Introduction – Drinking Beer in Southeast Asia: Scott and Trevor discuss how the beer scene in Southeast Asia isn’t what it is in Europe or North America: There are a few international brewers mass-producing traditional lagers but in general there’s not a wealth of beer diversity. Luckily, Scott points out, beer in most SE Asian countries is some of the least expensive in the world, save Malaysia and Singapore, and if you scratch the surface a bit, there are some interesting beer discoveries.
How Beer Breaks-down Around The Region: Scott introduces the least ‘developed’ countries in the region in regards to beer, Laos and Myanmar, while noting that Beer Lao has developed a reputation as one of the best locally produced suds.
Scott then explains the difference between Cambodian offerings Anchor and Angkor, which, along with some high-alcohol stouts, are available in stores for $1 can or on draught at Happy Hour for only $0.50! Trevor then touches on the very fledgling start-up brewing scene in Cambodia, particularly Phnom Penh, where several microbreweries are located.
Trevor and Scott discuss the well-known beers of Thailand, Singha and Chang, and their status as ‘must-have’ T-shirt souvenirs for backpackers, as well as alternatives like Leo, which are more popular for their lower prices and higher alcohol content. They also discuss the beer drinking experience in Bangkok, including winter beer gardens with live music and a few English and German-style brew-pubs. After a quick run-down on the scene in Malaysia, Scott then singles out Vietnam for having the most interesting beer scene for travelers: Bia Hoi on street corners and a surprisingly robust brew pub scene.
Episode 10 Guests: This episode’s guests, Aaron Greiser and Brian Bartusch, have such a love for fine beer and an affinity for Southeast Asia that they made it their profession. Aaron Greiser and Brian Bartusch are the founders of Beervana, a craft beer import and distribution company. Now in their second year of operation, Beervana has literally revolutionized the beer scene in Thailand. Aaron and Brian give a bit of background on themselves and the origins of Beervana.
Interesting Aspects of the Local Beer Scene: Brian is impressed by Vietnam’s bia hoi, a weak local beer thats ‘home-brewed’ throughout the country and the social aspect of people gathering to drink inexpensive locally produced beer. Aaron has been impressed by the development of the brewing scene across the region, where he finds similarities to the early craft beer movement in the USA. He also notes how each country is dramatically different in the conditions for brewing – legislatively, culturally, and historically, and how brewing has been growing in unique ways across the region.
The discussion moves from the challenges experienced by Storm brewery in Bali, Indonesia to the development of brewing in surprisingly permissive Singapore, where the selection of craft beers is greatest in the region, home brewing is legal, and microbreweries thrive, including Brewwerks and Level 33 – the highest brewpub in the world featuring views of Marina Bay.
Brewing Beer in Southeast Asia: Scott offers a technical question about ingredients, such as rice, used in mass-market beers and the conversation turns towards regional breweries that Aaron and Brian enjoy. Brian revisits a beer from the introduction, Beer Lao, which he explains is made from a leftover recipe from the French colonial period.
Aaron brings up Phnom Penh’s Kingdom Brewery, and its great European-style craft pilsner. Brian and Trevor quickly chat about the nano-brewing system built by Singaporean Neo at Phnom Penh’s Himawari Hotel before the conversation moves over to Thailand and the festive brewpubs Tawandang and the German Country Brew Place.
Development of the Local Beer and Brewing Scene: Aaron gives a recent history of brewing and craft beer development in Southeast Asia, defining a first generation that started about 10 years ago with regional microbrews: Brewwerks, Storm, and Red Dot followed by a second generation of imported beers from German lagers to Belgian ales to American-style craft beers.
The current generation, amongst which Beervana can be counted, now includes 16 international importers into Singapore, six importers into Bangkok, and even a Mikeller Bar in Bangkok. Nonetheless, Aaron points out that, while there is one ‘rogue’ brewer in Vietnam doing a small craft beer project alongside an American-style BBQ restaurant, the next generation may focus on Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, where no craft beer scene exists as of yet.
Favorite Spots for Drinking Beer in Southeast Asia: Brian agrees with Scott’s suggestion of enjoying an ice cold beer on a hot day, preferably a Beer Lao (with ice), paired with some spicy Thai food. Trevor interjects to bring up a quick low-down on the consumption of local beer on ice. The conversation about beer with ice then segues into various ways to improve on some of the local suds, including adding chilli pepper and dry hopping them! Aaron finally suggests a visit to Smith Street Taps in Singapore’s Chinatown to enjoy a selection of imported craft beers at the end of a trip through more rural parts of the region.
Beer Prices in Southeast Asia: In general, beers in SEA are cheaper at places like 7-11s across the region, with the high and low end respectively in Singapore and Vietnam, the latter’s bia hoi costing as little as 10 cents a cup. While imported craft beers in Thailand cost a slight bit more in Bangkok bars than those in New York or Honolulu, they guys concede the mark-up in Bangkok shops is higher than in US supermarkets. All agree on being happy to have craft beers available in Bangkok regardless of price.
About Beervana: Aaron and Brian discuss the explosion of craft beer in the Thai beer scene. After nearly two years in business, Beervana has 115 accounts across Thailand and 430 home delivery customers. Beervana’s customers are 40% Thai and growing within the local scene as the Thai palate has become more sophisticated and appreciative of the flavors of craft beer.
Over the next five years Aaron believes craft beer will be cheaper than wine and more accessible, particularly, as Brian points out, because these beers go better with local cuisine. Aaron also hopes that the local brewing scene continues to develop, as it has in Singapore and to a lesser degree Thailand, the latter of which is experiencing greater regulatory hurdles.
Closing: Best Regional Beers and Beer Venues: To wrap things up, Aaron and Brian bring up a few of their favorite beers and beer venues across the region: Bintang and Stark in Indonesia; Taps Beer Bar and Ales & Lagers bottle shop in Kuala Lumpur; and Kingdom Brewery in Cambodia. As there are so many venues for craft beer in Singapore, Aaron suggests “just Google it”, while Brian recommends downloading the Untapped app, which helps travelers find local beers on the road.
Links to items discussed in this episode:
- Beer Prices/Consumption Around The World
- Trevor’s Story on Brewpubs in Cambodia and Vietnam
- Smiling Albino Bia Hoi Blog Post
- Kingdom Brewery, Cambodia
- Himawari Brewpub, Cambodia
- Tawandang Brewpub, Bangkok
- The Londoner Microbrewery, Bangkok
- Level 33, Singapore
- Brewerkz, Singapore
- Smith Street Taps, Singapore
- Ales and Lagers, Kuala Lumpur
- Taps Beer Bar, Kuala Lumpur
- Untappd smartphone app
To learn more about Scott & Trevor: