Drinking Habits and Legal Drinking Ages Around the World

World map, people cheering with beer bottles

Young people yearn for travel and adventure. Backpacking around the world. Getting your passport stamped in exotic locales. Hitch-hiking across Europe, doing the Grand Tour. Staying in hostels and living out of a suitcase. And of course, drinking the local beer and wine in colorful cafes and pubs everywhere you go!

Maybe you graduated early and got a plane ticket to “Anywhere” as a graduation present. Or maybe you plan to take a “gap year” before going on to university or starting your career. It’s a great big world out there and you want to see it all, to drink deeply from the cup of life. So naturally you have one big, important question:

What’s the minimum legal drinking age over there?

That all depends on where you’re going and it’s something you need to know before you go. There’s a lot of confusing and conflicting information floating around on the net. But don’t worry! My friends and colleagues and I have got the inside insights for you. We’ve been to a lot of places and we’ve done our share of drinking alcohol and if we haven’t been there, one of our many interns has. So we put all of our (foamy) heads together and came up with this WORLDWIDE GUIDE TO LEGAL DRINKING AGES!

In this article:

Albania

The Republic of Albania was until recently the undiscovered gem of the Mediterranean Sea a diamond in the rough, if you will but its popularity has grown considerably over the last ten or 15 years. It’s not hard to see why: the Albanian Riviera has pristine beaches, unpolluted and unexplored coves and lagoons, ancient castles and fortifications, plus a booming nightlife scene. If you’re a young person who likes to party, the good news is that the legal drinking age in Albania is only 18.

They grow a lot of grapes in Albania, and their wine industry is finally starting to recover from the Communist era. You can visit plenty of vineyards and wineries, and sample many world-class wines. Be sure to try the raki that’s an Albanian liquor which can be up to 45% alcohol by volume (ABV). Raki is made from grapes and although it’s made commercially, it’s more common for this Albanian alcohol to be artisanal or even made at home, moonshine style! They say the best raki comes from the town of Orahovac in western Albania where every year in early September there’s a big grape harvest festival.

Now the bad news: although Albania is a secular nation with no official religion, the population is majority Muslim and devout Muslims tend not to drink. Therefore, public alcohol consumption is considered uncool, and being drunk in public is an arrestable offense. Please show some restraint (and respect) by keeping your drinking confined to appropriate spaces such as clubs, homes, bars, beaches and restaurants. Also, their DUI/DWI laws are among the strictest in Europe, with an allowable BAC (blood-alcohol content) of only 0.01%.  For comparison purposes, most of Europe has a permissible BAC of 0.05%, and in the United States it’s generally 0.08%. Albania may have a low drinking age, but their standards are high and tight. Behave yourself.

Austria

As the Piano Man, Billy Joel, once sang: “Vienna waits for you.” So what are you waiting for? You need to go to Austria, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Arnold Schwarzenegger! Especially if you like to drink, but happen to be a little on the younger side.

The drinking age in Austria used to be quite confusing, with the different federal states having different laws. But thankfully as of 2019 they have standardized things nationwide, which makes the once-tricky question of “What is the drinking age in Austria” much easier to answer.

The answer is twofold: for beer, wine and cider you need only be 16. And Austria is famous for its beer, wine and ciders. Especially beer: only Czechs drink more beer per capita than Austrians. Austrian beer is similar to Czech and German beers. The beers tend to be märzen (lagers), and the ciders can be made from either apples or (better yet) pears. Local wines can be sampled at various weinkeller (wine bars). Our interns recommend trying a weißer spritzer (“white splash”), which is a white wine & mineral water cocktail that’s becoming a popular alternative to beer in a beer-obsessed country. If you’re a 16 year old or 17 year old world traveler, you can have a great time in Austria.

For distilled spirits, you have to be 18 to buy booze in Austria that is famous for their schnapps, a fruit brandy up to 60% ABV. Pro tip: do not mix beer and schnapps! But if you must consume them both the same night, remember that it’s always first the schnapps, and then the beer. You’re welcome.

Unlike Albania, a young person can enjoy a beer in the public parks of Austria during the day without catching any side-eye from the locals. However, Vienna’s popular Praterstern Square has had to outlaw public consumption to cut down on rowdy tourists, and drinking alcoholic beverages aboard public transportation is definitely a no-no.

Map of World categorizing countries by drinking age.

Canada

Oh, Canada! America’s neighbor to the north. An enormous country with spectacular landscapes, sophisticated cities and a thriving culture. It’s where America’s senior citizens go to buy cheap prescription drugs, and where America’s underage youth go to buy good, cheap beer. And why not? The Canadian dollar has taken a beating in recent years, making your American dollars go a lot farther. And you do NOT need to be 21 to buy or consume alcohol.

The legal drinking age varies in Canada depending on where you go. It’s a big country! In most Canadian provinces, including British Columbia (on the west coast; Vancouver is the big city) and Ontario (above the great lakes; home of both the national capital, Ottawa, and the country’s largest city, Toronto), the legal age to purchase and consume alcohol including beer & wine AND distilled beverages is 19. But in the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, the minimum legal drinking age is only 18.

Quebec (on the eastern seaboard) is where you’ll find the city of Montreal, as well as the most European of all cities in North America, Quebec City. It’s also where you’ll find some of Canada’s best beer. Quebec City hosts the Festibière each year, and Montreal holds the Mondial de la Bière. Notable small breweries include Dieu du Ciel and Unibroue.

Beer is an important part of Canadian cultural identity just watch the hilarious classic movie Strange Brew (1983) starring “Bob & Doug MacKenzie” to see how important it is. But international corporate conglomerates have swallowed up most of Canada’s leading brewers such as Labatt and Molson, and now Moosehead is the country’s largest fully Canadian-owned brewery. These large breweries mostly make pale pilsners similar to American beers like Miller and Budweiser. But fear not! The Canadian microbrewery scene is booming, and there are more brewpubs than you can shake a stick at. Wherever you go in Canada, you will be able to find a local beer that is truly local: small batch, artisanal, craft-brewed malty goodness.

