Beer in Southeast Asia: A matter of taste

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Beer Lao brewery_Arno Maierbrugger
Beer truck leaving the Beer Lao brewery in Vientiane, Laos. (Photo © Arno Maierbrugger)

Southeast Asia is currently experiencing one of the fastest growth rates in beer consumption in the world, according to a study by market researcher Euromonitor.

By Arno Maierbrugger

Why? Mainly because it’s so hot, say those who enjoy a cold beer to wash down spicy food at stalls and open-air restaurants between Bangkok and Manila.

Certainly. But this is not the only reason. The world’s top beer-drinking nations include the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Ireland and Poland, and it’s not too hot there.

The main reason why Southeast Asia’s citizen are gulping more booze is the growth in the number of young people with higher disposable income in recent years. There is a clear correlation between the consumption of beer and economic dynamics, let alone Western influence through the growing influx of tourists, Western-style restaurants and international beer brands. All this lets Southeast Asian people turn away from their traditional distillates, be it rice whiskey in Thailand, arrack in Indonesia or various sugar cane or coconut brews elsewhere.

The survey also found that beer is increasingly being consumed in times of prosperity, while people were seeking solace in cheap domestic liquor during harder times in the past.

Asia overtook Europe and the Americas in beer consumption already in 2007. In 2011, the continent drank 67 billion liters of beer, against 57 billion in the Americas and 51 billion in Europe, according to the latest available figures by Euromonitor. The survey predicts that beer consumption is expected to grow 4.8 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region each year up to 2016.

The top beer-drinking nation in ASEAN is Vietnam. Vietnamese drinkers downed 2.6 billion liters of beer in 2011, followed by Thailand with 1.8 billion liters and the Philippines with 1.6 billion liters, nearly double the total amount of beer consumed in Indonesia (236.4 million liters), Malaysia (171.4 million), Cambodia (136.3 million), Laos (134.3 million), Singapore (108.2 million) and Myanmar (30.4 million). No figures were available for Brunei where no alcohol is officially sold, but certain restaurants in the small Chinese quarter in Bandar Seri Begawan would serve booze in tea cups upon request at unknown volumes.

For expats and travelers the question arises which beers in Southeast Asia are the most satisfying for the discerning palate. Below is an non-representative compilation of Southeast Asia’s best and worst beers within the more popular brands based on in-depth on-site research.

Southeast Asia’s 5 top beers

Singha beer Singha Beer
Country of origin: Thailand
Alcohol volume: 5%
Style: Lager
Taste/aroma: Made from 100 per cent barley malt, giving it a rich body and a strong flavour. Clean, crisp and mild with a hint of sweet corn in the finish
Serving type: Bottle, can, draught
Price: Medium
Hangover factor: Negligible

beerlaoBeer Lao
Country of origin: Laos
Alcohol volume: 5%
Style: Lager
Taste/aroma: Made from indigenous rice varieties, German yeast and hops and French malted barley. Very unique flavour with a hint of marzipan and ripe wheat
Serving type: Bottle, cans (draught in Laos)
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Almost none

Bintang_BierBeer Bintang
Country of origin: Indonesia
Alcohol volume: 5%
Style: Pale lager or pilsener
Taste/aroma: Balanced and smooth taste with hints of grain and malt. Dutch recipe gives it some mild generic bitterness
Serving type: Bottles, cans, draught
Price: Medium
Hangover factor: Minor

Saigon BeerBeer Saigon Red
Country of origin: Vietnam
Alcohol volume: 4.9 per cent
Style: Lager
Taste/aroma: Nice light taste, not to overpowering, referred to as ‘girly’ beer, clean and lemony with a soft grape note in the finish
Serving type: Bottle, can, draught
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Very low

Angkor_Beer_in_bottleAngkor Beer
Country of origin: Cambodia
Alcohol volume: 5.5%
Style: Pale lager
Taste/aroma: Light maltiness, distinct maize flavour with bitter chocolaty top notes and a slightly herbal finish
Serving type: Bottles, can, draught
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Potential

Southeast Asia’s 5 worst beers

Beer changChang Beer
Country of origin: Thailand
Alcohol volume: 6.4%
Style: Pale lager
Taste/aroma: Metallic, dry-sweetish, earthy, grassy taste with oily notes. Lacks overall flavour.
Serving type: Bottles, cans, draught
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Possible

Sun MiguelSan Miguel
Country of origin: Philippines
Alcohol volume: 5.4%
Style: Pale lager/pilsener
Taste/aroma: Thin, grainy taste. Dryish papery aroma with a very slight hop note. High carbonation, no distinct colour, indifferent smell and characterless finish.
Serving type: Bottles, cans, draught
Price: Medium
Hangover factor: Indifferent

Tiger beerTiger Beer
Country of origin: Singapore
Alcohol volume: 5%
Style: Lager
Taste/aroma: Classic mainstream lager with no distinctive taste. Though refreshing, it has cotton-like notes and a cloudy finish
Serving type: Bottles, cans, draught
Price: Upscale
Hangover factor: Modest

Phnom Penh beerPhnom Penh Beer
Country of origin: Cambodia
Alcohol volume: 4.5%
Style: Pale lager
Taste/aroma: Very light malt note and a definite metallic aftertaste. Notes of vinegar and sour cherries
Serving type: Bottles, cans
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Conservative

Bali HaiBali Hai
Country of origin: Indonesia
Alcohol volume: 5%
Style: Lager
Taste/aroma: Murky notes of malt and smell of an old dusty cellar. Unbalanced bitterness in the finish. Watery body and high carbonation
Serving type: Bottles, cans, draught
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Thrilling

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Beer truck leaving the Beer Lao brewery in Vientiane, Laos. (Photo © Arno Maierbrugger)

Southeast Asia is currently experiencing one of the fastest growth rates in beer consumption in the world, according to a study by market researcher Euromonitor.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Beer Lao brewery_Arno Maierbrugger
Beer truck leaving the Beer Lao brewery in Vientiane, Laos. (Photo © Arno Maierbrugger)

Southeast Asia is currently experiencing one of the fastest growth rates in beer consumption in the world, according to a study by market researcher Euromonitor.

