The beers of South East Asia are brewed specifically for hotter climates with almost all of them being rice-based beverages with lighter flavors of hops and malt, often imported from beer-drinking European countries such as Germany and France. Perhaps better still, these beers are universally cheap and widely available, costing only a dollar or two per bottle. Found in almost every corner and in every tiny village throughout the region, these beers will add a certain vibe to your stay as you taste the flavors of not just the spicy local fare, but the ice-cold brews that perfectly accompany them. Here is a brief guide to South East Asia’s top beer selection for you to add to your ‘must-try’ list the next time you find yourself touching down in one of the region’s countries.
Chang Beer, Thailand
The word “Chang” means “Elephant” in Thai, and with an alcohol content of 6.5%, it’s easy to see where it got this name from. Chang is a favorite of backpackers traveling and partying in Thailand due in part to its relative strength compared to its rivals. That being said though, it’s also popular amongst ex-pats and locals, where its full-bodied, hoppy yet refreshing flavor profile makes it stand out against other ‘lighter’ rice-based beers in Thailand, such as Singha. The best place to sample a Beer Chang? Perhaps with a Thai red curry whilst watching the sunset on a beach in Phuket. Or after a day of riding elephants and visiting rural villages in Chiang Mai on one of Explorient’s Thai tours.
Beer Lao, Laos
Beer Lao has gained something of a “legendary” status amongst tourists, ex-pats and locals in the last few years and to be fair, it deserves it because it more than lives up to the hype. This is a hugely popular beer not just in its native Laos, but throughout South East Asia. Very popular in neighboring countries, especially Cambodia and Vietnam, this beer is almost the exclusive beer of Laos, being found in even the deepest darkest village restaurants in the back end of nowhere. Make no mistake, the beer is a source of pride amongst Laotians, and completely dominates the market share of beers in Laos, at approximately 96%. As if it needed any more accolades, it was recently named as Time magazine’s “Best Asian Beer”. What makes Beer Lao so popular? Well, it has a distinctively drinkable flavour and goes down well almost any time of day, for any reason. Like most Asian beers it’s a rice-based beverage with the of hops and malts coming from quality fields in Germany and France. The end result? A perfect balance of light malts and citrus hops creates a beer that is simultaneously both refreshing but also distinctly flavourful. Beer Lao also acts as a perfect side to Laos’ spicy dishes, such as papaya salad or perhaps a fiery minced beef or chicken laap.
The best places to sip on a Beer Lao are at one of the numerous waterfalls such as Kuang-Si, or Mekong riverside locations in the country, such as in the idyllic mountain town of Luang Prabang, both of which are real highlights of Explorient’s trips to Laos.
Angkor Beer, Cambodia
The go-to beer of Cambodia, Angkor beer is named after the country’s main tourist attraction – Angkor Wat. With a slogan of ‘Our Country, Our Beer’, it’s easy to see why this beer is a mainstay amongst both travelers and locals throughout Cambodia. Brewed in Sihanoukville on the southern coast, the beer, like Beer Lao, is found in every possible corner of the country. At a fairly high 5.5% ABV, this beer is a popular one if you’re looking for just a few refreshing cold ones after a long day of trekking jungles or exploring Angkor Wat. Probably the best place to share a beer with a friend or loved one would be own on the coast, chilling out on the sand after a long hot day of exploring Cambodia’s towns and temples, or perhaps after a quiet day of not doing much of anything at all except watching the world go by.
Bia Huda, Bia Saigon, Vietnam
These two Vietnamese additions are added in one section as it’s interesting to note that they aren’t actually often found outside of their regional spheres of influence. As suggested in their names, Bia Huda is produced and often found around Hue in the central region of the country with Bia Saigon being found down south in and around Ho Chi Minh City. Both are regional mainstays, being served alongside some of Vietnam’s most delicious local cuisine such as soups, spring rolls, pancakes and more. Bia Huda is a partnership with Carlsberg and as a result, its 4.7% ABV beer comes crispy and hoppy with a slightly malty flavor. Kick back on the beach of Hue or Hoi An and down this beer ice-cold, perfect to combat the tropical heat and humidity.
Bia Saigon is slightly less alcoholic coming in at 4.3% ABV with a very light flavor makes for a great session beer given to its rather underwhelming strength and taste. Don’t take this to mean that the beer itself isn’t worth trying – in reality, it’s great with ice alongside spicy dishes or as a standalone after a long day of sampling some of the best of Vietnam’s culinary delights on the likes of Explorient’s Taste of Vietnam tour.
Bia Bintang, Indonesia
The most popular beer on the Indonesian beer market, Bintang is produced in partnership with Heineken and as a result tastes very similar with a combination flavor of hops, citrus, malt and honey which makes this the perfect beer to sip in almost any situation. At 4.7% ABV, this beer is a great one to order through the evening and into the early hours while rubbing elbows with locals in tiny beach bars or at the nightclubs on Bali. Bintang is found all throughout Indonesia, from the major cities such as Jakarta and Yogyakarta all the way to the sandy remote islands to the east. Drink alongside a delicious Beef Rendang or Nasi Rawon, or opt to drink it solo in your hammock watching the waves lap the shores of almost any island in the country. The best place to try? One of many beach bars on Gili Trawnagan after a busy day checking out the reefs and swimming with sea turtles.
Dagon Beer, Myanmar
One of the many beers that are locally produced in this unique country, Dagon is probably the best, and for good reason. The light, hoppy and refreshing taste of this beer makes for easy drinking almost any time of day. Not only that, but it comes in bottles, cans and draft, making this a common and popular favorite throughout the country. Coming in at 5% ABV, Dagon is a good beer if you’re looking for something to accompany your traditional dinner or if you’re just looking for a refreshing beverage after a long day of exploring the temples of Bagan. Other great places to drink this delicious beer include the shores of the beautiful Inle Lake, watching the locals tend to their floating gardens or bring in the fresh catches of fish to grill on the beach, the perfect way to end the day during your stay lakeside on Explorient’s Myanmar Waterways tour.
This light pale lager is one of Singapore’s top locally brewed beers, produced by Heineken International. The first beer brewed in Singapore since 1932, Tiger has become a mainstay of both Singaporean bars and clubs as well as being showcased in popular culture several times in movies such as The Transporter and Tropic Thunder. The taste is light, crisp and refreshing, ideal for the Singaporean heat and humidity. The ABV is 5%, meaning this beer is likewise a great option for those warm Singapore nights. Sip this tipple beachside in one of many beach bars that line the shores of this city-state, or order it at your favorite Singaporean nightclub.