Best Beers of SE Asia

Best Beers of SE Asia

If a beer is distributed beyond one city in SE Asia, I’ve had it.  I did this not because I’m an alcoholic, but for you, to be able to confidently recommend where to grab the best cold brew.  Six months of intensive testing later, here’s what to know about beer in SE Asia:

WHERE TO DRINK

MOST ACCEPTED: Thailand is the epitome of tourist drinking culture.  You can drink essentially anywhere, anytime.  When the sun is conspiring with a long walk between sights, fight back by having a beer in hand along the way.  The easiest and cheapest place to get beer is 7-11, with a half-liter Chang Beer ringing in at $1.30 (39 THB).  The only downside to 7-11 and other retailers is that they don’t sell beer between 2-5PM and after midnight.  During those hours you will need to slip into a bar.

TIP: look for “Large” beers, which are 500-640ml and the best deal ($1.50-5 USD).  The beer to drink in Thailand is Singha, it is reasonably priced and downright delicious compared to Chang.

CHEAPEST: Nothern Vietnam.  Little storefronts with even smaller stools sell beer from a keg called “Bia Hoi.”  A comical $0.10-0.20 a beer, you will blow your liver before your budget.  Be careful though, confirm the price before you start as the Vietnamese may try raising the price after you have had a few.  Best to stick to the stores that have posted prices.

You can even have a beer while driving in Hanoi!

MOST FUN: Vang Vieng, Laos.  While the rest of Laos is as wild as a Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, Vang Vieng is the Cancun of SE Asia.  Enjoy Vang Vieng for what it is, grab a cold drink and jump into the river.

BEST “VIEWS”: Sihanookville, Cambodia is the place for great views and cheap brews.  The Sihanookville life is one of leisure on the white sand beaches.  The main beach, Serendipity, is lined with bars that offer cushy recliners and chairs for you to pass the day on as long as you get the occasional drink for $1 or less.  As the sun sets over the ocean the bars open beachside BBQs that offer your choice of meats and seafoods served up on enormous platters for $3.

Not only does evening bring BBQ, but also the happy hours.  Each bar has a happy hour or two with draft beers for as little as $0.25.  An informed reveler can enjoy an evening for less than $10 if they know the different bar schedules.

If the natural beauty of Cambodia’s beaches aren’t enough to attract you, surely the natural beauties of Scandinavia will.  Understanding a bar stocked with alcohol and attractive, western, twenty-somethings will succeed, local bars have “hired” budget strapped tourists as their staff.  These tourist workers are predominantly women from Scandinavia.  As a married man who is blind to other women (other women look like Mrs. Pac Man to me…I swear), this bit of knowledge was passed along to me by my friends.  JJ’s has the best “views”, but Serendipity Beach will offer plenty of great scenery of the female kind (or so I have heard).

OTHER NOTES: Malaysia and Singapore.  I have yet to find a truly cheap beer at a bar in either of these countries.  Sure, they can be affordable compared to Western Europe or the States, but are not in the running compared with their neighbors.  If you find yourselves in these countries needing a beer, grab a Tiger and enjoy yourself…party like the Amish.

THE RESULTS

WORST BEERS: Cambodia.  The multitude of beer choices make you think you are in beer wonderland (or at least Wisconsin), but crack open a can or bottle and…eww.  Prior to trying Black Panther, I had never taken a sip from a beer and poured the rest down the drain.  Sadly, that wasn’t the only beer didn’t get finished.  If you are in Cambodia, stick to Angkor or Anchor and save yourself the burning mouth feeling.

MEH…IT COULD BE WORSE: SE Asian beer in general.  The vast majority have the flavor one would expect from a Busch Light, that is a nice way of saying, they have no flavor at all.  Easy to drink, but hard to enjoy, SE Asia is not Mecca for beer.

MOST INTRIGUING: A Swedish gentleman told me that Chang Beer (from Thailand, available almost everywhere) has no quality control over the alcohol content of their beer.  We mentioned this later to a much older engineer who said it was entirely possible as it is hard to estimate the productivity of yeast, therefore even if you put in the same quantity of yeast you could get substantially different alcohol contents.  He went on to say that most breweries have mixing tanks where they mix the high alcohol content vats with the low to create an average that they print on the bottle.  He believed that it was possible Chang is not doing this mixing step, therefore the beer could have varying alcohol content.  Now this man had grey hair and seemed confident in what he was saying, therefore we will accept this as a fact.

We had several (at what number does several become many?) cans and bottles of Chang and can honestly tell you, there were sometimes that one felt like four.  There were other occasions we had four and felt like we had none.

BEST BEER OF SOUTHEAST ASIA: Myanmar Beer (all brands).  Claiming to offer “Award Winning” beers, through-and-through Myanmar has no beer peers in SE Asia.  The leader of the pack is Mandalay Strong Ale, followed by Myanmar Double Strong, both strong enough (8-9% Alc) for a man but smooth enough for LOCAVORista.  No matter what you Myanmar beer you choose though, you won’t be disappointed.

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Comments

» Regin :
Aug 26, 2013

No Philippines and San Miguel or Red Horse beer? I think you should travel more to SEA before writing a review.

thinkCHUA Reply:

Have you had Myanmar Beer? For my tastes it’s better than Red Horse and San Miguel. I’ve had both of these beers in the Philippines, because, as I’m sure you realize from 30 seconds on LivingIF, I have been to every country in SE Asia but East Timor, having visited the region on at least different 15 trips.

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{ Aug 26, 2011 - 06:08:44 } Living If | Qingdao, China Brewery
{ Nov 30, 2011 - 08:11:08 } Busch Beer | An American Brewmaster

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.
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