But Canada is not only about the beer it’s also about the rye whisky. Some of the most famous names in the business hail from Canada, including Canadian Club, Crown Royal, Seagrams and Black Velvet. There are also smaller craft producers like Shelter Point and Caribou Crossing. Bring some home with you if you can you’ll save a small fortune in import duty.

Speaking of duty, due to recent disputes over international trade, treaties and tariffs, Americans now must have a valid US passport to fly into Canada. (Non-Americans need both a passport and likely either a visa or an Electronic Travel Authorization.) At this time, Americans can still drive or even walk across the border with only a valid photo ID such as an enhanced driver’s license, but a passport is obviously the best way to go. You better get yours now, if you don’t already have one.

HAVE A LOOK AT OTHER INTERESTING STATISTICS:

Colombia

Located in northernmost South America and bordering both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, the Republic of Colombia is well worth a visit. It is one of the most biologically diverse regions on the planet, encompassing rainforests, deserts, grasslands and highlands. The economy is stable and the security situation has improved a lot over the years since the bad old days of evil drug lords.

The legal drinking age in Colombia is 18. Here are a few words of warning: public consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the areas around schools and sports centers. Our interns strongly advise against drinking in public spaces and against drinking alone in a bar: be safe and stay close to your friends. They also recommend that you carry your ID (passport) with you at all times.

Colombia is of course famous for the world-class coffee grown there you’ve probably already enjoyed some. The most famous alcoholic beverage in Colombia is a fermented & distilled sugar cane liquor called Aguardiente (literally, “Fire Water”). Aguardiente is similar to rum, but typically strongerup to 60% ABV. You don’t mix it, you drink it neat. Aguardiente is popular throughout the Andean region, and each country makes it a little differently. The Colombian version is often flavored with anise, giving it a licorice taste. Give it a try you might like it.

Finland

They drink a lot of booze in Finland. It’s kind of a national problem. They even have a word, kalsarikänni, which means “drinking alone at home in your underwear.” I am not making this up. To help curb alcohol abuse, they recently raised the minimum legal drinking age in Finland to 20 years old which is among the highest legal drinking age limits in Europe. (The other countries requiring drinkers to be at least 20 years old are Iceland, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden.)

Yes, you must be 20 years old in Finland to purchase Finlandia vodka or any other hard spirits, which they define as anything having an ABV of over 22% alcohol.

But! The legal drinking age in Finland for alcoholic beverages less than 22% ABV is only 18. Consider that most American beers are 4.5%, strong beer might be 7 to 10%, and wines typically run between 10 to 17%. Even fortified wines like sherry, port and Madeira range from about 17 to 20%. Finland’s famous cloudberry liqueur, Lakka which you absolutely must try slides right under the limit at 21%. You can get pretty messed up below 22%! Just please, try dressing up and going out drinking with friends instead of staying home and drinking alone in your underwear.

And if you do go out, here is the big loophole: you are permitted to buy and consume hard spirits (over 22% ABV) at the age of 18 in Finland as long as you are drinking it on the premises. In other words, in restaurants, bars, clubs and pubs. The whole “must be 20 years old” rule only applies at the liquor store when you are stocking up to go.

The liquor stores in Finland are a government monopoly called Alko. Anything over 5.5% ABV must be sold in the Alko stores, which by the way are closed on Sundays and close early on Saturdays. (You can buy American-style “light beers” in grocery stores, if that’s all you need.) So plan your drinking in advance. And take your passport: you will get carded at the Alko.

While in the Alko, pick up some Koskenkorva Viina (38% ABV), a highly distilled and nearly flavorless liquor similar to vodka. Better yet, get some Salmiakki Koskenkorva, which is a pre-mixed cocktail combining Koskenkorva Viina with licorice candy and Turkish pepper it is as black as charcoal and it will set your heart on fire!

Map of Europe categorizing countries by drinking age.

France

Do I even need to mention why someone should visit the French Republic? Paris alone is worth the trip the cafes and bistros, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the palace of Versailles but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the medieval city of Montpellier in the south, Strasbourg (an official seat of the European Parliament) close to Germany, the beaches of Normandy, and of course the French Riviera, which includes many beautiful cities such as Marseille, Nice and Cannes. Suffice it to say that if you haven’t yet been to France, you need to put going there up near the top of your To Do list.

France is literally synonymous with fine wine. Bordeaux. Burgundy. Champagne! Winemaking is an art form which has been practiced in France for thousands of years, so needless to say they are very good at it. They also brew a lot of beer in France, especially in and around Strasbourg; the Strasbourg suburb of Schiltigheim has a world-class annual beer festival every August.

The legal drinking age in France is the same as in most European countries: 18 years old. This covers beer, wine and spirits.

As far as the spirit world goes, France is noted for, among other things, Cognac (which is usually sipped straight), Grand Marnier (used to make B-52s), Cointreau (an essential ingredient for a top-shelf margarita), and Absinthe (the notorious wormwood, anise and fennel-flavored alcoholic beverage). And because of their overseas territories such as the island of Martinique in the Caribbean Sea, France also produces a great deal of great rum.

So go to France, but drink responsibly. Be cool and show some class: it’s France.

Learn more about France: 15 Fun Facts About France

Germany

With Europe’s largest economy, the Federal Republic of Germany has endless sights to see and things to do. If you like beer (and I know you do) then you’ve come to the right country: Germany is to beer what France is to wine. Like Canada, beer is an important part of the German national identity (watch the classic comedy Beerfest (2006) to see just how important).  You can visit breweries and indulge in beer tastings, but be advised there are over a thousand breweries in Germany producing over 5,000 different brands. Plus brewpubs and microbreweries. Brewing at home is also popular. The best-selling brand of beer in all of Germany is Beck’s, brewed in Bremen in northern Germany and exported worldwide.