By Arno Maierbrugger

Why? Mainly because it’s so hot, say those who enjoy a cold beer to wash down spicy food at stalls and open-air restaurants between Bangkok and Manila.

Certainly. But this is not the only reason. The world’s top beer-drinking nations include the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Ireland and Poland, and it’s not too hot there.

The main reason why Southeast Asia’s citizen are gulping more booze is the growth in the number of young people with higher disposable income in recent years. There is a clear correlation between the consumption of beer and economic dynamics, let alone Western influence through the growing influx of tourists, Western-style restaurants and international beer brands. All this lets Southeast Asian people turn away from their traditional distillates, be it rice whiskey in Thailand, arrack in Indonesia or various sugar cane or coconut brews elsewhere.

The survey also found that beer is increasingly being consumed in times of prosperity, while people were seeking solace in cheap domestic liquor during harder times in the past.

Asia overtook Europe and the Americas in beer consumption already in 2007. In 2011, the continent drank 67 billion liters of beer, against 57 billion in the Americas and 51 billion in Europe, according to the latest available figures by Euromonitor. The survey predicts that beer consumption is expected to grow 4.8 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region each year up to 2016.

The top beer-drinking nation in ASEAN is Vietnam. Vietnamese drinkers downed 2.6 billion liters of beer in 2011, followed by Thailand with 1.8 billion liters and the Philippines with 1.6 billion liters, nearly double the total amount of beer consumed in Indonesia (236.4 million liters), Malaysia (171.4 million), Cambodia (136.3 million), Laos (134.3 million), Singapore (108.2 million) and Myanmar (30.4 million). No figures were available for Brunei where no alcohol is officially sold, but certain restaurants in the small Chinese quarter in Bandar Seri Begawan would serve booze in tea cups upon request at unknown volumes.

For expats and travelers the question arises which beers in Southeast Asia are the most satisfying for the discerning palate. Below is an non-representative compilation of Southeast Asia’s best and worst beers within the more popular brands based on in-depth on-site research.

Southeast Asia’s 5 top beers

Singha beer Singha Beer
Country of origin: Thailand
Alcohol volume: 5%
Style: Lager
Taste/aroma: Made from 100 per cent barley malt, giving it a rich body and a strong flavour. Clean, crisp and mild with a hint of sweet corn in the finish
Serving type: Bottle, can, draught
Price: Medium
Hangover factor: Negligible

beerlaoBeer Lao
Country of origin: Laos
Alcohol volume: 5%
Style: Lager
Taste/aroma: Made from indigenous rice varieties, German yeast and hops and French malted barley. Very unique flavour with a hint of marzipan and ripe wheat
Serving type: Bottle, cans (draught in Laos)
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Almost none

Bintang_BierBeer Bintang
Country of origin: Indonesia
Alcohol volume: 5%
Style: Pale lager or pilsener
Taste/aroma: Balanced and smooth taste with hints of grain and malt. Dutch recipe gives it some mild generic bitterness
Serving type: Bottles, cans, draught
Price: Medium
Hangover factor: Minor

Saigon BeerBeer Saigon Red
Country of origin: Vietnam
Alcohol volume: 4.9 per cent
Style: Lager
Taste/aroma: Nice light taste, not to overpowering, referred to as ‘girly’ beer, clean and lemony with a soft grape note in the finish
Serving type: Bottle, can, draught
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Very low

Angkor_Beer_in_bottleAngkor Beer
Country of origin: Cambodia
Alcohol volume: 5.5%
Style: Pale lager
Taste/aroma: Light maltiness, distinct maize flavour with bitter chocolaty top notes and a slightly herbal finish
Serving type: Bottles, can, draught
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Potential

Southeast Asia’s 5 worst beers

Beer changChang Beer
Country of origin: Thailand
Alcohol volume: 6.4%
Style: Pale lager
Taste/aroma: Metallic, dry-sweetish, earthy, grassy taste with oily notes. Lacks overall flavour.
Serving type: Bottles, cans, draught
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Possible

Sun MiguelSan Miguel
Country of origin: Philippines
Alcohol volume: 5.4%
Style: Pale lager/pilsener
Taste/aroma: Thin, grainy taste. Dryish papery aroma with a very slight hop note. High carbonation, no distinct colour, indifferent smell and characterless finish.
Serving type: Bottles, cans, draught
Price: Medium
Hangover factor: Indifferent

Tiger beerTiger Beer
Country of origin: Singapore
Alcohol volume: 5%
Style: Lager
Taste/aroma: Classic mainstream lager with no distinctive taste. Though refreshing, it has cotton-like notes and a cloudy finish
Serving type: Bottles, cans, draught
Price: Upscale
Hangover factor: Modest

Phnom Penh beerPhnom Penh Beer
Country of origin: Cambodia
Alcohol volume: 4.5%
Style: Pale lager
Taste/aroma: Very light malt note and a definite metallic aftertaste. Notes of vinegar and sour cherries
Serving type: Bottles, cans
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Conservative

Bali HaiBali Hai
Country of origin: Indonesia
Alcohol volume: 5%
Style: Lager
Taste/aroma: Murky notes of malt and smell of an old dusty cellar. Unbalanced bitterness in the finish. Watery body and high carbonation
Serving type: Bottles, cans, draught
Price: Moderate
Hangover factor: Thrilling

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