Let me get this straight first: I’m not an expert who can tell which brand of beer in Southeast Asia tastes better than the rest. I am simply a traveler who prefers beer than any other alcoholic drink despite its bitter taste. I love beer, in general. So whether it’s pale ale or lager, it wouldn’t matter.
When I travel, it has always been my rule to “eat local, drink local”. In fact, my first-day itinerary would always include the backpacker’s area. Why? The backpacker’s area offers tourists everything local – from cuisine to spirits, at a reasonable cost. While imported brands are also offered, I still fancy the local beer. I wrote this post solely for the purpose of giving travelers an idea of what domestic brands to ask for in these countries. It should also be noted that some countries have existing laws for alcohol consumption.
Here’s my quick guide to the home-grown beers in Southeast Asia:
Singapore is home to the Tiger beer. The first batch of Tiger beer was produced in the 1930’s by Malayan Breweries (now known as Asia Pacific Breweries). Other notable commercial brands include Anchor, Baron’s Strong Brew, and ABC Extra Stout. Craft beer, though, is steadily gaining its fame in Singapore’s mainstream watering holes. You may have missed this, too, but FYI, Singapore holds an annual beer festival in the month of June, the Beerfest Asia.
Vietnam is a destination to behold for beer lovers. It has the cheapest beers to date, in Southeast Asia. With the country’s growing number of microbreweries, it will not run out soon of domestic brands. Vietnam’s beers are mostly Czech and German style but recently, craft beer is claiming its own spotlight. Among these local brands, Bia Hanoi is my favorite. Other Vietnam beers are 333, Saigon, Halida, Halida Thang Long, Huda, Zorok, Bia Lowen, and Bia Quy Nhon. Beer is a good match to Vietnam’s spring rolls while watching the stream of tourists along Bui Vien street.
When in Malaysia, you will notice that the popular beer brands are Guinness, Carlsberg, Anchor, Heineken, and Tiger. These are international brewers. It is good to note, though, that craft beer has already entered the Malaysian scene. While tourist destinations in Malaysia have a number of establishments that offer alcoholic beverages, Muslims are not allowed to consume them. I’m not qualified, though, to say in detail, what the Malaysian law prohibits.
Even if you’re not a beer lover, I think the get-up-and-go visit to the sprawling temples of Angkor Wat would make you run to Pub Street for an ice-cold Angkor beer. Angkor is the main domestic brand in Cambodia. I am biased to San Miguel but Angkor plays second on my list. Angkor beer is a good match to Cambodia’s bizarre street foods like fried snakes and crickets. Other notable brands are Klang beer, Bayon beer, Himawari Apsara, Siem Reap Ale, and Kingdom Lager.
Local beers are easily available in Myanmar. In fact, I have noticed many beer stations in Yangon. The famous brands are Myanmar Lager Beer, Dagon, and Mandalay Strong Ale. A bottle of beer can be a refuge to bone-tired tourists after climbing the exotic pagodas in Old Bagan or spending a day touring the Inle Lake.
The Philippines has two main breweries: San Miguel Corporation and Asia Brewery. San Miguel Pale Pilsen is the first beer of San Miguel Brewery. Asia Brewery’s Tanduay, Colt 45, Beer na Beer and Asahi Super Dry continue to compete with San Miguel’s other leading brands San Mig Light, Cerveza Negra, and its high alcohol brand, Red Horse. When in the Philippines, a bottle of beer is always paired up with pulutan (side dish). A typical menu would include calamares (the Filipino version of calamari), chicharon bulaklak (deep-fried ruffled pork fat) or balut, a developing bird embryo that is boiled and normally eaten from the shell but may also be turned into a gourmet dish in some restaurants.
Bintang beer is Indonesia’s famed lager, perfectly paired with Indonesian satay (skewered and grilled meat). Bintang is produced locally by Multi Bintang Indonesia, under a partnership with Heineken. Other notable domestic beers are Bali Hai, and Anker Bir. Waiting for the picture-perfect sunset from Tanah Lot in Bali can be more enjoyable with newfound friends and a bottle of Bintang.
Thailand has a catalog of local brands and Singha (pronounced “sing”), is the country’s oldest lager. Chang beer, though, has become Singha’s rival (the biggest competitor, in fact). Other locally brewed Thai beers are Phuket, Siam, and Klassik. Whether you’re in Bangkok, Phuket or Pattaya, beer is a perfect match for Thai street foods and yummy dishes. However, if you’re a geek to spicy foods, order a not too spicy dish as it may subdue the taste of the beer.
If you’re curious about what the best beers are around the world, your go-to page is the Ratebeer.com. The site provides also rankings and snippets of reviews from beer tasters.