Beer Memories around Southeast Asia
Did you know that a typical Pinoy drinks an average of 20 liters of beer a year? (Source: Inquirer)
For many beer-loving Pinoys, the month of October is often associated with Oktoberfest – a very good excuse to get together with friends over a bucket (or more) of beer. Though we like to brag that our home brew San Miguel Beer, is one of the best beers in the world, many Southeast Asian countries have their own flagship brands worth trying. Below is a map of some beer brands around Southeast Asia, which I’ve been lucky enough to try during various trips.
Take note that prices of beer vary greatly on which establishment you buy them from. The prices quoted here are average prices in small to mid-sized restaurants (during the time of visit). You may find beer cheaper in supermarkets and convenience stores, and roughly double or triple the price at fine dining restaurants or hotels.
- Alcohol content: 5% – 6.5%
- Average cost: 10,000 – 12,000 Lao Kip per bottle (roughly US $1.24)
Beerlao is very popular with foreign tourists and expats who’ve visited the scenic country of Laos. It was even ranked as Asia’s best local beer by Time Magazine. Beerlao uses a blend of locally grown jasmine rice, overseas quality malt and hops, giving the beer a distinctive taste. Beerlao lager and gold contains 5 % alcohol volume, while the full-bodied Beerlao Dark has 6.5%. I got to try Beerlao during a business trip to Vientiane, Laos’ capital city, and thought it tasted very light and refreshing. It went perfectly alongside a plateful of fried crickets cooked in lemongrass at a riverside restaurant along the Mekong River.
Saigon Beer, Vietnam
- Alcohol content: 4.3% (Saigon Green lager) to 4.9% (Saigon Red export)
- Average cost: 15,000- 25,000 Vietnamese Dong a bottle (US $0.72 to $1.2)
Saigon beer, which is brewed and bottled in Ho Chi Minh City, is Vietnam’s most popular brand, and comes in two variants – Saigon green (lager) and Saigon red (for export). While I’d recommend drinking microbrewed bia hoi (fresh beer) just for the experience, don’t pass up drinking on Saigon Beer either. Though the taste is not as distinctive and it doesn’t stand out as much as some of the other brands we sampled during a trip to Saigon earlier this year, it’s still a must-try for the name alone.
Singha Beer, Thailand
- Alcohol content: 3.5% – 6%
- Average cost: 60 Thai Baht (about US $1.93)
Known as Thailand’s top beer, Singha is a bright gold lager (6%) with a hoppy flavor, brewed by the Boon Rawd Brewery. Singha also appears in Thailand in Light (3.5%) and draught versions. Singha is named after the mythical lion shown on the label, famous in Hindu and Thai folklore. Made of full-bodied 100% barley malt lager, Singha beer is distinctively rich in taste with strong hop characters best served chilled. I got to try this beer in Khao San Road, the backpacker’s district in Bangkok, Thailand, after a long train ride back from Ayutthaya temple. Singha was a thirst-quenching delight, taken with a serving of street Pad Thai noodles.
Chang Beer, Malaysia
- Alcohol content: 5%
- Average cost: 8-10 Malaysian Ringgit (about US $3)
Chang is the Thai word for elephant. Though Chang Beer is traditionally a Thai beer brand, it’s brewed by Carlsberg in Malaysia as well. Since 60% of the country’s population is Muslim, beer isn’t really very popular in Malaysia. Aside from other Asian brands like Tiger and Chang, another brand – Guinness’ Anchor, has a large market share there. Malaysia has a very high alcohol tax, so drinking beer there can be pretty expensive. According to a guide on Beer in Malaysia, an 11-ounce can of Carlsberg typically sells for 5 ringgit at a supermarket, but can reach 20 ringgit for a bottle in high end hotels.
I got to try this out (as well as another brand – Bali Hai) in Malacca, Malaysia, during a side-trip from Singapore with parents a few years ago. The best place to head for a beer there is the old district of Jonker Walk, which houses Malacca’s traditional Chinatown exhibiting Peranakan architecture.
Tiger Beer, Singapore
- Alcohol content: 5%
- Average cost: 5 – 6 Singapore Dollars (roughly US $4-5)
Tiger is Singapore’s first locally brewed beer which is popular throughout Asia. Since it was created in 1932, Tiger beer has become an Asian icon, and is served in 72 countries around the world, more than any other Asian beer brand. Its distinctive amber bottle protects the beer from aging too fast, keeping the dry-hopped beer (5%) rich and full. Light and easy to drink, with a slightly sharp aftertaste, Tiger is a great complement to spicy dishes. My best memory of Tiger beer was during a brief trip to Singapore last year, where I got to enjoy a bottle or two of the brew in the colorful Chinatown district, after an afternoon of sightseeing in the city. You can also find Tiger beer being sold in hawker centers serving street food like oyster cake or Singapore’s signature chili crab. Like everything in Singapore, drinking beer can be pretty expensive though.
Bintang Beer, Indonesia
- Alcohol content: 4.7%
- Average cost: 8,000 Indonesian Rupiah (about US $ 1.00)
Bintang Beer (or “Star Beer”) is a light, malty lager has a hint of Dutch influence in its taste, though it hails from Bintang, a beautiful region of Indonesia home to some of the greatest beaches. Characterized by a “hoppy bitterness” it is described as somewhere between a true Pilsener and a light lager. It’s the bestselling brand in Indonesia and is produced by the Indonesian subsidiary of Heineken, which it is often compared to in taste and look. I got to sample this delectable beer with a serving of authentic Padang cuisine in a small eatery in Bali, Indonesia. The crisp beer helped wash down a filling meal of curried fish, meat and vegetable dishes.
San Miguel Beer, Philippines
- Alcohol content: 5%
- Average cost: 35-60 Philippine Pesos (US $ 0.80-$1.3)
Many foreigners visiting Philippines instantly like the taste of San Miguel Beer. You have San Miguel Pale, a lager with a strong, crisp, slightly bitter flavor and San Mig Light, which is lighter, and therefore, better for social drinking. There’s also the flavored beer variant in lemon and apple flavors, if you’re looking for something sweeter with a citrus aftertaste. The Philippines most popular, world-renowned beer goes well with any kind of crunchy and greasy food (known as pulutan), such as chicharon, sisig, crispy pata, or just bowls of peanuts or corniks.
Beer memories of San Miguel Beer = Too many to mention. :p Cheers!
NOTE: This article was adapted from my article originally published in ZestAir Inflight Magazine, September-October 2011 issue as “Beer Asia“