As with all other countries the Maltese love their tipple and the choice of drinking in the islands is a very wide international one with some home-made stuff for added variety.
Traditionally the Maltese have always been a wine drinking nation but 164 years of British rule have left their imprint on the locals’ drinking habits and beer is also highly popular. In the 1880’s the Simonds brewery of Reading established a beer importing business in Malta to supply the islands and other parts of the Mediterranean where British troops were stationed. It became a substantial part of Simonds' business, and when a Maltese family, the Farrugias, opened a brewery Simonds decided to join forces and brew on the island. The Farrugias’ business is still going strong and Farsons beers are among the best-selling brands. Cisk Lager is the flagship brand, but Farsons also manufactures the popular Blue Label Ale, Hopleaf and the hard to find Lacto Milk Stout. Farsons is also the producer of Malta’s only indigenous soft drink Kinnie, a non-alcoholic fizzy drink made from bitter oranges and slightly reminiscent of Martini. Hugely popular in Malta, it is still very much an acquired taste.
Wine production in Malta goes back much further than beer and traces its origins to Phoenician rule two thousand years ago. For a long time wine production was a cottage industry with variable results obtained from the islands’ two indigenous varieties: Girgentina and Gellewza. Malta’s earliest commercial wineries were established in the early years of the twentieth century and today there are around seven main producers. The lifting of protective levies when Malta joined the EU together with the increased use of international varieties have seen the local product improve by leaps and bounds as producers have turned their focus on quality rather than quantity. International grape varieties grown on the islands now include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Carignan, and Moscato. Maltese premium wines, though not the cheapest plonk around, are well worth seeking out; Marsovin’s Antonin, Meridiana’s Celsius, Nexus, Bel, Isis and Melqart, and the Gozo based Ta Mena Estate’s Marsamena range can easily compete with the best imports. The main wineries also organise guided tours and tastings.
The production of liqueurs is also quite notable and you will find a decent range of locally made limuncell (a lemon liqueur) as well as other liqueurs derived from carob fruit, oranges, strawberries and prickly pears.
The wine renaissance has resulted in a profusion of wine bars all over the islands, complementing and sometimes replacing the traditional village bars which mainly served tea or coffee in the mornings and beer and spirits later in the day. The wine bars usually offer a selection of local and foreign wines as well as accompanying finger foods or platters.
Although watering holes are found everywhere throughout the islands, the highest concentration is understandably found in Paceville, the night life mecca of both locals and visitors. Vodka seems to be the favoured spirit of Maltese youth frequenting Paceville and binge drinking (unfortunately) is not an unknown phenomenon either. Almost all bars and clubs have free entry so you can wander from place to place until you find one that suits you. The bustling atmosphere, relatively cheap drinks and lack of cover charges make Paceville well worth a visit.
Bear in mind that the legal age to purchase and drink alcohol in Malta is 17 years. At all times and in all circumstances, responsible drinking is encouraged. Salut!