Apart from Beck’s, most German beer is made in southern Germany, in Bavaria, where the city of Munich is the Mecca of beer. Within Munich, the legendary Hofbräuhaus is the Valhalla of beer halls. Probably the most famous beer hall in the world, they’ve been brewing and serving their own beer (and food) in the same location for over five centuries. You owe it to yourself to visit the Hofbräuhaus at least once; if it’s too crowded and too touristy for your taste, don’t worry there are plenty of other great beer gardens to choose from.

Every summer and fall, cities all over Germany host beer festivals. The granddaddy of them all is Munich’s annual Oktoberfest. (By the way, Oktoberfest actually takes place in September; it ends on the first Sunday of October, usually running for 16 to 18 days.) The beer must be a minimum of 6% ABV to qualify as an Oktoberfest Beer and be permitted to be served at the festival. The beer is typically served in one-liter glass mugs called a maßkrüge, and drinking just one of these monsters is roughly the equivalent of drinking about four 12-ounce American beers: three beers by volume, plus one more beer by strength. As you might imagine, it’s easy to over-do it.

Those who over-do it and pass out drunk are referred to as bierleiche, or “beer corpses.” Don’t become a beer corpse, or even a still-staggering beer zombie! Know your limits especially if you’re only 14.

Wait, what? Fourteen?

So, how old do you have to be to drink in Germany? The answer is complicated. Germany is one of those several EU nations which just couldn’t abide by the standardized 18-years-old age limit on alcohol. So, similar to Austria, they have split it up into two levels. The legal drinking age in Germany for buying and consuming hard spirits such as schnapps and vodka is 18; the German drinking age for buying beer, wine and cider is only 16. Which is nice.

But wait, it gets even better: if you are traveling with a parent or legal guardian, you can purchase or consume beer and wine (but not liquor) as young as 14! So enjoy Oktoberfest with Mom & Dad, but keep your ID handy the penalties for selling alcohol to a minor are steep (up to €50,000) and you will get carded.

For those of you who are 18 and over, a couple of Germany’s most famous liquors are Jägermeister (nevermind the notorious Jäger-bomb, try Jägermeister with ice cream in a confection called a Glaciermeister) and Rumple Minze Peppermint Schnapps (which goes great in hot chocolate in the winter).

Learn more about Germany: Top 15 Fun Facts About Germany

Greece

The nexus where Europe, Asia and Africa all come together: Greece, the Hellenic Republic, is the birthplace of democracy and the cradle of Western civilization. The largest city and capital, Athens, was once the home of the classical philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Visit the Acropolis and the Parthenon. See Mount Olympus with your own eyes. Hit the beaches during the day and hit the clubs at night on such legendary islands as Mykonos, Santorini and Crete. Enjoy fun music and great food. Good wine, too.

Legend has it that the ancient Greek god Dionysus invented wine. While that’s just a myth, it is true that they’ve been making and enjoying wine in Greece since the days of antiquity. So it’s quite affordable: for ten or twenty euros you can buy something really nice. Since the soils and the climate of the different islands can vary wildly, the variety of grapes that are grown varies widely across the country this means that there is a huge variety of Greek wines to sample, with vastly different flavor profiles. It’ll take a lot of drinking to find your favorite, but at least it shouldn’t be too hard on your pocketbook.

There’s also a vast selection of Greek beers to choose from, too. Two of the biggest sellers nationwide are Mythos and Alpha, but each area of the country produces its own craft beer. Like the wine, the local beer is made with the local ingredients, giving each one a unique flavor.

The minimum legal drinking age in Greece is 18. That’s for the purchase of any and all alcohol, including beer, wine and spirits. The national spirit of Greece is Ouzo, an anise-flavored aperitif similar to raki. Ouzo is typically drunk neat, but if you add some ice it goes from being a clear liquid to being milky white.

Italy

The Italian Republic in the form of the Roman Empire is one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known. Its importance and influence cannot be overstated. In Rome alone you have the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Vatican. Then there are the canals of Venice. The leaning tower of Pisa. The ruins of Pompeii. Italy is the birthplace of pizza, pasta and ice cream. It’s Greece’s only real competition for the title of “the Cradle of Western Civilization,” and second only to France for the fame of its wine industry.

And that wine is a vital part of living la dolce vita, or “the sweet life,” meaning an easygoing life full of pleasure and luxury. It is customary for Italians to have a glass of wine with lunch. Or a bottle of beer with a pizza. Before dinner one might have an aperitivo (a mixed drink such as a martini or a negroni) to begin the evening, followed by a glass of wine with dinner, and topped off with a digestivo to “aid digestion,” lol. My favorite after-dinner digestivo is a shot of limoncello served ice cold and sipped slowly, but the more traditional Italian liquor is grappa. Grappa is made from grapes (of course), fermented and then distilled to anywhere between 35 to 60% ABV.

Start your day off right with a cup of caffè corretto (“corrected coffee”), which is a shot of espresso mixed with a shot of grappa. When you are living la dolce vita, the drinking can start early and end late, but and this is the important part you must never over do it! Pace yourself. Keeping your cool is an important part of the sweet life. Loud and rowdy drunks go to jail: being drunk and unruly in public is an arrestable offense.

But, I hear you ask, what is the legal drinking age in Italy? Good question. Tricky answer.

Look online and you’ll see different sources saying different things. Most of the reputable looking sites say that the legal drinking age in Italy is 18, but a lot of blogs and forums swear that the Italian drinking age is still 16. Even our Italian intern says she thought it was 16. So as you can see, there’s a bunch of misinformation (and confusion) out there.

The definitive source I am going with is the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD)’s article “Minimum Legal Age Limits” (2020). The IARD says in no uncertain terms that the legal drinking age in Italy is 18, citing “Penal Code Book III, Title I, Act 689 as amended by Law #189 of 2012,” which clearly explains that it is illegal in Italy as of the year 2012 to sell or to serve alcohol to customers beneath the age of 18 years old.

