As an avid Canadian craft beer fan, I was worried that travelling Asia for six months would mean no more enjoying a good tasting, full-flavoured beer. After some months here, I can assure you...my fears are a reality.
Joining in on the street culture of Hanoi with bia hoi
Simply put, beer in Asia sucks. It is tasteless, watery, and all that is available is usually each country's national beer brand (always a lager). If you are a keen Bud Light drinker at home, you will find Asia to be a beer heaven, as the prices are much lower than in the west and the taste is similar. Interesting to note - most bottles sold in Asia are large, usually around double the 330 mL bottle sold back home.
So you know what to expect - here is a breakdown of each country and their beer. Note: the price listed is for beer bought in a convenience store or supermarket, not a bar or restaurant.
There's a Kingfisher for both of us!!!
National brand: Kingfisher
Type of beer: Lager
Cost: 70-90 rupees ($1.40-1.80 CAD) for a 650 mL bottle.
Notes: One of the better lagers on the list that follows. The price ranged depending on where you are - in Jaipur I paid 90r for a large bottle, whereas in Goa, prices are much cheaper. Beer is usually found at beer and wine shops. Beer at bars is significantly higher priced than when bought at a store, draft beer especially. I typically drank Kingfisher Strong during my six weeks in India - taste was not great, but better than Kingfisher Premium.
National brand: None noticeable! Typical imported beer like Tiger, Heineken, and Carlsberg available.
Type of beer: N/A
Cost: 7-12 ringget ($2.44-4.16 CAD) for a 330 mL bottle.
Notes: Malaysia is a great country with so much to offer, though unfortunately it is tough of the wallet for beer lovers. It is the most expensive country I have been to in Asia for beer; Malaysia is a Muslim country so beer consumption is much lower than neighbouring countries. Prices of beer here are higher than in Canada. It was interesting that no national brand is advertised everywhere, as mostly imports were found in convenience stores. For those looking for their fix, Taps Craft Beer Bar is a great spot in Kuala Lumpur to stray away from the monotony.
A buko and a beer on the beach
National brand: San Miguel
Type of beer: Pilsner
Cost: 55-75 peso ($1.56-2.53 CAD) for a 600 mL bottle.
Notes: I feel dumb now, but when I arrived in the Philippines I had no idea San Miguel was from there. You will learn fast that it is - it is hard to go a kilometre anywhere in the Philippines without seeing an advertisement or sign promoting the brand. They have a 95% market share in the country, so finding other beer is often tough. During my time there, I drank Red Horse - a stronger beer (7%) brewed by SM Brewery that wasn't terrible. Prices fluctuate dependent on which island you are on.
Bia hoi - the world's cheapest beer at $0.11 cents!
National brand: BIA HOI!!!!
Type of beer: Fresh, tasteless, but cheap as hell.
Cost: 2,000-5,000 dong ($0.11-0.29 CAD) for a 12oz pint).
Notes: Beer lovers rejoice. Welcome to the land of the world's cheapest beer. Bia hoi, which literally translates to fresh beer, is brewed (unregulated) daily and sent off to restaurants and spots across central to north Vietnam. I actually did not mind the taste, it has an interesting flavour with hints of corn. Though nowhere close to as good as anything you would get at home, the price doesn't get any better than this. It's hard not to get caught up in the beer culture of Vietnam - locals are out drinking their bia hoi seated on the side of the road with their breakfast. The cheapest I saw was in Hoi An (2,000 dong - 11 Canadian cents), and in Hanoi it was typically 5,000 dong (30 Canadian cents). Canned beer can be found at convenience stores (beers such as Saigon), though cost much more than the infamous bia hoi.
Colin's first taste of craft beer in four months
National brands: Angkor and Cambodia
Type of beer: Lagers
Cost: 1.00-1.75 USD (330 mL bottle)
Notes: Another cheap destination for beer lovers. The beers you will see the most are Angkor and Cambodia - two brands which their logos can be found on nearly every restaurant or bar sign. Bars in Cambodia have great deals for pitchers and draft beer during happy hour, typically $0.50-$1.00 for a pint. Draft beer is found everywhere in the main tourist spots. While in Phnom Penh, I was missing craft beer so I visited Himawari Microbrewery - Cambodia's first craft brewery. Sweet baby Jesus, it was good. Their American Pale Ale was hop-centric and reminiscent of what I used to enjoy back in Canada.
National brand: Singha and Chang
Type of beer: Lager
Cost: 50-70 baht ($1.90-2.60 CAD) for a 630 mL bottle
Notes: Singha and Chang are found at every corner in Thailand. Chang is a bit cheaper than Singha, though lots of mainstream imported beers are available. Chang boasts a "full flavoured lager, finest quality" on the label, though its pretty syrupy and sweet. Not my thing. Beer is noticeably more expensive in bars and restaurants, and draft beer is not common in the south.