Southeast Asia’s former colonial masters were great beer drinkers, and the colonies were quick studies: from San Miguel Beer in 1890 to Tiger Beer in 1930 to a flurry of Indochina beers in the 1960s, the region now boasts a robust catalog of brews made just for the tropical heat. The drinks featured here are mainly pilsners meant to be downed cold; after a whole day of roaming, say, Hue’s royal tombs or trekking Indonesia’s volcanoes, you’ll be thankful for a tall cold one from the list below.
(Drinking laws vary according to the country - before tippling in the region, check out this short guide to getting drunk in Southeast Asia first.)
Angkor Beer is the default beer in Cambodia - everpresent, extremely affordable, and ever-welcome when cold and imbibed just after a whole day exploring the ruins of the Angkor temples. The flavor is somewhat low-profile with a distinct hoppy presence, but it packs a relatively high alcohol content at 5.5%.
Angkor has been made and bottled in Cambodia since the 1960s, and every corner store, restaurant, and dive bar serves the stuff in massive quantities. Cambodians are great drinkers - there are cave drawings in Cambodia showing drunkards sleeping off their rice beer hangovers - and in Angkor they've got a beer to match their thirst.
- Country of origin: Cambodia
- Alcohol by volume: 5.5%
- Official site: angkorbeer.com.kh
Time Magazine called it "Asia's best beer"; the Bangkok Post named it the "Dom Perignon of Asian beers". Not bad for a beer brewed by one of Southeast Asia's least developed countries. Beerlao was first bottled in 1973 - four decades and a partnership with Carlsberg later, this beer is a favorite among expat communities for its subtlety and clean flavor.
The manufacturer claims that only the best ingredients go into their beer - German hops and dry yeast, French malts, and local polished rice. Easygoing and absolutely silken when imbibed cold, Beerlao seems inextricably intertwined with the laid-back ambience of Luang Prabang.
- Country of origin: Laos
- Alcohol by volume: 5%
- Official site: www.beerlao.la
Almost every major Vietnamese town has its own beer. In Hue, the "official" beer is Huda, produced in partnership with Carlsberg. Huda is a light, crisp-tasting lager with a small head and a malty nose.
Like all Vietnamese beers, Huda is served cold, often with ice - an ideal internal refrigerator for the humid Central Vietnam weather. This beer is especially well-suited for Hue's spicy, greasy regional cuisine; your guide had these with deep-fried spring rolls in Ang Tao restaurant, and it was a match made in heaven.
- Country of origin: Vietnam (made and mainly served in Central Vietnam)
- Alcohol by volume: 4.7%
- Official site: www.huda.com.vn
Bia Saigon, the Saigon Beer-Alcohol-Beverage Corporation's flagship product, is produced (and mainly imbibed) in Ho Chi Minh City, South Vietnam - do not make the mistake (as your guide did) of asking for it anywhere else in Vietnam!
A light golden lager with some notes of rice and boiled vegetable, Bia Saigon is a must-have when drinking with friends on Pham Ngu Lao. It makes a very slight impression, if at all: drinking it cold (with ice, as the Vietnamese like it) allows it to make its character felt only in passing.
- Country of origin: Vietnam (produced mainly in the south)
- Alcohol by volume: 4.3%
- Official site: www.sabeco.com.vn
Bir Bintang dominates the Indonesian beer market, which is surprisingly large; Indonesians are very big on beer despite their being culturally an Islamic country.
Bintang is manufactured under a partnership with Heineken, so the resulting beer tastes like it comes from the same family: a grainy aroma with notes of hops, honey, citrus, and malt. The beer is golden-colored, slightly sweet, and very carbonated: it goes down very easy in the tropical heat.
- Country of origin: Indonesia
- Alcohol by Volume: 4.7%
- Official site: www.multibintang.co.id
Despite being one of Thailand's cheaper brews, Chang is still a good beer experience: a very pale gold liquid with a slight sweetness, malty flavor with hints of grains and hops. Best when imbibed cold, Chang Beer is an excellent match for streetside Thai food. For more on this Thai brew and other local beers, read our About.com Thailand Guide's list of top beers in Thailand.
- Country of origin: Thailand
- Alcohol by volume: 6.4%
- Official site: www.changbeer.com
San Miguel Pale Pilsen
This golden lager owns about 90% of the beer market share in its native country the Philippines, and it's not hard to figure out why: San Miguel Pale Pilsen has been produced in Manila since 1890 and has found its way across Southeast Asia since then, achieving top market share in Hong Kong.
A full-flavored pilsner with hints of caramel and a malty top note, San Miguel Pale Pilsen is meant to be imbibed in warm weather and consumed alongside greasy Filipino pulutan (side dishes). When ordering in the Philippines, you can just tell the waiter to get you "Pale", just "Pale", and he'll know what to do.
- Country of origin: Philippines
- Alcohol by volume: 5%
- Official site: www.sanmiguelbeer.com.ph
An old standby for Singapore drinkers, Tiger Beer is served everywhere you find food - and in cuisine-crazy Singapore, that's everywhere, period. (More here: Ten Dishes You Should Try in Singapore.)
It's not the best beer there is, but its light maltiness, overt maize flavor and bitter topnotes seem to have grown on the local market. When in Singapore, I order it if there's no San Miguel around (then again, your guide is admittedly biased).
Tiger Beer has been sold under the tagline "Time for a Tiger" since it was first manufactured - novelist Anthony Burgess adopted it for the first volume of his Malayan Trilogy.
- Country of origin: Singapore
- Alcohol by Volume: 4.7%
- Official site: www.tigerbeer.com