The reasons for the confusion are many. First of all, there is no actual legal drinking age in Italy! Italians (and tourists) of all ages are allowed to POSSESS and CONSUME alcoholic beverages, even in public. So a parent can give their kid a glass of wine, as long as the parent is buying, pouring and drinking the wine themselves as well. This happens all the time.

Second, there is no legal age to BUY alcohol, either: if a minor purchases alcohol, either because they look older or have a fake ID, or just claimed to be buying it for their parents, the minor has not committed a crime. It is technically not against the law for teenagers to BUY alcohol.

It is only against the law to SELL alcohol (in stores) or SERVE alcohol (in bars & restaurants) to minors under the age of 18. Selling and serving is the crime, so it falls on the merchants and the stores to enforce the law. There is a two-layer penalty system in place: if the seller serves alcohol to a minor aged 16 or 17, the seller may be ticketed up to a couple hundred bucks. But if the server sells alcohol to a minor below the age of 16, the fine could be thousands of euros; they may lose their liquor license or even go to prison.

With the stakes so high, you’d think that every bartender, waiter and store clerk in Italy would be zealously checking ID cards for age, right? Well… nah, not so much. The truth is, if you look like you’re 18, or at least 16, you probably won’t get carded. It’s not that they don’t care it’s just that underage drinking is not really a problem over there. Italian kids grow up in a wine culture, and they respect it. If a young teen shows up in a store and says he needs a couple of bottles of Chianti because guests are arriving for the weekend and his mom sent him, it’s probably true. What else is a kid going to do with two bottles of good red wine hole up in is house, drinking alone in his underwear? That’s not living la dolce vita, man!

Learn more about Italy: Top 15 Interesting Facts About Italy

Japan

I have never been to Japan but I’ve known a lot of Japanese people, many of whom I count as close friends. About half of them are allergic to alcohol and therefore do not drink; the rest of them are also allergic to alcohol, but they don’t let that stop them!

Japan produces and consumes a lot of beer. Some notable Japanese beers I have enjoyed include Asahi Super Dry, Sapporo Premium and Kirin Ichiban; these are pale, light lagers with about 5% ABV. They are widely exported and not hard to find in the US.

Japan is more famous for its rice wine, sake. According to fictional superspy James Bond, sake is best “when it’s served at the correct temperature of 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit.”  While this may have been true in the mid-1960s, when the breweries were still fortifying their wine with distilled alcohol due to wartime rice shortages, by the late 1960s most breweries were producing pure rice sake with no additional alcohol added. Nowadays it is far more common to serve sake chilled to a perfect 58.2 degrees Fahrenheit (although warm sake is delightful too).

Japan has only been making whisky commercially for about a hundred years, but since 2001 their scotch-style whiskies, both single malt and blended, have won tons of international awards. Some top picks include Suntory Whisky Toki, Nikka Days, and Hibiki Japanese Harmony.

The minimum drinking age in Japan, for beer, wine and spirits, is 20 years old.

Kazakhstan

The largest country with the largest economy in Central Asia, the Republic of Kazakhstan might be the biggest, most important country you’ve never heard of. It was the last of the old Soviet Republics to declare its independence from the USSR. Kazakhstan produces plenty of oil, gas and minerals, and has a lot of heavy industry. There’s not much tourism in Kazakhstan as of now, but their government is hoping to change that in due time. U.S. and EU citizens do not need a visa to visit, but be advised that travel in this enormous, underdeveloped country is logistically very difficult. Prices are high, infrastructure is shabby, and service is poor. The government is authoritarian with a history of human rights violations.

But if you manage to get there, you can expect to see vast and amazing landscapes including mountains, deserts and steppes. The ruins of ancient empires. Medieval fortresses. Modern cities. The capital city, Nur-Sultan, on the banks of the Ishim River, is especially beautiful. Catch an opera in Almaty (Kazakhstan’s largest city), or go skiing in Shymbulak (Central Asia’s largest ski resort).

The population is majority Muslim, so their alcohol laws are pretty strict. The Kazakhstan drinking age is 21 years old, and drinking in public is not allowed. Stick to bars, restaurants and homes, and do not get drunk in public.

Their national drink is kumys, which is fermented mare’s milk (!) and which our intern assures us is only slightly alcoholic: from 1 to 3% ABV, which makes it safe for women and children, and even pregnant women. It’s the only alcoholic beverage officially approved for consumption by Muslims. You can also get fermented camel’s milk (shubat) or, if that’s too exotic for you, fermented cow’s milk (airan).

If you’re lactose intolerant, you can definitely find beer there. They brew their own, of course Karagandinskoye and Shymkentskoye are a couple the best-selling brands but they import about a third of their beer. Carlsberg Beer is also very popular in Kazakhstan.

Vodka is pretty popular there, too, either imported or made locally. A Kazakh vodka I’ve sampled is XAOMA (Khaoma) Ecovodka not only is it really good (and allegedly ecologically pure, whatever that means), it is stunningly cheap: about 5€ (or $6 USD) for a 700mL bottle.

But it’s the local wines where Kazakhstan really excels. The climate, soil and altitude are perfect for growing grapes, which they’ve been doing for thousands of years. The vineyards have had their ups and downs the Soviet era, the post-Soviet era, the Crusades but as of 2014 they are back to producing world-class, gold medal winning wines. Check out Arba Wines on the outskirts of Almaty for a taste of the good stuff and if you can’t make the trek to Kazakhstan in person, you can have the wine shipped to you; prices range around $20 to $40 per bottle.

Lithuania

The Republic of Lithuania, formerly known as the Duchy of Lithuania, is a small but wealthy country on the eastern Baltic Sea. The cities and towns are Instagram-ready, full of that old world scenery and charm. They get a lot of tourists, mostly from other EU countries like Germany, Poland and Latvia, but also from Great Britain and from Lithuania itself. And no wonder: in addition to a fine collection of medieval castles and gothic cathedrals, Lithuania boasts some lovely seaside resorts, pristine forests, beautiful national parks, one of the largest water parks in Europe (Druskininkai Aquapark), as well as the largest indoor ski slopes in all of Europe, Snow Arena. And wow, do they like their beer!

