Now beer – there’s a good subject and one that’s close to our heart so here’s a brief rundown on some of the commonly found beers of Southeast Asia you’re likely to come across in this part of the world! International brands aside there’s actually a very limited choice of locally made ales in most Southeast Asian countries so it’s lucky some of them are half-decent beers!
Lao’s a good example with the choice of local beer being basically Beer Lao, Beer Lao or Beer Lao but the imaginatively named beer is, fortunately, a very good one! Mild, dry and light, it’s a perfect brew for these climes and a consistent fave amongst travellers in the region. It is now available in parts of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand too but most people agree with us when we say it just doesn’t taste the same outside of Laos. (Assume the Thai version, for example, is brewed in Thailand and adapted to local tastes – but more on Thai beer tastes later.) Rarely found on draught a large bottle goes for between $1 and $2.
‘Angkor – my country, my beer’ is the slogan for Cambodia’s equally imaginatively named and ubiquitous offering from Cambrew and up until recently, it’s also had a virtual monopoly local beer-wise though the new and excellent addition from Kingdom Brewery is making headway. (They have a jolly good website and even offer tours of their Phnom Penh brewery!) The Malaysian Anchor Beer is the main rival with the well known Singaporean Tiger and Thai bottled beers also being widely available. Angkor and Anchor are found in a bottle, can and draught form and go for as little as 50c for a happy hour glass to $3 for a large bottle in a restaurant.
Note both Lao and Cambodia produce dark beers; Lao dark and ABC stout respectively and both are pretty poky brews!
Now the Vietnamese are big beer drinkers and there is a lot more choice over there with more local, regional breweries having a large share of the market, such as Beer Hanoi or Beer Saigon with Hue and Danang also have their own offerings. La Rue and 333 are national beers with French origins. All are lagers or pilseners with our personal favourite being the excellent Halida Beer which originates from Northern Vietnam but is actually now owned by Carlsberg. Also like the Beer Hanoi and the Saigon export is a nice drop. All are light and reasonably dry beers. Can’t move on without mentioning the famous bia hoi – cheap draught beer delivered daily and drunk in street cafes and beer gardens and hugely popular throughout the country with the locals. As the linked article explains though it’s not always a wise idea to drink it and you’d be better off with some sound local advice first!
Moving west to Burma another excellent beer we came across was the above pictured Myanmar. The market’s divided there between Mandalay and Myanmar Beer and whilst we weren’t so keen on the slightly unusual tasting Mandalay the Myanmar was again crisp, dry and refreshing in the Beer Lao vein. Tourist orientated cafes tend to sell large bottles which go for say $1.50 to $3 though with their eccentric exchange rates it’s hard to tell, (in fact if you take the official rate we once drank a $200 bottle of beer in Burma!), whilst the locals drink in what are quaintly termed ‘beer stations’ where draught is more like 50c.
Malaysia – though predominantly Muslim has a large and thirsty Chinese population who seem to do their best beer-wise to make up for the rest of the non-drinking inhabitants. Popular ales down that way are the aforementioned Tiger, Anchor and the every popular locally brewed Guinness! Bad news is that government tax makes a large bottle of beer cost around $4 or $5 although discounts are available if you order several bottles at once. (Buy 3 get one free kind of thing.)
Last and unfortunately very much least in our brief S. E. Asia rundown – well at least to our tastes and indeed many of our mates – is Thailand. Now Thais like a drop of beer as much as their neighbours and there’s certainly plenty of thirsty tourists around but the 2 local beers that split the main market share are both in our opinion awful. These are of course the famous Chang and Singha – both now widely marketed in the UK with Chang sponsoring Everton FC and Singha having negotiated the beer franchise for Old Trafford no less! Not sure what the UK versions taste like but the originals are quite strong, (both used to be over 6% though Singha has now toned down their brew a bit), and to be polite – full flavoured – or pungent and yeasty depending on your taste. Strong, yeasty might be great for a room temperature bitter or real ale in the UK but we don’t reckon it goes down so well for a lager in a hot climate. Both are notorious for hang-overs and urban myths about their various contents abound. Visitors seem convinced by their cheap costs but many ex-pats we know avoid both and stick to say Leo or imported beers depending upon their drinking budget. Note, though draught versions aren’t so common they are generally milder and more palatable and alternative lighter beers are now widely available such as the aforementioned Leo or the newer Archer. Despite them being brewed locally, beer is more expensive than in some of the neighbouring countries with prices varying from say $1.50 for a large bottle in a convenience store to $1 – $4 for a stubbie depending upon which kind of bar you’re in.
Apologies to Indonesia’s Bintang and San Miguel in the Philippines but they’re beyond our scope and since this post’s getting a bit long we’ll leave China’s numerous offerings aside for now too. Cheers, chock dee, choeul keow moi, yo! as they say respectively in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.