Thursday, August 13, 2009

An Alcoholic's Guide to Asia

Next up in our beverages-in-Asia theme is beer, which is a bit of a sad story. Getting anything other than a pissy lager can be next to impossible - though for intrepid explorers there are some tasty microbrews hiding away in the big cities. For this post however, I'll be focusing only on the widely available beers. Once again, from worst to best:

10. South Korea
I never meant for this to be a Korea bash, but there's just no way around it. Korea's two widely available beers, Cass and Hite, are just awful. Drink it quick and chase it with a bite of bulgogi, and you'll be just fine. Be on the look out for Red Rock, which is as cheap as the others, and better, but not nearly as widely available. One tip: drink some soju (Korean firewater) with your meal, then when you switch to beer you won't be able to taste it as much.

9. India
In India, beer and other alcohol are sold in "wine shops" which are super dodgy-looking counters usually with some sketchy drunk guys hanging around outside. It can feel a bit like you're buying horse or something. In many parts of India alcohol is not easy to get. I didn't really drink much there, but I can remember the beer being nothing at all to write home about. Kingfischer seemed to be the most popular, with a whole slew of indistinguishable others. It's pissy lager. It's said that Indian beer contains glycerine, a preservative which can give you a headache, and to rid the beer of it before consuming you should dunk the top upside-down into a glass of water until the syrupy substance drains out. I've also heard that this is rubbish and doesn't work.

8. Myanmar (Burma)

Myanmar's only local beer, also called Myanmar, is not only crap but also a joint venture with the thuggish government. Better to avoid the stuff and limit your support. If you want to get pissed, find some local palm toddy or rice wine and enjoy with the locals. Even better, you could use Myanmar as an opportunity to get clean for a while, you stinking drunk.

7. Japan
If only as punishment for making happoshu, a kind of beer flavored drink designed to circumvent Japanese high taxes on malt-containing beer, Japan will come next. The beer itself is not THAT bad. Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin, Suntory, take your pick, they're all essentially the same: lame pissy beers.

6. Cambodia
Things start getting blurry around this point, not because I've been sampling each beer as I write, but because the quality of the beers are really indistinguishable. It's a bit like two of Cambodia's beers: Angkor, named after Angkor Wat, and Anchor which is pronounced like anchor, as in boat anchor, presumably because the name Angkor was already taken. Confusing.

5. Thailand
I'm giving Thailand relatively high ratings for the presence of a wide variety of brews. Plenty of imports like Heineken and Tiger, plus the local beers, the most widely available of which are Chang, Leo, and Singh. Chang is notable for it's cheap price and high alcohol content, 6.9% if memory serves. Leo is usually the same price with a slightly lower alcohol content and slightly better taste. Singh has a distinctive taste, and a tamer 5% alcohol. My Thai teacher once told me he drinks Chang because he's "kikiat chee", lazy to piss.

4. Singapore
For me, Singapore's national brew Tiger ranks highly on the pissy-beer scale. Your taste buds may or may not agree.

3. Laos
Most travelers in SE Asia swear by Beer Laos. It does seem to have a fresher, cleaner taste than a lot of the others. As we say back in Olympia, "It's the Water".

2. Indonesia
Bintang is the name of Indonesia's surprisingly tasty suds. For a Muslim country, they know how to whip up some good booze.

1. Philippines
San Miguel is from the Philippines, and while it might not be the absolute top beer on this list, it gets extra points for being really cheap. It tastes good, comes in several varieties including extra-strong "Red Horse" (be careful), and is available everywhere. Goodonya, Philippines.


Tasha said...

I suspect the picture here has nothing to do with beer and everything to do with the cute girl.

Andy said...

Yes, strange that you have an ad for Taiwan Beer, yet Taiwan doesn't even make the list!

Jens said...

I agree with the assessment of Korean beer. I've been drinking it for three years, and I'm coming dangerously close to hating beer because of it. Every time we go drinking, it's an awful goddamn existential crisis: "Want a Hite?" "... no, but might as well have one."
One notable omission is Vietnam's bia hoi ("fresh beer"), which you may have left out because it's not bottled or widely distributed. It's preservative-free beer, brewed daily. A bia hoi "bar" is often a few plastic chairs and a keg on the sidewalk in Hanoi. You sit, pay about 12 cents for a plastic cup; it's cool, crisp, fresh, and, in Hanoi humidity, the most refreshing and welcome lager I've ever had.

There's also Bali's "Storm" beers, from a Balinese microbrewery, which transcend the "good for Asia" level of beer and are genuinely good beers that I would drink even in the US.

Summer said...

Having tasted all of the above and now living in Pakistan, I'd have to say the 250 year old Murree Brewery in Northern Pakistan, would have to have some fo the best alcohol in Asia. Yes, you heard it right, Pakistan has the best alcohol in Asia.

Murrees Beer, Draught, Lager, you name it, they make it, multiple flavoured Breezers, 100 different types of Vodkas, Rums, Brandy, Tequilas (yes, terquila), Dry Gin, and an amazing, award winning Whiskeys - the Murree's home branded ones have a very decent 21 year old Malt that would rank above most in the world, an excellent 12 and a beautiful 8)...The wines are also something special, especially the Hunza Wine made from Mulberries and Apricots. the Indus Brewery has quite a good 12 year old whiskey as well but their vodka is not so hot. All are available at the 'wine shops' which are pretty much in every commercial area or at the bars in all the hotels. For A Muslim country, you couldn't never imagine the amount of alcoholics priding very good and world class drinks....Pakistan - the Islamic Republic of drinkers - as they call themselves.