that these hops where only made in a handful of places in the old world and the beer culture centered around these places.

The Goldbach Valley in western Bohemia, near the town of Saaz, and the Mittelfrüh subregion of the Hallertau being the most famous.

That being said northern Italy is busy with a nice beer renascence

  • 2
    It is really hard to find the Goldbach Valley as it is a German name in the region where Czech names are normally being used currently. --- Here are the names in Czech: It is a valley of Blšanka, formerly Zlatý potok (Golden brook, in German Goldbach). The mentioned valley is near to Trnovany, small village which makes part of the town Žatec (Saaz in German). Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 13:14

In the case of France it is more or less how is says in the accepted answer. In the case of Italy they consume in general little alcohol for European standards: List of countries by alcohol consumption per capita (Wikipedia)

This can also be observed when there (which I am a lot). Cafes are popular which do in general also serve alcohol, but in the evening it usually remains at one drink often an Aperitif (Aperol Spritz for example) or a single beer or a glass of wine.


In the beginning most in Western Europe drank beer,the Romans however started converting to wine. It wasn't long before the idea spread that wine was somehow more sophisticated, contrary to beer, which was only drunk by Barbarians. After Caesars conquest of Gaul. The Gauls were quickly romanized. It is clear that the romanized parts drink less beer and more wine, and the Germanic area produces more beer (+ the Belgian region which were there was a lot of germanic immigration). The reason Spain produces a lot of beer is probably because the relative dryness and infertile grounds make it not ideal to grow wine (largest area of wineyards, only third in production).

  • Most of the wine made by Rome within their vast Empire was done so in order to keep the legions of soldiers fed and watered, ready to defend the Empire. The wine was added to local water in an effort to make it more palatable and to pass on the health-giving properties of wine (drunk in moderation) to the soldiers and the patrician classes who turned up their noses at the watered down stuff. Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 5:45

As noted in Xander's ♦ answer, it is a cultural reason as to why both France and Italy have such a lower beer consumption than their neighbors? The answer would be all too simple to say it is because they can.

Not only is it a cultural thing, it may have an historical cultural reason. The top wine producing countries are Italy, France followed by Spain. The reason why Spain produces less wine and beer may be due to its' drier climate.

Spain produces about 5 billion bottles of wine annually and is actually home to the largest number of vineyards of any European country. However, its vineyards are more spread out and produce smaller yields than vineyards in France or Italy due to the drier soil common in many wine-growing regions of Spain. Although more than 400 varieties of grapes are grown in Spain, just 20 of those account for nearly 90% of all Spanish wine production. - The 4 Countries that Produce the Most Wine

Why Italy and France produces less beer and yet more wine may be due to the influence of its' Catholic heritage. Both France and Italy have strong roots with Catholicism and the Holy See. Italy was once the home of the Papal States (8th century - 1870) and France was home the papacy during the Western Schism. We must keep in mind that for Catholics wine is absolutely necessary for their liturgy.

In fact the Vatican is at the top of the list of wine drinking nations.

Vatican City is at the very top of the wine-drinking league with an average resident consuming an impressive 54.26 liters a year. Although it may seem surprising that the Holy See grabs top spot, it does have a uniform and unusual demographic. Its residents are older and tend to eat together in large groups while the consumption of Communion wine is standard practice for a large proportion of them. Andorra, another small European nation, is in second place with 46.26 liters consumed per capita. France places fifth, with residents drinking 42.5 liters of wine each year.

The World's Biggest Wine Drinkers

The World's Biggest Wine Drinkers

Wine Consumed Per Person in 2012

Wine Consumed Per Person in 2012


Sorry, the top answer here is kind on the right track but not 100%. It all has to do with the CLIMATE of these countries. Generally, in the northern hemisphere, you cannot make quality wine above the 50th parallel. It simply starts to get too cold to grow grapes that get ripe enough for wine. OTOH, you can grow barley just about anywhere. So, why did they choose wine over beer then? The other reason why wine is the preferred drink where you can grow grapes is that beer goes bad quickly and does not transport easily. Whereas, wine can be stored a long time and transported long distances (we are of course talking about ancient history). So, given a choice, our ancestors usually choose wine.    

Here is a map to show where grapes can be grown and it explains why historically it was grown where it was.

Map of wine growing regions

  • Not entirely true. France's and Italy's beer producing neighbors , Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia are all within the 50th parallel (at least in part: Germany).
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 1:23
  • There are certain rugged terrains where grapes can't grow. But all those countries you listed have large wine growing regions. England, Ireland, Holland, Czech Republic, Slovakia are too far north for a traditional grape growing culture. I lived in the Rhine valley for a few years and there was definitely a mixture of wine and beer there but north of Cologne it was mostly beer... Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 17:09

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