Veteran radio host Ron DeLegge II said that "99% of all statistics only tell 49% of the story." DeLegge was talking about stats as they apply to the greasy trading pits of Wall Street, but he could have been talking about anything.
The Kirin Institute of Food and Lifestyle, the research arm of Kirin Holdings Company which is the owner of the Kirin Brewery Company, published a report in 2012 on global beer production. The report shows production by region and also global beer production by country for 2011. China, for the tenth year running, ranked #1 in production, followed by the USA, Brazil, Russia, Germany, Mexico, Japan, UK, Poland, and Spain - in that order. China produced more than double the quantity of beer as the USA and about nine times more than Japan.
The tables the Kirin Institute publishes, while interesting, really only tell 49% of the story. Clearly, China, with a population of 1.3 billion, is capable of producing more beer than Korea, with just 51m souls; or the tiny Czech Republic with less than 10.5m. India, with the world's second largest population, makes the top twenty-five (#21). Should that be of any great surprise? All the world's most populated countries, (excluding any Muslim dominated ones) chart. Brazil (#3), Russia (#4), Mexico (#6), Japan (#7), and Nigeria (#18) all have populations exceeding 100m.
A much more interesting stat, which the Kirin Institute does not publish, is the amount of beer a country produces per capita. The per capita figure tells us a lot more once population weight is removed from consideration. To arrive at this per capita figure we take the total amount of beer a country produces and divide that by the country's population.
Now, formerly #1 China drops to #19, producing only 36.6 liters per person, about the same as its neighbor South Korea (36 liters) and not a significantly greater amount than Thailand (31.7 liters). The #1 production spot is occupied by the Czech Republic (165.2 liters), then Belgium (165 liters), followed by the Netherlands (139.5 liters), Germany (118.4 liters), Poland (98.4 liters), Venezuela (77.8 liters), Australia (73 liters), Spain (71.8 liters), and the USA (71.6 liters). Japan and Colombia produce about the same amount of beer (44 liters). India, which looked like a major global producer when glancing at the total production table, now resembles a home brewer (1.5 liters).
We still only have about 65% of the story. What if we also look at beer consumption per capita -- the amount of beer, on average, each person in a country is sipping annually?
The top ten here differ considerably from our previous list. #1 producer, the Czech Republic occupies the top consumption spot at 148.6 liters. But #2 producer, Belgium, only consumes 74 liters and ranks at #18. The number three consumption spot is occupied by Austria (107.8 liters) followed by Germany (106.1 liters), Estonia (102.4 liters), Poland (98.5 liters), Ireland (98.3 liters), Croatia (85.9 liters), Venezuela (85.5 liters), Finland (84.2 liters), and Romania (83.2 liters). Most of this top ten consists of countries with populations lower than some global alpha cities. Even with high consumption and/or relatively high production, their smaller populations mean their total production doesn't chart.
None of the top 3 global producers - China, USA, Brazil - rank in the top ten as consumers. The USA weighs in at #14 (77.1 liters), Brazil at #24 (68 liters), and China at #40 (32 liters). "Powerhouse" India consumes just 2 liters of beer per person. It only scores as a global producer because of its immense population.
Examining the production and consumption per capita stats side-by-side can tell us a lot about a country's beer scene at a glance. Look over the stats on the top ranked per capita beer producers. The Czech Republic produces 165.2 liters and consumes 148.6 liters. With free trade between nations, we cannot conclude from a quick look of the numbers that the Czech Republic is consuming 148.6 liters of the 165.2 it produces. Some of the Czech Republic's production is exported and consumed abroad; and some of the Czech Republic's consumption comes from imports. But the high production and consumption figures do tell us that beer is serious business in the Czech Republic. No country produces and consumes lots of a product its citizenry do not value.
The Belgium figures tell us even more. Belgium produces 165 liters but consumes only 76.8 liters. Again, some of this consumption comes from imports and some of this production is exported. Nonetheless, the disparity between the two figures - Belgium produces far more than it consumes - seems to suggest, from these figures alone, that Belgium is a major beer exporter. Holland has a similar discrepancy, producing almost twice as much as it consumes. Holland happens to be the home of some major multinationals - Amstel and Heineken - which indubitably contribute to its huge beer export figures.
By comparison, China produces 36.6 liters and consumes 32 liters. China does not produce far more beer than it consumes. From looking at the almost equal figures, we might think it possible that China exports all 36.6 liters of beer per capita that it produces and imports the entire 32 liters it consumes. However, that's extremely unlikely. Countries which both produce and consume a product don't export all production and import all consumption. Due to duties, taxes, protected markets, most local consumption is satisfied by local production. Thus, these almost equal figures tally with the reality that China imports some beer and exports some, but is not a huge exporter or importer.
In fact, most countries on our list fit China's pattern, with production and consumption being roughly equal. See Poland (produces 98.4, consumes: 98.5); Australia (produces: 73, consumes: 83.1); Spain (produces: 71.8, consumes: 68.4); USA (produces: 71.6, consumes: 77.6); Japan (produces: 44.2, consumes: 43.5).
We're still at only 82% of the story. A country which produces and consumes almost equal amounts isn't necessarily a moderate importer and exporter like China. Two numbers alone cannot tell a complete story. The USA is a major importer and exporter, though the higher consumption figure shows it to be a bigger importer. Japan is also a major exporter. That its production and consumption figures are almost equal tell us that it, too, is also a major importer.
No country which produces internationally quality beer will have extremely low per capita production figures. India produces a paltry 1.5 liters and consumes 2 liters. These tiny figures portray an Indian nation not composed of beer drinkers and, hence, one which probably doesn't produce fantastic brews. On the other side of the equation, any country which enjoys beer to a certain standard isn't likely to have low per capita consumption figures. That India scores low on both counts doesn't highlight the country is a treat for the beer lover. A country scoring high in both areas (Belgium, Czech Republic, Holland, Germany, Poland, Venezuela) likely produces and consumes decent quality beer.