Lithuania consumes more alcohol per capita than any other nation on earth. They also have the highest suicide rate in the EU. Underage drinking, binge drinking and substance abuse were also serious. To combat these problems, in 2018 Lithuania imposed the strictest alcohol laws in Europe. The legal age to purchase, possess or consume alcohol, including beer and wine, is 20 years old. It is illegal to sell or serve alcoholic beverages to minors under the age of 20 in Lithuania, and penalties are high. Stores must stop selling alcohol at 8:00 PM during the week and at 3:00 PM on Sunday. Drinking in public places is not allowed. All advertising for beer, wine and spirits is banned. Alcohol taxation (and therefore prices) is extremely high. Many Lithuanians go into neighboring Latvia and Poland so they can stock up on the cheap.

Traditionally, bars and clubs can stay open all night and serve booze around the clock.

All of which is to say, Lithuania’s capital city of Vilnius is not necessarily a top pick for a young person’s epic pub crawl of choice. And that’s too bad, because Vilnius is storybook-pretty… and the Lithuanians know more about brewing beer than anyone else. Even more than the Germans.

A thousand years ago, every farmhouse in Lithuania brewed their own beer and ale, and many of these traditional old “farmhouse” recipes have survived into the modern age. Using local ingredients and weird techniques, Lithuania produces beers with flavors and characteristics unlike any other beer in the world. Malty, not hoppy; slightly sweet; not too strong the only way to know it is to drink it. But you can only get it over there: they don’t export it (and it probably wouldn’t travel well, anyway). Vilnius has an awesome microbrewery scene, where in addition to regional farmhouse beer you can also get imports and craft brews IPAs and stouts and such.

If weird beer is not your thing, a Lithuanian drinks some weird wine, too. Grapes don’t grow that far north, so the wine is made from apples and berries. To put it mildly, it’s kind of sweet. I once asked a waiter if their apple wine was any good. “Ta, apple wine is good,” she replied with a shrug and a wink, “but apple vinegar is better!” I stuck with the beer.

The national drink of Lithuania is Lietuviškas Midas, or Lithuanian Mead. Mead! This ancient fermented honey beverage is made with herbs and berries, and spiked with alcohol to bring it up to between 15 to 50% ABV. It’s the preferred drink of Vikings! So go to Lithuania and feed your inner Viking. Drink weird beer and mead. Just make sure you’re at least 20 years old.

Luxembourg

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the EU (only the island nation of Malta is smaller), but it also has the highest Gross Domestic Product per capita of any nation on earth (with the possible exception of tiny Lichtenstein). It’s small but it’s mighty. You might think it’s too expensive to visit, but you’d be wrong. Sure, it ain’t cheap but it’s not so outrageous, either. It’s about the same as visiting New York, London or Paris, or any other modern, sophisticated urban destination. Definitely cheaper than Switzerland or Singapore, and the cost of alcohol in Luxembourg is actually a little below the European average. Luxembourg sells more alcohol per capita than any other country in Europe, although most of this is exported. 

The legal drinking age in Luxembourg is still only 16. That’s to buy, possess or consume beer, wine or spirits, in public or in private the whole ball of wax. No tricks, no catch.

And even if you are under 16 you can still buy products with up to 1.2% ABV, such as Kinderbier (AKA “near-beer”) or the “alcohol-free” apple cider, which only has a little alcohol.

Luxembourg borders on both France and Germany, so it should come as no surprise that they have been brewing beer since medieval times, and making wine since the days of the Roman Empire. Beer-wise they prefer light pilsners, and some of the best-selling beer brands are Bofferding, Mousel and Ourdaller. Their wines tend to be dry, white and sparkling; they are noted for their chardonnays and Rieslings. 

Mexico

The United Mexican States, America’s neighbor to the south, has got it all: rainforests, jungles, deserts, cities and beaches. You can party hard in Cancun, the home of an epic spring break scene. Go deep sea fishing in Cabo San Lucas. See the thrilling cliff divers of Acapulco. Enjoy romantic Puerto Vallarta. Visit Aztec temples, Mayan ruins and ancient pyramids. Go snorkeling and scuba diving. For my money, Mexico is one of the best all-around vacation destinations on the planet: go to Europe for the culture and civilization, or go to the Caribbean islands for the beautiful beaches, but go to old Mexico for a balanced mixture of both beaches and civilization. You’ll be glad you did.

The legal age to drink alcohol in Mexico is 18 years old in all 31 Mexican states. That said, Mexico is a pretty easy-going country where if you’re underage you probably won’t have too much difficulty buying beer, especially if you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort or drinking with friends in a bar which caters to tourists. And you should definitely stay close to your friends: petty crime (pickpocketing and purse-snatching) is common in touristy areas as I can personally attest, and violent crime (kidnapping, rape and murder) has spiked in areas besieged by the drug wars. You should consider organized excursions such as group tours to stay safe. Keep your passport on your person at all times, preferably in a pickpocket-proof pouch.

You definitely need a passport to get into and out of Mexico. Years ago I once traveled into Mexico without a passport because I didn’t know any better. I had made border town liquor runs without a passport many times before without any trouble, but this time I was flying home from Mexico City. US Immigrations didn’t want to let me in, and if my brother hadn’t arrived and rescued me with an old expired childhood passport (which they stamped!) then I might still be sitting in the airport to this day. Don’t make the same mistake. Get your passport now.

You’re probably already familiar with many Mexican beers. Corona Extra comes in a clear bottle and is traditionally served with a lime wedge garnish which helps give this light, pale lager some much-needed flavor. I prefer Negra Modelo, a creamy and more flavorful dunkel lager with a slightly higher ABV. Tecate comes in cans, which is important if you’re on a beach where glass containers are not allowed.

