NEWS ITEM: For the first time since data have been compiled, Asia is the world’s No. 1 beer producer – bigger than Europe or North America – according to researchers at the Japanese brewing giant Kirin Holdings.
It’s time, I suppose, to welcome our new overlords.
The problem for those who’d like a taste, though, is that very few of the 100 billion-plus pints that Asia produces each year ever reach American soil. And, among those that we do drink, several – notably Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo – aren’t really from Asia; their American versions are brewed in Canada and California.
Considering the many other fake name brand goods that Asia sends us, that shouldn’t come as a shock.
Nonetheless, many authentic Asians are available here. Most of them are basic pale Euro-style lagers, a vestige of the early 20th-century German brewing empire that spread equipment and know-how throughout the Far East. They have their devoted fans, mainly because they’re ideal for dousing Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce.
Here’s a quick spin down the Asian aisle of your local beer distributor.
Undoubtedly the most notable Asian craft brewery to send beer our way is Kiuchi Shuzou. Founded in 1823 as a sake brewery, it began bottling the highly regarded Hitachino Nest brand in the mid-’90s.
Its best known is Hitachino White, a Belgian-style witbier that is at least equal to the original, Hoegaarden. Its Espresso Stout seems straight out of Starbucks, with a touch of vanilla. And its Weizen is an award-winner in wheat-crazy Germany.
Less common are the colorfully labeled bottles from Baird Beer. Located at the foot of Mount Fuji and run by an American, the brewery produces an eclectic variety, including Angry Boy Brown Ale and The Carpenter’s Mikan Ale, a wheat beer made with citrusy Satsuma fruit.
Other Japanese notables: Coedo Beniaka, a bock flavored with roasted sweet potatoes; Ise Kadoya Genmai Ale made with brown rice; and the Bavarian-inspired Ginga Kogen Weizen.
Not long ago, it was said that 95 percent of Chinese beer contained formaldehyde as a preservative. You might say it made for a stiff drink.
While those days are presumably past, the suds are not much to talk about. Tsingtao (pronounced ching-dow) is fun to say, but it’s JAPL (just another pale lager). Harbin, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, isn’t particularly remarkable.
The Pogues once sang, “Singha Beer don’t ask no questions, Singha Beer don’t tell no lies. “
In truth, Singha is JAPL, too, though it is somewhat maltier and fairly bitter. It’s certainly better than its Thai compatriot, Chang, which tastes like straw.
With a sudden influx of small, local breweries, the nation reported a 24 percent surge in beer production last year. Very little of it is exported.
The exception: 333 Premium Export, a canned brand that was a spin-off of 33, known by American soldiers during the Vietnam War as “Tiger Piss.”
Don’t hold your breath waiting for an India pale ale brewed in India. The darling of American craft brewers is nonexistent in the nation that lends its name to the style.
The biggest seller is Kingfisher, a light, uninteresting lager. The bottles we drink in America, however, are brewed in New York. You’ll have to scrape around to find a real Indian brand, but you might turn up a rare can of Haywards 5000, a strong (7 percent alcohol) lager.
Singapore: Tiger, JAPL.
Philippines: San Miguel Dark. a rich, sweet dark lager.
Laos: Beerlao Dark, strong and dark.
Sri Lanka: Lion Stout, very flavorful and strong.
Cambodia: Angkor, available on the West Coast.
Indonesia: Bali Hai, brewed in Java.