But Mexico is really all about tequila. Tequila is a premium liquor made from the blue agave cactus, and the process of cultivating and harvesting this cactus is resistant to modern agricultural practices. The process of mashing, fermenting and distilling the plants into liquor has resisted industrialization as well. Consequently, most good tequilas are estate grown and estate made in a very hands-on, artisanal process. There are hundreds of estates producing thousands of brands of tequila; most of these brands are not exported and are available for purchase only in Mexico. Find yourself a good tequileria (stores and bars specializing in tequila) and try a few different labels. Be sure to bring something special home with you.

Tequila is admittedly an acquired taste. It’s usually drunk neat, served at room temperature with lime and salt. The classic tequila shooter goes like this: first, taste a pinch of salt; second, drink the tequila; finally, bite into your lime wedge and suck some juice.

If you don’t yet like tequila, maybe start with a blanco (clear, unaged tequila) before moving up to a reposado (aged for two to 12 months, lightly colored) and finally an añejo (aged one to three years, amber) or even an extra añejo (aged for over three years and dark as whisky).

Pro tip: Use an inexpensive blanco tequila to mix cocktails such as a Mexican martini, tequila sunrise and of course the quintessential margarita. There’s no need to use your gourmet French Cointreau in that margarita; Mexico produces an excellent and much cheaper knock-off, Controy.

Showcase of popular alcoholic beverages in chosen countries.

Poland

Located in Central Europe, the Republic of Poland borders on Germany in the west, sharing with Germany an affinity for beer and sausages. To the east, Poland borders Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, with whom it shares a love of borscht and vodka. The bagel was invented in Poland, so you probably already love Polish food even if you didn’t know it.

Poland has plenty of beaches to swim, craggy mountains to climb, and dense forests for camping and hiking. Lots to see and do, in other words. Full disclosure: I live in Poland now, and I love it!

But let’s get back to the beer and vodka.

Poland brews more beer than any other EU country except Germany. Like in the US and Canada, three companies control 80% of the beer market, and they all make drinkable mass-market brews, mostly lagers and pilsners; the most popular brands are Żywiec, Okocim, Tyskie, and Żubr. The real fun comes in discovering the smaller regional brewers, the microbreweries, craft breweries and brewpubs. Currently, I’m drinking a lot of beer brewed by the guys at Pinta they have a lot of fun drinks. Also, beer made with honey is a popular market niche. And speaking of honey, Poland is the world’s largest producer of mead!

Poland produces and exports more vodka than any other nation. Vodka probably was invented in Poland; certainly it was perfected in Poland. The earliest written mention of the drink (and use of the word “vodka”) is from Poland in 1405. When the potato was introduced to Europe in the mid-1600s, many distillers switched from grain to potatoes. Although potato vodka today only accounts for 3% of all vodka production, Poland’s Chopin Vodka is the most-awarded potato vodka in the world.

Another extremely popular vodka is Żubrówka Bison Grass. Each bottle contains a blade of the bison grass which gives this vodka its characteristic flavor. Żubrówka is traditionally mixed with apple juice. It is one of the best-selling vodkas in the world, and has recently become available in the US.

Danziger Goldwasser is an herbal liquor (40% ABV) with a syrupy texture and a whole lot of flavor (including cinnamon, cloves and juniper) which contains flecks of 24-carat gold. Try mixing Goldwasser instead of Goldschläger with Jägermeister next time, for a Jägerwasser instead of a Jägerschläger. It’s good!

But what is the drinking age in Poland?

Like most of the EU, the minimum age in Poland is 18 for booze, beer and wine; to sell and to serve; to buy, possess and consume. Just don’t consume it in public: apart from designated consumption zones like beaches and town squares with outdoor restaurants, it is mostly illegal to drink in public. This law is widely ignored and rarely enforced.

Less ignored and strictly enforced are the Polish DUI laws, allowing a maximum BAC of 0.02%, which is almost as low as Albania. Considering how strong (and large) Polish drinks are, this means for all intents and purposes you cannot drink even one beer and still get behind the wheel. The Poles take drunk driving very seriously, and you ignore it at your peril.

Learn more about Poland: Top 15 Fun Facts About Poland That You Should Know!

Spain

Spain was once a part of the vast Roman Empire; centuries later, the Spanish Empire was even bigger. Today, Spain is a member of the EU and second only to France as the most popular tourist destination in the world. The climate is sunny and warm with mild winters, and there are plenty of beautiful, sandy beaches. Go skiing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains or the Pyrenees. Thrill to the running of the bulls in old Pamplona. Visit the Basílica de la Sagrada Família, a strange and gigantic cathedral-like church (technically a minor basilica) designed by the artist Antoni Gaudi, now nearing completion in Barcelona. The clubs in the big cities stay open all night.

What is the legal drinking age in Spain? Like most of the EU, the legal drinking age in Spain is 18 for beer, wine and spirits. They drink a lot in Spain. Especially when your football team wins. Or loses. It’s kind of like la dolce vita in Italy: drink as much as you want, just don’t let it be a problem. Be sure to keep it in the clubs or in the house, though, because drinking on the streets is against the law and the fines are not cheap up to €600, or about $700 USD.

The libation of choice is usually beer. The most popular Spanish beers tend to be darker, bitterer and more full-bodied than the pale pilsners produced in the rest of the “Beer Belt,” like Austria and Germany. Look for Alhambra in its characteristic green bottle, or Estrella; both are tasty and strong (over 6.5% ABV) and only cost around one euro per bottle. The artisanal craft brew scene is also growing rapidly.

Liquor is popular, too, especially the anisettes, or anise-flavored liquors. One of the best of these is Chinchón from Madrid; serve it ice cold as an after dinner digestif. Because they grow a lot of grapes in Spain, brandy is also big; Brandy de Jerez and Orujo are two well-known varieties you might enjoy.  

Spain is right up there with Italy and France for wine production, but they are especially noted for their red wines and sherries. Their cava (sparkling wines similar to champagne) is excellent, too. Freixenet Brut is widely available but rather dry; try topping it with a splash of orange juice. Or just buy some Agua de València, a noted cocktail made from sparkling wine, Valencia orange juice and various liqueurs.

Mixing wine with fruit is a Spanish specialty. You’re probably already familiar with sangria, the punch made with red wine (plus probably brandy and/or other liqueurs) and chopped fruit. Pre-mixed sangrias are commercially available, but it’s more fun to make your own. If chopping up a bunch of fruit is too much work for you, a simpler version is tinto de verano: just mix your red wine half and half with lemon-lime Sprite and/or orange Fanta, and garnish with a slice of lemon. Even easier is a calimocho (or kalimotxo), which is half red wine and half Coca-Cola (or Pepsi), hold the fruit. And if mixing up a tasty soda pop-based wine beverage is too much work, they also have commercial versions available in most stores. These “poptails” are sweet and easy to drink, and can quickly sneak up on you.

Learn more about Spain: Top 15 Fun and Interesting Facts about Spain

Turkey

The capital of the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey lies on the shores of the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean Sea. Hit the beaches of the Turkish Riviera. In Istanbul, be sure to visit the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. If you like shopping then you have to go to the Grand Bazaar, which is simultaneously the world’s oldest shopping mall (founded in 1456) and still the world’s #1 most-visited tourist attraction. For something newer, try the Istanbul Cevahir Shopping and Entertainment Centre the largest indoor shopping mall in all of Europe.

Located on both the Asian and European continents, the Republic of Turkey is one of the world’s Top Ten Tourist Destinations. Most of the visitors come from Europe; at this time, Americans need to have a Turkish visa to get in. You should take advantage of the online eVisa system and get a visa in advance, but you can also wait in line for a “visa on arrival” at the airport.

For the benefit of any inexperienced travelers out there, let me make one thing perfectly clear: in this context, a “visa” is not a credit card! The popular bank card called “Visa” has a capital V. A small-v visa is a legal document required to enter a country. This is a surprisingly common mistake. I have had customers ask me, “Why do I need to get a Turkish Visa card? Can’t I just use my American Express?” No. It’s not the same thing at all. It is essential that American travelers get a visa on arrival or an eVisa in advance, before attempting to cross the Turkish border. (The exception is that cruise ship passengers can come ashore for the day without their passports, which are held by the ship’s purser. This is a great way for many Americans, including me, to visit Turkey.)

First the good news. Despite having a majority Muslim population, Turkey has traditionally been a fiercely secular country with a vibrant alcohol culture. The age of legal drinking in Turkey is 18 years old and up.

Now the bad news. The current government is deliberately promoting Islam and traditional values, in an effort to steer the country away from Europe & the United States and align it more with the Middle East. They are actively pursuing Halal tourism. Consequently, the Turkish alcohol laws are getting stricter. They’ve banned alcohol ads, prohibited alcohols from sponsoring sporting events, and stopped all liquor sales after ten PM. Police have cracked down on drinking in public. New liquor licenses are difficult to get. They have raised alcohol taxes in an effort to reduce consumption. But alcohol is still legal and people still drink it.

Beer is the most popular drink, often consumed with pizza, nachos and burgers. My favorite fast food to go with beer is the classic Turkish döner kebab, a burrito-sized wrap made with “mystery meat” (actually chicken, beef and lamb) grilled on vertical rotisseries. Kebabs are similar to gyros and shawarma but invented and perfected in Turkey, and then exported across Europe they’re big in Poland and Germany.

As you might expect from such an ancient country, good wine is made in Turkey just not very much, and very little of it gets exported. Most of the grape crop gets eaten as table grapes.

The Turkish liquor market is dominated by raki, which is the national drink. Because of the way it turns milky white when ice is added, they call it “lion’s milk.”

Ukraine

Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe. Its enormous farmlands and agriculture industry have made Ukraine “the breadbasket of Europe.” Tourism is an important part of the economy: prices are low, making a trip there quite affordable. Europeans and Americans can travel visa-free. Stay at a summer resort on the beaches of the Black Sea. Go hiking, hunting, camping and skiing in the primeval forests of the Carpathian Mountains. Visit the capital of Kyiv to tour the spectacular Monastery of the Caves and to see the beautiful Saint Sophia Cathedral.

The legal drinking age in Ukraine is 18. Consumption is forbidden on the streets, in parks, aboard public transportation, at sports arenas, and in elevators. Their most common alcoholic beverage is beer. Ukrainian beers are usually pale lagers of around 4.5% ABV, and incredibly cheap at less than a dollar a beer. Microbreweries and brewpubs making better and stronger beers such as stouts, porters and ales are becoming more popular, but of course they cost more.

In southern Ukraine, grapes are grown and wine is made. Varieties include cabernet sauvignons, chardonnays, merlots and Rieslings. They say it’s pretty good, but very little of it gets exported. Their vineyards produce more and more wine each year; as the climate warms and grapes can be grown further north, we are bound to see even more (and better) Ukrainian wines in the future. Visit “The Wine Bar” in Kyiv for a comprehensive tasting.

Because of all the grains grown there, Ukraine is an important part of the “vodka belt” of northern and eastern Europe. Perhaps the best, most-recognized brand internationally is Khortytsa, made from the magical, medicinal mineral water springs of Khortytsa Island in the Dnieper River. Magic vodka? Sign me up!

The national liquor is horilka, which is similar to vodka but which embraces different flavors and aromas, such as berries and honey. The government taxes alcohol production pretty heavily, and as a consequence the manufacture of illegal “moonshine” horilka, called samohon, has gone up. Horilka and samohon made with hot chili peppers is pretty common, and useful as a mixer. Try shopping in small towns and markets, and at festivals and fairs, for authentic examples.

Learn more about Ukraine: Top 15 Fun Facts About Ukraine

United Kingdom

Now the big one: the UK. The United Kingdom, made up of England, Scotland, Wales and the six counties of Northern Ireland. Britons have been drinking in public alehouses and taverns called “pubs” for centuries. Pubs are a staple of everyday life in villages and cities alike. Great Britain is where the “pub crawl” was invented.

The UK is famous for pretty much every type of alcoholic beverage you can think of. Gin is made in England “London dry” is the standard style, and prime examples include Beefeater, Tanqueray and Bombay. Scotch whisky comes from Scotland, including Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal and Glennfiddich. Wales is known for its perry (pear cider), apple cider and mead. Northern Ireland makes Irish whisky; in fact, Bushmills is the oldest licensed distillery in the world. And the nearby Republic of Ireland (which actually is not part of the UK, but is in the EU instead) is where Guinness Beer, the drink of the gods, gets made.

You might think that as a kingdom of four countries scattered across many islands, the legal drinking age in the United Kingdom would be a tangled mess, but happily this is not the case. Early this century the various parts of the UK standardized their laws so that the drinking age in England is the same as the drinking age in Scotland, which is the same as the drinking age in Wales and in Northern Ireland. This makes things pretty straightforward and simple.

The legal drinking age in the UK is 18 years old for beer, wine and spirits.

Furthermore, in England, Wales and Scotland it is permitted for youngsters aged 16 and 17 to consume beer, wine and cider (but not spirits) in pubs and restaurants when accompanied by a parent. This is not true in Northern Ireland, however, where it is illegal to serve alcohol to anyone under the age of 18 and minors are prohibited from consuming alcohol in public.

Be sure to carry your passport or other ID: most pubs, stores and restaurants will ask for ID as part of a scheme called Challenge 21 to ensure compliance with the law. If you look like you’re under 21, you get “challenged” to produce some ID or you don’t drink.

Learn more about UK: Top 15 Fun Facts About the UK

United States

The United States of America is one of the largest and richest countries in the world. It manufactures and consumes gigantic amounts of alcohol. American beer is mostly produced by a few huge companies, and it tends to be light, pale lagers. Microbreweries making craft beer have a small but growing niche, and this is where you’ll find your IPAs, bocks, Irish reds and so on. There are plenty of brewpubs in the bigger cities.

When the ancient Vikings first discovered America nearly 2000 years ago, they named it Vinland because of all the grape vines they found growing there. American wines are excellent, among the best in the world in many respects. They are affordable, delicious and drinkable, and widely available around the world as a popular export. Wine is produced in all 50 states, but the most famous American wine region is California, where over 80% of all American wine is produced.

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Can You Buy Alcohol With a Passport?

Among liquors, the United States is the birthplace of bourbon whiskey, traditionally made in Bourbon County, Kentucky, but also made nationwide. Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey are some of the most familiar names in American whiskies. The American overseas territory of Puerto Rico produces a lot of great rum, most notably Bacardi. Micro-distilleries for craft liquors similar to microbreweries for beer are becoming more common, producing artisanal American vodkas and gins; the big success story here is Tito’s Vodka, which went from being a small-batch craft vodka (made in my hometown of Austin, Texas) to being the best-selling vodka in all of America.

The legal drinking age in the US is 21 years old in all 50 states. It is common to get “carded” (asked for ID) until the age of 30. The maximum allowable blood-alcohol content for drivers is 0.08%. Enforcement is strict and penalties are high. Foreign nationals need at least a passport to enter the country; depending on where you’re from, maybe a visa as well.

If you’re a young person getting the itch to travel, the time to get your passport is now. You have to pay a hefty fee, of course, and you need to be careful filling out the forms because any mistakes will result in your application getting denied (and the fee is non-refundable). You also have to provide an appropriate passport sized photograph, which can be trickier than it sounds. The State Department has rules and requirements governing the exact specifications of the photos they will accept, so it is worthwhile to pay a professional to take the picture or better yet, save yourself some time and money by using an online app such as Passport Photo Online to turn your own picture into a State Department-approved photo in seconds, guaranteed.

Learn more about the U.S.: Top 15 Interesting Facts About the U.S.

Passport Photo Online for perfect passport pictures

And now a word from our sponsor, Passport Photo Online. Here’s how it works: use your smartphone or digital camera to get a good picture of yourself, passport-style. And a “passport-style” photograph simply means that it is a close up of your head and shoulders, facing the camera full on, with your eyes open and your mouth closed: no smiling, no teeth. Upload this picture to our app online, and our specialized A.I. program will evaluate it for suitability.

If your picture passes our evaluation, we then edit it and crop it and resize it to fit for you. We can fix the color and contrast, cure red eyes, and remove and replace the background with a plain and uniform white background. We generate the perfect passport photo, in other words, so you don’t have to worry about the details.

Download the final photo as a JPG for only $6.95 USD less than half the price of most drugstores then get it printed for pennies at any copy shop or photo center. Or save yourself the trip and let us print it for you: we’ll mail your photos to your home address!

Once you have your passport photo, fill out the proper form: DS-11 for a brand-new, first-time passport, or DS-82 for a renewal of your current passport. Gather together all your supporting documents (birth certificate and photo ID, and so on), make copies of everything, and book an appointment at a US passport acceptance office. Please allow eight to 12 weeks for processing and delivery! When you finally have your US passport, the world is your oyster.

LEARN HOW TO TAKE PASSPORT PHOTOS AT HOME:

Drinking habits and legal drinking ages around the world: conclusion

So, to wrap it all up for you like a kebab: Americans like their booze, but they have to be 21 years old to buy it. Minimum drinking age laws vary from country to country around the world. Young Americans with a passport can travel visa free to over 140 countries, including all the countries on this list except Turkey. All of these countries have lower minimum legal drinking ages than the States, which is a great thing to take advantage of if you can. All of these countries have thriving and interesting alcohol cultures, some more than others, and they are all worth visiting for many other reasons besides.

Alcohol tourism is a large and growing niche in the tourism industry. People love visiting breweries and vineyards and distilleries, and sampling the regional varieties of beer, wine and spirits. Find an organized pub crawl in London. Take a hot air balloon ride over the Burgundy vineyards. It’s a big world. Go find it.

Travel well.

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